Fox Entertainment’s Michael Thorn on ‘Empire’ and Taking Pilot Season Off-Cycle

EMPIRE: L-R: Taraji P. Henson and
Photographer: Chuck Hodes

New Fox, not quite so new anymore, has now spent a full quarter sailing along as its own ship following the Disney-Fox merger that brought 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets under Disney’s umbrella and left a leaner entity in its wake. As part of its efforts to be nimbler and more appealing to talent, the network — the only major one unaffiliated with a studio — is developing year round, like its streaming brethren.

“Our goal over time is to be completely off-cycle,” Thorn told Variety at the Television Critics Assn. press tour. “That’s not to say we won’t buy projects and order pilots during the traditional cycle, but we’re really trying to be much more targeted in our buying, much more targeted in how many pilots we order, so that everyone who sells even just a script feels like they have a really good chance of getting something made.”

While it may not have the vertically integrated heft of its competitors, Fox’s appeal to creators is that its lower buying volume should yield better odds.

“We’re not buying as much as everyone else, so your show will have a really good shot,” said Thorn. “We’re trying to be nimble around that cycle to help our independent status become a really meaningful advantage.”

By the end of January, Fox will have ordered a couple of dramas and a couple of comedies, but will continue their shopping through the spring and summer.

“And so because we’ve been moving off-cycle, some of those projects that we bought in November might not be ready for January, but they might be ready for June,” he said. “Instead of ordering everything in January, we’re going to spread it out a little bit, allowing us to take the time to get those projects right.”

As for the sunsetting of “Empire,” Thorn says the finale will be “really exciting.”

“My hope is that people will just come to the finale and embrace this kind of epic conclusion with the incredible cast and writing and producing that’s been done on the show and celebrate the ending of a great pop culture show,” he said.

Thorn also confirmed that Jussie Smollett will not be returning to the show, preferring to focus on the finale and adding that “the show is much bigger than [Smollett’s] personal choices.”

Now, as the network looks forward, it is looking to find its “signature soap” to occupy the void that will be left by “Empire.” But outside of that, it has no particular mandate.

“I find that when networks or platforms are so specific about what they’re looking for, you have blinders on and miss, potentially, the bigger picture,” said Thorn. “But generally speaking, we’re looking for diversity of point of view.”