Monday, May 16, 2016

FOX Schedule Analysis for the 2016-17 Season

Earlier today, FOX unveiled its schedule for the upcoming 2016-17 season and then promoted the lineup to advertisers. But right now, I'm taking a closer look at the network's scheduling plans and analyzing what is likely to work and what might fail.

FOX's schedule for the 2016-17 season can be found here.
Trailers for the new scripted shows can be found here.

Much like NBC's schedule announcement yesterday, it looks like FOX is heading into the 2016-17 season with as much stability as possible. Not a whole lot of changes are coming for its fall lineup. That's potentially worrisome because FOX is currently ranked as the Number 3 network amongst the Big Four broadcasters. NBC can afford to be safe and stable right now because it has so much strengths on its schedule. Empire is still the Number 1 show on the broadcast networks. But that's not enough for FOX to be successful in this industry. It's holding on to a number of its most promising shows for midseason. Fortunately, it has also revealed tentative plans for how they'll air later in the season. It wouldn't be a FOX scheduling announcement if it didn't offer up any confusing bits of programming. And now, it's time to properly analyze those curious decisions.

FOX is only going to program three new shows in the fall. Two of them are heavily weighing on familiar titles to audiences as well - Lethal Weapon on Wednesdays and The Exorcist on Fridays. The third one - Son of Zorn - is one of the weirder and more ambitious experiments happening next season. It's a live action/animation hybrid that is unsurprisingly being slotted between The Simpsons and Family Guy. That move makes sense. But the rest of the fall lineup seems very uninspired. The network hasn't done very well in the ratings this past season. This year also saw the network drop overnight ratings as the sole determiner of success. It is now looking at the returns from three and seven days after the broadcast to determine a show's future. And yet, its shows still need to do well in the overnight numbers. And it doesn't seem like the fall schedule is particularly set up to do that.

The most troubling night off the bat is Tuesdays. The network has flirted back and forth on a two hour comedy block. Right now, it has settled on Brooklyn Nine-Nine into New Girl into Scream Queens. All three of those shows have their fans and own unique styles. But all of them were averaging some pretty low numbers this season. It's hard to imagine that lineup averaging more than a collective 1.0 in the key demographic. It's also weird that the network is basically asking The Exorcist remake starring Geena Davis to be a self-starter on Fridays. Yes, Hell's Kitchen is its lead-in at 8. And yes, lead-ins still matter. But it's curious why the network chose to do that Gordon Ramsey-hosted reality competition in the fall instead of the more successful MasterChef Junior. It also seems like the network is hoping for the Empire halo effect to lift Lethal Weapon up to respectable numbers as well - just like it did for Rosewood this year. But Rosewood was seeing some significant decreases this spring. And now, it's being asked to hold up Thursday nights with the final season of Bones. Again, this is a lackluster schedule that seems like FOX is just waiting until midseason to do all of its more exciting new shows.

FOX does have a number of really intriguing and ambitious stuff plotted for midseason. The network also has the Super Bowl this year. That will help increase its ratings presence and help with the promotional effort for its spring series. Launching the new version of 24 entitled 24: Legacy after the big game sounds like a very smart and sound investment. It's yet another title based on a pre-existing property. However, it should be interesting to see if people will watch a 24 show that doesn't have Kiefer Sutherland in it. The new series provides a strong push into diversity for the network. But so do a number of other midseason series - including limited series Shots Fired starring Sanaa Lathan, Dan Fogelman's baseball drama Pitch and Lee Daniels' new musical show Star. All of those shows have interesting loglines and represent something different from the traditional procedurals found on broadcast networks. It's just curious that all of that ambition is being slated for midseason. The fall lineup desperately needs it.

The new comedies are fairly ambitious as well for FOX. Son of Zorn is the only new fall show. But at midseason, Making History with Adam Pally & Leighton Meester and The Mick starring Kaitlin Olson will debut. The network is really doubling down on Phil Lord and Chris Miller next season. They serve as executive producers on both Son of Zorn and Making History - as well as returning comedy The Last Man on Earth. But it's still uncertain if the network can make any comedy work right now. There had been many rumors about FOX doing a second season of either Grandfathered or The Grinder. Both had strong and consistent first seasons but poor ratings. Instead, the network scrapped both of them in favor of trying to find something new that will do better. And yet, there's no guarantee that that will happen because the network really doesn't have a great comedy launching pad right now.

Plus, there is the questionableness of FOX bringing back both Prison Break and Sleepy Hollow. With Prison Break, the network must have some assurances from Netflix that the streaming numbers justify the drama coming back. It's being billed as a limited event series. If it fails, the network heads can easily boast that it was only suppose to be one season. But if it takes off on the traditionally competitive Thursday night, it could become a fixture of the network once more. Limiting its run could also be beneficial because the show typical lost a lot of steam from having to do 22 episode seasons. But again, the rationalization can be worked out for Prison Break. The same cannot be said for Sleepy Hollow which has basically become the textbook example of how to complete destroy your show. It's such a colossal mistake to try to move on without the series' female lead Nicole Beharie. It's easy to understand why she wanted off the show. The writing had been terrible for the past two seasons. But continuing it now only further showcases that the creative team doesn't understand why it succeeded in the first place. Dana Walden and Gary Newman are reluctant to call the fourth season the final one for Sleepy Hollow. But the writing is very clearly on the wall.

Overall, this may be a strong comeback schedule for FOX. But that's not going to be apparent right away. It's relying on a formula that hasn't worked out so well in the past for its fall lineup. It could really be struggling over the next few months. But the network also has some of the more interesting and exciting new series for the 2016-17 season. Any one of them could have the potential to breakout in the same way that Empire did over a year ago. And yet, Empire worked because FOX could compress all of its marketing on it. If FOX is trying to save a bunch of shows for next year because of the promotional abilities of the Super Bowl, that could be a costly mistake.