Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fox 2014-15 Schedule Preview - Building Blocks

Fox is giving "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" a big boost this fall.

In my upfront preview for Fox, I asked just how far Fox was willing to go toward airing a cable schedule.  Would they be willing to dedicate four hours in the fall to shows that won’t air in the spring?  Apparently, the answer to that question is “yes,” as Fox debuted a schedule yesterday morning with three series of pre-determined lengths, a litany of shows for the spring, and an as yet uncertain future for its still number one show, American Idol.  It’s almost impossible to predict how the network will perform this year without knowing where Idol will end up, or even how often it will air.  During his press call, Fox president Kevin Reilly indicated that Idol would probably only run about 37 hours, rather than the 50 this spring.  That seems to indicate that the show will be limited to one night a week, but Reilly also suggested that midseason series Empire would be airing after Idol at some point, so who knows. 

Idol aside, it seems as though Fox’s fall schedule is all about finding new building blocks.  New series are paired with established successes and even the dismantling of Animation Domination appears geared toward building up Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  It’s not a particularly aggressive schedule, but it’s not designed to protect its hits at all costs. 

Fox’s 2014-15 Schedule (New shows in BOLD)
Monday –
7:00pm – Gotham
8:00pm – Sleepy Hollow

This was probably the most obvious scheduling decision Fox had.  Take your most promising pilot, put it with last season’s breakout hit and see what they can do together.  I only see one potential problem.  Viewers may initially be drawn to Gotham thinking that it’s a Batman story when it is, in fact, a Jim Gordon story.  That disconnect could put off a lot of people if the pilot isn’t very good.  I can see this duo drawing great ratings during its first week only to rapidly shed viewers if Gotham doesn’t meet expectations.  The cast is great, though, so it can’t be too terrible. 

Fox has already announced that Gotham’s run will be limited to 16 episodes (which have already been ordered) while Sleepy Hollow will be airing 18.  Ideally, it seems, Fox would run the pair together for 16 weeks before giving Sleepy Hollow a two-hour finale in January before making way for The Following and whichever show the network pairs with it in the spring.

Tuesday –
7:00pm – Utopia
8:00pm – New Girl/The Mindy Project

I don’t know that Fox has the faith in new reality series Utopia that it has in Gotham.  This seems like a play meant to minimize damage.  New Girl and The Mindy Project were both limping along by the end of this season and the two-hour comedy block has obviously not been what Fox was hoping for.  The strategy here seems obvious.  If Utopia is a hit (unlikely) or semi-hit (possible), it could lift the comedies to a more respectable level.  If it’s a flop, well New Girl and Mindy have already been airing airing behind the languishing Glee all spring, so it’s doubtful the ratings could get any worse.  This is a no-risk, minimal reward play, but given the network’s struggles on this night, it’s probably the best move.

Wednesday –
7:00pm – Hell’s Kitchen
8:00pm – Red Band Society

Oddly enough, Red Band Society was the only new drama Fox announced for the fall that doesn’t have a pre-determined endpoint for its first season.  So where does the network put it?  On Wednesday nights of course, where Idol has taken up shop for the past several seasons.  The cancelation of The X-Factor has left Fox in something of a bind.  As was the case several years ago, they’re forced to debut multiple shows with planned obsolescence.  With as much talk as there has been about DVRs and on-demand viewership siphoning away viewers, the live audience still accounts for the vast majority of television viewing and those viewers like consistency.  They like knowing that when they sit down on Wednesday nights the same shows that aired in the fall will be there again in the winter and spring.  I could easily see Red Band Society moving to Monday nights to pair with The Following or even to Thursday nights with Bones if Fox does indeed pare Idol to one night per week.  But Fox needs to be careful with their new shows, and not just shuffle them all around when January comes.

Thursday –
7:00pm – Bones
8:00pm – Gracepoint

This is another move that makes a lot of sense.  Take your most consistent show, partner it with a limited run series and plan to move it in the spring.  Bones’s audience has shown time and time again that it will follow the show wherever it goes, including Friday nights.  If I’m Fox, this is the night where I want to put Idol in the spring because I don’t have to interrupt Gracepoint and I can slot in Bones anywhere else on the schedule and it will do just fine.  The only problem with that plan is that it will still likely put Idol against The Big Bang Theory at 7:00, from whom the network ran this spring, and against The Blacklist and Scandal (spoiler) at 8:00 - impressive competition to be sure.

Friday –
7:00pm – Masterchef Jr.
8:00pm – Utopia

I don’t really know what to say here.  Masterchef Jr. wasn’t broke so there was no reason to do anything crazy with it and Utopia’s slot here doesn’t sound like it will be a long-term thing.  Unless Fox decides to extend Masterchef’s episode order (it ran only seven weeks last season), this will likely have changed by the middle of November.  Before that, however, it should pull in perfectly average ratings for Friday nights.

Sunday –
6:00pm – NFL Overrun/Bob’s Burgers
7:00pm – The Simpsons/Brooklyn Nine-Nine
8:00pm – Family Guy/Mulaney

Sunday is where Fox makes its most aggressive play.  After running Animation Domination for almost a decade, the network returns live-action comedy to the fall Sunday schedule for the first time since 2006 and will air more than one such show for the first time since 2003, when The Bernie Mac Show, Malcolm in the Middle, and Arrested Development followed The Simpsons.  Honestly, it seems like a really good play.  Fox has seen diminishing returns from the animated comedies they’ve been putting around the Simpsons and Family Guy and Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been critically well-received and won the Golden Globe for Outstanding Comedy this year.  It also skews male, like the shows with which it will be paired.  I don’t know that it’s going to work, but if Fox really doesn’t have faith that Bob’s Burgers or any of their other animated development are going to be the next Family Guy (or hell even the next American Dad), this seems like a good way to go.  It’s also worth noting that Mulaney has been referred to as very Seinfeld-esque, so there’s some potential there as well.

Still on the shelf for later in the season is Glee, with which Fox appears to be trying to negotiate down the episode order given how badly the show tanked this spring, along with a half dozen new series, Kitchen Nightmares, and Idol.  Unlike in past years, when they seemed to delight in the myriad changes to its winter and spring schedule, Fox isn’t even trying to predict where its shows will land after September.  This isn’t a strong schedule, but they’re using every piece they have to try to build new programs.  It’s not aggressive, but they are still taking risks, which they probably need to in order to avoid finishing in last place.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and amateur television critic.  You can reach him at tytalkstv AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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