Tuesday, May 22, 2018
FOX IS WEIRD!!!!: "BROOKLYN NINE-NINE" OUT, "LAST MAN STANDING" BACK; A LOOK AT THE STRANGE PAST, PRESENT AND POSSIBLE FUTURE OF PROGRAMMING AT AMERICA'S 4TH AND WEIRDEST NETWORK.
Eh, I guess I should pay a little attention to the May Upfronts. Anything interesting happening this year?
FOX CANCELS BROOKLYN NINE-NINE
FOX BRINGS BACK TIM ALLEN'S "LAST MAN STANDING"!
"WWE SMACKDOWN" TO MOVE TO FOX IN FALL 2019!
Ahhhhhhh-Hmm, Ah-ummm, huh. This was all within like a week span? .
Huh. So, what's going on with FOX anyway? So, as per usual, the network upfront announcement have led to several pieces of discussion on certain series as they get canceled or picked up, or in some cases, canceled and then picked up, believe it or not, I actually prefer these to be relatively uneventful but there's always one story and in this case, the story became FOX, who canceled a slew of their more popular live-action sitcoms including "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", which less than 36 hours later was basically a free agent before NBC (Who won the bidding war to renew. The other shows, "The Mick" and "The Last Man on Earth" didn't fair so well, so far, although if I'm being totally honest, I'm not exactly surprised by any of these shows' cancellations. They were all bubble series, even "Brooklyn..." is basically a critically-acclaimed cult series, I liked "The Mick", but I can't really claim I would go out of my way for it, and- well, I'll be honest, I didn't like "The Last Man on Earth" that much actually. I thought it was intriguing at first, but the joke got old and eventually they just added too many characters. (I mean, it's called "The Last Man on Earth", I swear why can't shows just stick to premise sometimes anymore?)
What really caught my eye was FOX picking up "Last Man Standing". For those who forgot, "Last Man Standing" was Tim Allen's ABC show last year that was "controversially" canceled last year, after six years. It's been off for a year after being deemed too expensive to be picked up, I believe it was CMT that had the most interest, but was still fairly expensive to pay for Tim Allen. Now, Allen, and several others have claimed that the show was canceled was partially to be blamed on ABC executives not wanting a Trump-conservative on the network, which I highly doubt to be honest, but, that partially makes it unsurprising that it ended up at Fox, although not entirely for the reasons you're thinking, that has more to do I imagine with the fact that 20th Century Fox owned the rights to the series and funded the previous six seasons...- You know what, Bob Chipman did a great overview of this a year ago, I'll just post that video:
That said though, have I ever done a piece on Fox? I know I've done several on NBC, at least one on NBC and I think I did one on ABC. Maybe I didn't, I probably should. I know, I didn't do one on Fox though, and yeah, this is as good a time as any.
So, before we take a closer look into their recent moves and how they got here, I think we need to take a look at how we got here, 'cause Fox has an interesting history that's probably worth noting, for a couple reasons. One, is that it's still fairly young, in fact I'm actually a year old than Fox, so I've grown up with it all my life and watched it evolve, and the other is that, Fox, has always been a little "WEIRD"! Very weird. (Get used to it, I'm using the word "weird" a lot in this article) It's been weird in different ways, some good, some very good weird ways, although other times it's just been weird in bad ways for weirdness's sake at times. A lot times they've had to weird just out of necessity to get noticed at all, and since it was new at the time, it sorta worked. The joke has always been that Fox would put literally anything on the air, and absolutely, before the influx of reality TV becoming a mainstream thing, they were considered the network that easily put on the most exploitative of specials and programs, again in good and bad ways and to some extent they've never really kicked that perception entirely. That said, there were nuances and strategies to their scheduling and a lot of those innovations have been adapted and attempted by other networks since. CW, comes to mind as they basically seeked out a WB-like young adult audience that's basically a retread of a similar young adult audience that Fox aimed to get back when "Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills, 90210" were the most popular shows to talk about in the schoolyard.(And they were back then.)
They've basically always branded themselves as the cool network in some manner, the one with the more taboo and edgy series of the time, and why not, they were the rebel, they were the young upstart, it was a glove that fit. Even their damn sports coverage, ever since they picked up the NFL, which people forget was a major game-changer at the time; the network had no previous national sports experience before they picked up the NFL back in 1994, of any kind and they a lot of things that they did revolutionized network sports broadcasting in that regard as well. That's the weird thing about Fox, it seems like almost everything they ever did was something that you could argue transformed the basics and ideas of what we think of as network broadcasting, often in a lot of minor ways that when you add it up gave the network a real identity, but on the same token, they are probably responsible for just as many disasters on the other end.
And yet, the weirdest thing about Fox, that has always annoyed the shit out of me from day one 'til now, and hardly anybody ever mentions it. Why does it stop programming at ten and not eleven. Seriously, how has that not bothered anyone else? I know they've always attempted to be different, but this has always genuinely confused me, especially the fact that they still do it today. I mean, for a network that's built it's success on edgy stuff from "Married with Children" to "The Simpsons" to "Cops" to "24" to "Family Guy" and "Arrested Development" and far beyond those shows too I might add, they cut to the local news, right at the time when most networks would be wetting their lips to put on the most edgy adult content that the kids would love, and where it would be more legal to do. (Yeah, remember that little weird thing, where the networks can show more adult content, and do things like say the seven words on network, but only between 10:00am and 6:00am when young kids are presumably not watching; that's still a thing.) There are a few reasons for this, one is classification. Eh, it's a little complex and involves a weird circumvention of Financial Interest and Syndication rules that the FCC had, but basically they didn't qualify as a basic network at that point, and were instead (and maybe still are) basically a bunch of TV stations. It's weird and complex, but it actually worked towards their advantage in the beginning, since they would air fewer shows and could focus in on those shows while still allowing the stations to air mostly supplemental syndication shows to fill up the rest of their schedules. That said, it's always been strange that they never adapted the ten o'clock series, and after thinking it through, I have my own theory on this. Now, at the time, a lot of Fox affiliates didn't even have local news programs, I suspect most of them do now, mine in Vegas at the time didn't, but it seems like, if you ever watched "Outfoxed" the local stations they owned that did, well, they felt the early effects of what Newscorp and Reagan's repealing the Fairness Doctrine before anybody, and I suspect that's a lot of why they keep with this model. I mean, it outright hasn't worked anywhere else, UPN and WB and now CW have basically shown that, although CW's success or lack of it with it is still TBD, but, they love having a ten o'clock end of Primetime, and possibly just as a strange, a beginning Primetime at seven on Sundays.. Lord knows it's more successful than anything they've ever had at eleven, the few times they tried, most notably "The Late Show with Joan Rivers", and "MadTV" (Alright "MadTV" I guess, was a cult hit), but they focus on promoting their local news, which, yes is important without the funding from that, most local stations affiliate would be bankrupt quickly and that's not a Fox thing, that's every network and every station.
And yet, it's also weird that even though they have Fox News under the Newscorp umbrella, they don't have a nightly news show, which seems like an obvious natural fit.... Why not a half-hour Fox News style nightly news program; believe me I wouldn't watch it, but it seems like a natural vertical integration? Huh; I told you, Fox is weird.
In it's little-over thirty years of this network, and going back through those old shows and their schedules, they've just been weird. That's basically been their signature, whatever it is, they've always been a little different than the other networks, mainly to attract a more younger demographic, or a more urban demographic at one point...,- that's always been Fox's prerogative and signature as a network, and the good thing about that, is that for the most parts, the network has kept a pretty solid brand and identity, but the other part about that however, is that it's so off sometimes from the beaten path, and generally they have so much fewer original programming than the other networks, especially in Primetime schedule, that it's sometimes also difficult to determine what actually works on the channel and what doesn't. Like, if you ask me to describe the channel in the last five years or so, I'd probably just show you this guy.
Boy, I can't seem to evade Gordon Ramsay from coming back into my life. But yeah, since they lost their cash cow in "American Idol" and "The X-Factor", the show that was supposed to replace it completely flopped and the trend of some of these reality shows seems to be to sliding a bit, it does make some sense that they'd be looking for an image alteration, right about now. So, yeah, let's maybe take a closer look at their recent moves, and see if we can see a pattern. Even before, all this recent action, let's not forget that their airing NFL Thursday Night Football starting next year, so that's one huge get, and one less night a week of Primetime programming to worry about. "Thursday Night Football" probably deserves it's own blogpost, but since nobody seems to like it when I write exclusively about sports here, I'll just move on and say, guaranteed moneymaker, good move.
Then the cancellation of these sitcoms. Again, they were cult series at best, but they were a continuation of the more high-profile, more critically-acclaimed and more culturally-significant recent trend of single-camera sitcoms that Fox has been one of the forerunners on since, "Arrested Development", actually long before that to be honest. They had experimented with that form for years with shows like "Action!" with Jay Mohr, and of course, the last hour-long sitcom to win the Emmy, "Ally McBeal" and even long before that too, like, from the beginning of the network. What else in that section of the network has gone on.
"NEW GIRL" RENEWED for FINAL SEASON
Ah, so they winded down their big show in this set. Or presumptive-, the one they put the most money in-, I have never understood the popularity of "New Girl" to be honest, but Fox had always invested in that series until now, and this isn't even the first multi-cams they've given up on; Hulu picked up "The Mindy Project" after several false starts trying to break that one out as well. So, why, did they bring back "Last Man Standing" back from a year of being dead. I mean, it's already in syndication, and 20th Century Fox is flipping the bill to make more, but were people really asking for "Last Man Standing" to come back?
Overall, I don't think so, but...- there is a minor trend to consider. The two biggest new network sitcoms right now are "Will & Grace" and "Roseanne", two single-camera sitcoms who are both revivals of older successful shows in the nineties and that trend isn't stopping yet. CBS is bringing back "Murphy Brown" for next season, and boy is that a timely move, but it's clear that a trend is leaning this way on the network landscape. (Although side note: Hot Take: I think most of the reason the networks are pushing these shows is because they're some of the only shows anymore that they know how to market properly). Now, I would think demographics-wise, the fans that watch "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" probably are worth more than the ones who watched "Last Man Standing", which skews a little older, which is a bit weird for Fox, actually. (Demographic shorthand: a younger more city-based richer viewers are generally worth more than an aging, older more rural viewers, because of the amount of money they will spend leads to the network being able to charge more on advertising for that show and therefore make more money with less viewership because they have more profitable demographics.)
I mean, I guess, it's a gamble that you could see as six-to-one, half-a-dozen but I'm not sure what David Madden's thinking; this is a big shift for him.
DAVID MADDEN to head AMC, MICHAEL THORN takes over at FOX
Oooh, I missed this. It isn't Madden in charge there anymore, it's Michael Thorn. So, it's not just a rebranding onscreen, there's a behind-the-scenes one too.
Oh-kay, this is interesting. Thorn, does have a belief in multi-camera sitcoms, and I'm noting Ken Levine's blogpost for this information; you can find that, here:
Now, I love his blog, but he does go on a bit about some of the differences between three-camera and single-camera, that is a little off-topic here and I may or may not agree with them, but the point he's making is that, they are switching to this, or at least, dipping their toes in, for now. And, it's a bit of a weird pairing. I mean, sure Fox, has a lot of success with multi-cam sitcoms, but not lately. That said, the two biggest sitcoms the channel's ever had, "Married with Children" and "That '70s Show" were multi-cams. (Although the only two to ever with the Emmy, "Ally McBeal" and "Arrested Development" were very much, single-cams.) I guess this is a pick your poison thing, try to grab what seems to be a bigger audience, or get a more Vanity Fair audience with the single-cams, but it does feel like a weird fit while they're still the network of Animation Domination in Primetime, and simultaneously the network that's banked on reality the most this century.
And with now, bringing back pro wrestling to a major basic network on a weekly basis in Primetime, for the first time since I don't know when, by picking up "WWE Smackdown Live". (So with football and wrestling, that's two full nights a week they don't have to schedule.) That's not a horrible move either btw, wrestling, like everything else doesn't get the ratings it used to, but the fans who are there will keep coming, just like the NFL.
It also means that, I suspects all the networks will be transitioning towards in the next few years, they're gonna be focusing in on live programming to get ratings more than scripted series. I don't think any sitcom, even three-camera ones are going live anymore after the "Undateable" fiasco, and lord knows, Fox has bad experience with that already after "Roc" did that for a season, but expect more play adaptations and specials. I don't about Thorn's thoughts on reality, so we'll see whether or not Fox will keeping seeking out the next "The Voice', but I somehow doubt that's in their objective however.
If you take each of these decisions, in a bubble, they all seem sound to one degree or another, but it's when you combine a lot of them together, that's when it all seems a little..., odd. And yet, while this switch to multi-cams is eye-opening, I can't necessarily say strange or too weird to work or even too weird to work for Fox. Fox has always gone in so many different directions that it's always gonna be hard to tell what they're gonna focus on in the future; they basically are determined to just find a hit and stick with it, and go with the flow, but that seems to indicate that there's no planning or strategy or point of view involved at all in their decisions and that's never been true before and it's not true now.
It's chaotic and little schizophrenic, sure. I mean, they get rid of the single-cams shows to get the broad audience with multi-cams but then they keep the animation block of they have, a niche market. They pay a buttload for more football, a mass-appeal sport, while they pick up pro wrestling, an ultimate niche attraction. Oh, and if anybody cares, and surprisingly people apparently did, they canceled "Lucifer" and "The X-Files" the sci-fi/fantasy cult series, the latter a previous breakout Fox stable, but kept "Empire" a modern-soap old-fashioned soap opera, for adults, and kept "Gotham" which from what I can tell even the superhero crowd is heavily split on. If I'm gonna guess, I'm gonna predict that "Last Man Standing" is not gonna last much longer than a year, although that might not matter since it might ring in a new era of single-camera sitcoms that Fox hasn't really had since the days of "Martin" and "Living Single", but are they gonna get the audience that this new revival of sitcoms pasts gets? (Shrugs) I'm not even 100% sure these sequel series and remakes trend isn't a fluke yet, and they're betting on Tim Allen's second series to help them get a part of this pie? Admittedly, unlike the other networks Fox doesn't have the great history of shows to bring back and revive and update at a moment's notice. Let's face it, nobody, except maybe me, would ever ask for a new "Herman's Head". (And any successful past series they might be able to pull out of their ass in perfect circumstances for a reboot, well-, they don't have perfect circumstances unfortunately. Looking at you "That '70s Show"....) so maybe it's the best gamble they got left, if they want to go in this direction, but...- that brings about the question of is this a good direction to go into?
I guess we'll see, but here's the thing, let's say it is successful and they play off of it and now we have a major broadcast network that's mainly based around popular, funny single-camera sitcoms that would make them...- something every network has already done at some point in their history successfully, at least once, if not multiple times. The network is 32 now, maybe it's time they grow up and stop being so weird, and this might be the first step towards that? Michael Thorn, he's the guy who helped developed "This is Us", one of the best and most adult shows on network television right now; is this an experiment to see if this approach could work for Fox in the future or is this perhaps, a turning point in the channel's history. No longer being the other network that sprawled out of the ashes of DuMont and other failed 4th networks, no longer the channel that'll air anything from the revolutionary to the distasteful, from the unique and innovative to the obscene and controversial? Now, it's more likely than ever that it'll turn into every other network.
Then I remember it's still got "The Simpsons" and all it's legacy series and now it's got pro wrestling.
FOX is just WEIRD!