Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 Upfront Revisited, Fox

The winter break is not quite at the calendar midpoint of the TV season, but it's as close to a "stopping point" as we're gonna get. So this week, as promised, I'm doing one rather lengthy post for each network looking back at how the moves made on the upfront schedules have worked out. Because I love sabotaging my own credibility, I will also revisit some of my thoughts on those moves at the time they happened. Then I'll have a larger-scale look at the ups/downs of the network's fall. Finally, I'll look ahead to the upcoming midseason schedule changes.

More Upfronts Revisited: ABC | CBS | NBC | Fox | CW

Revisiting the Upfront
How did the big and little moves of the upfront look at the time? How do they look now?

The Big Move: 4x Comedy Tuesday
[New Girl] will remain at the center of a four-comedy evening and (as everyone thought) lead into Mindy. I'm glad they went ahead and pulled the trigger on the four-comedy night and weren't too discouraged by the failure of a block that had two shows with no business even being alive. I did think Raising Hope was too weak for the lead-off spot, so I guess the bar is now set pretty low for Ben and Kate. I have to feel like if they really loved that show, they'd have gone ahead and led off with it. (Upfront Answers)
It's the chicken/egg question of this fall: did America turn away from comedy, or did they turn away from these comedies?

This lineup in particular has gone much worse than I expected. I don't necessarily blame the idea, and I blame New Girl only somewhat. I thought the show was hurt by airing with two comedies that didn't deserve to be alive last spring, and it had a chance to benefit from a better comedy culture around it. And I figured that would surely happen with these two. Instead, it's managed to find two more comedies that don't deserve to be alive. That pains and confuses me, as I'd put both in my personal top five new shows. But maybe I should've read the placement of Raising Hope in the 8:00 slot as a bigger red flag about the prospects of Ben and Kate.

Because of the lack of alternatives, Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project live on into the spring, and there's a shot at least one will live on into 2013-14. They're stronger than The Mob Doctor, and they're probably stronger than Touch would be. That's about as low a bar as one can imagine in primetime, but that's what it takes to survive on the current Fox lineup.

The Little Moves:

Mob Doctor Monday 9/8c in the fall, airs its full order
Some day I may have to do a post on how many new shows with no spot on the midseason schedule at the upfront actually manage to survive. I'm guessing not very many. I do love Spiro from My Boys, but even without having seen this I can buy that she's fairly miscast here. Airs all 13 and out. 1.50. (Best Case/Worst Case)
Ignoring the actual number, this was a pretty good assessment. I've found that to be the case a lot. :-\ Even in the "Worst Case," I thought it would air most of the 13-episode run because Fox had nothing to replace it with. The numbers ended up even lower than I could've imagined. Because of this, its continued presence on the schedule became one of the faces of the "patience"/"wait for the DVR numbers" narrative that many used to characterize the fall.

Really, it was much more about the lack of replacement options, because they didn't order any. Fox was able to quickly can Lone Star (also a much bigger flop than Mob Doc) because they could fire up Lie to Me in a matter of weeks. Fox was much less sure of the improvement they'd get in this spot with something like Touch, and probably rightfully so. I actually thought Mob Doc got to the point where they could even make a noticeable improvement with repeats of Bones, but I guess Fox just didn't feel that way.

Glee on Thursday
I don't really see this ending well. At this point, The X Factor will do more to lift expectations than to actually funnel in new audience. Down 25% to a 2.27. But the one thing I didn't account for in my four-year flameout theory was Fox's lack of any real drama options. That means this is a pretty tough decision at season's end. (Best Case/Worst Case)
At the moment, Glee is down 27% year-to-year, which would make it one of my better predictions. You could argue Glee has done better than I expected, considering the disappointment of both its X Factor lead-in and of pretty much everything else in primetime. Still, -27% after a move to post-X Factor is pretty bad. It'd be (using True2) #2 on NBC, #5 on ABC and #8 on CBS among dramas, this for a show that was the #1 drama on TV two years ago. But like last year, Glee is on Fox, and it's the least weak drama on that network.

Big Picture
What are the best and worst possible spins on the network's performance this fall?

Glass Half-Full:


Well, the animated shows are not down that much. These are shows that have essentially followed the league average over the last few years, and they're continuing to do that in a year when other tentpoles are not. The Simpsons and American Dad! are down less year-to-year than any comedy not named The Big Bang Theory. Family Guy is only behind those three and The Middle.

I suppose Bones has hung in there OK on an island on Monday. It's down 18% year-to-year, but that comparison is largely against a more favorable situation on Thursday after The X Factor. It's getting weaker, but at least it has something of a reason.

Two larger-scale notes: first, Fox remains a network very strong in the 18-34 numbers that advertisers really love. In other words, its performance among real money is always gonna be better than its performance in the raw numbers we use to assess. You could counter that we never had to use that argument before, that the 18-49ers spoke for themselves,and you'd be right.

Second, Fox has had awful autumns before and surged back to leadership. Near the peak of American Idol, it was practically expected. The network has still not premiered their first-string schedule yet. The reality show they really want to air on Wednesday/Thursday is still to come. The drama they really want to air on Monday is still to come. Admittedly, they have not yet fired all their bullets.

Glass Half-Empty:

Fox is down the most of anybody this fall by a long shot, and they're just barely holding off fourth-place ABC overall. They had two focuses this fall: the Tuesday comedy block and the revamp of The X Factor. We covered the first, but to recap: two returnees each down by more than 30% and two much-hyped newbies that are not really doing any better than I Hate My Teenage Daughter and Breaking In.

The second one, The X Factor, started the season down by more than 20% on both nights. So the Britney/Demi overhaul didn't do the job in terms of creating buzz. And despite a few promising post-premiere weeks, both nights will finish the season down by more than 20%. So the overhaul didn't ultimately make the product better, either.

The Fox drama cupboard has been clearing out over the last couple years, and it's now as bare as ever. It's not a surprise when looking back on the upfront. They had one new drama for the fall, and not many people believed in it. Still, it looks right now like Fox will have no choice but to stick with crumbling Glee. We may get to learn what happens when a four-year flameout gets a fifth.

And unlike ABC and CBS, which at least have some good story amid the general madness of the fall (Shark Tank, Scandal, The Big Bang Theory), there is really no consolation prize for Fox. I mentioned Bones in the "Glass Half-Full" section, and that's an eighth-year drama that's down 18% year-to-year. Fox can still compete in some timeslots, but they're not really "holding up" in any. At all. Fox has frequently found themselves unable to find a 3.0 in the demo on their entire weekly schedule unless they have a football-fueled The Simpsons.

Looking Ahead
What moves will the network make at midseason, and how smart are those moves?

The Following On Monday

More on using American Idol as a lead-in in a bit, but some suggest that the show Idol helps launch should be The Following, which at this point is Fox's best bet for a new success this season. I can see the argument, but I don't have a strong feeling on this one either way. It may be their best hope, but it also would probably have the ability to self-start, and the Monday 9/8c landscape this winter has no real drama competition. It would be nice to see it previewed after Idol or an NFL game, though.

No Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Changes

Fox didn't have to do two comedy hours on Tuesday. They could've left Glee on Tuesday and put comedies on Thursday. I rather liked the two-hour plan because I knew Glee was going to continue to crumble, because I liked the flow of the comedy block and the look of the new shows, and because I assumed CBS would have an extremely powerful comedy hour on Thursday at 9/8c.

The CBS hour didn't happen, which made me rethink it somewhat at the time, but not all that seriously. With an autumn of Tuesday nightmare behind us, perhaps it should be rethought more seriously.

We don't really know where Idol will be this season. If it drops as much as last year (30% vicinity), or if it drops as much as The X Factor did this year (low-20%'s), it probably won't qualify as a "megahit" anymore. But it should at least remain a "big hit" (with over a 150 A18-49+). And their other candidates to be lead-ins are New Girl (108), Glee (104) and Bones (94). However much Idol drops, it'll still tower over the other lead-in options.

Frankly, Fox is acting like a network only planning on being around for a couple more years. At the upfront, Fox managed to convince some media members that Idol is a "bad" lead-in just because it didn't launch Breaking In to superstardom (or something). Never mind that it played some role in launching almost all of their new successes in the last decade. Instead of trying to create some shows they can feel decent about bringing into next season, they've opted to order very little product and squeeze every last ad dollar out of expanded American Idol, seemingly disregarding the possibility that they may someday need to replace those hours (much less all their other failing hours).

Yeah, this plan makes them more money right now, but the schedule is teetering even with Idol (probably) still pretty potent. Why not use what they have while they still have it?

Touch to Friday Midseason

Fox pulled this show from the fall only to reinstall it on Friday at midseason. My prediction from the fall stands; I don't see it working.

More Upfronts Revisited: ABC | CBS | NBC | Fox | CW


Spot said...

Of all the networks, I think Fox has its head buried in the sand. Every network had a move to try and set up a show for something bigger (Revenge, 2 Broke Girls) or gave freshmen/sophomore shows a better-than-average chance to really take off (Person of Interest, Suburgatory, Arrow, Go On, Revolution). And while the merits of those moves can be debated on how effective they were, Fox did neither and punted with Glee. It shielded the show from The Voice, which I think was their goal, but if you feel that a veteran drama needs shielding, then there's a problem.

I think Fox was one season too early in trying a 4 sitcom block; I would have made The X-Factor (and this coming season of Idol) a 90 minute edition to put a new sitcom in the :30 slot to groom an audience for it. The Goodwin Games would have been a great candidate for that this Spring (or a revamped Mindy Project), but Fox clearly feels that strategy is a losing one based on the past results of Til Death, Breaking In, I Hate My Teenage Daughter, and possibly others I can't think of.

Spot said...

FOX blew all its money on Terra Nova and X Factor.

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