When Fox picked up nine new shows—nearly double of what it picked up last year and exactly double if you could Junior MasterChef as a new show and not just a differently themed season of a pre-existing one—it was widely read as an admission from the network that its reality franchises were flagging, and it was time to dig deep, reinvest in scripted programming, and make some tough choices about what to put where. The network’s disastrous fall—which saw it fall from first to last place in some measures—and the continued erosion of American Idol both seemed to be things that would drive important reconsiderations of how the network programmed its shows. And at the very least, the network would move Glee, which has been eroding far too quickly for comfort up against Grey’s Anatomy, which attracts a similar audience.
Okay, you might have thought all of that—we certainly did—but you would be wrong. Fox unveiled a schedule this morning that basically just does everything the network was doing already, as if nothing were going wrong. There’s moving too many assets around—and arguably NBC did that—and then there’s standing too pat, and that’s absolutely what Fox is doing.
Let’s break it down!
8 p.m.: Bones (fall) / ALMOST HUMAN (late fall)
9 p.m.: SLEEPY HOLLOW (fall) / The Following (midseason)
First of all, what the hell does “late fall” mean (okay, probably November), and why on Earth is Fox not sticking with Bones for the full season, when the network knows full well roughly what number it will draw and that that number will be at least somewhat consistent (though it’s an old show and is also seeing ratings erosion)? The Following was a success, but it was a success that is contractually obligated to be a midseason show, thanks to Kevin Bacon’s stipulation that he never do more than 15 episodes in a season. That means the network is going to constantly be bedeviled by what to put in that slot in the fall, and insofar as just sticking something there, “time-traveling Ichabod Crane” is at least a pretty weird idea. Will Fox try to develop it into a companion for The Following, meaning it, too, would only run for 13-15 episodes per season? Maybe, but first it would have to be a hit, and we have our doubts. It’s just weird for Fox to be focusing so many of its efforts on this night, when it was relatively un-broken, outside of finding something to fill the Following slot in fall. But, then, the network needed to change something. Maybe the 24 mini will end up here if Almost Human doesn’t pan out or the M. Night Shyamalan-produced miniseries will end up here under similar circumstances. That would make sense.
After so much of Fox’s disastrous fall last year had to do with placing two new comedies on the same night as two returning comedies, then failing to find a way to adequately support any of those shows (to the degree that New Girl lost a huge portion of its audience year-to-year), the network has decided to… program a full night of comedy, with two returning shows and two new shows. A new Seth MacFarlane-produced show (that Fox was obligated to air at least six episodes of) and an Andy Samberg vehicle at least promise to be noisier than Raising Hope and the dearly departed Ben And Kate, but they also seem like awkward matches for the more female-friendly hour of New Girl and Mindy, which at least stabilized in the spring with viewers under 35. (Mindy’s 18-49 numbers are atrocious, but Fox may not care about those in the case of this one particular show.)
The only real explanation for returning to this problematic strategy—instead of, say, returning Glee to the 8 p.m. hour or calling uncle for a season or two by putting a Gordon Ramsay show there—is that Fox is deeply intent on turning Tuesday nights into the network’s big comedy bloc. This makes a certain amount of sense, but if it doesn’t work this fall—and it’s a tall, tall order—then the network may be throwing good money after bad. At the very least, New Girl gets the post-Super Bowl slot (and will apparently be followed by another half-hour comedy to be determined at a later date on that night), which suggests Fox is deeply committed to making Fox Comedy Tuesday a thing. It’s just a question of if MacFarlane and Samberg are enough of a draw to pull people away from NCIS or ABC and NBC’s reality shows.
This is stupid. For a myriad of reasons, this is stupid. The sole defensible reason for standing pat on two-hour singing shows on Wednesday (as opposed to, say, shrinking to an hour-and-a-half or an hour) is that they will prove cheaper than anything scripted Fox could toss on the night. But both shows are going to have to hire largely new (and entirely new, in the case of Idol, if rumors are to be believed) judging panels, and that’s not a cheap endeavor in today’s singing show judge arms race. Obviously, Fox has better data than we do, and maybe it sees that these shows are about to start an upswing in the ratings, rather than continuing to erode. But it seems highly unlikely in the case of Idol—a show heading into year 13—and fairly desperate in the case of X Factor. Fox basically needs both shows to hold firm at their current numbers to make this make sense, and that seems unlikely, to say the least.
8 p.m.: The X Factor Results (fall) / American Idol Results (midseason)
9 p.m.: Glee (fall) / RAKE (midseason)
Sticking with results shows (particularly for X Factor) in the 8 p.m. hour feels, again, like a miscalculation for all of the reasons outlined above and then some, but sticking with Glee at 9 p.m.—to say nothing of picking it up for seasons five and six—seems even more ridiculous. Maybe Fox isn’t eager to compete heavily on this night, but the continued placement of Glee—a still expensive show that was a key asset just a year ago—on this night suggests that’s not the case, as does the placement of Rake, the network’s best shot at a breakout drama. Putting a legal procedural at 9 isn’t a terrible idea, particularly if CBS actually expands to a two-hour comedy bloc, but leaving Glee directly in the path of Grey’s Anatomy suggests Fox is getting slightly too comfortable here.
8 p.m.: JUNIOR MASTERCHEF (fall)
9 p.m.: SLEEPY HOLLOW encores (fall)
8 p.m.: Bones
9 p.m.: Raising Hope (late fall)
9:30 p.m.: ENLISTED (late fall)
Junior MasterChef is basically just a way to avoid having to promote and program this night before the baseball playoffs take away so much of the network’s real estate, and on that level, it makes sense. And where lots of outlets and commenters are attacking the late fall schedule, we think it makes a perverse sort of sense. Bones is an old show but should draw a certain audience to the night, and the same can be said for Raising Hope (though it’s still relatively young). Putting the guy-friendly Enlisted behind both series both makes sense and gives that show a low-pressure time slot where it doesn’t have to do much beyond keep the lights on. It’s weird to say that Fridays make the most sense on any network’s schedule, but outside of the animated shows on Sundays, this is the Fox night that seems as if it might work best.
Fox has finally found an animation schedule that flows just about perfectly and draws predictable ratings for all four shows. It’s also found a suitable Simpsons replacement in Bob’s Burgers (which flirted with outpacing the show a few times back in the fall) and a viable solution for if Family Guy abruptly self-destructs (which is unlikely). We would advise American Dad fans not to get too comfortable, however, as Fox has new animated series Murder Police coming on at midseason and basically nowhere else to put it other than after Family Guy. (That said, American Dad has proved incredibly resilient, and it will be hard for any new show to match that sort of performance.) There was some question of whether Fox might cycle some of the guy-friendlier live-action comedies in here, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon, despite how many live-action shows have worked on this night in the past. At any rate, it’s a damn sight better than when The Cleveland Show looked like it would be the heir apparent.
Fox’s unscheduled shows aren’t really worth comment, outside of the fact that Bill Lawrence has yet another show without even a tentative airdate. We suspect that show and Us & Them (which looks like another low stakes, fairly sweet romantic comedy) will air in an hour bloc at some point this upcoming season.
Fox’s schedule does make some interesting moves—the network’s continued fascination with pushing its programming into summer is notable, though we might have chosen a show other than Glee to experiment with—but the overall feel here is that of a network that’s standing pat precisely when it would be time to make some gutsy moves. Fox has a lot of solid assets, but it needs to find a way to tie them together without throwing everything it’s built away. The time to be aggressive is precisely when you’re on the decline, but Fox is acting as if it’s smooth sailing ahead. That may prove fortuitous, but for now, it seems like rather a mistake.