Tuesday, May 5, 2015

2015 Upfront Questions, Fox

Part two of the upfront preview is the SCHEDULE-centric portion, examining the big-picture scheduling questions each network faces on each night in the final week before its upfront. This post tries to lay out the reasonable possibilities rather than spending a lot of time committing to one, but I am including "Spot's Answer" in each section to try to be a little clearer about where I'm leaning. They're not really "official predictions" (more like a hybrid of predictions/recommendations) but you can consider them that way if you want.

Last week's Power Rankings were the SHOW-centric portion, in which I drilled more into the merits of individual shows: Fox True Power Rankings

Other Upfront Questions: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | CW


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Gotham
9:00 - Sleepy Hollow | The Following

Question: What's the best companion for Gotham?

Spot's Answer: Not a lot to say here. Seems obvious based on the largely older female-skewing stuff on other networks that Fox should continue to make this its male-skewing drama night. The pilot buzz seems to be strongly behind Minority Report.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Utopia | MasterChef Junior | Hell's Kitchen
9:00 - New Girl
9:30 - The Mindy Project | Weird Loners

Question: Does Fox have new comedies worth making extra room for?

There's an obvious Fox fall template that could give the network four pretty good nights: Monday male dramas, Tuesday built around the Ryan Murphy series Scream Queens with a very high-profile cast, Wednesday around incumbent Empire and Thursday around seasonal stuff like MasterChef Junior and Sleepy Hollow that could clear out to make way for American Idol. Sunday looks pretty booked, assuming animated newbie Bordertown shows up.

When you step back and take a big-picture look at this setup, there just isn't much room for new comedies, and that's inconvenient since the pilot buzz suggests Fox is a rare network with good comedy development this year. The Tuesday 9/8c hour is an obvious choice, whether with the male-leaning newbies Grinder and Grandpa or the veteran New Girl and compatible newbie Cooper Barrett's... Thursday 9/8c is a possibility which could at least avoid comedy competition in the early weeks vs. football... but CBS will show up eventually, and would it be forced to move later?

I always like putting good comedies in the fall since they should ideally be accumulating episodes for a syndication run. Are these comedies (and/or the possibility of getting The Last Man on Earth back on the air sooner) promising enough to actually inspire Fox to make some kind of drastic departure from that template and cram four comedies onto Tuesday?

Spot's Answer: If Fox actually goes with two Tuesday comedy hours in the fall, it'd be hard not to read that as a big show of faith in said comedies. It'd be nice to see, but without knowing much about them, it seems pretty unlikely; I can't see them messing with the scheduling of apparent crown jewels Scream Queens and Empire just for the sake of new comedies. ("Messing" would either be bunching them together for a superpower night or putting one up against TGIT on Thursday.) I'll go with Scream Queens/comedy hour for the fall, and two more comedies filling in for Scream at midseason, when they can launch during The Voice's hiatus.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Hell's Kitchen | American Idol
9:00 - Red Band Society | Empire | American Idol

Question: How much Empire will Fox get?

I always try to make these questions things that will definitely get answered at the upfront. I'm not 100% sure this will. But what is most genuinely questionable/interesting surrounding Empire is not what pairs with it (Studio City seems like an obvious thematic match, with the Scream Queens power night another possibility). It's not whether it moves to 8:00 (probably) or even whether it might change nights (unlikely). It's all about how many episodes there will be.

The network surely wants as much as humanly possible, and creator Lee Daniels wants as few as humanly possible. A resounding network win means 22, and the network could be Empire-centric on Wednesday for the overwhelming majority of available Wednesdays, sprinkling in just a few American Idols to round it out. A resounding Daniels win would be a repeat of season one's count, just 12... is it possible it even misses out on the fall schedule that way?!

Spot's Answer: There should be a compromise here, and I would tend to guess at around 16... probably eight in the fall and eight in the January/February/March vicinity. I'm hoping for at minimum 18, which would allow them to fill all of the nine or ten available fall Wednesday weeks and still have a good batch for midseason.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Bones | American Idol | Bones
9:00 - Gracepoint | Backstrom | American Idol | Backstrom

Question: Should Fox swing big on one of the only weeknights without World Series interruption?

Even if/when NBC bombs out again, this is not an easy night, with Thursday Night Football/The Big Bang Theory on CBS and Shonda Rhimes dramas on ABC. That makes it a seemingly natural choice to just go with reliable veterans like MasterChef Junior.

However, the recent change in World Series scheduling (seemingly designed to keep it away from football more often) means that Thursday is now the weeknight that avoids getting preempted twice for World Series coverage. That's a positive for shows that want long runs of consecutive episodes. And since the MasterChef Junior seasons have to be so short, it may actually be a bad thing for that show, since there will be more Thursdays to fill.

The networks are having enough problems that there's generally little need to create more with what I call "negative scheduling": that is, placing a show somewhere just to hurt another show. But beyond avoiding preemptions, it could be another motivation here with Empire or Scream Queens. If Grey's Anatomy looks vulnerable, they may see an opportunity to deal a post-Dempsey Grey's the coup de grace

Spot's Answer: As I said in the Tuesday section, going big on Thursday seems like something that would be more about a pressing need to open up more comedy space. The lack of preemptions and the negative scheduling motivations are nice, but they probably shouldn't be at the forefront of Fox's mind. I'm still doubtful comedies will be that high on the priority list, so I'll take MasterChef Junior and Sleepy Hollow here, with maybe a Bones sighting in the late fall after MasterChef ends. Don't tempt fate by throwing female-skewing big guns at TGIT right now.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Utopia | repeats | World's Funniest Fails | movies
9:00 - repeats | Glee | movies

Question: How much money does Fox want to spend on the night?

Fox is not in particularly good shape, but one thing you can say in their favor is that they have a lot of middling stuff floating around. So the lights shouldn't be going completely off on Friday. They had somewhat shockingly little original material on the night last year: Utopia (pulled after seven Friday telecasts), nine hours of low-cost World's Funniest Fails, and thirteen contractually-obligated burn-off hours of Glee.

Spot's Answer: There will not be a huge uptick in Friday expenditure, but expect at least one low-end drama (either Bones, Sleepy Hollow or a leftover newbie) to end up here for some part of the season. World's Funniest Fails will be back. And The Mindy Project likely gets played here if renewed. Fox tends to dislike admitting that they will run Friday encores at the upfront, so be advised that they could very well announce a two-hour original schedule and later bump one of those hours in favor of Minority Report repeats.


2014-15 Schedule
7:30 - Bob's Burgers
8:00 - The Simpsons
8:30 - Brooklyn Nine-Nine
9:00 - Family Guy
9:30 - Mulaney | Bob's Burgers | The Last Man on Earth 

Question: Will animated newbie Bordertown kick one of the live-action successes off of Sunday (and/or off of the fall schedule)?

Spot's Answer: Rumor has it this will happen, but I'm hesitant to consider it a done deal because a lot of early fall schedule intel turns out to be wrong. It feels like I've been locking Bordertown onto the schedule for years, and it keeps finding a way to get bumped. I don't love the idea of holding The Last Man on Earth for midseason, but if it's locked into another limited order then it could be a pretty comfortable fit as a timeslot share with Bordertown. "A writer on Bordertown said it will happen" is still better than nothing, so I'll say it happens, just not with full confidence.

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