Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fox Midseason: Monday to Thursday Two Years in the Making

Props to all the folks in the TV media who managed to provide full coverage of Fox's midseason sked announcement late on a Friday evening. This is much longer-winded than I intended, but I'll try not to repeat much of what they said. This is a more historical take than what most other folks are providing. Classic overthinking! Here we go.

Fox has been a pretty strong network for several years now, but I've always felt like they've had an ideal and a reality that have been at odds. The ideal is "year-round stability" rivaling that of the other nets, but the reality is "American Idol is seasonal, it leaves big holes on the schedule when it's off the air, but it's so freaking huge that we can't do much about that."

The network has been rather inconsistent in the fall during the American Idol era because of that. So many things that got scheduled almost seemed to be living on borrowed time because there were at least two hours of Idol and another hour of 24 waiting in the wings. House, long nurtured by the Idol lead-in, was a very strong Tuesday option, but it had a wide variety of companions on the night taking up time till Idol showed up. Bones certainly had some good times, but it was constantly on the move to make way for Idol. Prison Break was a solid fall Monday anchor, but that was fairly short-lived, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' success on Monday was even shorter-lived. Thursday was usually a total disaster area, finally gotten under control a bit with Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader/Don't Forget the Lyrics in the 2007-08 season, but even that got shifted to Friday after one season.

I really saw them making an effort to change some of this constant shifting two years ago when Fox set its midseason schedule back in 2009. That struck me as the time when you could really see them trying to take some of the pieces they'd been building up in the American Idol era and lock them into stable situations. The idea (and I'm pretty sure this was a quote, but it's too late in the evening and I'm not getting paid to look for it, so :-P) was to have four scripted tentpoles that they could program pretty much across the regular season, one on each night from Monday to Thursday. And even though some of the individual show ideas were rather shaky (one of them actually hadn't even debuted yet), it seemed to mark a larger philosophy that the net was really gonna try to strive for. It had a permanence to it that I don't feel in most midseason skeds.

The four tentpoles at that time in early 2009 were House on Monday, Fringe on Tuesday, Lie to Me on Wednesday, and Bones on Thursday. The two really significant ones, of course, were the two that are still in place today; House on Monday would clean up the net's weak fall 2008 lineup of Terminator and Prison Break, and Bones on Thursday would eventually become a decent option on a night where "decent" for Fox looked like a godsend. The other two? Fringe had done pretty well after House in fall '08, but didn't hold up particularly well retention-wise once it got the American Idol lead-in, and Lie to Me had a nice debut at 8:00 on Wednesday but eventually fizzled into at best a modest player.

So House and Bones would remain as two-fourths of the tentpole plan. But combining the fact that Fringe and Lie to Me weren't particularly looking like long-term, big-time anchor options and a relatively unpromising development season outside of one show, Fox decided to blow up Tuesday and Wednesday again in the hopes of eventually building that one promising show into another tentpole. They brought in a rather ill-fated cycle of So You Think You Can Dance in part because it seemed compatible with that one promising show.

That one promising show, of course, was "Glee," and this midseason announcement two years later signifies that Fox has successfully developed that third tentpole program. Glee's not just a decent Bones-esque performer. It's one of the biggest hits on TV, and it's more than capable of nailing down the anchor spot on a night wire-to-wire and being a lead-in to something else. And that's why Idol got shifted to Wednesday/Thursday.

So now they've got their House Mondays, their Glee Tuesdays, and their Bones Thursdays. That just leaves Wednesday without a scripted tentpole. But the thing is... they don't need it. They can embrace Idol's seasonal nature and make the tentpole on Wednesday what Travis Yanan calls the "reality wheel," with a couple hours of X-Factor in the fall and a couple hours of Idol in the spring. They'll try to launch new stuff on Wednesday, like new comedy Breaking In this April, but there certainly won't be a pressing need to find something that can fill the night. If they develop another tentpole while Idol continues its downward slide, that's great.

Now, of course, Glee could collapse in a hurry and mess it all up, and Idol will probably continue to head downward. But you have to like the mode Fox is in for the next couple years at least. They can pretty much go wire-to-wire in the regular season with House/lead-out, Glee/lead-out, reality(/lead-out?), and reality/Bones. No more blowing up the world each January.

Oh yeah, and put me in the "Fringe is freakin' doomed on Friday" camp. I badly wish it weren't so, but I think it is. Maybe more on that later, but I've said more than enough for this evening!

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