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It used to be CBS was the only network to saunter into the upfronts in May and essentially say, “We could keep all of our shows but that would be boring, so we’re going to cancel a couple that get twice as many viewers as anyone else and then launch a couple of procedurals that should also kill everybody in our path.”
CBS doesn’t restock. It reloads. Well, these days Fox does as well. The network has dominated the sellable demo for seven seasons finishing in the No. 1 slot while CBS usually wins in total viewers. Basically the two of them share separate crowns (though Fox’s is probably worth more money). In any case, the only thing that seemed weak on the Fox schedule in years past (besides comedy) were these less than stellar starts to fall (Lone Star, anyone?). With American Idol in its back pocket, Fox never seemed too worried about being erratic as the leaves turned colors. It always knew that the Death Star would arrive and make everything just fine, demo-wise, and more than likely it would end the season as the No. 1.
But this fall looks to be very, very different. Sure, Fox still has some comedies that just might continue its mostly woeful track record in that department. But Fox also has the much-hyped, chronically delayed Terra Nova from Steven Spielberg and The X-Factor with and from Simon Cowell. That racking sound you just heard was a double-barrelled shotgun of ratings whoop-ass.
In fact, Fox’s announced schedule on Monday had a lot of people calling it safe and even boring, two words generally set aside for CBS. Early talk was on what the ramifications would be if both Terra Nova and X-Factor failed.
What? No, wait: What?
Come on people, has it really come to that? Maybe Terra Nova, with all of its dinos and such, will be less groundbreaking and dark as some might want it and thus less buzz-heavy, but it’s an expensive mass-appeal Spielberg series starting at 8 p.m. The odds of that tripping clunkily down the ratings staircase are low. And X-Factor with Cowell seems like a slam dunk, even if you factor in the too-early-to-be-conceivable notion that NBC’s The Voice will have lessened the interest in Fox’s next major reality series.
No, the Fox fall schedule has two behemoth entries in it plus some who-knows-if-they’ll-work comedies. Based on the principle of least astonishment, let’s assume the Fox comedies tank. What then? Bang, bang. That’s what. Now that Fox is serious about launching Something Big in the fall, it’s wise for the other networks to keep their head on a swivel.
Here’s a night-by-night look at Fox’s fall schedule, with some glimpses of what’s to come in midseason as well:
Monday: Terra Nova kicks off at 8 p.m., followed by House at 9 p.m.. Strong.
Tuesday: Glee returns at 8 p.m., followed by comedies The New Girl with Zooey Deschanel at 9 p.m. and the very funny returning Raising Hope at 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday: The X-Factor (performance show) runs from 8 to 9:30 p.m. with freshman comedy I Hate My Teenage Daughter, starring Jaime Pressly at 9:30 p.m. That’s a very strong lead-in to the sitcom, but if it’s no good, that’s one half hour that could wither in the corner until a mercy kill comes.
Thursday: The X-Factor (results show) kicks off the night from 8 to 9 p.m., followed by Bones at 9 p.m. If X-Factor is indeed a hit, this is a big night.
Friday: Kitchen Nightmares leads off at 8 p.m. and runs into Fringe at 9 p.m., which isn’t the ideal example of flow, but could work anyway. The question now is whether Kitchen suffers from genre programming everywhere else on Fridays or if it’s the ideal counter-programming escape from geekville.
Saturday: Hey, news here. Cops runs from 8 to 9 p.m. but the network will air repeats of existing shows (like everybody else) at 9 p.m. and then, only occasional “specials” from America’s Most Wanted.
Sunday: After the NFL post-game stuff, the so called “animation domination” begins with The Cleveland Show at 7:30 p.m., The Simpsons at 8 p.m., animated newbie Allen Gregory (from Jonah Hill) at 8:30 p.m., Family Guy at 9 p.m. and American Dad at 9:30 p.m.
Of course, the Death Star returns at midseason to wipe out everything else. Bob’s Burgers returns as well, plus the J.J. Abrams drama Alcatraz and Bones spin-off The Finder, plus a new animated series, Napoleon Dynamite and a couple of shows without time slots, so it’s pointless to mention them if they may never see the light of primetime.
Forget midseason for a minute — since recent history suggests another network will have to work especially hard to topple Fox in the demo. Just think about fall. Fox isn’t launching much here that’s a chemistry experiment with the audience (or even critic-pleasing ambitious attempts). Nope, it’s got the Spielberg name (doing dinosaurs for God’s sake!) and Cowell’s X-Factor. You can’t say slam-dunk just yet, but you’d be wasting a lot of time on the hypotheticals of failure here.
Fox is bringing it in the fall and that should have everybody else plenty worried.
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