Fox came into its upfront presentation Monday with a huge void to fill — the three hours and 20% of its schedule once occupied by “The X Factor” — and plenty of perceptual baggage, tied to a season marred by the old saying “Live by the singing competition….”
Perhaps that’s why Fox Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly came out so heavy on jargon and catchphrases like “We’re eventizing our entertainment slate,” “Fox reaches the hard to reach” and that Fox is “America’s next-generation network.”
Fox may still skew younger than the other major broadcasters, which, in Reilly’s view, positions the network to capitalize on the evolving shift in viewing habits and what lies ahead. But the here and now hasn’t been particularly hospitable, which is why there’s additional pressure on its new programs to replenish the pipeline. In addition, Fox made no mention of “American Idol’s” precipitous decline, and even if the show’s helped by “X Factor’s” absence, that’s a rather large elephant in the room to ignore.
Certainly, there’s something to be said for Fox’s commitment to limited series, from “Gracepoint” — which looks like nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the acclaimed BBC America series “Broadchurch” — to “Wayward Pines,” another 10-part drama, which asks the musical question of whether M. Night Shyamalan can rediscover his creative fastball by shifting to TV. (“Gracepoint” does run a couple of episodes longer than its inspiration, but Americans have a way of putting extra pounds on.)
As for comedy, Fox’s modest-audience roster forced the network to treat “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” like a massive hit (hey, it won the Golden Globe!), while bringing out a miscast Andy Samberg to riff on the primetime schedules. Moreover, during his mostly flat shtick, Samberg did draw a true if unflattering comparison between “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” and Fox’s Batman prequel “Gotham” — namely, that both shows have to get by without the signature characters that would provide the strongest incentive for anyone to tune in who isn’t a dedicated fanboy.
Fox’s drama slate is certainly eclectic, from the soaps “Red Band Society” and “Empire” (the latter set to a hip-hop beat) to the hard-to-market period piece “Hieroglyph” to Rainn Wilson’s star turn in “Backstrom,” which, unfortunately, bore a more-than-passing resemblance to the network’s discarded “Rake.” And while Fox did score an improbable success with “Sleepy Hollow,” the disparate nature of those shows — even if they look interesting — suggests more a sense of throwing things against the wall than a cohesive strategy.
While it’s hard to describe, there was also a herky-jerky nature to the presentation in general — awkward transitions and introductions, jokes that landed with a thud, jumping from programming to sales spiel and back again, without much rhyme or reason.
On the plus side, Fox can’t be accused of cookie-cutter development — a frequent lament regarding the broadcast networks. It was hard to tell from Fox’s upfront, however, whether the network is being bold and risk-taking or experiencing the programming version of a mid-life crisis.
Preliminary grade, subject to revision at week’s end (grading is on a curve): C