Tuesday, May 2, 2017

2017 Upfront Renewology: Fox

Welcome to Upfront Renewology! This is the SHOW-centric half of the upfront preview, digging into the merits of individual shows by network. The next round will be Upfront Questions, the SCHEDULE-centric look ahead to upfront week. The following week, the schedules come out, and with them come the Upfront Answers.

Averages up to date through Sunday, April 30.

More Upfront Renewology: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | CW

Fox Targets Too Low?

As I said a couple weeks ago, this is an interesting season for broadcast TV because the convergence of networks is over. There's a clear #1 and a clear #4 again. That is not just meaningless trivia, either; it will probably have real implications in the renew/cancel world. In the last couple years, you could probably get away with simply assuming that the renewal bar is the same on each network. In 2016-17, that mistake may come back to bite you. Fox may very well renew a show or two that most/all other networks would not, and it's not necessarily even a bad decision given what they have. Schedule's gotta get filled.

But all that being said, Renewology has seemingly gotten a little out of hand in how low it's setting the bar. There are a couple big reasons that stick out to me that I didn't anticipate before the season:

1. Self-sabotage? Even given Fox's limited resources, they have not exactly put their best foot forward. The Gotham / 24 switch seems to get more attention, but the far more egregious sin is literally leaving Lucifer episodes unaired in favor of playing out the APB string. Not quite sure how many points this is actually worth, but over a month of APB instead of Lucifer in the Fox averages is definitely something. The difference in how many Lucifer episodes they aired this year vs. the elongated season they'll have next year could just about wipe a renewal off the board singlehandedly.

2. The pickup of The X-Files quite possibly takes a slot away from another limited series. Having that in the mix as a "returning" 2017-18 series should in theory make the Fox targets higher, but it doesn't because its ratings did not go into the 2016-17 averages. If I do this again next year I'll try to come up with a consistent rule for handling these situations.

So for this network only, I'm gonna offer both the "official" version of R%, as well as one in which I increase the Fox averages by a tenth of a point (which amounts to +0.075ish in targets). I didn't do anything scientific to get to that adjustment, and maybe it is too much. But for what it's worth, it doesn't actually take anything below the symbolic 50 threshold in R%. The numbers just feel a little more reasonable as a point for discussion.

The Upper Drama Bubble
Prison Break78%
24: Legacy70%
Shots Fired63%

Prison Break isn't as flashy as The X-Files, but it's skewed quite young and is doing well enough to get another whirl on a network as downtrodden as Fox. But this may not get a resolution either way at the upfronts. Gotham should be a formality but it's gotten a surprising number of "bubble" mentions in the media, so here it is just for the sake of completeness.

What about 24: Legacy? Post-Super Bowl exposure ultimately melting down into a 0.8 is not a good look, to be sure. But those 0.8's are still a good bit ahead of everything in the next tier down, coming after DST against a lot of competition, while the low-end Fox stuff was at least a tenth lower. I'd give 24 one more filler role, maybe try to bring on some more overt connections to the original series, get through the episodes quicker, and then do away with it if there's no sign of improvement. But the embarrassment of the high-profile weakness may be enough to drive Fox off of it. Usually these "disappointments" with still acceptable ratings make it through in the end, but after CBS whacked Supergirl last year (a much stronger show than 24: Legacy) anything is possible.

For Shots Fired, the question is what would be left without Empire. It hit a 0.8 even when Empire was not original, so I don't think it's propping it up too much, but that was also a really low-competition night. This show always gets compared to American Crime, and to its credit it would be less of a ratings reach than that one was in season one. But it's also not on the same level in terms of critical attention.

Then there is Rosewood, the much-maligned procedural which has been picking up steam in True as the Friday viewing levels plummet. It looked simply terrible at the start of its Friday run (including a 0.6 on the first Friday in January) but didn't drop that much over the next four months (including another 0.6 in late April). The options below it aren't any better, but will that be enough for it to back into another Friday run? Seems like a true coinflip to me.

Will the pickup of The X-Files take a spot away from one of the above shows? Maybe. Using the alternate R% probabilities, one or two of the five should get axed anyway. Perhaps Fox will defy my expectation and set their renewal bar even higher than that (on par with the other networks) and absolutely clean house. But what the X-Files news should really be doing is...

The Lower Drama Bubble
Sleepy Hollow24%0.800.830.951333%45%
The Exorcist20%0.810.790.951045%45%
Scream Queens4%0.630.640.951054%46%

...ensuring nothing from this crowd gets the nod.

Fox had a lot of flops this season, but few that truly went way out of the mix. The only one possibly on that level was Scream Queens, and even it has the squishy stuff in its favor like skew and social interest. So it's at least conceivable that any one of these could find a way through.

Given four shows in the 20-25% range, it would not be surprising if one survives, and there have been indications that Fox is favoring The Exorcist. The only thing I can really see in the ratings is that it's younger-skewing and a slightly stronger DVR performer than some of the others here. But if it had been airing in late March with a Rosewood lead-in, would it have really done much or any better than where Sleepy Hollow ended up? All these shows will have to endure lengthy hiatuses, and I just can't say there's any one case where it'd be worth the wait.

The Comedy Vets
New Girl88%
The Last Man on Earth87%
Brooklyn Nine-Nine71%

Little to say about these shows. They're all stronger than many of the alternatives, but they're all veterans, so maybe at least one of them won't make it. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has separated a bit at the rear of the group, as the other two have proven a little more resilient in their spring episodes.

The Lord/Miller Newbies
Making History27%0.850.830.93755%57%
Son of Zorn22%0.810.810.931354%59%

If Fox wants to throw a bone to the Lord/Miller team, could they dip into this group? Making History has been frustratingly high in the official R% because the True formula is kinder to young-skewing shows in low-viewing conditions. But I would still make it my choice out of this duo, rather than Son of Zorn. I'm not sure how much more scheduling love History could actually get in this hypothetical, but it's a fact that Zorn had a lot more exposure and still had nothing left in the end. It's probably a low number either way, but the probability of actually turning into something has to be higher with Making History.

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