Monday, May 15, 2017

FOX Schedule Analysis for the 2017-18 Season

Earlier today, FOX unveiled its schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 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 2017-18 season can be found here.
Trailers for the new scripted shows can be found here.

FOX's scheduling announcements at Upfronts have typically been very complicated in the past. They would frequently release their tentative plans for the entire next year - not just for the fall. It wanted to prove to advertisers that it had thought things through and had a solid game plan for the season with very specific details. Most of the time though it was just too much information delivered in a way that was too complicated. This year FOX has taken a new approach. It has just released its planned schedule for the fall. Much like NBC, it's an announcement that has very few new shows debuting but a number of returning shows shifting time slots. It's an interesting approach to things because it's the network trying to grow the audience it already has by being very concise and deliberate.

This past season was very fascinating for FOX. Linear ratings were down for its ongoing series. A lot of them saw steep year-to-year declines - with the worst probably being Empire, which is no longer the behemoth savior of broadcast TV like it once was. That crown has now shifted to NBC's This Is Us. And yet, overall ratings for the season are lifted up due to strong ratings from a landmark World Series and a Super Bowl that went into overtime. It was a good year for sports on FOX. But the network can't solely rely on those events in order to keep the lights on. This year also continued the trend of the executives in charge not making renewal decisions based on same day ratings. FOX is allegedly the only broadcast network doing this. It touts the numbers from Live+3 more regularly. Those boosts help certain shows appear as hits more than their overnight numbers do. Plus, it highlights the changing economics of this business. Things are changing very quickly. The line between success and failure is getting increasingly blurred.

So in looking closely at this schedule, it appears that FOX is betting big on sci-fi right now. The three new shows it's debuting in the fall all have genre conventions to them. Ghosted is a comedic take on The X-Files (which is also coming back sometime in 2018). The Orville is a comedic take on Star Trek from Seth MacFarlane. And The Gifted has a tenuous connection to Marvel and the X-Men. Those are some bold risks that may or may not pay off. FOX has a history with sci-fi shows. So, these additions don't come out of nowhere. The network is using two of its returning genre dramas - Lucifer and Gotham - to prop up its new hourlongs on Monday and Thursday. It's the network essentially doubling down on these concepts. But what does it say that FOX is airing these new shows at 9 instead of potentially using the bigger buzz around them to boost the numbers of their returning hits? Yes, time slots are becoming less and less relevant. But they still do matter to some degree. The Gifted is the FOX show with the most buzz at the moment. Maybe it's airing at 9 because that's the time that Empire and This Is Us broke out in. It's just odd to me and I don't really have a clue why. Plus, if The Orville doesn't break out, then FOX will probably have another disastrous Thursday next season.

Elsewhere, it's big that FOX is finally moving Empire to the 8 o'clock hour. When it had that tremendous first season in the ratings, it seemed inevitable that it would move in order to be a huge lead-in for a new show. That didn't happen. Instead, the executives hoped that the halo effect of airing before Empire would help the new shows. That did happen too - first with Rosewood then with Lethal Weapon. Of course, Lethal Weapon proved to be a self-starter on its own while Rosewood plummeted once it moved. With Empire's ratings falling, FOX is now following convention. It's created a Lee Daniels night. It's a programming block that has been common with networks and big producers - like Shonda Rhimes, Chuck Lorre and Dick Wolf. Empire and Star are similar enough shows for this pairing to work well. But they are only doing 18 episode seasons. So that creates the question of what will happen on the night during the rest of the season? That will probably depend on how the ratings go across the board in the fall.

So, those are the big moves on FOX's schedule for the fall. Friday and Sunday are basically the same - with Ghosted replacing Son of Zorn following The Simpsons. Tuesday's lineup isn't all that surprising either. It's Lethal Weapon moving because it has loyal followers and trying to boost the numbers of two comedies. Of course, it's looking likely that there will be a comedy logjam during the 9 o'clock hour on Tuesdays - with NBC, FOX and probably ABC. It should be fascinating to see if any of them will blink and change things in the coming days. FOX doesn't seem to be playing things safe. If it were, it wouldn't have put The Orville on Thursday at 9 after NBC moved This Is Us to the slot. So, FOX is basically doing its own thing and not caring about what the other networks are doing. That could be smart from a business perspective as it's worrying about their shows instead of their competitors'. But a lack of awareness over what everyone else is doing could be a hindrance as well.