First impressions of the fall lineups. Grades are subject to revision – TV works on a curve – at the close of the upfront festivities.
Fox’s presentation reel for “The X Factor” was so over the top it resembled something out of a James Bond movie. When even Simon Cowell sarcastically jokes about an introduction’s lack of subtlety, you know you’ve pulled out all the stops and then some.
Still, Fox did appear to be gambling from a position of relative strength — and laying down some shrewd bets — in its upfront presentation, which underscored the difference between its situation and that of NBC.
With “X Factor” occupying the same swatch of time that “American Idol” fills in January, Fox can focus its development on shoring up targeted areas of weakness. That includes two intriguing dramas — the sci-fi concept “Terra Nova,” and J.J. Abrams-produced mystery “Alcatraz” — as well as a few comedies, the most promising of which was clearly “New Girl,” starring Zooey Deschanel.
That’s not to say Fox’s presentation was all sizzle. For starters, the network pounded home the “TV is good, we love social media” message so tediously it was more than a half-hour before anybody actually talked about the shows. Trust me, if they suck, people will not be Tweeting about them — or at least, not enough people to keep them air-worthy.
Still, Fox has big hits and knows how to leverage them. Hence the “Glee” performance and Jane Lynch bit to open the presentation (loved the line about the flown-in stars occupying “more presidential suites than a Saudi bachelor party”) and “American Idol”/”So You Think You Can Dance” number to close it.
“We’re not coasting,” Fox Entertainment prez Kevin Reilly insisted, but that’s only half true. With “Idol” having weathered the judging change and Cowell’s series like to draw reasonably well in the fall, Fox can afford to coast at least a little, with a couple of ambitious dramas but the comfort in knowing that “Idol” or its other unscripted players can always expand or pinch hit when some of those comedies fall flat on their face.
So more animated comedies here (including “The Flintstones” for 2013), and plenty more filler from reality maven Mike Darnell — who is kept hidden at these affairs like the wife in “Jane Eyre,” part of the longstanding bait-and-switch that networks employ, none better than Fox, when it comes to reality vs. scripted on the upfront. Throw in the advantage of programming a mere 15 hours in primetime instead of 22 for the Big(ger) Three, and Fox looks well positioned for the near term.
Relatively little of the new product resembled an instant game-changer, but several of the shows could strengthen the lineup. And with “Idol” as TV’s most formidable anchor and a young-skewing hit like “Glee” as another launching pad, when it comes to hitting ’em out of the park, the luxury is that you yabba-dabba-don’t have to.
Preliminary grade: B