TCA: Fox Chiefs Talk ‘Prison Break,’ Post-‘Idol’ Planning, More ’24’ and Possible ‘X-Men’ Series

The Fox network is in the midst of expanding its scripted and unscripted development in a major way as it prepares for the departure of “American Idol” after the coming season.

Fox TV Group chairman-CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden spoke about a host of projects in various stages of development during their presentation Thursday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour.

A revival of “Prison Break” is well on its way to coming to fruition next year. A script for a new take on “24,” this time without the Jack Bauer character, is expected to be turned in for consideration within the next month. Negotiations continue with Marvel for a possible “X-Men” limited series.

“Empire” creator Lee Daniels is working on another big musical for the network, landing a pilot order for a drama, “Star,” revolving around an Atlanta-based female musical act. And director Craig Brewer is looking to deliver a new take on “Urban Cowboy.”

“Our entire development slate is ramping up towards not having ‘American Idol,’ ” Walden said. She added that there is a continued commitment to focus on “year-round development. It’s completely necessary to break out of that pilot cycle.”

Walden and Newman said there’s also a possibility that drama “Wayward Pines” could return for more episodes, if creators can find a way to extend the mythology. The series from M. Night Shyamalan has been a solid performer for the network this summer.

The Fox chiefs opened their session with a clip from the upcoming “X-Files” revival — an emotional scene with stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny revisiting the heart of their skeptic vs. believer relationship.

The pair noted that Thursday’s session marked their one year anniversary (give or take five days) in the job of overseeing the network in addition to the 20th Century Fox TV studio arm. Although Fox fielded the biggest broadcast TV hit in more than a decade last season with “Empire,” and launched solid players in “Gotham” and “The Last Man On Earth,” Walden assured the crowd: “Neither of us is here to take a victory lap.”

Newman and Walden said they learned important lessons about the evolving world of television scheduling last year. For the coming season, the runs of dramas “Empire,” “Gotham,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Bones” will be divided into two half-seasons, in the fall and winter and in the spring in order to minimize repeats and maximize the promotional opportunities of two premieres and two finales.

“We were using conventional method of scheduling shows that were not conventional,” Walden said. She added that the network has set aside “significant marketing funds” to support the effort.

Fox like every other network is grappling with the best way to harness to power of VOD and streaming activity to support its shows. Newman noted that “Empire” episodes have been available via the Fox.com website for the past few months and are averaging more than 500,000 viewers. But the toppers were also clear about what they see as the value of sticking with a traditional weekly rollout of episodes, rather than the Netflix model of making all episodes available at once.

“You don’t get the same ongoing cultural impact that you get when a show is connecting (weekly) with an audience,” Newman said. “Empire’s” event status was enhanced by the volume of social media activity it sparked with each week’s live airing. “Our viewers were doing a lot of the marketing for us,” he said.

“We’re mindful that consumers want to watch things in certain ways,” Newman said. “But clearly there is an ability for (viewers) to connect deeply with the method of turning out for shows week after week.”

Among other topics touched on:

  • The final outing for “American Idol” is being viewed “as the farewell tour of a performing act,” Walden said. There will be plenty of celebratory moments but “producers feel very committed to finding the 15th Idol and not letting the search for that (winner) be lost in the celebratory elements of the show.”
  • The Ryan Seacrest-hosted live reality show “Knock Knock Live” that was yanked after two episodes was a marketing challenge, in part because it was live and hard to promote in advance. Walden and Newman said the decision to give it a quick hook was made mutually with Seacrest. “Looking back I probably would have scheduled the show at a different time of year when there was more circulation on our air,” Walden said.
  • Multiplatform viewing is having a transformative effect on how networks evaluate shows. “Empire” episodes have averaged 26 million within the first 30 days of airing. “The Last Man on Earth” and “Gotham” have averaged more than 12 million viewers per episode, Newman said.


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