FOX: What to Expect at the Upfront

Kevin Reilly FOX Executive Portrait 2011

THR analyzes which series are likely to return in the fall, the new pilots generating heat and what the ad buyers are whispering.

As the upfronts loom ever closer (starting Monday in New York) and the broadcast networks salivate in anticipation of an improved ad market, THR is running a network-by-network breakdown — updating the news as it breaks. As always, nothing is set until the networks unveil their schedules and really, not even then. We begin with a network with relatively few holes to fill.

May 16
4 P.M.
New Beacon Theatre

Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly has some big shows to launch: the pricey time-travel epic Terra Nova and Simon Cowell’s return to U.S. TV with The X Factor. Expect Cowell to engage in a major charm offensive, with Paula Abdul by his side, and to pretend he’s not obsessed with the ratings of American Idol and/or The Voice. With few hours open on the fall schedule (the News Corp. net doesn’t program at 10 p.m.), Reilly likely will tout the success of the rebooted Idol and stress the network’s No. 1 status among advertiser-beloved younger viewers. Expect Fox to trot out stars including Cowell, So You Think You Can Dance’s Cat Deeley and some Idol names.

Although Fox continues to print money with its animated offerings on Sundays, the net is still looking to build its live-action comedy lineup (Raising Hope and Breaking In have fans, and the network believes they can build an audience if given time). The season’s new drama offerings proved disappointing, with critically acclaimed Lone Star yanked after two low-rated episodes and midseason entry The Chicago Code just muddling along. Fringe, Bones and recently renewed House will be back, but the fates of Code, Human Target and Lie to Me are in question. Luckily, Idol, Glee and Seth MacFarlane keep Fox young; it’s down 5 percent in the coveted demo, but the other nets have fallen more.

“I think they would be a lot happier right now if a couple of those shows from last year had developed a little better,” says Todd Gordon, senior vp national broadcast at Initiative. Still, if the costly Terra Nova works, Fox execs will have bet huge and won. And if X Factor retains a good chunk of the Idol audience, all the better.

The net is short on scripted openings, but Reilly is expected to pick up Ethan Hawke’s Exit Strategy, and a source says Kiefer Sutherland’s midseason entry Touch is already hiring writers. Weekends at Bellevue could get a pickup as a House complement — and potential successor. On the comedy side, Liz Meriwether’s New Girl with Zooey Deschanel is considered a sure thing, with I Hate My Teenage Daughter still in play. The animated series Allen Gregory and Napoleon Dynamite are likely to roll out in the fall and winter, respectively.

Send upfront tips to Lacey.Rose@thr.comand