With a month to go before the broadcast networks release their schedules for 2017-18, TV by the Numbers examines what’s working, what isn’t working and what’s needed at each of them.
If you looked just at the season ratings, you’d think FOX was in pretty decent shape: The network will probably end the season about even with the 1.9 rating among adults 18-49 it had in 2015-16.
That’s deceiving, however, as FOX had both the Super Bowl and the highest-rated World Series in years during the season. Its scripted shows are down a collective 13 percent vs. last season, and post-“American Idol” the holes in the schedule are that much more obvious. The network’s in a rebuilding mode that may take a while to finish.
Wednesday night: “Empire” has fallen 31 percent season to season, which, yikes — but it’s still the top-rated drama on the broadcast networks this season. FOX also found a self-starter in “Lethal Weapon,” and “Star” managed to keep its head above water too.
Sunday old-timers: FOX’s two highest-rated comedies have been on the air for more than 40 combined seasons. “The Simpsons” is going to make it to 30 years on air, and “Family Guy” is well into its second decade.
What’s not working
Live-action comedies: “The Mick” has shown some signs of life for FOX later in the season, but to have your top-rated comedy averaging only a 1.2 among adults 18-49 the night it airs speaks to some issues with the brand. FOX’s dilemma is similar to NBC’s a few years ago, where some critical hits don’t get much above the niche-audience level. The quality may be there, but the audience isn’t.
Choppy scheduling: Four shows — “Empire,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Gotham” and “Lucifer” — have taken or are in the midst of hiatuses lasting three months or longer (“Gotham” and “Lucifer” also had a strange six-week break in December and January, returned for three weeks, then disappeared again). FOX had a lot of shows to get on the air this season, but that is no way to create a smooth-flowing schedule.
More consistent scheduling: See above. If shoehorning everything you’ve picked up leaves fans of shows hanging for months at a time, perhaps reconsider how you handle things. Locking in “24: Legacy” for the post-Super Bowl spot and then Mondays afterward put a big wrench in the Monday schedule.
A better sense of its own identity: FOX’s brand currently is “Empire,” “The Simpsons” and … what? Revivals of shows from its back catalog? Seventeen permutations of Gordon Ramsay?
The network has been at its best when it was a risk-taker: “Empire” went against conventional wisdom, but look at how that turned out. Post-“Idol,” FOX seems a little bit adrift. Rebuilding can be hard and messy, sure. But some bigger swings might bring bigger rewards.