Fox announced its prime time slate for 2008-09 on May 15, with two new dramas, three new comedies, and one unscripted series joining the schedule, along with two new animated series. Despite the impact of the strike on network television, FOX had an excellent year last year, winning the May sweeps for the fourth year in a row, coming number one in the 18-49 age group by 1.2 ratings points, the largest advantage in six years, and, for the first time, coming first among total viewers.
I was able to participate in a conference call with Peter Liguori, Chairman, Entertainment, Kevin Reilly, President, Entertainment, Jon Nesvig, President, Sales, Joe Earley, Executive Vice President, Marketing & Communications, and Preston Beckman, Executive Vice President, Strategic Program Planning & Research, as they discussed the upcoming season.
Reilly started off the call noting that the recent writers’ strike caused major development issues and FOX decided not to compensate by rushing anything into production. Instead, the network will continue its commitment to year-round programming by introducing two new programs for the fall, and introducing up to five more in the second season in January, when FOX’s circulation surges. Reilly also said that as a result of the strike, FOX has taken some projects from this development period and pushed them ahead to next year in order to keep almost a year ahead in the development cycle.
With that in mind, the tent pole of the fall will be the new drama Fringe from acclaimed writer/producer J.J. Abrams. The series is a thriller with sci fi elements, starring Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek) and John Noble (Lord of the Rings). Fox will use hit show House as a lead-in at 8:00 pm on Tuesday, with Fringe following at 9:00. Reilly confirmed that there are high expectations for the Abrams show and FOX will have a huge campaign to promote it. (Fringe photo credit Michael Lavine/FOX).
The new comedy for the fall is Do Not Disturb (working title), a comedy starring Jerry O’Connell (Crossing Jordan) and Niecy Nash (Reno 911) as the management team behind a hip New York city hotel. FOX hopes it will be compatible with Til Death Do Us Part on Wednesday, with Bones leading off the evening at 8:00, followed by Til Death at 9:00 and Do Not Disturb at 9:30.
Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse will be the lynchpin of the new shows debuting in the spring. Whedon’s sci fi drama, starring Eliza Dushku, is scheduled for 8:00 pm on Mondays, followed by returning hit, 24. Dollhouse involves an underground group of “Actives” who are imprinted with new personae to carry out missions, without being aware of their pawn-like status. The unscripted drama is Secret Millionaire, focusing on different millionaires seeking out disadvantaged everyday heroes to help. Paul Attanasio’s new darkly comedic drama, Courtroom K, is a possibility not currently on the schedule. (Dollhouse photo credit Miranda Penn Turin/FOX).
The two new animated series slated for the spring will be Sit Down, Shut Up (working title) from Emmy award-winning writer Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development), and The Cleveland Show (working title) from Seth MacFarlane, Rich Appel, and Mike Henry. Both shows will be on Sunday, Sit Down, Shut Up from 8:30 – 9:00 PM, and The Cleveland Show from 9:30 -10:00 PM. FOX has set up its own in-house animation farm team system with 20th Century Fox called Fox Inkubation Studios to find emerging talent.
FOX premieres will be early this year and two hours long, starting August 25. 24 will relaunch with a two-hour stand-alone prequel in November, with the series slated to pick up in January (24 photo cr. Amy Sussman/Getty images for FOX).
Asked why FOX decided to renew Bones and Terminator though the ratings were not huge, Reilly said that the network liked the way Bones continues to grow creatively and that it has a solid audience base. The show has done well anywhere it has been put. Terminator also has a very loyal audience with room to grow. On the subject of American Idol ratings this year, the network will be looking at injecting more energy and greater storytelling into the show, but mostly as a result of natural aging of the show. And Paula Abdul will definitely be back!
Addressing whether House and Bones have been and perhaps will continue to be affected by schedule moves, Preston Beckman said the network debated about bringing House back at all this year, as they could only do so with the schedule change. When they did move the show to Monday, it still won every week and is a resilient strong series. FOX’s position is that you can’t be complacent; you have to take a risk to give new shows an opportunity. House will still be on high profile nights. (House photo credit Greg Gayne/FOX).
FOX intends to be aggressive about bringing audiences back to network television. Noting that even hit shows are hard to reset in late spring when viewing patterns are set, the network expects that many successful shows will reset in the fall when viewers establish new patterns. Jon Nesvig pointed out that viewers and time spent watching TV are actually up this spring, redistributed to cable and other sources. Therefore, the viewers are there — they just have to be brought back to network TV.