The broadcast networks unveil their 2016-17 lineups the week of May 16. Before that happens, TV by the Numbers will look at each of the Big 4 networks and assess a few things they really need to happen next season. (The CW has renewed virtually all of its series, so it just has to deal with making a schedule to fit them all.)
To borrow an overworked phrase, an era ended in April at FOX. The network goes into the 2016-17 season without “American Idol” as part of its lineup for the first time since 2002. The show ended its 15-season run nowhere close to the ratings monster it once was, but it was still a decent performer — and, more relevant to the upcoming season, it leaves a roughly 40-hour hole in the schedule.
Were FOX still dealing from a position of strength, that hole might not be such a big deal. That’s not, to put it mildly, where the network is at the moment. “Empire” is still the No. 1 show on broadcast by a sizable margin, but the numbers drop off steeply from there — “Empire’s” same-day rating of 4.5 this season is more than double that of the No. 2 show (“The Simpsons,” 1.8) on the network. FOX has a lot of work to do in 2016-17; here are a few key areas to target post-“Idol.”
More. Just more.
The “Idol” footprint this season was about 40 hours — or the equivalent of nearly two full seasons of scripted dramas. FOX has already picked up middle-of-the-pack shows like “Lucifer” and “Rosewood” that in other seasons may have spent more time on the bubble, but even that is not going to be enough to cover so much real estate.
The network has already greenlit two new dramas (“Star” and “24: Legacy”) and will probably have to order more new series than usual to help cover things. In-season unscripted shows might see at least a temporary surge too. FOX probably isn’t returning to its “Paradise Hotel”/”Married by America” days, but reality tends to come cheaper than scripted series, and it may be a way to patch the schedule while the longer-term work of rebuilding continues.
Reconnect with the past
We’re not just talking about “24: Legacy” here. For a lot of its history, FOX was known for pushing the envelope and not just following the old network rules. Sometimes it worked out great (“The Simpsons,” “The X-Files,” “Idol”) and sometimes it was awful (“Forever Eden,” “The Next Joe Millionaire”), but it was a place that seemed to revel in risk-taking.
It might be time to get back to that. “Empire” wasn’t regarded as a sure bet before it premiered, and look how that turned out. More of that sort of thinking could serve FOX well in the next couple of years. “The Last Man on Earth” isn’t what anyone would call a breakout hit, but it does decent enough numbers and also probably wouldn’t live on any other broadcast network.
FOX doesn’t have a lot to lose at this point, so why not reach a little bit?
Look, we all know that ratings like FOX had in the mid-’00s aren’t coming back. And FOX needs a lot of pieces — not just to fill the “Idol” hole, but also to rebuild all over the schedule. So a little bit of the unexplained really couldn’t hurt.
Go here for more coverage of the 2016 upfronts and the coming 2016-17 season.