Monday, May 14, 2018

FOX Schedule Analysis for the 2018-19 Season

Earlier today, FOX unveiled its schedule for the upcoming 2018-19 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 2018-19 season can be found here.
Trailers for the new scripted shows can be found here.

In December 2017, the entire industry was shocked by Rupert Murdoch's announcement that he was planning on selling the majority of his vast media empire to Bob Iger and Disney. He has spent his career building up the FOX brand that has slowly invaded so many forms of entertainment. And now, many of those lucrative companies are being sold to another media conglomerate that is also incredibly influential and profitable. It's a part of the overall trend of media mergers in the industry at the moment as companies are striving to get bigger and bigger in the hopes that they can maintain their relevance in an unknown future where streaming plots their destruction for humanity's attention. Of course, these mergers have had vast complications in actually going through the regulatory process. The AT&T-Time Warner merger was taken to court by the Department of Justice that has still yet to reach a conclusion. Of course, the Discovery-Scripps merger managed to sail through the process. When this FOX-Disney deal was first announced, there was so much intriguing complications to take note of. In regards to television, it means that Disney will now own two production studios - ABC Studios and 20th Century Fox Television. But there are also laws that forbid it from owning two broadcast networks. As such, FOX is one of the few assets being left out of this deal. It joins FS1 and Fox News as the properties that Murdoch is still holding onto for now and will probably sell at some point in the future to another entity. Of course, that presents such an unknown future for FOX. This next year will be spent in limbo because the executives will need to act as if the deal won't go through while also preparing for it to get the approval. In the age of vertical integration helping the profits of these companies immensely, it also means that FOX will no longer have a studio associated with it. The majority of the network's schedule right now comes from 20th Century Fox Television. There are only two that come from Warner Bros. - Lethal Weapon and Gotham (which is ending in 2019). As such, it could be a precarious time for FOX as they try to figure out what comes next.

Back in January, the current heads of FOX - Dana Walden and Gary Newman - said that it was business as usual for the company. That was the line they needed to say because they simply didn't have any additional news about this merger that would leave the future of their careers in jeopardy as well. Details are still scarce about the merger. And yet, it is impossible for them to conduct business the same as always. They still had to go through development season luring talent to their network even though the future is only set for the next year. That may not be an enticing offer to some in an era where it has gotten increasingly more competitive for talent. In fact, FOX lost some of their biggest creators out of uncertainty with this deal. It just happened to coincide with Ryan Murphy's contract being up with the studio. The deal presented a bidding war that Netflix ultimately won for the notable creator. This deal has worked against FOX more than it has helped FOX. So, it's fascinating to see the lineup that the broadcast network is presenting to advertisers today. They are presenting a schedule that is still fundamentally FOX. It will still be the network it has always been for the next year. That's what these ad buys are being spent on. So, it's still just speculation for the future that no one truly needs to worry about just yet. And yet, it's also clear that the network is laying the groundwork for the types of projects they are looking for as they are about to be adrift in a world without the backing of a major company.

As such, it seems that FOX is going back to the basics that it started the network with - animated comedies, live sports, multi-camera sitcoms and procedurals. A year ago, FOX was being noted for the heavy amount of science-fiction genre shows it was presenting for its audience. In the schedule announcement a year ago, FOX was adding The Gifted, The Orville and Ghosted to a lineup that already included Lucifer and Gotham. Plus, The X-Files was coming back for another season later in the year. The 2017-18 broadcast season turned out to be a good one for FOX dramas too. They renewed every new hourlong show they put on the air this year. That's impressive. The Gifted, The Orville, 9-1-1 and The Resident are all coming back. However, it's important to note that sci-fi no longer has the same influence on the schedule as it did a year ago. Yes, The Gifted is still there to kick off Tuesday nights now. But The Orville and Gotham are being held for midseason where Gotham is just returning for a shortened final season. Moreover, it seems extremely unlikely that The X-Files or Ghosted will be producing any more episodes. Sure, the network picked up one new genre drama from this development cycle - The Passage starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar. But that too is being held for midseason. In the fall, the network is returning to its roots by focusing on procedures and comedies that can appeal to a broad audience. That may not be all that exciting to write about. This turn was signed immediately once FOX outbid NBC and CBS for the Thursday night games of football. That will take up a huge chuck of the network's schedule - while also promising that the network will probably do even better in the overall ratings and viewership by the end of the upcoming season. But again, that reliance on sports seems to be a short-term solution for a network in the midst of an identity crisis.

Another huge story over the last few weeks has been FOX negotiating to bring back Tim Allen's Last Man Standing for a seventh season. It was exactly a year ago when ABC cancelled the sitcom. Allen has been an outspoken critic of that decision with the hopes that the show could continue somewhere. It took a year for it to find a new home - with the entire cast being released to do other projects in the interim - but it ultimately managed to find it. It makes sense for FOX to pick up the show now because it's a 20th Century Fox Television property that has done well in the past for the company. Of course, the financials work just for this upcoming year. After the merger goes through, FOX will no longer see those same profits. That will put so many things up in the air. Like will Disney be as willing to continue legacy shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy even though they are already cash cows throughout the world that won't be affected whatsoever by no new content being made? That's a huge question because Disney will soon own that intellectual property. It means that it would make sense for Last Man Standing to return to ABC for probably another couple years if they wanted to. At FOX, it serves as a brand re-invention. FOX only picked up multi-camera sitcoms for the fall. It appears that they are targeting an older demographic with its new Friday night lineup. It's fascinating how the network isn't trying to position Last Man Standing in a better way than ABC did for most of its run. They just expect it to continue to be a solid enough hit for Friday nights. Plus, it already seems pretty clear that The Cool Kids will appeal to the same age demographics while Rel is targeting the younger crowd that is more into the animated comedies.

Moreover, the network just seems to be making a bunch of time slot changes in the hopes that things will actually work and flow in a more meaningful way. Again, scheduling still matters for those who still care about stuff like overnight ratings. That's hardly the only barometer for success nowadays - especially as FOX has opted to report on the three-day ratings instead of focusing solely on the overnights. But some of the moves make sense. Bob's Burgers always deserved a better placement in the Sunday animation block. Now, the show probably won't have an erratic airing pattern or be preempted by football. The show won't have to do double episodes in May just to get all of them aired during the regular season. That's promising. Meanwhile, the pairing of 9-1-1 and The Resident makes sense. Given all of the behind-the-scenes turmoil on Lethal Weapon - with Seann William Scott replacing Clayne Crawford as the new co-lead - it's understandable why the network no longer wants it to kick off Tuesday nights. But it will either succeed or fail based on how audiences react to the new partnership. The biggest question may be if FOX even has enough content to fill out its midseason schedule? Yes, it still has kept some pilots in consideration for midseason pickups. The executives will make those final decisions before the end of June. But does the network have the shows to fill out the schedule once the football season ends and Empire and Star take their normal midseason breaks? Ryan Murphy teased that 9-1-1 would be following a similar pattern with its second season as well so that it wouldn't be a huge commitment for the talent with the increased episode count. As such, one has to question if The Resident will be broken up that way too? This more and more seems like a schedule just for the fall with the network choosing to just keep inching forward not knowing what it's future ultimately holds. It's not making longterm plans which is an intriguing position for a broadcast network to be in right now.