Fox is counting on “Empire” to ignite its 2015-16 season launch of a fall slate that includes a revamped Tuesday comedy lineup and the return of midseason sleeper “The Last Man on Earth” on Sunday. And for the first time since 2002, Fox is also preparing for life after “American Idol” as the venerable talent competition series mounts what the network is billing as its “final season celebration” in January.
The Tuesday shakeup will see three new shows on the night: “Grandfathered,” starring John Stamos, and “The Grinder,” toplining Rob Lowe, paired in the 8 p.m. hour, followed by “Scream Queens,” the comedy-horror romp from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk that features Emma Roberts, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lea Michele and Keke Palmer. Tuesday staple “New Girl” will sit out the fall launch in its fifth season in favor of a midseason return with fewer interruptions.
“Empire” returns to the Wednesday 9 p.m. slot where it soared in its midseason debut this season. Fox has ordered 18 episodes, which will be split into fall and spring season, as is becoming the norm for top network and cable dramas. “Last Man on Earth” stays status quo Sunday at 9:30 p.m., along with the rest of the Sunday comedy block. The 2015-16 lineup marks the first schedule crafted from scratch by the new regime lead by Gary Newman and Dana Walden, the Fox Television Group chairs who took the reins of the network just after the 2014-15 slate was unveiled.
Fox’s fortunes had been on the decline for the past few seasons, but the network emerges from the 2014-15 campaign with three strong new scripted series to deploy: “Empire,” “Gotham” and “Last Man on Earth.”
Going with all new series on Tuesday in the fall is a gamble, but Walden said they have faith in the three properties.
“It’s a big shot and really only one we’d only make if we felt we have the goods — and we do,” she said. “Scream Queens,” she said, is shaping up to be, in the words of Murphy: ” ‘Heathers’ meets ‘Friday the 13th.’ ” Once “Scream Queens” ends its 15-episode run in December, Tuesday will return to a four-stack of comedies with “New Girl” and newbie “Guide to Surviving Life” from 9-10 p.m.
Other than overhauling Tuesday, Fox is making few major changes to its schedule. There was not much debate about keeping “Empire” in its existing timeslot. “We’d be crazy to move it,” Newman said of the series that set a new benchmark for success in growing its audience each week in its 13-episode run.
The number of episodes for season two had been a point of contention for the network and the creative team. Co-creator Lee Daniels was vocal about his desire to keep the episode count lower than a traditional 22. The exec noted that big promotional plans are afoot for the show during the summer months. Guest stars have been lining up, and R&B star Ne-Yo has signed on to write original music for the series with Timbaland.
The strategy in holding back “New Girl” is to avoid having interruptions or repeats in the weekly airings — which is generally a goal for all of Fox’s original series. “Erratic scheduling and repeats of the past don’t work anymore,” Newman said.
The “Batman”-flavored “Gotham” returns in the Monday 8 p.m. anchor slot for its second season. It will be paired with “Minority Report,” a sequel to the 2002 Steven Spielberg feature in the same supernatural action vein as “Gotham.”
The return of “The X-Files” is set for Jan. 24 on the coattails of the NFL’s blockbuster NFC championship game. “X-Files” will also serve as a launching pad for midseason drama “Lucifer,” which will eventually settle in to the Monday 9 p.m. slot behind “Gotham” when “Minority Report” finishes its run. Like “Gotham,” “Lucifer” is also based on a DC Comics property, revolving around the devil relocating to Los Angeles out of boredom to help police fight crime.
Fox has high hopes for freshman medical drama “Rosewood,” which landed the post-”Empire” slot on Wednesday. The series stars Morris Chestnut as a brilliant Miami pathologist who uses high-tech tools to help police uncover hidden clues in murder cases.
“Bones” is back on Thursday at 8 p.m., paired with season three of “Sleepy Hollow.” Friday will once again lead off with “MasterChef Junior,” followed by vidclip series “World’s Funniest.” Saturday is a gridiron day for college football in the fall.
Fox is joining the live-event bandwagon with plans to mount a three-hour production “Grease: Live” on Jan. 31.
Another new drama on the bench for midseason is “The Frankenstein Code.” Comedies include “The Guide to Surviving Life,” a post-college coming of age vehicle that sounds like a natural fit with “New Girl,” and the animated “Bordertown” from Seth MacFarlane’s shop that was originally slated to premiere this season.
Here is Fox’s fall lineup:
8:00-9:00 PM GOTHAM
9:00-10:00 PM MINORITY REPORT (new)
8:00-8:30 PM GRANDFATHERED (new)
8:30-9:00 PM THE GRINDER (new)
9:00-10:00 PM SCREAM QUEENS (new)
8:00-9:00 PM ROSEWOOD (new)
9:00-10:00 PM EMPIRE
8:00-9:00 PM BONES
9:00-10:00 PM SLEEPY HOLLOW
8:00-9:00 PM MASTERCHEF JUNIOR
9:00-10:00 PM WORLD’S FUNNIEST
7:00-10:30 PM FOX SPORTS SATURDAY: FOX COLLEGE FOOTBALL
7:00-7:30 PM NFL ON FOX
7:30-8:00 PM THE OT / BOB’S BURGERS
8:00-8:30 PM THE SIMPSONS
8:30-9:00 PM BROOKLYN NINE-NINE
9:00-9:30 PM FAMILY GUY
9:30-10:00 PM THE LAST MAN ON EARTH