Friday, May 18, 2007

FOX Upfronts: Quick Thoughts

Afflicted (except in years featuring the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs) with baseball coverage in October, FOX makes a point of releasing a minimum of two schedules per year to advertisers at their upfront presentations (one year it was at least three schedules). FOX doesn't do this because they have any intention of using that January/Spring schedule, but they want to remind ad buyers that no matter how bleak the fall may look, "American Idol" and "24" are around the bend.

Look at the schedule FOX presented in May '06 for January '07. It included "Standoff," "Justice," "The Loop," "Happy Hour" and "The Wedding Album," none of which played even a minor role in the spring. It also included the move of "Bones" to Friday, which didn't happen either. In fact, looking at the schedule, it's pretty clear that it was pure hubris, but sometimes you've got to put things out there, even if you know they're lies.

That's why I take FOX's Thursday (May 17) scheduling announcements with several shakers full of salt. You can count on "24" airing at 9 p.m. on Mondays starting in January. You can count on "American Idol" airing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays next year and prompting the inevitable "Is 'American Idol' over-the-hill?" talk until it premieres with 35 million viewers. You can count on "COPS" and "AMW" on Saturdays and that "The Simpsons" will air on Sundays at 8 p.m. Everything else is *pure* conjecture. And despite how up-in-the-air everything else, between "Idol" and "House" and "24" and the Super Bowl, it's hard to imagine a network that isn't FOX winning the key demos next season. That doesn't mean this is a great schedule, but until "American Idol" actually does go in the tank, that's a heck of a thing to top.

A question I'd ponder is whether or not FOX's core is growing. You've got "Idol" and "24" and "House" and... Dunno... "Bones"? To a slightly lesser degree "Prison Break"? It took an "Idol" push for FOX to keep "'Til Death" around, avoiding a total squadoosh for the 2006 development season. So FOX may win 18-49 this season, but where's the evidence that the network's overall strength is improving and that they're properly utilizing what resources they have to develop new resources?

A quick night-by-night review and a glance at the pilots FOX didn't pick up is after the bump, so click on through:

[Warning: This may get confusing...]

FALL: "Prison Break," "K-Ville"
SPRING: "K-Ville" (January)/ "Prison Break" (Spring), "24"
As long as I have at least three available DVR/TiVo/Slingbox tuners, I'm not about to quit on "Prison Break," though I haven't missed it since March and I only barely remember where we left off. Is it possible that that's a show that has pushed view faith too far and may be ready for a drop? And will "K-Ville" be able to succeed where "Vanished" failed last year? I'd really like for "K-Ville" to be good, but are Anthony Anderson and Cole Hauser big enough stars to sell it?

FALL: "New Amsterdam," "House"
SPRING: "American Idol," "House"
It's odd that FOX isn't attempting to use "House" as a launching pad and that they're content that the "Idol"-"House" Tuesday is a winning combination and there's no point in using "Idol" to generate, I dunno, another success. Why not try using "House" to lead into "K-Ville"? Why not use "Idol" in the spring to make "Canterbury's Law" work? Obviously, "House" doesn't need "Idol" anymore, so why not spread resources? Why not put "House" at 8 on Thursdays and attack that night? I dunno... This just seems gutless to me.

FALL: "Back To You," "'Til Death," "Bones"
JANUARY: "Back To You," "'Til Death," "American Idol"
SPRING: "Back to You," "The Return of Jezebel James," "American Idol," "'Til Death"
I'm going to be really interested to see how much of an audience comes back to "'Til Death" when it doesn't have the "Idol" lead-in in the fall. And why keep "'Til Death" in that cushy post-"Idol" slot (assuming that the "Idol" producers don't demand an hour for Wednesday results shows from the beginning? The clips from "Jezebel James" worked for me and I wish it were getting that "Idol" bump, though the show does have a halo effect, so who knows?

FALL: "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," "Kitchen Nightmares"
SPRING: "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," "Canterbury's Law"
The fall line-up actually makes sense. It's low-risk, moderate-reward. But in the spring? Hi, Juliana Margulies. Welcome back to primetime. Meet "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI." Wait... Come back!!!

FALL: "The Search for the Next Great American Band," "Nashville"
SPRING: "Bones," "New Amsterdam"
Again, the fall seems plausible, though the last time FOX tried going this heavy on reality pre-January, it yielded stuff like "The Complex" and that thing with Richard Branson. As for the spring, hands up if you actually believe that we'll see "Bones" leading into "New Amsterdam" come January or February. I'm waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Yeah. I didn't think so. If "New Amsterdam" is a bomb, it'll be gone and we'll get "Trading Spouses." If it's a hit, FOX won't want to waste it on Friday and we'll get "Trading Spouses." And what did "Bones" ever do to deserve even teasing like this? It's a good show. Be nice to it. Don't kill it.

FALL/SPRING: "Cops," "Cops," "America Most Wanted"
How sad is it that this line-up makes FOX the leading provider of original Saturday night content on network TV? Very.

FALL: "Football Overtime," "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," "Family Guy," "American Dad"
SPRING: "King of the Hill," "American Dad," "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "The Sarah Connor Chronicles"
The placement of "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" is either brilliant or insanely dumb. I don't know. "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" will certainly provide an OK number of 18-49 viewers, but the "Terminator" spin-off is bound to be incredibly expensive. It'll need more than that. For me, there's no competition in this slot, so I'm looking forward to it.

INTERESTING PILOTS (BASED ON PLOT AND CAST, NOT ANYTHING I'VE SEEN) THAT DIDN'T GET PICKED UP: You had the "24" team behind "Company Man," but last-second recasting might have doomed its fall hopes. I bet that after "New Amsterdam" tanks, FOX orders it for a midseason failure, a la "Drive" or "Wedding Bells." Mostly FOX's development didn't engage me. The alien sleeper cell drama "Them" might have been cool. And "Me & Lee?" had Lee Majors playing himself (but it also had Jamie Kennedy).

And check out our more exhaustive upfronts coverage over at Zap2it.

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