Upfronts 2013: FOX tries to program year-round with '24' miniseries, J.J. Abrams drama and more
Of the cliches that get spouted every year by network presidents during Upfront Week, one of the most popular is the idea of doing year-round programming with few repeats. Usually, the reality falls well short of that, with the usual confusing pre-emptions and dead spots. With the usual skepticism in mind — we're talking about a network that practically every year (including this one) claims that "Bones" will move to Fridays, and then never actually puts it there — FOX's Kevin Reilly sounded more convincing than most when he made that promise.
"Our goal as a network is virtually year-round programming, and we're going to get pretty close to that," Reilly told reporters on a conference call to discuss the network's 2013-14 schedule.
That schedule includes some of the usual timeslot sharing between fall and spring — "The Following," FOX's biggest new hit of the season, can only produce 15 episodes per season because of Kevin Bacon's contract, so the modern-day Ichabod Crane series "Sleepy Hollow" will air Mondays at 9 in the fall — but also between early fall and late fall (to allow for the disruptions caused by baseball), late winter and late spring, and even into summer. The network has four different scripted series ("Gang Related," "Us & Them," "Surviving Jack" and "Murder Police") that have no timeslots yet but will be plugged in down the line. "Glee" will take a longer-than-usual mid-season break for the launch of the Greg Kinnear drama "Rake." And the network is reviving "24"(*) as a 12-episode miniseries, tentatively called "24: Live Another Day" and likely to premiere in early May and run into the summer, where it'll be joined by another miniseries produced by M. Night Shyamalan, and possibly some of FOX's ongoing series.
(*) Reilly noted that Howard Gordon and the rest of the "24" creative team were burned out by the end of that show's run, then struggled to try to adapt the concept into a two-hour movie before realizing FOX's commitment to short-run series was the perfect compromise: "The spine of the 24 episodes was really about 12 hours," Reilly explained. "Those were where the big events occurred... We take the best of the 12, go in chronological order of the day, but skip hours."
"We're not going to be confined to a traditional 22 episode" order for most shows, Reilly promised. "There will be shows that play at 13, 15, 17. There's no magic number. Shows will premiere and stagger throughout the year." Later, he said, "I'd like to strike the word 'midseason' from our lexicon. It makes it sound like you can only launch shows at two times of the year: September and January."
If FOX can pull this off, it'll help combat some of the problems that are afflicting all of the broadcast networks other than CBS, where shows erode in the ratings because they take long breaks and viewers fall out of the habit of watching them. But what FOX needs more than anything— after "American Idol" finally proved itself very vulnerable in a season that will end the network's long run as the top-ranked broadcaster among adults 18-49, with the "Idol" stumble in turn failing to compensate for myriad problems throughout the schedule — are hits. And by greenlighting lots of series and scheduling them throughout the year — rather than foolishly trying to launch all of them in September because that's the way it's always been done — FOX at least gives itself a better shot at finding those hits.
Some thoughts on the schedule (Fienberg has the full details here), night-by-night:
MONDAY: "Bones" stays where it is until the baseball playoffs, then allegedly gets sent to Fridays. (As the saying goes, that trick never works!) The future cop drama "Almost Human," from J.J. Abrams and a lot of the "Fringe' team, then takes over after the World Series, where at least it will get to air without interruption for a long stretch. "Sleepy Hollow" keeps 9 p.m. warm until "The Following" comes back.
TUESDAY: Reilly gave up on a four-comedy Tuesday bloc midway through this season, admitting they tried to launch too much at once, and in the process let the night's tentpole, "New Girl," suffer. With so many new comedies, there was no choice but to go with the same kind of lineup again, with the Seth MacFarlane-produced "Dads" at 8, cop comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (from the "Parks and Recreation" creative team and starring Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher) at 8:30, leading into "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project." "New Girl" will air after the Super Bowl this season, in hopes of restoring it to its early big hit status (another trick that doesn't really work anymore), and figure some of the bench comedies (and/or some of the comedies tentatively set to air on Fridays) will cycle through this night throughout the year.
WEDNESDAY: Two hours of "X Factor" in fall, two hours of "Idol" (presumably with an all-new judging panel, though Reilly would only acknowledge Randy Jackson's previously-announced exit) at midseason. This will do solidly for FOX, but not as well as either show did in the past, and by keeping the performance shows at a bloated two hours, there's no opportunity to use either one to launch something new.
THURSDAY: "X Factor" results at 8 in fall, "Idol" results at 8 in spring. "Glee" at 9 in the fall, then taking a long break so that FOX can launch "Rake" (which will premiere out of the NFC Championship Game).
FRIDAY: I believe that "Junior Masterchef" (in which Gordon Ramsay will attempt his act with small children) and repeats of "Sleepy Hollow" will air here in early fall. I am more skeptical that "Bones," "Raising Hope" and the new military comedy "Enlisted" will air here after baseball. Again, FOX has often promised to put "Bones" without doing it, and last year NBC promised to put a comedy bloc on Friday with "Community" and "Whitney" before backing out at the last minute. Until proven otherwise, this seems like FOX announcing timeslots so it won't seem like they have too much on the bench, then waiting to see how the early fall premieres go.
SATURDAY: Sports as often as possible; the network finally canceled "Cops" (which will move to Spike TV).
SUNDAY: Same as it ever was, minus "The Cleveland Show," which was not picked up: "The Simpsons" at 8, "Bob's Burgers" at 8:30, "Family Guy" at 9 and "American Dad" at 9:30.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com