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Fox removed the centerpiece of its midseason schedule from its airwaves last week, making a surprise decision to move its drama series Monarch to the fall. The high-profile show set in the world of country music stars Susan Sarandon, Anna Friel and Trace Adkins, and it was scheduled to get a huge lead-in airing after NFL’s NFC championship game on Jan. 30.
The reason? COVID. As Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn tells it, the series hasn’t experienced any major outbreaks or had to stop production due to the coronavirus, but the possibility that it could happen wasn’t enough to risk having the schedule disrupted.
“If we had one significant breakthrough — which judging by our colleagues’ shows on other platforms was fairly likely, unfortunately — we realized if we had that breakthrough it could have a ripple effect into our air pattern,” Thorn tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It would potentially give the show a spotty air pattern, or put us in a position where we’d have to make creative compromises to really meet that schedule.”
Thorn, who oversees scripted programming at the network, also discussed how Fox is handling Mayim Bialik starring in the network’s Call Me Kat while also hosting Jeopardy! and how the network will program an extra night when Thursday Night Football moves to Amazon’s Prime Video next season.
Was the decision to move Monarch to the fall due to outbreaks on set, just the general slowing down of production during the pandemic? Have had you had to stop production at all?
It’s definitely all of the above. We took a step back and really looked at what was happening across the whole industry. As you know, multiple shows have been shut down or taken extended hiatuses. We have had some COVID impact [on Monarch] — nothing that caused us to shut down, but we made some production changes to keep everyone safe and work around those breakthroughs. What it really came down to was, when we took that step back we were looking at the idea that if we had one significant breakthrough — which judging by our colleagues’ shows on other platforms was fairly likely, unfortunately — we realized if we had that breakthrough it could have a ripple effect into our air pattern and schedule of the show. It would potentially give the show a spotty air pattern, or put us in a position where we’d have to make creative compromises to really meet that schedule.
What we talked about amongst ourselves and with our partners is that’s just no way to launch any show, let alone a serialized character drama and one that for us is such a significant priority. We’ve seen a couple of episodes, we’re very excited about it. We had the choice of taking that risk or moving the show to the fall where we could to some degree ensure we’d have all the episodes. We could take advantage of time and still use football and all the other levers we like to pull when we launch a show and really set it up for success.
We pride ourselves on being small and nimble and can make choices that sometimes other companies can’t — we can make a decision that really benefits our show and hopefully all of us. We made the decision that we felt best set the show up for success. We all believe it was the right call.
You announced that Next Level Chef will air after the NFC championship, but have you decided yet what will go Monarch’s regular Tuesday spot?
We’re discussing it now. We’re zeroing in on it and will have a decision pretty quickly.
Should Call Me Kat keep going for a while and should Mayim Bialik become the permanent host of Jeopardy!, have you talked with her about balancing both shows?
We really believe in Call Me Kat, and Mayim is fantastic both in front of and behind the camera. It’s no surprise she’s also doing exceptional work on Jeopardy!. We’ve really tried to support her while she’s doing Kat. As long as we can keep doing Call Me Kat at the level we’re doing it, we’re happy to support Mayim and our other talent trying to do other creative endeavors that lean into their ambitions. And the truth is, Mayim being on Jeopardy! isn’t the worst thing for Call Me Kat. It’s a good thing to have her out there in front of an audience that maybe hasn’t watched Kat yet but might now because they love her on Jeopardy!. We’re very supportive of it. We’ve really tried to work with her and her team and Sony [which produces Jeopardy!] to try and make it work. As long as we can protect Kat, we’re very happy to support her and feel like they’re beneficial to each other.
The broadcast business is obviously a tougher one than it was even a few years ago, and you had a couple shows this fall in The Big Leap and Our Kind of People that didn’t break through like you probably hoped. What are your takeaways from how the fall went?
What we’re doing now is talking about how you even define success in today’s marketplace. With The Big Leap and Our Kind of People, we’re really proud of both shows. Creatively they’re both excellent. They’re still being consumed with some meaningful audience [via streaming and other platforms]. We’re having some discussions about those right now. With The Cleaning Lady [which premiered Jan. 3], we’re only two episodes in, but that Monday night is really strong with the return of 911: Lone Star and The Cleaning Lady. It’s the highest rated drama [premiere] we’ve had in the past two years. It held onto its linear numbers from the premiere and the delayed viewing on the show so far is doing very well.
So what we’ve talked about is how do you define success, and also how do you better break shows out in this kind of marketplace? Next Level Chef is going into the post-NFC game — we tend to use football as a way to drive sampling and awareness. But based on some of the challenges we’re all facing, we’re starting to think about what are alternatives to help launch shows more impactfully.
You heard us announce our strategy with [Welcome to Flatch] and how our plan there is to both take advantage of our typical, strategic linear launches, but in this case … we’re going to try to do something out of the box that we haven’t done before, which is drop the first half of the season [on Hulu, the Fox Now app and on demand] to try and create a conversation around these characters and this show we love and see if this might work to help drive viewership back to the show and back to Fox for the second half of the season. We’re looking at both how to define success today and also looking at other strategies that are reflective of today’s environment to ensure the shows we really believe in get that shot to really succeed.
One thing that does seem to be working well on broadcast networks now are franchises, whether it’s 911 for you or the FBI shows on CBS and Chicago and Law & Order on NBC. Are you looking to either expand what you’ve got in 911 or develop something that could be ripe for a franchise?
It’s impossible not to notice that. We’re very pleased with both 911 and Lone Star’s performance, so as the opportunities come up, we’ll absolutely continue to see if there are other spinoffs or branded programming that we can benefit from. You can see how effective it is for us not just with the 911s but also with Gordon [Ramsay] and all his shows. It’s something we’re actively thinking about, and we just want to make sure as we do it, we can both take advantage of a brand but also make sure it feels like it stands apart as its own show — not unlike what Ryan [Murphy] and Tim [Minear] and Brad [Falchuk] did with 911.
You’ll have an extra night to program next fall when Thursday Night Football goes to Amazon. Have you started talking about what will fill that time?
We see Thursday night as an opportunity, and as you would guess, we’re spending a lot of time talking about it, and how do we look at the night holistically. it’s rare to have a whole night to reprogram, so what are the opportunities that go with that? That’s what we’re talking about pretty much on a weekly basis. It’s a hot topic of conversation in terms of where our strategy is going to go.
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