Monday, April 26, 2010

Innovations, er, "Innovations" from broadcast networks -- FOX

Curious to what this all means? Read my introduction to this multi-post series.

My goodness, epic apologies are in order. I remember (barely) when I started this project and hoped to run through the past five years of development for the four major broadcast networks in less than a week. Well, here we are nearly a month later and I'm still only halfway through. This is what happens when you're a graduating senior working two jobs and trying to organize plans for fall. Stupid life.

Anyway, let's get back to it with FOX.

Like CBS, we tend to think FOX has had a good run since 2005. Did I find that to be the case?

For the most part, yes.

FOX has aired the second least amount of new series, with 51 hitting the airwaves since the 2005-2006 season (that barely misses CBS' mark of 50). FOX's success rate is also closest to the Eyeball's, with 31 percent making it more than a season (as compared to the 36 percent for CBS).

Where they started

In the early part of the decade, FOX was still working out the kinks of its newfound, American Idol-induced domination. The Idol-24 combination was the flagship of their schedule, along with the Sunday night animated comedies. The O.C. was already burning out, just two seasons in. But aside from the new, but far from its apex House, FOX hadn't quite figured out how to develop series around its hits and create more of a brand for itself.


Total new series: 12
  • Drama: 5; Prison Break, Bones, Killer Instinct, Head Cases, Reunion
  • Single-camera sitcom: 3; The Loop, Kitchen Confidential, Free Ride
  • Competition reality: 2; Unan1mous, Skating with Celebrities
  • Multi-camera sitcom: 1; The War at Home
  • Animated: 1; American Dad
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 5 (Prison Break, Bones, The Loop, The War at Home, American Dad); more than two seasons: 3 (Prison Break, Bones and American Dad).

Character type count: Cops (2), Young Pros (1), Cooks (1), Family (1), Idiots (1), Serial group (1), Fugitives (1), Lawyers (1), Animated family (1)

Thoughts: Solid year for FOX here, with three newbies lasting for a substantial amount of time. Bones and American Dad are still around and doing very well and Break lasted four good years. On the other hand, some of these series are beyond forgettable, so much so that I can't imagine anyone knows what Free Ride was about. Oh, Skating with Celebs, what a classic.

Any innovation? Negative.


Total new series: 14
  • Drama: 5; Drive, Justice, Standoff, Vanished, The Wedding Belles
  • Multi-camera sitcom: 3; The Winner, Til Death, Happy Hour
  • Game: 3; Rich List, Don't Forget the Lyrics, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
  • Competition reality: 2; Celebrity Duets, On the Lot
  • Reality: 1; Anchorwoman
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 3 (Til Death, Don't Forget the Lyrics, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?); more than two seasons: 1 (Til Death)

Character type count: Family (1), Young Pros (1), Idiots (1), Serial group (1), Lawyers (1), Cops (1), Politicians (1), Weddings (1)

Thoughts: Ew. Rough year for FOX. The two game successes slithered around for three years until finally going away and somehow the network always finds a place for Til Death even thought absolutely everyone hates it. Hates it! The drama development shows that FOX was trying to develop both more procedurals (Justice, Standoff) because at that point Bones wasn't that big of a hit and the net had little else in that department and also more serials (the other three) to pair with 24. None of which worked, mostly because they sucked. Except for Drive, it was at least compelling. Also: remember Happy Hour? Yeah, me neither.

Any innovation? If you mean one of the worst slates of programming during the period, then yes. Lots of innovation.


Total new series: 12
  • Drama: 4; Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, K-Ville, New Amsterdam, Canterbury's Law
  • Multi-camera sitcom: 2; The Return of Jezebel James, Back to You
  • Reality: 2; Kitchen Nightmares, Nashville
  • Game: 2; Hole in the Wall, Moment of Truth
  • Single-camera sitcom: 1; Unhitched
  • Competition reality: 1; Next Great American Band
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 3 (Terminator, Kitchen Nightmares, Moment of Truth); more than two seasons: 1 (Kitchen Nightmares)

Character type count: Cops (2), Lawyers (1), Robots (1), Idiots (1), Girl Power (1), News media (1)

Thoughts: Ew. Again. More failed drama series, more horrible comedies and more dumb game shows. Makes perfect sense for FOX. Those three comedies were three of the worst I watched full episodes of over this five-year period. Interestingly, though, is the diversity in character types, which suggests that FOX was trying to reach a wide variety of people over this period.

Any innovation? Shooting on location in New Orleans post-Katrina for K-Ville was cool and a lot of people talked about the insanity of Moment of Truth, so that's something.


Total new series: 8
  • Drama: 5; Fringe, Dollhouse, Lie to Me, Mental, Virtuality (failed backdoor pilot)
  • Animated: 1; Sit Down, Shut Up
  • Competition reality: 1; More to Love
  • Multi-camera sitcom: 1; Do Not Disturb
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 3 (Fringe, Lie to Me, Dollhouse); more than two seasons: 1* (Fringe, Lie to Me's renewal is up in the air)

Character type count: Doctors (1), Astronauts (1), Supernatural cop (1), Serial group (1), Science team (1), Animated group (1), Young Pros (1)

Thoughts: With older series gaining more popularity -- House, Bones, Hell's Kitchen -- FOX wasn't as damaged by the WGA strike as other networks and its solid drama slate made things even better. The three series that made it to a second season were all great in their own ways and gave the network two procedurals with a twist (Fringe, Lie to Me). Also have to give them props for giving Dollhouse a chance. Oh, and let us not mention the epic disappointment that was Sit Down, Shut Up. Again, complete diversity in character type.

Any innovation? The procedural-mythology balance struck by Fringe is a nice touch that could alter broadcast serialization for the future and they picked up on cable's ability to make a procedural interesting with one cool lead character on Lie to Me. And Dollhouse was just innovative in general.


Total new series: 5
  • Drama: 2; Human Target, Glee (obviously neither comedy or drama really, but it's definitely not a sitcom, so here's fine)
  • Single-camera sitcom: 1; Sons of Tuscon
  • Multi-camera sitcom: 1; Brothers
  • Animated: 1; The Cleveland Show
Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 2* (Glee, Cleveland Show, with Target up in the air); more than two seasons: N/A

Character type count: Hero (1), HS Musical (1), Idiots (1), Family (1), Animated family (1)

Thoughts: If anything, this small development slate proves how successful FOX has been at building up its brand and keeping content on the air for an extended period of time. The two series at the top are very solid and both should return next season. The comedies, again, are awful, which is certainly a trend to look at.

Any innovation? What hasn't already been said about Glee?

Final wrap-up
Total number of series: 51
  • Drama: 21
  • Multi-camera sitcom: 8
  • Competition reality: 6
  • Single-camera sitcom: 6
  • Game: 5
  • Animated: 3
  • Reality: 2
Total number of series that made it past one season: 16; 31 percent

Final character type count: Cops (5), Family (4), Idiots (4), Animated (3), Young Pros (3), Lawyers (3), Serial group (2), Robots (1), Wedding (1), Doctors (1), Politicians (1), Fugitives (1), HS Musical (1), Supernatural cops (1), News media (1), Cook (1), Hero (1), Girl Power (1), Science team (1), Astronauts (1)

Final thoughts: FOX's success is obviously laced with the Idol glow, but in the latter half of the decade the network was able to use its primary success like the reality competition giant, House and 24 as lead-ins to create more sizable hits like Prison Break, Bones, Fringe, Glee, Lie to Me and Kitchen Nightmares. And even when FOX had bad years -- like 2006-2007 most notably -- the hits could keep things from getting too depressing.

But the most important point to note is the total lack of commitment to live-action comedy development. If Til Death is your most successful sitcom in five years, you have problems. And though Glee gets nominated in comedy/musical categories, it doesn't really fit anywhere and doesn't count towards FOX's sitcom development in this case. If FOX wants to extend its brand further, improving in comedy is the first step.

Moreover, it will be interesting to watch FOX deal with its older series in the next few years. 24 is on the way out, American Idol could be pushed out by X Factor and So You Think You Can Dance? didn't quite stick in the fall like it did in the summer. And House and Bones are old (thus presumably expensive). The network's slate has decreased in the past few years and that can't continue if FOX expects to replenish in proper ways.

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