The business of television is on full display now as all the networks spend tons of money trying to convince advertisers, investors, and audiences why their new slate of programming is the most profitable. This week it's the major broadcasters' turn as NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, and The CW will unveil all-new schedules as the "upfront" season reaches its climax.
Just a day after NBC presented a few major changes to its fall lineup, Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) has announced its choices that signal the network's excitement in certain key areas and a goal of change in others.
Riskiest move – Fox looks to build a Utopia
The only adjective to describe Fox's Utopia is risky. That's not to say it's a bad thing, but it has the potential to go really, really well or really, really badly. John de Mol, the man behind a number of great reality series including Big Brother and Fear Factor, is the driving force with Utopia, which asks, Can a perfect society exist? The show will take 15 Americans and move them to a isolated undeveloped location where over the course of a year they'll create a new civilization from scratch with cameras watching every move. To use a terrible comparison -- imagine an adult version of CBS' much maligned Kid Nation.
Fox jumped on the Utopia bandwagon not long after a Dutch version was green lit, and based on initial returns you can see why executives are excited. The international version has become a hit in the short time it has been on the air. It now ranks as the network's highest-rated unscripted premiere in six years and has helped boost the channel's key demo by 500%. The series is also interactive as members of the cast can be kicked out and replaced with viewers.
If this works it will give Fox a new reality show to help offset the declining American Idol (which was also renewed, but will likely be downsized to one night a week). Utopia will follow the traditional reality show model and air twice a week, but one of those nights will be Friday, which is unusual for a series like this. While airing on Friday has worked for Undercover Boss and Shark Tank, those are both non-competition series and not serialized, meaning viewers can easily drop in and out -- here they will have to tune in to stay current.
Boldest move – Sleepy Hollow extends to 18 episodes ... paired with Gotham
Fox has begun to make a big play for Monday nights, and this fall will give the network its strongest one-two punch yet with Gotham and Sleepy Hollow. Hollow was the sleeper hit of last season and Fox is expanding its episode count to 18 this year to capitalize on its success.
While the move makes sense, it's bold because the show worked so well as a 13-episode limited-run model. The extra episodes will run the risk of amounting to "filler" episodes. Hollow moved fast and audiences appreciated its streamlined pace. The production team behind the show has earned a lot of goodwill with audiences and they will likely be able to avoid the "filler" trap, but it's something to watch.
Meanwhile, the only new show to garner as much pre-season buzz as Gotham is The CW's The Flash. Both are comic book-themed and are both from the DC Comics canon of super-heroes. Gotham though takes a unique twist as it chronicles the rise of beloved Commissioner James Gordon. Gordon's backstory is very rich and the series will expand the plot to also focus on the early days of some of his eventual friends and foes including comic fixtures Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, who of course grow up to be Batman and Catwoman.
The show will also feature origins of Gotham's legendary rogues' gallery and will introduce a brand new big bad in Jada Pinkett-Smith's Fish Mooney. Fox is betting big the strategy will translate into viewers and ratings.
Most interesting move – Fox mixes animated and live-action programming on Sundays
Fox is going back to its Sunday night roots and doing away with the Animation Domination block. In its place will be a hybrid including animation staples The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob's Burgers, and live-action comedies Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Mulaney. Remember in the pre-Animation Domination days, Sunday nights were home to hits like Married With Children and Malcolm in the Middle.
This is a solid mix of shows and should form a fun comedy block. The only problem I see is that Sundays are incredibly competitive, and with Fox having football on Sunday, the schedule will likely see a few weeks of time-delay viewings, which will throw the whole night off. CBS has a smart system where it sends out a tweet with the revised times, which I hope Fox mimics. Unlike CBS though, Fox also has a 30-minute post-game show built into its lineup to help prevent delays, which should reduce those occurrences.
As for the programming, Brooklyn is on a hot streak and could be a Emmy nominee by the time the second season rolls around in the fall, but it's interesting the show will be slotted between The Simpsons and Family Guy. Again, I like the decision, but I'm interested to see if that helps or hurt Mulaney, which is also getting strong buzz. Family Guy is a leader on Sundays in the all-important 18-49 demo so if the show can aid Mulaney's launch it will be a big win for Fox.
Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.