Fox Cancellations Explained: Why So Many Shows Got the Ax

Short answer: Blame the NFL (but it's much more than that).
Erik Voake/FOX; Courtesy of FOX
'Lucifer' (left), 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine'

Fox dropped a sizable ax on many of its bubble shows Thursday and Friday.

All told, the network canceled five series: comedies Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Last Man on Earth and The Mick, plus dramas Lucifer and The Exorcist. Of the bubble shows, Lethal Weapon is the priority as producers Warner Bros. TV are trying to hammer out a deal with a new star before Monday's upfront presentation. (Should that not work, Fox would renew the studio's DC Comics drama Gotham instead, sources say.) On the comedy side, decisions are still TBD on rookies L.A. to Vegas and Ghosted, with the former — from executive producer Steve Levitan — remaining in the conversation.

So, what's behind the bloodshed? To put it simply: the network's deal with the NFL for Thursday Night Football, which will take over more than 30 hours of space on an already truncated schedule as Fox, unlike ABC, NBC and CBS, does not program the 10 p.m. hour. (What's more, Fox also has rights to MLB postseason games, including the World Series.)

Returning for the 2018-19 season are animated series The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers and Family Guy (with the latter two already in production despite a lack of a formal pickup); Lee Daniels dramas Empire and Star; and second-year dramas 911, The Gifted, The Orville and The Resident. Those join five new series: genre drama The Passage, legal procedural Proven Innocent, and multicamera comedies Rel, The Cool Kids and the revived Last Man Standing, starring Tim Allen. That's almost half of the network's total scripted roster heading into the 2017-18 season (21 last season vs. 12 so far this year).

Fox's leaner scripted roster makes sense after the network landed Thursday Night Football with a five-year deal. The pact, valued at $550 million per year, signaled parent company 21st Century Fox's plans for a sports- and news-heavy "new Fox" should regulators approve Disney's $52.4 billion deal that would include assets including the broadcaster's studio sibling 20th Century Fox Television. 

Meanwhile, the decision to officially rescue Last Man Standing for a seventh season a year after ABC canceled the family comedy was spurred by the latter network's ratings success with Roseanne, which will likely finish the season as TV's most-watched comedy (displacing The Big Bang Theory for the first time in years). That has sparked a wave of multicamera pickups — this season's orders have already more than doubled last year (nine vs. four) — as broadcasters make a noticeable shift for programming that appeals to middle America. Last Man Standing also, sources say, threw a wrench into the network's comedy pickup plans. Heading into the week before upfronts, Fox's two comedy front-runners were Rel and Dan the Weatherman. Sources say Dan is still in contention for a potential midseason slot — as are Liz Meriwether single-cams Daddy Issues and Lake Bell-Dax Shepard comedy Bless This Mess (which shoots in July) as well as the untitled middle America multicamera comedy from the It's Always Sunny team.

On the ownership side of things, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which ends after five seasons, is from Universal Television and left Fox to pay a licensing fee for the aging Andy Samberg cop comedy from Dan Goor and Mike Schur. Lucifer (wrapping after three seasons) was a genre drama from DC Entertainment-based Warner Bros. Television and fell into the same lack of ownership category. The rest — The Exorcist, Last Man on Earth and The Mick (and likely Ghosted) — were all produced in-house at 20th Century Fox Television. It's also worth noting that all of the comedies canceled this week were single-camera, while all of Fox's new and only live-action comedy additions to its schedule so far — Cool Kids, Rel and Last Man Standing — are multicams. 

What's more, Fox owns all 12 of the scripted series on its schedule next season. Should either Lethal Weapon or Gotham earn a renewal, it would be the lone show hailing from an outside studio (Warner Bros. Television) on the network's scripted roster. This season, Fox had four off-network buys from outside of 20th TV (Brooklyn, Gotham, Lucifer and Lethal Weapon). 

Of course, the ownership argument will mean nothing should regulators approve Disney's deal to buy Fox assets, including the TV studio behind the network's biggest hits Empire, The Simpsons and Family Guy. In that case, "new Fox" — as the post-merger network has been dubbed — would not own anything on its roster.

That deal could also impact the future of legacy shows Prison Break and The X-Files. For his part, the latter's creator Chris Carter has been open about wanting to do more of the show, but is waiting to see what becomes of the studio that owns his franchise.

Keep track of all the renewals, cancellations and new show orders with THR's scorecards for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW and all the latest pilot pickups and passes with our handy guide. For complete coverage, bookmark THR.com/upfronts.

comments powered by Disqus