Quick Take: Tim Goodman on Fox
A look at the network's new fall shows and its programming strategies - plus positive and negative signs.
I will say it for the second time, then at least two more times in the coming days: The obligatory disclaimer: As a TV critic, I’m not going to comment definitively on any of FOX’s trailers. Because that’s all they are – trailers. It’s hard enough to judge a series (particularly a comedy) based on a pilot episode, much less a cut-down trailer.
At best, whatever I say is a shrug. And don’t hold me to that.
Also, to understand how I feel about the upfront dog and pony show and the inability of networks to learn from the mistakes of the current industry model, you might want to read this.
It’s hard to criticize Fox for most scheduling decisions because with its sports duties you have to be some kind of magician to create consistency before midseason (a word that Fox entertainment head Kevin Reilly thankfully said should be dismissed from the TV lexicon as broadcast tries to program 52 weeks). In any case, let’s just say the first wave and the second wave of Fox offerings look either intriguing or well-packaged and that’s half the battle right there.
In particular, I like Fox’s continued interest in sci-fi and paranormal type programming, offering up both Sleepy Hollow (from Fringe producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) and Almost Human (from J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman). Both shows will be on Monday, which is bold because Friday has been the de-facto try-to-make-it slot for programming like this in the past from Fox and other networks.
I also like the network’s foray into “event” programming with a recycled (re-energized?) run of 24 and the new Wayward Pines. By “event,” what they mean is shorter, more Brit-like offerings that may or may not have a future beyond what they offer initially (thus leading to more types of this limited programming that not only conveniently fills gaps in an overly-long season but provide a short-story like approach to television rather than the bloated novel, which is normally how things run). So those are encouraging scheduling and philosophical changes.
Fox is also sticking to its Tuesday comedy block and at least trying to get half of one started on Friday nights.
And Fox is one of the only broadcast networks that is at least trying to do something with Saturday nights, continuing its emphasis on sports that it started last year. This may not be your thing, but I liked the idea originally and obviously still do but give most of the praise for at least attempting something. Just giving up on Saturdays has been one of the most irritating network trends of the last decade at least.
These may not be negatives so much as worries, but hey we have a template to stick with, so just roll with it. For starters, I’ve never seen anyone so interested in mining comedy from what is normally a serious situation. Meaning, Fox is gambling on some crazy tonal shifts and will either live (big ratings, critical acclaim!) or die (neither!) by that decision. You can see it clearly in the cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the military comedy Enlisted and, with a barrage of one liners, even in Gang Related, Rake and Sleepy Hollow. It will be interesting to see how all this plays.
And there’s no way around putting American Idol and even X Factor in the negative category because one is in a ratings free-fall, the other hasn’t lived up to expectations and both have completely mismanaged their judging ranks, creating sideshows that detract from the actual shows (even if Fox thinks that the controversies are good for intrigue and business – the ratings would say otherwise.).
New shows (you can check them out here):
Almost Human and Sleepy Hollow are by far the most intriguing offerings, followed by Rake and Us & Them, the American reboot of the British comedy Gavin & Stacey (the third time a network has tried to make it work).
Gang Related seems uber-trite compared to, say, Southland; I honestly have no idea what to make of Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Enlisted, shows that had better send multiple episodes to critics for review; Dads has a laugh-track, which makes me sigh (I know Reilly really wants to build a stable of these at some point…), but the clips seem overly familiar; I would like to see more, however, of whether Surviving Jack can flesh out into something surprising.
One can always hope. So far, of all the networks, Fox has most of my interest – but part of that is curiosity about whether these tone-shifting risks will pan out.