The new Fox is indeed trying something new.
The now stand-alone broadcaster is shifting its programming strategy and increasingly looking to run shows with shorter orders rather than the traditional 22-episode runs typical of a broadcast series.
According to multiple agency sources, Fox has made it clear that while it is still in the business of ordering programs for traditional longer runs, it aims to beef up the number of shorter-run shows going forward. Such series will likely be built around well-known IP, period pieces featuring big historical figures, or genre shows with the potential for major world-building. The network is also willing to try out other formats with the right creative team.
To date, Fox Entertainment has ordered three such shows to run during the summer and winter of 2019: the ’90s revival “BH90210” (six episodes), airing in August; an after-show parody, “What Just Happened??! With Fred Savage” (nine episodes), that launched in late June; and the holiday event series “A Moody Christmas” (six episodes).
Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn tells Variety that the company’s new status has led it to examine the best way to use parts of the schedule where originals have not typically been programmed.
“You will see a variety of order patterns in comedy and drama,” he said. “It’s a 52-week business, and we are really looking at our schedule and looking for ways
to be more opportunistic about the way we launch shows.”
“A Moody Christmas” could also be the beginnings of a new franchise for the network. Thorn says that if the series proves successful, Fox may bring the Moodys back for another Christmas run, or potentially theme new installments around other holidays or major family events.
Such shows will not be limited to summer, winter or holidays, however. The drama series “Next,” from creator Manny Coto and starring John Slattery, is set to air on Fox in the spring. The first season of the series will run for 10 episodes, which Thorn says was Coto’s design.
“The truth is, in that case, 10 episodes is the best way to tell that story,” he says. “So we asked, ‘How can we launch this meaningfully to set the show up for success and meet the creative needs of the storytellers involved in this project?’”
Then there is the question of budgets. Lately, networks have been shelling out big bucks for big-name shows, even with shorter runs, like the HBO hit “Game of Thrones,” whose final season ran for six episodes but reportedly cost nearly $100 million to produce. While Thorn isn’t against a project with a higher budget, he says the network will evaluate each project on a case-by-case basis.
“The [amortization] isn’t spread out across as many episodes as it would a more traditional order,” he said. “But we’ve worked with our partners to make sure we can really produce something really exciting and make it a viable business.”
Shorter-run shows are atypical on broadcast but could become the norm, as they are on cable and streaming platforms. NBC has also been experimenting with shorter orders, with the critically acclaimed comedy “The Good Place” running for 13 episodes each of its three seasons to date, and the upcoming fourth and final season set to be 14 episodes.
As with any new strategy, though, there are inherent risks. “What Just Happened??!” is a prime example. After four episodes, the show averaged just a 0.2 rating in adults 18-49 and 689,000 viewers per episode in the Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings, and saw virtually no lift in delayed viewing.
“While it hasn’t been a big breakthrough in the ratings for us, we’ve had a real breakthrough in the creative community,” Thorn says of the program. “We have found that our actors and writers and other comedy content creators have come up to us going, ‘What is this show you’re doing? This show
is crazy and fun.’”
The fact is that the media landscape is rapidly changing, with the major players all looking for ways to retain current viewers and entice new ones. If Fox is to stay competitive in an increasingly aggressive marketplace, changes to its programming strategy will be essential.