Going in to the 2012-13 campaign, Fox was already in need of new hits, but the sense of urgency has been amped up due to the surprisingly steep decline of “American Idol,” a show that propped up the net for a decade.
Projected to finish in second place behind CBS among young adults after winning a record eight consecutive seasons, Fox finds itself in a time of transition — and that could mean some big changes in the fall.
Among the net’s challenges is that there’s not a lot of room on its 15-hour sked for growth potential when “Idol” (and its fall counterpart, “The X Factor”) takes up so much space. Adding to the clog, shows like “Bones” and “Glee” are doing well enough to stick around even though their best days, from a ratings perspective, are behind them.
After a few seasons that saw the net skew more female than it had in years, Fox appears poised to pivot back to its male roots. Most of its drama pilots and some of its highest-profile comedies seem geared for guys; the net’s best new performer from this season, drama “The Following,” is a high-octane, edgy thriller that fares well with men.
As Fox prepares for fall, its biggest needs are strengthening Monday and Tuesday, where it ranks fourth in adults 18-49 this season. And since it has music contests eating up Wednesday and half of Thursday, Fox can improve on Monday and Tuesday only by rolling the dice on new stuff — adding perhaps as many as four new shows on the two nights alone.
Monday, where “The Following” has performed pretty well this spring but won’t be back until next year, could see a pair of new dramas aimed at men. The possibilities include police-themed “Gang Related,” U.S. marshal tale “The List” and an untitled futuristic buddy cop show from J.J. Abrams.
If at least one of those shows manages to click in the fall, it could pair with “The Following” at midseason.
The possible comedy nights of Tuesday and Thursday are difficult to predict for Fox, and could well depend on what the competition does on Thursday. NBC’s “The Office” is ending its run, so there will be no incumbent Thursday 9 p.m. comedy — an opening that Fox or CBS may seize upon.
Fox has a solid young Tuesday comedy hour in “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project,” and may want to move them to Thursday at 9 after “The X Factor” results show — although that plan would certainly go out the window if CBS shifted “The Big Bang Theory” to 9.
But if the comedies move to Thursday, where does “Glee” go? Weeknight options are limited if you want to keep it away from “The Voice.”
If Fox kept “Glee” on Thursdays and the comedy hour at 9 on Tuesday in the fall, it could go open Tuesday with a pair of new comedies — perhaps something loud and male, like the still-untitled Andy Samberg cop comedy, that could counter “Voice” and provide a decent leadin for “New Girl.”
Another possibility Fox might consider to get more comedy in its lineup is slimming “X Factor” down to 90 minutes at some point and sliding “Raising Hope” or another show behind it at 9:30.
Elsewhere, crime drama “Bones” isn’t doing the net much good leading off Monday because its numbers don’t figure to grow in season nine. It may opt for a block of dramas on Friday — another night on which Fox ran fourth this season — and have “Bones” to lead into a new drama that is tonally similar — perhaps the Greg Kinnear legal vehicle “Rake.”
With Fox among the first of the Big Four to unveil its lineup during upfront week — its presentation is set for Monday, May 13, after NBC’s morning sesh — the net really has no time to react to the sked moves unveiled by the competition.
The best-case scenario for Fox would be that “Big Bang” stays put Thursdays at 8, allowing “New Girl” and “Mindy” to follow “X Factor” on the night. It could then air “Glee” Tuesdays at 9 following a pair of new comedies.
Sunday will remain home to the net’s animated comedy block, where vets “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad” still do solid business. At this point, it seems unlikely that a live-actioner would shift to Sunday or one of the toons would move to a weeknight.
Overall, Fox has not had a great season, but counting regular programs only (eliminating unfavorable year-to-year sports comparisons), it is just a little behind CBS in adults 18-49. This is because some of Fox’s biggest scripted shows — “New Girl,” “Following” and “Glee” — look a lot more competitive in full-week DVR playback numbers than they do in next-day ratings.
But time-shifting or not, Fox needs to add new tunes to its repertoire next season — and that means new scripted hits and a little less reliance on wannabe pop stars.