1:00pm PT by Michael O'Connell
Fox Pulls Plug on 'Utopia'
Fox's social experiment is over. The network is pulling Utopia from the schedule completely, just a month after reducing its weekly episode count.
The writing has been on the wall for the ambitious reality series, which aimed to put a group of strangers in an isolated camp and document their activities for an entire year. It made a soft debut ahead of the official 2014-15 season and quickly languished in its live-plus-same day performance. Within a month of its premiere, low ratings prompted Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman to drop the weekly Tuesday episode in hopes of Utopia attracting a larger audience during its Friday telecasts. Condensing the schedule didn't help matters. The most recent outing averaged a series low of a 0.5 rating among adults 18-49 and barely more than 1.5 million viewers.
The move marks another blow to network reality, which has struggled to produce a bona fide hit since The Voice launched in 2011. Earlier this summer, ABC tried and failed with its pricey singing competition Rising Star, while Fox quickly canceled lower-budget entries I Wanna Marry Harry and Riot. Other high-profile efforts gone bust include Fox’s The X Factor, ABC’s Duets and CBS' The Job. Many blame a saturated marketplace and a culture of copycats. The result has been a game of executive musical chairs, with recent shake-ups at three of the four major networks.
Shortly after its disappointing launch, Walden suggested she would exercise "patience," since she and her fellow CEO liked the show. "It is a really interesting twist on a franchise that feels familiar enough to viewers that I think over time it has the great opportunity that scripted shows do not have of introducing new pioneers, bringing in different points of view, activating new viewers to come in and check out the world," she told The Hollywood Reporter in early September, noting at that time: "We're definitely going to exhibit patience. What exactly that means, it's hard to tell. I'd say that as long as we're feeling creatively satisfied with the show, we're going to do everything in our power to give it an opportunity to thrive and grow."
Walden and Newman, who arrived at the network just a month before Utopia's launch, did give the series quite a bit of time to find its legs. Still, it proved to be the lowest-rated new fall offering on Fox's troubled schedule. Fox ranks No. 4 among the broadcast networks, season-to-date, and only drama Gotham has broken through among the new offerings. Mulaney recently saw its episode count cut, a move that doesn't bode well for the Sunday comedy.
Utopia is an unlikely swing-and-a-miss for reality producer (and Voice creator) John de Mol. The series was adapted from his buzzy Dutch format. It was also the first big play for Fox's new reality chief, Simon Andreae. He replaced longtime Fox unscripted head Mike Darnell at the start of the year.
For those who have been watching Utopia, it doesn't look like they'll be getting any closure. The decision is effective immediately. Starting Nov. 7, repeats of the sophomore season of MasterChef Junior, which takes Utopia's Tuesday slot effective this week, will air in its place. The live-streaming component, a big aspect of the launch, concludes on Sunday.