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New Fox Looks Like Work in Progress at Upfront (Analysis)

Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier has taken to saying that the relaunch of the broadcast network following the historic Disney-21st Century Fox transaction has turned Fox into a “startup company.” During Monday’s upfront presentation at the Beacon Theatre, the startup seams were showing at times as the new-model Fox unveiled a large slate of new shows for the 2019-20 season that amount to a number of swings in different directions.

As promised, Fox is putting great emphasis on live sports and events on its air now that it is untethered from serving the needs of a sibling studio operation as it previously did with 20th Century Fox, now part of Disney. The network’s late-week schedule is stocked with NFL football on Thursday and Sunday, college gridiron on Saturday and Friday’s “sports entertainment” of WWE’s “SmackDown Live.”

But even with the focus on football, much of Fox’s new series slate is geared to female viewers with programs such as the original-cast reboot of “90210”; “Not Just Me,” a fertility doctor scandal drama starring Brittany Snow and Timothy Hutton; and “Filthy Rich,” a Southern sudser starring “Sex and the City” alum Kim Cattrall. Rob Lowe is tabbed to star in the “9-1-1” franchise expansion, “9-1-1: Lone Star.”

Fox’s three new animated comedies appear to be softer domestic-centered vehicles, including “Bless the Harts,” featuring Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, which moves into the Sunday animation lineup at 8:30 p.m. behind “The Simpsons.”

In truth, football draws a healthy female audience, and WWE often brags about achieving a pretty even gender balance in its viewership. But it struck upfront attendees as surprising that Fox, given its sports investment, wouldn’t lean more heavily into its classic strength as an edgy outlet targeting young adults with a skew toward men.

Fox does have a gritty copy drama “Deputy” on deck for midseason, as well as a crime thriller set for the fall in “Prodigal Son,” revolving around a criminal psychologist who is the son of a convicted serial killer. John Slattery of “Mad Men” fame is toplining “neXt,” another high-octane drama about AI technology run amok. Fox’s sole live-action comedy ordered for the new season is “Outmatched,” which looks to be in the broad vein of a “Married With Children.”

Fox is also banking heavily on the legs of its sleeper reality hit “The Masked Singer,” which was a pleasant surprise for the network this season. The out-there singing competition will premiere it’s second season in the fall for a short run of episodes, followed by a new season that will bow behind the Feb. 2 Super Bowl telecast. “Not Just Me” landed the post-“Masked Singer” slot in the fall, a move that surprised some observers, given the glimpse of the Jason Katims-produced drama shown at the presentation. “Prodigal Son,” meanwhile, will premiere in the fall behind Fox’s procedural success story “9-1-1.”

Fox is also taking a shot at an obstacle course endurance show with “Ultimate Tag” and quiz show “Spin the Wheel,” produced by Justin Timberlake, who was on hand briefly to wave at the crowd.

In sum, the inaugural programming plan by the new Fox felt like a throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks effort. Which is understandable for a kinda-sorta start-up venture with plenty of capital on hand.

Conspicuously absent from the Fox presentation was much discussion of the division that is the single-biggest driver of Fox Corp. earnings. The Fox News cable behemoth was referenced in signage and in the opening clip reels, but otherwise there were only passing mentions of Fox News or its stars. Undoutedly, the advertiser boycott campaigns aimed at Fox News personalities Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham made the cabler a touchy subject for a roomful of media buyers and marketers.

“We’re proudly ad friendly,” Marianne Gambelli, president of advertising sales for Fox Corp. assured the crowd.

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