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5 Takeaways From Fox’s Upfront

Fox kept broadcast week of upfronts rolling Monday with its presentation at the Beacon Theatre. Here are the five key takeaways:

1. New Fox is here. Sort of.

Fox Television Group CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman leaned into into the questions surrounding Fox as the drama over Disney’s attempt to acquire the company’s entertainment assets plays out. “We want to welcome you to New Fox,” Walden told advertisers after “Beat Shazam” star Jamie Foxx introduced her and Newman, who added, “This is an exciting opportunity for our network. We have an opportunity to chart a new course for broadcast television.”

That course appears, based on the presentation, to be charted toward sports and entertainment programming designed for a broader appeal than some of the more idiosyncratic comedies and dramas that have made it to the network’s air in recent years. But questions about Newman and Walden’s ultimate positions — either with Fox or Disney — loomed large. When “The Four” star Sean Combs joked that Walden would dance on stage at the upfront next year, murmurs ran through the Beacon balcony.

2. Ryan Murphy is still here.

Murphy made headlines in March when he left 20th Century Fox Television for an overall deal with Netflix — leaving his longtime studio home and creative confidante and personal friend Walden. So the biggest surprise of Fox’s upfront was seeing Murphy take the stage alongside “9-1-1” stars Angela Bassett and Peter Krause.

The showrunner reminisced to the crowd about how Fox supported and nurtured his biggest hit, “Glee,” which he described as “a show that no one believed in” aside from “the people in this room.” He spoke warmly of Walden, saying “Thank you again to Dana and Gary,” and hugging Walden before exiting the stage.

The affection was mutual. The first series that Walden and Newman showcased was Murphy’s “9-1-1,” which they billed as the network’s biggest hit since “Empire.”

3. Football is Fox’s centerpiece.

Fox’s NFL coverage was showcased in a rambling stretch at the center of the upfront featuring broadcasters Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Michael Strahan, Terry Bradshaw, and Howie Long. The segment only loosely followed script. Bradshaw drifted into a shaggy-dog story about buying a brass eagle statue earlier in the day. Buck passed his phone to a member of the audience to show off pictures of his kids, and looked momentarily distressed when, a few minutes later, it appeared to have been stolen. (Aikman passed the phone back to Buck later on stage.)

Though the segment ran overlong, the point was made — the addition of “Thursday Night Football,” Buck said, is “cementing us as the primary home of the most powerful content in all of media.” To drive home how important sports is to Fox, Buck pointed out two weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas when Fox will air NFL or college football four days in a row, and declared that Fox’s World Series coverage outperformed all entertainment programming on television last season.

4. Uncripted is on the rise.

The biggest star power at Fox’s upfront — Jamie Foxx, Combs, Meghan Trainor — all came from the network’s unscripted series.

Since Fox canceled “American Idol,” it has emphasized its efforts in scripted programming, where Walden and Newman’s background lies. But with the hiring of veteran producer Rob Wade as alternative programming president a year ago, the network’s unscripted ambitions have grown.

Now, with Fox clearly trying to broaden its audience, unscripted is poised to play a larger role. Walden and Newman went out of their way to praise “The Four” and position it as a more ambitious successor to “Idol,” and Trainor was brought out to close the show.

Tim Allen, a cast member in the TV series "Last Man Standing," attends the Fox Networks Group 2018 programming presentation afterparty at Wollman Rink in Central Park, in New York 2018 Fox Networks Group Upfront Afterparty, New York, USA - 14 May 2018

5. Tim Allen really loves that baseball analogy.

Taking the stage to promote his revived multi-cam “Last Man Standing,” Allen earned no cool points — at one point inciting groans with jokes that fell flat in the room. Allen also recycled a long, bizarre, self-aggrandizing baseball analogy to describe last year’s cancellation of “Last Man Standing” by ABC, an analogy Fox had previously deployed in the press release announcing its revival of the series.

Regardless, “Last Man Standing” has obvious value to Fox as it looks to attract socially conservative viewers who might not connect with some of the network’s other programming, but clearly do identify with Allen’s humor and personal politics. Newman and Walden gave the show a prime presentation spot at the beginning of the schedule breakdown, before true-freshman comedies “Rel” and “The Cool Kids.”

 

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