Inside "New" Fox's Upfront: NFL Gets a Big Push, Tim Allen Falls Flat

The broadcast network looks to its uncertain independent future, simultaneously negotiating its current status as one piece of a soon-to-be-fractured portfolio.
Peter Hopper/ABC
'Last Man Standing'

Welcome to New Fox. 

Fox TV Group CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman appeared onstage Monday afternoon and offered a Beacon Theatre full of media buyers a window into the network’s post-merger, sans-studio direction. In addition to broad scripted fare (see a revival of Last Man Standing and a CBS-style multicamera effort from Charlie Day), "star"-driven reality shows and a considerable uptick in live sports (now on Thursdays, too), the Fox chiefs suggested that the network would differentiate itself going forward by being a domestic-only network. 

While its rivals are focused on what plays all around the world, they noted, New Fox will be focused on what plays stateside — and what draws live audiences. In fact, Walden and Newman used the platform to predict that Fox's fall lineup will draw 82 percent live viewing courtesy of new entry Thursday Night Football. The latter was particularly odd for Fox, considering that the network publicly disavowed live-plus-same-day ratings in 2015. 

“We have an opportunity to chart a new course for broadcast television,” Newman added from the stage, with Walden interjecting: “Positioning our network for the future and not tethering it to the past — and spoiler alert: It’s really bright.”  

What that future holds exactly, however, is still very much up in the air. Some new series pitched during the presentation (sci-fi drama The Passage) seem in line with the network's old identity, while the broad sitcoms are a definite departure. That split personality cast its shadow over the one-hour-and-31-minute presentation. 

The Gimmick | Standing in front of three screens bearing the words "desire," "trust" and "loyalty" at the top of the show, Fox Networks Group ad revenue president Joe Marchese looked poised to lead the crowd in a series of team-building activities. Instead, the baby-faced exec pitched the still-connected Fox, FX, National Geographic and Fox Sports brands as a flurry of numbers and advertiser logos started whizzing across those same screens. It was a decided flip from NBC, which saved up its drier fare for the bitter end.  

The Spin | Sure, ratings at Fox may have fallen an additional 21 percent this season, only 12 percent ignoring sports, but that wasn’t the pitch from the Beacon stage. Instead, Newman and Walden focused on how young (a half-decade younger than that of ABC; a full decade younger than that of CBS) and social (225 million fans strong) the network is. At one point, Newman joked of a stat he had just uttered: “That’s so New Fox, I don’t even know what it means.” Neither did his audience.

The Star Power | Ryan Murphy may be on his way to Netflix, but that didn't stop the 911 producer from taking one last victory lap on the broadcast stage. He turned up to tout the police procedural's stellar ratings, and introduce his star-studded staff. Jamie Foxx warrants special recognition for his (very) energetic contribution to the afternoon — lightening up the confusing ad pitch by coercing Marchese into a dance — as does MLB analyst Alex Rodriguez, introduced onstage as "J.Lo’s own” by Joe Buck; performer Meghan Trainor; and even Fergie, as the host of The Four smiled and shouted "Tune in!" as co-star Diddy mocked her recently panned national anthem performance. 

The Favorite | Fox, new or old, didn't commit $600 million a year for Thursday Night Football rights to not make it the focal point of its advertising pitch. Assembling the Fox Sports team and the NFL on Fox talent roster (last seen on this stage awkwardly rapping a year earlier), the gang boasted a 40 percent share of regular-season NFL for the upcoming season. The words "live sports" were thrown around so many times during the presentation it was almost an athletic feat in itself.  

The Room | Fox’s revival of Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, previously on ABC, has been hyped heavily, but Allen’s appearance onstage left many baffled. The sitcom star began with a line about mayonnaise in the green room going bad that drew few laughs, and he followed that with some similarly poorly received quips about the other projects he had considered in his year off, including darker movie roles like Santa vs. Alien and a reality show called Naked and Really Afraid. Allen finished off his awkward turn before Madison Avenue buyers with a baseball metaphor that ended with, “I say we go kick some Nielsen ass. Oh, shit, I said 'ass.'” Here’s hoping Last Man Standing’s writers do better.

WTF? Moment | Kicking off the presentation with a jam-packed clip reel that included a host of shows from across the Fox Networks Group portfolio, there was an outlier in a shot of Dylan McDermott from L.A. to Vegas. Guess someone forgot to tell the reel maker that the Fox comedy has yet to be renewed. (The show is still considered likely for a midseason return, despite the holdup.)

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.