Fox came into its upfront presentation with a bit of swagger, having introduced “Empire” and “Gotham” during the 2014-15 season. Yet the network followed up that first breakthrough by saying the right things, but with what at first blush looked like an assortment of, pardon the expression, cookie-cutter shows — hewing closely to an established formula as opposed to the “bold programming” that its executive team, Gary Newman and Dana Walden, promised. In addition, announcing the end of “American Idol” after 2016 left a big unspoken question — namely, do you have the goods to fill those three hours?
The network is making several wise scheduling moves, from promising bifurcated seasons of its series — in much the way AMC presents “The Walking Dead” — to pairing programs that have obvious compatibility, like the new sitcoms “Grandfathered” and “The Grinder,” starring John Stamos and Rob Lowe, respectively.
Almost all of the network’s comedies, however, had a rather musty odor about them, with even Seth MacFarlane’s latest animated effort, “Bordertown,” coming across as trying too hard to be politically incorrect. Relatively little among the dramas stood out other than “Scream Queens,” a Ryan Murphy-produced series that is already generating a lot of attention and that wouldn’t look out of place on FX.
Otherwise, a series version of Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” sounded like a good fit with “Gotham,” but as rebooted for TV it resembles “Person of Interest” (we solve crimes in advance) with more ambitious set design. “Rosewood” gave off a distinct “Bones” vibe. Similarly, a cop procedural built around the Devil moonlighting on Earth, “Lucifer,” and “The Frankenstein Code” — which looked a whole lot like CBS’ short-lived “Now and Again” of years back — seem conceptually marketable but rather banal as presented.
Indeed, “Now and Again” premiered in the late 1990s, which was the era that most of Fox’s development felt rooted in — including its revival of “The X-Files,” which should be a major attraction and will be held until midseason to capitalize on playoff football as a launching pad.
Fox also teased its telecast of the Emmy Awards in September by bringing out Andy Samberg, who delivered about as lame a set of upfront standup as immediately comes to mind. By the time a few of the jokes connected, there was a nagging sense that Samberg was the wrong star for this vehicle, auguring another Emmys where efforts to make the show hip simply feel like watching an aging relative try to squeeze into clothes that don’t fit.
In a way, Fox’s presentation was virtually the antithesis of NBC’s from earlier in the day. Fox appeared to have a well-thought-out marketing and scheduling strategy, but the shows didn’t seem worthy of it. By contrast, some of NBC’s shows exhibited promise, but the network didn’t articulate any sort of marketing vision.
Then again, inasmuch as both networks have connections to “X-Files’” David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (he’s starring in “Aquarius,” and she’s in “Hannibal”), maybe further collaboration would be in order. Because while Fox has a goldmine in “Empire,” its presentation felt like singing the same old tune — muting one’s faith that next season’s fare will be able to build on that foundation.
Preliminary grade, subject to revision: B-