Fox Cancels ‘Utopia,’ a Social Experiment That Failed as TV

Fox has pulled the plug on its ambitious reality series “Utopia,” two months into what was supposed to a 12-month, 24/7 chronicle of the efforts of a group of strangers to create a new society while living in isolation on a ranch in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Fox said it would pull the plug on its live stream of the activities on the compound later today. The show had been airing in the Friday 8 p.m. slot, although it was off the air two weeks ago while Fox carried post-season baseball games. As of this Friday the show will be replaced by “MasterChef Junior” reruns.

The cancellation is not surprising. “Utopia” launched Sept. 7 with a plan to air twice a week, in addition to the live feeds available via UtopiaTV.com. But the Tuesday edition of “Utopia” was quickly yanked due to low ratings. The most recent Friday airings averaged a 0.7 rating in the adults 18-49 demo.

“Utopia” was based on a hit Dutch format by reality mastermind John de Mol of Talpa Media. But the U.S. version was clearly out of step with contemporary tastes and required a big commitment from viewers at a time when there are more programming choices than ever.

Part of the plan was also for Fox to charge $5 a month for round-the-clock access to multiple live streaming feeds from the “Utopia” compound.

“Utopia” underwent hasty revisions last month to add more urgency to the show, including the twist of having one of the 15 participants eliminated periodically through a complicated process that involved input from viewers who paid for the 24/7 access and the “Utopians” themselves. But viewers never responded.

Earlier Sunday, there was no indication on the live stream that the remaining participants were aware that the project was about to end. The conceit of the show was to send disparate personalities up to the ranch with minimal provisions and no contact with the outside world while they were challenged to build their own society from the bottom up.

Conrad Green, formerly with “Dancing With the Stars,” was showrunner and exec producer of “Utopia,” along with de Mol, Marc Jansen, Jon Kroll and David Tibballs.

“Utopia” was championed by the previous programming regime at Fox under Kevin Reilly, who exited as entertainment chairman in June. It was also a big swing taken by Simon Andreae, the producer who joined Fox as head of alternative programming last October.

The network’s new stewards, Fox Television Group chairmen Gary Newman and Dana Walden, expressed support for the daring concept, but with the network facing an uphill climb in elsewhere in primetime, “Utopia” was an experiment Fox could no longer afford.

 

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