The morning after the FOX bubble bloodbath - what happened?
I got the news from Shawn Ryan about FOX canceling "The Chicago Code" pretty late in the evening East Coast time, so I didn't have much time to process the larger massacre that was going on at the network last night, in which every bubble show FOX had left - not only "The Chicago Code," but "Human Target," "Lie to Me," "Breaking In" and "Traffic Light" - were all told their services wouldn't be required for next season.
On one level, the Tuesday night bubble bloodbath was surprising. FOX doesn't announce its fall schedule until Monday, and while some cancellations and pick-ups will leak in the days leading up to a network's upfront presentation, you don't usually hear about all of them (including a few other new series pick-ups) this far in advance. And while it's not uncommon to see a network pop most of its bubble shows, to get rid of all of them? Very strange.
But maybe we shouldn't be so surprised. FOX renewed both "Raising Hope" and "Fringe" a while back, and without those early pick-ups - one or both of which I suspect FOX execs may be questioning in hindsight, given what's happened to each show's ratings since - they'd have been on the bubble right along with "Chicago Code" and "Breaking In." So you can look at it as FOX picking up two of its bubble shows, and for a season when they already have a bunch of real estate committed to both returning hits ("House," "Bones," the Sunday cartoons) and to a pair of high-profile newbies in "The X Factor" and "Terra Nova." When you only program two hours a night, there's simply not a lot of room for marginal performers, which is what all five of the canceled series were.
"Chicago Code" got a huge marketing campaign during the football playoffs and Super Bowl, as well as one of FOX's better timeslots (or what was once one of its better timeslots, but I'll get back to that) on Mondays after "House," and it didn't even premiere to good numbers. Some of the comments to last night's post suggest the show's creative growing pains chased people away, but not enough people turned up in the first place. "Human Target" came back for a second season (after being an iffy renewal to begin with) with a creative makeover none of its small cadre of fans liked. "Lie to Me" had cycled through a bunch of showrunners (including "Chicago Code" boss Shawn Ryan, who had an especially lousy Tuesday) without ever developing into more than a hole-filler. (Its finest moment, business-wise, may have been stopping the bleeding caused by the disastrous two-week run of "Lone Star.") "Traffic Light" was losing far too much of its already small "Raising Hope" lead-in. The only one doing decent numbers at all was "Breaking In," and it's easy to look at those ratings as 100% artificially inflated by airing after "American Idol." Had FOX brought it back next year in tandem with "Raising Hope," it could have easily pulled in "Traffic Light"-level numbers. (Still, it's the most surprising of the five, by a lot.)
I've seen a lot of anger towards FOX on Twitter, on this blog, and elsewhere in the last 12 hours, and it's understandable. None of these shows were highly-rated, but all had their fans, and nobody wants to see a show they liked get canceled - let alone this many at once. Phrases like "All FOX ever does is cancel good shows" abounded.
But here is what I'll say in FOX's defense, even as I'm sad that my two favorite network pilots of this season - "Lone Star" and "The Chicago Code" - both failed in the same FOX timeslot (again, more on that in a bit): FOX takes chances. FOX tries the kinds of shows the other broadcast networks simply won't. Because of the institutional legacy of "The X-Files," for instance, FOX has continually tried to make science-fiction work in primetime to an extent that none of its competitors will try. Though the names of the people in charge of the network change, FOX consistently puts on shows that have more ambitious concepts than anyone else in broadcast. Yes, they canceled "Lone Star," and "Firefly," and "Arrested Development" and far too many other great (or potentially great) shows in the last decade alone, but they put those shows on the air in the first place, when NBC, ABC and CBS likely wouldn't have.
The sad truth of the TV business is that most new shows fail, and that failure rate only gets higher when you try shows that aren't exactly like 16 other shows on TV. When you swing for the fences, you strike out a lot more often than when you just try to hit a single. And while many fine FOX shows have died in the cradle, the network also gave us three seasons of "Arrested Development," and they're going to give us at least four seasons of "Fringe." Four seasons of "Fringe." That is, given the show's ratings, both ridiculous and welcome.
Shows get canceled. All the time. But if you decide en masse you're turning your back on the biggest risk-taker left in broadcast TV, then that decreases the chances that the risks will continue, and then we'll only get even more reality, more straight-forward, generic procedurals, etc.
And the other thing that occurred to me while pondering this mess is what a tough year it's been in general for the networks. The only breakout hit on any network has been NBC's "The Voice." ABC could justifiably cancel every single new show it debuted this year and no one would be shocked (though "Body of Proof" and a couple of the comedies will likely survive). Pre-sold shows like "Hawaii Five-0" and "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior," that in years past would have been instant hits, have either done just okay or outright struggled.
You can blame some of this on what was a fairly dismal crop of new shows - where even the best pilot in "Lone Star" was one that had everyone questioning whether the show would be any good within 3 or 4 weeks (due to the ratings, we never had to worry about that) - but at the same time, it seems like this was the year when a lot of the rules the business used to rely on stopped working.
One of the fundamental tenets of scheduling is that you turn a new show into a hit by putting it on after a pre-existing hit, but nothing FOX has put on after "House" since the end of "24" has done any kind of number. Putting "Suspect Behavior" on after the original "Criminal Minds" hasn't worked the way that teaming up the two "NCIS" shows did last year. Promotion during sporting events has always been an iffy concept, as it's a borrowed audience and most of the people watching football on Sunday have no interest in watching dramas or sitcoms on Monday and Tuesday, but now it seems to have no effect at all. Again, FOX poured a ton of money and airtime into making people aware of "The Chicago Code," and very few of those people ever bothered to watch it.
Maybe it really is all about the shows. Maybe people just didn't want to watch a cop show starring Jennifer Beals and a relative unknown in Jason Clarke. Maybe "Suspect Behavior" has struggled because "Criminal Minds" fans don't like the new cast. Maybe "No Ordinary Family" would be coming back if it hadn't quickly squandered an interesting premise. And maybe if next season's rookies are better - and goodness knows, I am going to hear the phrase "We had our best development season ever!" far more than I care to during the upfronts next week - we'll see some actual out-of-the-box scripted successes.
But this has been a rough year, and the FOX bubble bloodbath was just a symptom of that much larger problem.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1977 | Comedy | PGSummary: The neurotic New Yorker Woody Allen tells one of the greatest romantic comedies to be set in the city of New York.Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane
1996 | Family | GSummary: Disney Animation rings a bell with this adaptation of the classic tale of Quasimodo, the gentle but misshapen bellman of Notre Dame, who finds friendship with Esmerelda and a place for himself in Paris.Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Cast: Demi Moore, Jason Alexander, Tom Hulce
2013 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: What begins as a relatively normal dinner party for eight friends becomes a night of sci-fi influenced strangeness when a comet passes particularly close to Earth.Director: James Ward Byrkit
Cast: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon
1957 | Drama | NRSummary: Brilliantly visceral re-telling of Macbeth, with feudal Japan replacing Scotland, and Toshiba Mifune and Isuzu Yamada in sensational performances as Lord and Lady Macbeth.Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Isuzu Yamada
1987 | Comedy | RSummary: A mother and her two teenage sons move to a seemingly nice and quiet small coastal California town yet soon find out that it's overrun by bike gangs and vampires. A couple of teenage friends take it upon themselves to hunt down the vampires that they suspect of a few mysterious murders and restor...Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Jason Patric, Corey Feldman, Dianne Wiest, Corey Haim
1988 | Action | RSummary: Action-comedy setups are rarely as well executed as this story of a bounty hunter transporting an embezzler from New York to Los Angeles. Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin are ideally matched sparring partners for both action and comedy.Director: Martin Brest
Cast: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto
2015 | Comedy | NRSummary: Comedian Chris Tucker performs live.Director: Phil Joanou
Cast: Chris Tucker
1932 | Horror | NRSummary: Classic bizarre horror in which a devious man seeks the help of a voodoo practicioner (played by an ultra-creepy Bela Legosi) to win the love of a woman, only to watch her turned into a mindless zombie.Director: Victor Halperin
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn
2001 | Documentary | NRSummary: Heartfelt documentary about three players on a high-school football team in a blue-collar Ohio town, which acts as a great follow-up to Friday Night Lights.Director: Kenneth A. Carlson
Cast: Dave Irwin, Ellery Moore, Joe Paterno
Let Streaming Genie help you.