Why Your Network Sucks: Fox

Photo via Flickr/Airwolfhound

It’s Upfront Week, when the broadcast networks trot out their fall schedules while begging advertisers to pour billions of dollars into marketing their shitty products and movies on their mostly shit programming. We offer an unfiltered analysis of each broadcast network at this time of monumental spin.With deepest apologies to Drew Magary’s impeccable Why Your Team Sucks format.

See also: ABC, CBS, NBC, The CW

Your Network: Fox. No, not the one that employed serial harassers for years and turned an entire generation of white men (and some women!) into the kind of people who believe that a minimum-wage employee not wishing you a “Merry Christmas” is the equivalent of the Armenian Genocide. This is the broadcast network that merely put two episodes of Jeanine Pirro screaming judgment at people on the air before You the Jury got yanked for laughably low ratings.

Your Execs: Dana Walden and Gary Newman, who also, conveniently, head up the studio arm of the TV group. In theory, this works to the Greater Corporate Good: You have people in charge who are more inclined to buy shows that will then make more money when they sell the show to streaming services and wherever the hell else. (Anyone who protests this assessment is engaging in the kind of disingenuous behavior that will probably lead to the sudden disappearance of your life savings.) Initially, things were all right. There was Empire, and Sleepy Hollow was still fun, and Gotham looked like a stable player, and its Sunday night comedies did pretty well.

But holy hell, two of the three years they’ve controlled both sides of the company have been marked by an on-network lack of success that generally prompts the opening of a golden parachute. The only reason Fox is finishing about on par with last season in the 18–49 demo is that the god damn World Series — the most-watched since the Red Sox broke their own curse in 2004—and the Super Bowl are included in that average.

On top of the painful ratings declines — they’re having to extend ratings press releases to 30 days and include all sorts of first-party “multiplatform” numbers to even sort of come close sometimes to their numbers from a couple years ago — there’s also been an exodus of most of the take-no-shit common sense brain trust they once had in the executive ranks. Odds are they’ll shove the blame for poorly performing shows onto Dave Madden, their entertainment president, and lower him into the same pit as their Gavin & Stacey remake starring Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel.

Your Biggest Returning Show: Empire, duh. But let’s take a look at just how big a dive the crown jewel took in the ratings: From last season, it’s down about 37% in the demo (L+SD), and that drop isn’t being erased in the C3 and C7 ratings. It’s not just ratings — you simply don’t hear nearly as much anymore about the shenanigans of Cookie Lyon and, uh, Terrence Howard and the kids who make good music. Fox is moving Empire an hour earlier because eh why not.

Fox owns the show, so it’ll bring money to the bottom line through streaming rights, and it is still one of the now-rare dramas to notch above a 2.0 in the demo live, which is great! But one problem is that a big chunk of the ad time in the first-run episodes is being used to make up for the ratings shortfalls everywhere else on the schedule. Overestimated how many people are going to watch The Mick? Sorry, here’s a spot in Empire. Pitch (aw, Pitch) vastly underperformed? Uh, have a :30 in Empire! &c., &c.

Otherwise you’ve got a handful of just-above-fractional dramas returning because you can’t just build a schedule from scratch (and also “relationships”), about five Gordon Ramsay shows, and aging comedies that are generally not faring much better. Though The Simpsons looks great during football season, that’s because of the massive lead-in it benefits from, thanks to Fox’s choice afternoon NFL package of mostly NFC games — episodes that didn’t directly follow an NFL game averaged only a 1.1 in the demo.

Your Biggest New Show: Nothing. Nothing deserves this designation. It doesn’t matter how many press releases are shoved out, or pleading phone calls are made to trade reporters. No new series on this network made even the faintest hint of a dent in the broader culture or ratings game. Go on and head into the street and ask 100 random people what new Fox show they loved. Ninety-nine won’t be able to answer you, and one will probably make an O’Reilly joke. Did you even remember that Prison Break was back? Because it premiered a mere four days after I quit my old job — at which I covered the TV industry — and I sure didn’t.

Okay, upon further reflection, Lethal Weapon actually fared decently, once you factor in the horrifying End Times daily ratings landscape, with a 1.6 in the demo. N.B.: Most of its episodes led into former juggernaut Empire, but it did hold up reasonably well after not being on the receiving end of the Empire halo effect. If you squint a little.

But pretty much everything else is that guy with a tiny dick telling you he grows 100% if you just give him a chance (a.k.a. Live+7 ratings). This critique applies to most of this year’s broadcast freshman class, frankly.

Your Most Promising Pilot Pickup: I guess… The Marvel thing? With Vampire Bill and Fred from Angel (The Gifted) as mutants we’re definitely not calling X-Men? And hey, there’s an Adam Scott-Craig Robinson X-Files-type comedy (Ghosted) that might not suck! Oh, and we’re getting more X-Files in midseason, because what is dead may never die and it may be their only hope for a show that stays above the 2.0 mark in the demo.

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