TV Upfronts: Fox Execs on 'American Idol's' Fate, 'Empire' Season 2 Plans, More '24'

Ahead of their pitch to ad buyers, Dana Walden and Gary Newman provided details on 'Idol's' send-off plans and the future of 'X-Files' and '24.'
Dana Walden & Gary Newman

Less than a year into their roles as 20th Century Fox Television chairmen, Dana Walden and Gary Newman are prepared to greet the advertising community with a schedule of their own making.

But before doing so, the pair, along with Fox entertainment president David Madden, Fox TV Group COO Joe Earley, scheduling honcho Dan Harrison and ad sales chief Toby Byrne, made their pitch to the press, using their pre-upfront platform to stress the consideration placed on ending American Idol after an upcoming 15th and final season. Walden and Newman have the benefit of juggernaut Empire, along with comedy breakout Last Man on Earth to distract from another rough season, where the No. 4 network posted a 20 percent decline in the key 18-49 demo, thanks to early unscripted misfire Utopia, Idol fatigue and a sophomore slump for once-promising Sleepy Hollow.

Also on offer were their thoughts about the strategic move to launch Empire in the fall, and the plans for The X-Files, 24 and more. Below are the highlights:

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Idol's Trip Down Memory Lane

Though Walden described the decision to end Idol after a 15th and final season as a "pretty emotional" one, the writing was on the wall. The pricey singing competition had seen both its ratings and relevance take a sizable hit in recent years, with the current season averaging a 2.7 rating among the key 18-49 demo — a fraction the audience the one-time juggernaut lured in its early days. Walden and Newman promise a celebratory send-off full of nostalgia-heavy "surprises" for the series that catapulted Fox to No. 1 for several years. The pair remained coy on what those surprises would entail, while still noting that past judges and performers would be welcomed back. When asked if Ryan Seacrest's first-year co-host Brian Dunkleman would be among the latter, Walden cracked: "Where is Brian Dunkleman? If you get me his number, I’ll find him and call him."

Drip, Drop ... Empire's Back (in the Fall)

Bringing back the No. 1 series on broadcast television earlier in the season was a no-brainer — and Newman suggested keeping it in its Wednesday 9 p.m. slot felt much the same. The hip-hop drama from Danny Strong and Lee Daniels came roaring onto Fox's schedule in January, and became appointment viewing in a way that so little does in an era of time-shifted and SVOD viewing. For that reason, moving Empire anywhere else on the schedule seemed foolish, with Newman stressing that keeping it in its slot was a way to "reward fans." As for garnering more viewers for season two, the Fox execs said that there will continue to be a deluge of marketing and publicity between now and launch, along with plenty of catch-up viewing opportunities on non-linear platforms. (Fox will not be repeating the series on the linear primetime schedule this summer.) As for season two, the expanded 18-episode season will be split into two parts, will be layered with even more guest stars and will include original music by Ne-Yo in addition to Timbaland.

"Big," "Bold" and "Risky"

On multiple occasions, Walden and Newman employed the terms “big” and “bold” to describe both their programming and scheduling choices for fall. “Erratic scheduling and repeats just don’t work,” Newman stated, before laying out plans to run his key series largely or entirely uninterrupted next season. As for some of the network’s scheduling choices, he and Walden suggested that pairing futuristic crime drama Minority Report with Gotham on Mondays was a way to utilize the male-heavy launch platform of football on Sundays in the fall. Lucifer, another DC Comics adaptation, will replace Minority Report in the spring and is poised to have that male/female appeal as well. For her part, Walden acknowledged that the decision to launch an entirely new night of programming on Tuesdays was a "risky" one, but she suggested she was confident enough in her new fare. John StamosGrandfathered and Rob Lowe’s Grinder both feature charismatic male leads in series that, at their core, are about family, she noted, while Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens is a “wildly original” horror comedy that Murphy has been peddling as Heathers meets Friday the 13th.

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What's Old is New Again: The X-Files, 24 and Nore 

“Have you ever met Chris Carter? He doesn’t tell us a lot,” Walden quipped when asked about the creative plans for the X-Files reboot getting a post-NFC Championship game launch pad. What she did reveal was that Carter’s upcoming iteration will be “a mixture of stand-alones and deeper mythology,” adding that she thinks “everyone will be happy with what [Chris] has planned.” As for more 24 — another former Fox staple, which was rebooted in 2014 — Newman stressed that while it was still “fairly early in the development process,” they were working on another season

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