Upfront Week 2012: FOX’s Schedule and Analysis

This week is basically like Christmas for television nerds like myself. Frankly, it is better. Of course, I am talking about Upfronts, the time of the year where the networks bring new fall schedules (and sometimes winter/spring schedules that do not end up sticking) to advertisers. Thanks to the glorious nature of the internet and Twitter, we basically already know what has been picked up and what has been canceled. But discussing brand-new schedules is still damn fun. All this week, I will be providing some thoughts on each network’s pilot orders (though I obviously have not seen anything), schedules and more. 

Sorry for the delay on these posts folks. I picked a terrible week to try to find a new place to live. The one benefit of waiting a bit longer to talk about these schedules and new series is that I have seen a few clips. More informed opinions are always better. Probably.

Anyway, FOX. Let’s do this.

Primary needs: With less schedule real estate than the competition (especially when we consider the chunk of time devoted to X Factor and Idol) and less holes to fill overall, FOX does not have many needs going into next season. Kevin Reily has wanted to start a two-hour comedy block for a few years and with the success of New Girl this season and the somewhat shocking renewal of Raising Hope, that was always going to come to pass with this new schedule. But of course starting a two-hour comedy block and making it work are two different things, so FOX needs to make sure it has quality comedies to build around New Girl and Raising Hope (which is poorly rated).

On the drama side, FOX needs to do two things: develop a new hit and figure out what the heck to do with Glee. With House going away and none of the network’s new drama series working out that well (only Touch returns next season), FOX needs to find something other than Bones. Glee’s time in the big, bright spotlight is over, but it still performs. The big question going into this schedule announcement was whether or not the network would shift the series to make room for that comedy block.

Pilot orders: The Mob Doctor, The Following (Drama); Ben and Kate, The Mindy Project, The Goodwin Games (Comedy)

When you’re FOX, you can be pretty confident that things are continue to go well. Just five new series for 2012-2013 could be a risk if something fails, but FOX can always just super-size Factor and Idol if necessary.

In any event, all five of these pilots look (again, from short packages) pretty good. Comedy is obviously the focus here and thankfully, Ben and Kate, The Mindy Project and The Goodwin Games feel like quality single-camera choices to partner with the established Tuesday sitcoms.

The Mindy Project is the season’s most talked about comedy (and perhaps series) and the edited clips backed that up well. Mindy Kaling is very talented behind the scenes and it is nice to see that this project seems to let her flex her muscles in front of the camera as well. People have destroyed NBC for passing on this script and while I totally agree with those criticisms because NBC should want to be in business with people like Kaling, this feels like a FOX sitcom. Mindy is a perfect fit with New Girl.

The Ben and Kate clip was a smidgen busy and premise-y, but I laughed throughout and enjoyed the warmth it seemed to project. Again, putting it right behind Raising Hope makes so much sense. The Goodwin Games was my least favorite clip of FOX’s five offerings, but the creative team and cast fill me with some hope. We will see.

Drama-wise, shrug. Folks are really excited about the Kevin Williamson/Kevin Bacon project The Following, but the initial footage is full of porous, awful dialogue and Bacon seems mostly disinterested. Do not get me wrong, I am watching the series when it debuts in the spring. I just expected to be more wowed. The Mob Doctor has so many things going against it: Dumb title, unappealing premise and a messy clip package. And yet, Jordana Spiro appears to have made it work. Let’s say this, I did not hate it.

Schedule:

Monday

Bones

The Mob Doctor / The Following

Tuesday

Raising Hope

Ben and Kate

New Girl

The Mindy Project

Midseason: The Goodwin Games

Wednesday

The X Factor / American Idol

Thursday

The X Factor / American Idol

Glee

Friday

Touch

Fringe

Midseason: Kitchen Nightmares

Saturday

FOX Sports Saturday

Midseason: Cops, Animation Domination High Def

Sunday

Football and The OT / The Cleveland Show

The Simpsons

Bob’s Burgers

Family Guy

American Dad

I tweeted this a few days ago when I saw the “leaked” version, but this FOX schedule makes so much sense it feels like a prank. Bones has done just fine leading off Mondays and the departure of House created a nice little vacuum for the network to push its new drama series. I am a little surprised that FOX is not using X Factor to test out The Mob Doctor, but that approach did not really work for Touch when it was paired with Idol for a week or two. FOX surely recognizes that Mondays in the fall will be tough with CBS’ comedies, Monday Night Football, Dancing with the Stars and now The Voice clogging up the schedule. Bones gives the net a safe and solid ratings performer. The Following is running 15 episodes straight through and will surely get a massive promotional push, so midseason is the perfect place for it to be.

I am really excited about this Tuesday comedy block. FOX needs the first hour to do better than it did for those few weeks this spring, which means a whole lot of promotional dollars are going to be dedicated to this night. Raising Hope is one of television’s best comedies and maybe leading off a night, with proper promotion, will help. Baseball and election preemptions are going to kill the momentum quite frequently though.

My interest in The X Factor is basically non-existent, but even I will watch the first few episodes to see how Britney Spears and Demi Lovato fit in with Simon and LA Reid. Factor performed solidly last season despite a lack of substantial buzz. FOX and Simon were smart to shuffle the deck with the judges, and we cannot underestimate the value of The Voice’s placement on the schedule. The media will not be able to stop talking about the glutton of singing series, which could draw in viewers who previously did not care.

Moving Glee to Thursdays at 9 p.m. was all but a given.* One would think that the series’ die-hards would follow it anywhere, but I think that might honestly depend on what creative direction Glee takes, what cast members come back (probably all of them, ugh) and how much time FOX spends on promoting it. It is clear that Glee is no longer as respected or popular as it was even this time last year, but it is not quite “dead” yet either. The audience overlap between Glee, The Office and Grey’s Anatomy probably is not that massive.

*Of course, the season four move to Thursday just reminds me of The O.C.’s fourth season. Both that series and Glee burned so brightly, so fast. Now if only we can get Kevin Reily to kill Glee by February of this season.

Touch is being shepherded to Fridays as a gesture of appreciation for Kiefer Sutherland, a decision I more or less respect. I do not know anyone who actually watches that series, however, which I guess makes it a fine fit for Friday nights.** Fringe has 13 more episodes to tell whatever it is story it is trying to tell now (i.e. something that probably makes me sad). I appreciate that FOX (and really, all networks) is dedicated to making Friday nights work as more than a wasteland.

**BUT HOW WILL IT STACK UP AGAINST WHITNEY?

FOX Sundays mean nothing to me(Bob’s Burgers is a thing people enjoy), but I am curious to see how the network approaches the late-night Saturday animation block and if it will actually work. Definitely something to keep an eye on.

Initial analysis: Sometimes, boring is good. FOX did not have a great season with its new series (I will miss you most of all, Terra Nova), yet New Girl and X Factor did well enough to buoy the net amid those other struggles. Establishing those two series allows FOX to secure a few more nights on the schedule and approach 2012-2013 with logical choices. Most of the attention will be paid to Tuesdays and if FOX can make the comedy block work, it will be in great shape. I would be somewhat concerned about Mondays, especially if The Mob Doctor tanks, but I have to imagine the network will give it a lot of slack going up against such stiff competition. This time next year, we might be talking about how FOX’s inflated ego left holes in the schedule. However, we could just as easily be talking about how great that Tuesday night comedy block is and how well The Following took off in the spring. Like all schedules, there are some risks. But FOX will be fine.

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