Once the home to edgy and unconventional fare where entries such as Married With Children, The X-Files, Malcolm in the Middle and Beverly Hills, 90210 set it apart, the today’s so-called New Fox looks more like a retro version of the Big 3 broadcast networks.
With a newfound emphasis on multi-camera comedies, procedural dramas and live sports, Fox has traded its niche approach to a “bigger and broader” philosophy where programming more universal in appeal could result in an older skew. While animated staples like The Simpsons and Family Guy remain visible, their relevance is no longer as significant.
On the forefront is the arrival of Thursday Night Football for five seasons this fall at a reported cost of $550 million annually. And then there is Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing, which after six respectable seasons on ABC, now signals the direction Fox is heading in comedy: multi-camera.
Another sign of that: Fox canceled or ended five single-camera sitcoms: New Girl concluded this season, while Fox opted not to bring back Will Forte’s Last Man on Earth, Andy Samberg’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which quickly found a new home on NBC, Kaitlin Olson’s The Mick and Ghosted. Fox also canceled two demon-themed dramas: Lucifer and The Exorcist.
This fall, Fox will introduce just two new series: sitcoms The Cool Kids out of Last Man Standing on Friday and Rel out of Family Guy on Sunday.
Four returning dramas – The Resident, 9-1-1, The Gifted and Lethal Weapon – will shift to new time periods. The changes and new series, including Thursday Night Football, will impact five nights of the week. Only Wednesday with Empire and Star and Saturday with College Football will return intact.
On tap in midseason on Fox are new dramas The Passage and Proven Innocent, and new seasons of The Orville, Cosmos and Gotham, which heads into its fifth – and final – season. The Orville will anchor Thursday once football ends.
The network also has two comedy pilots still vying for a series pick-up, including a single camera project with Lake Bell and Ed Begley, Jr., and what it refers to as a “number of new non-scripted series” in development. A live production of musical Rent will air in January 2019.
In the non-scripted department for midseason or summer are Beat Shazam, The Four: Battle for Stardom, Love Connection, MasterChef, MasterChef Junior, Showtime at the Apollo and So You Think You Can Dance. Gordon Ramsey will also be featured in new entry Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back.
“This year, we launched four of the top-10 new shows on broadcast, which led to a very strong roster of young series returning for their sophomore seasons. That gives us tremendous momentum heading into the fall,” said Gary Newman and Gary Walden, the co-chairs and CEOs at Fox Television Group in a prepared statement. “With our increased investment in football, we’re going to use the powerful platform of the NFL to launch our new comedies. We’ll then take some big swings with dramas at midseason, which is a proven strategy for Fox.”
The inherent positive for Fox is Thursday Night Football, which will automatically result in notable overall increases for the network by the traditional Nielsen ratings both on the night and overall. And that growth will give the network something to tout as it re-brands into a bigger and broader arena.
But football only airs in the fall and Fox will have to exercise patience in order to find an audience, in particular, for its sudden emphasis on multi-camera sitcoms. While Last Man Standing is a major step, and positioning it back on Friday is a logical maneuver, diminishing levels of households using television on the evening will be a challenge.
Earlier in the week, the potential good news, is Ryan Murphy procedural 9-1-1, which following a successful freshman run will likely ignite the network on Monday. And the pairing of sophomore The Gifted with Lethal Weapon on Tuesday should have no trouble improving the recent lackluster showing for comedies in the 9 p.m. hour on the evening.
But Sunday on Fox continues to fade into oblivion, long-running The Simpsons included, which could negatively impact new comedy Rel. At some point Fox will have to rethink its Sunday animation strategy.
For a network looking to go bigger and broader, however, the acquisitions of Thursday Night Football and Last Man Standing are two steps in the right direction.
Here is the Fox primetime line-up this fall (with new series in caps), followed by the new series descriptions.
8:00 p.m. The Resident (new time)
9:00 p.m. 9-1-1 (new day)
8:00 p.m. The Gifted (new day)
9:00 p.m. Lethal Weapon (new time)
8:00 p.m. Empire
9:00 p.m. Star
8:00 p.m. Thursday Night Football (new network)
8:00 p.m. Last Man Standing (return, new network)
8:30 p.m. THE COOL KIDS
9:00 p.m. Hell’s Kitchen
8:00 p.m. College Football
7:00 p.m. NFL
7:30 p.m. The OT / sitcom encores
8:00 p.m. The Simpsons
8:30 p.m. Bob’s Burgers
9:00 p.m. Family Guy
9:30 p.m. REL
New Program Descriptions
The Cool Kids
From executive producer Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), The Cool Kids is a multi-camera comedy about a rag-tag group of friends living in a retirement community who are willing to break every rule in order to have fun – because, at their age, what do they really have to lose? The series stars four comedy veterans: David Alan Grier (The Carmichael Show), Martin Mull (Veep), Leslie Jordan (Will and Grace) and Vicki Lawrence (Mama’s Family, The Carol Burnett Show).
Inspired by the life of Lil Rel Howery (Get Out), Rel is a multi-camera comedy starring Howery as a loving husband and father living in Chicago, who finds out his wife is having an affair, and must rebuild his life as a single father, following his divorce. The comedy also stars Sinbad (A Different World), Jess “Hilarious” Moore (Wild ’N Out) and Jordan L. Jones (NCIS: Los Angeles).
Based on author Justin Cronin’s best-selling trilogy of the same name, The Passage is an epic, character-driven thriller written by Liz Heldens (Friday Night Lights). Executive produced by Heldens, Ridley Scott (The Martian) and writer/director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), The Passage focuses on Project Noah, a secret medical facility where scientists are experimenting with a dangerous virus that could lead to the cure for all disease, but also carries the potential to wipe out the human race. When a young girl (Saniyya Sidney, Fences) is chosen to be a test subject, a federal agent (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Pitch) is tasked with bringing her in, but ultimately, becomes her surrogate father, determined to protect her at any cost – even as Project Noah’s work threatens to unleash an unimaginable apocalypse.
Empire co-creator Danny Strong partners with David Elliot (Four Brothers) to tell the emotional story of one woman’s fight for the innocence of others, as well as her own. Proven Innocent follows an underdog criminal defense firm led by a fierce and uncompromising lawyer, who was wrongfully convicted in a sensational murder case that made her an infamous media obsession, a household name and a national cause célèbre. The drama stars Rachelle Lefevre (Under the Dome,), Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men), Russell Hornsby (Seven Seconds), Brian d’Arcy James (13 Reasons Why) and Tony Award winner Nikki M. James (BrainDead,).
[Images courtesy of Fox]