Welcome to the Upfronts! This is the week when the broadcast networks unveil their new fall schedules (which is why last week saw so many renewals and cancellations). They give us our first glimpse of what's to come in the fall, and in some cases, they validate our opinions of whatever pilots we've been enthusiastically anticipating or mocking and/or dreading for months. NBC kicked things off on Sunday with a brand-new 2014-2015 schedule, and on Monday, Fox got all dolled up, put on a fancy dress, and tried to woo us with all kinds of shiny new shows. But did it work? Let's break down the good, the bad, and the ugly from the network's new lineup.
First thing first: Here's Fox's 2014-2015 schedule.
And here are the first trailers for Fox's new shows, including Gotham, Gracepoint, Mulaney, Hieroglyph, Empire, Utopia, Backstrom, and Wayward Pines.
Now let's get to the good stuff... as well as the bad stuff and the ugly stuff, 'cause that's the whole point of this story!
The supernatural buddy cop drama Sleepy Hollow, which was Fox's biggest hit of the 2013-2014 season, will be back for 18 episodes in Season 2. We can debate whether or not the increased episode order is a good thing or a bad thing until Ichabod and Abbie return in the fall, but for now, we have bigger Horsemen of the Apocalypse to fry. The network will be airing Sleepy Hollow almost without interruption, with new Batman prequel series Gotham as a lead-in. (Gotham currently has a 16-episode order.) By pairing these two shows, the network is hitting two very rabid, very vocal, and very young fanbases—comic book fans and Sleepyheads—which could make for a very successful Monday night. While I wish Fox had flipped the two shows, with Sleepy Hollow as a lead-in for Gotham to give the new series a boost, the network will be starting its work week strong either way.
Fox is busting up its Sunday-night Animation Domination block by moving Andy Samberg and the rest of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine gang from Tuesdays at 9:30pm to Sundays at 8:30pm. The network is banking on NFL fans watching the post-game coverage until 7:30pm (the network airs football on Sunday afternoons), then sticking around around through Bob's Burgers and The Simpsons to catch B99 at 8:30pm. And then it's hoping that Family Guy fans will linger after the animated series' 9pm broadcast to check out the new live-action comedy Mulaney at 9:30pm.
For one thing, I'm not so sure that fans of the network's familiar animated franchises will take kindly to the live-action interruptions, especially since the live-action comedies themselves are split by the not-so-family friendly Family Guy. And for another thing, I suspect that New Girl and The Mindy Project—neither of which draws huge ratings—will suffer on Tuesdays without being part of a larger comedy block. During a conference call with reporters on Monday, Fox boss Kevin Reilly said that he was worried about "protecting" the network's new comedies with strong lead-ins, and sure, maybe the DVR is king, but Fox's mash-ups of different genres and show types are still a bit worrisome.
Fox has 12 new series in its hopper, and yet the network is holding most of them until the midseason or later in its ambition to program year-round. This is tied to an announcement that Reilly made in January about his plans to do away with pilot season altogether—which is actually a pretty bold and exciting decision. The problem is that this new direction makes for a rather dull-looking—not to mention very mismatched—fall schedule.
Gotham and Sleepy Hollow seem like a good match on Mondays, as do Bones and new miniseries Gracepoint on Thursdays. But as I mentioned above, Fox's new Sunday-night comedy plans are all over the map. And call me crazy, but I don't think the people who'll be interested in the unscripted "civilization-building" Utopia—which is now scheduled to air on Tuesdays from 8pm to 9pm—are the same people who want to follow the hijinks of Jessica Day and Mindy Lahiri from 9pm to 10pm. Ditto for Fox's Wednesday-night lineup: The mix of scripted coming-of-age drama Red Band Society with the unscripted Hell's Kitchen just doesn't translate.
Now that the network no longer has three hours of The X Factor to contend with, it makes sense that it needs to fill its schedule somehow, but with so many new series to work with, I expected better for the fall.
THE PROMISING-SOUNDING VAGUE STRATEGIES
Reilly is making a lot of bold claims about "eventizing" his programming slate—and while it all sounds peachy, we don't really have a sense of whether that decision will pay off. Fox is the first broadcast network to really embrace the limited event series, as well as the cable model of shorter seasons, but will that approach actually work in the long run? For example, Sleepy Hollow performed well with its limited episode order in Season 1, but the same formula hasn't been as successful for The Following. Meanwhile, the network has new miniseries Wayward Pines, as well as new series Empire, Hieroglyph, Backstrom, Last Man on Earth, Weird Loners, and Bordertown, waiting in the wings, and until we see how Reilly plans to schedule them, it's hard to make a call on the viability of a year-round approach. However, I do like that the network is actively attempting to have fewer breaks and reruns, which tend to be problematic for viewer retention.
Plus, don't forget that Fox still has the sixth and final season of Glee, as well as a new season of American Idol to contend with. Reilly said the Ryan Murphy musical—which currently has a 22-episode order for Season 6, although that may change—will be airing uninterrupted, while American Idol, which has struggled in recent years, is looking at a format switch and only 37 hours of programming, as opposed to the 50-plus it's aired in the past. My guess is that it'll end up going the Dancing With the Stars route, and airing a single two-hour show on one night. This is all potentially good news, but it's still kind of "wait and see" at this point.
Best-looking New Fox Series: Gotham
When Fox first announced it was going to make a Jim Gordon-centered Batman prequel series, I mocked the idea. An entire show about Gotham City's police commissioner? He's a good sidekick, but is he compelling enough to lead a series? After seeing the trailer for Gotham, however, I'm fully on-board with the look and the tone of the series. Ben McKenzie stunned me with his work on Southland, and I'm excited to see what he can do with this material. Plus, Donal Logue, guys. That man is everywhere and in everything and I am not mad about it. Finally, Jada Pinkett Smith plays a villain named Fish Mooney. How can you hate that?
Worst-looking New Fox Show: Hieroglyph
"Let's put people in inaccurate period costumes, add weird mythology, possibly add a vampire because those are popular, and then make everything really shiny and hope no one notices when it doesn't make any sense!"
Most WTF But in a Cool Way Series: Wayward Pines
This 10-episode limited-event thriller from M. Night Shyamalan is creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky. Wait, that's The Addams Family. But no matter, because Wayward Pines could find success in the same way that Sleepy Hollow did: by going balls to the wall and embracing its lofty nature.
The Show Most Likely to Make You Upset That Fox Canceled Enlisted: Mulaney
Fox took away the hilarious Hill brothers and replaced them with this multi-camera sitcom with zero personality? Oh but it's from Lorne Michaels, they say! John Mulaney's won an Emmy, they say! It has Martin Short and a dog on a skateboard, they say! Well, guess what I say? This sitcom might have worked once upon a time, but that time has come and gone.
Most Obvious Argument Against American Adaptations of British Shows: Gracepoint
David Tennant and Anna Gunn are both phenomenal actors, and Gracepoint looks well-made, but this American adaptation of the U.K. series Broadchurch should never have happened—at least not like this. Not only is Gracepoint a near-exact recreation of the original—albeit with a new ending—but David Tennant's American accent, while definitely better now than what it was in that Rex Is Not Your Lawyer pilot from several years ago, just makes me sad. He's Scottish, let him use his Scottish accent, dammit!
Upfronts 2014 HQ:
New Shows, Network Schedules, Video Previews, and More
AIRED ON 12/11/2014
Season 1 : Episode 10