Fox’s programming presentation went into overtime on sports Monday afternoon. The first half of the upfront at the Beacon Theater was devoted to the network’s sports operation, which seemed to overshadow the emphasis on primetime entertainment programming.
Joe Marchese, Fox’s newly appointed president of advertising revenue, gave a wonky pitch about the vitality of TV advertising versus the unknown quantities found on Facebook and YouTube. Marchese did have some news for the crowd, however, vowing that there would no longer be conventional ad breaks in FX programming made available via streaming or other on-demand platforms.
Marchese, who is known for pushing radical changes in TV advertising, beamed as he told the crowd how gratified he was to be “bringing this type of viewer-friendly ad innovation to Fox Networks Group.” He also pointed to his own new-ness in the role of Fox ad sales chief. “This is one heck of a third day at work,” he joked.
Here are 10 other things we learned from Fox’s upfront:
1. Fox Sports kicked off the presentation to tell the crowd that “Fox will own the fall.” A rapping musical act oddly sang about Fox Sports, before Alex Rodriguez made a surprise appearance to woo ad-buyers (“I wish Fox paid as much as the Yankees,” he admitted) and yet another musical act came out in the form of a college marching band. But what we really learned is that Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck does not know how to shoot a T-shirt gun. “Where’s Rupert? That’s the only person I don’t want to hit,” Buck quipped before firing.
2. Seth MacFarlane can sing and snark. The former Oscar host and star of the network’s new dramedy “The Orville” opened up the primetime portion of the presentation doing his pop crooner act, accompanied by a small orchestra. Of course, he delivered a Sinatra-esque tune with lyrics tailored to the upfront. “A hit is a 0.8!” he sang. “At Fox our reputation could use a little bump. Although we brought you ratings, we elected Donald Trump.” In a nod to the storm of controversy surrounding Fox News, MacFarlane introduced Fox Television Group chairman Gary Newman and Dana Walden as “the only two people at Fox who are not being sued.”
3. Fox is really pushing “The Mick.” Aside from MacFarlane singing about Kaitlin Olsen’s comedy, child actor Jack Stanton from the show got a ton of screentime during the upfront when Walden and Newman had the 8-year-old host a spoof presentation on advertising — “so easy, a kid can do it.”
4. Fox is setting itself apart with brand partnerships. The Fox chiefs noted they are investing millions in this area “and it’s out ahead of our competitors.” Some recent examples are “Lethal Weapon” extended scenes with Microsoft products, “Star” performing on the Honda stage, an “Empire” aftershow with Lincoln, and “Empire” branded Shazam Pepsi cans to tout Jamie Foxx’s summer series “Beat Shazam.”
5. Fox hopes its Wednesday night will rival ABC’s “TGIT” block. The network aims to follow in Shondaland’s footsteps, creating a Lee Daniels-branded night on Wednesdays from 8-10 p.m. With “Empire,” followed by “Star.” Newman said that the two shows have “higher duplication than any of the Shondaland shows.” Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt showed up together to show off their new programming block. “Get ready for Wednesdays because Cookie and Carlotta are coming for ya,” quipped Queen Latifah.
6. Fox Sports announcer Joe Buck couldn’t say enough about the sizzle of the World Series last year with the Chicago Cubs’ history-making win. Marchese joked that the sports division has “100 percent promised we would have again” such a ratings-generating fall classic.
7. Marchese took aim at Facebook and YouTube, flashing charts and graphs and comparative data. It all boiled down to: they suck at delivering measurable reach and engagement while Fox rocks. “On any given Tuesday, Fox delivers 700 Facebooks,” he said.
6. Toward the end of the presentation, as the cocktail hour approached, Fox’s in-house culinary superstar Gordon Ramsay came out to deliver fresh-baked cookies. That was much appreciated by the crowd, but the sound of paper bags being opened drowned out about five minutes of Newman’s presentation on midseason shows.
9. Fox is taking big swings with comedies again. MacFarlane’s “The Orville” is a futuristic series set on a spaceship, while Walden compared paranormal laffer “Ghosted” to “The X-Files.” Dylan McDermott, an actor not previously known for his comedy chops, plays a pilot in the sitcom “LA to Vegas.” Newman promised he’ll be “the breakout character of the season.”
10. Live from New York, it’s Fox! The network is giving live programming a big push, following last year’s Emmy-winning “Grease Live!” Coming up is a musical rendition of the beloved holiday film “A Christmas Story.” For a more adult audience, the network is also tuning up “Rent.” A quick chorus-line performance of “Seasons of Love” may have been the highlight of the upfront.