Fox hopes to greet a big audience with its new small-town docu-comedy “Welcome to Flatch” when the Paul Feig and Jenny Bicks-produced show launches later this week. But if “Flatch” doesn’t bring in the viewers with its linear premiere on Thursday at 9:30 p.m., Fox execs won’t be talking about cutting the mockumentary from the network’s midseason lineup Friday morning.
That’s because the broadcast network is launching the first half of the 14-episode Season 1 via Hulu and other digital platforms at midnight on Thursday, and promises it’s not going to be giving much weight to “Welcome to Flatch’s” Live + Same Day Nielsen ratings over those first seven weeks of airing, when the episodes will all be available for streaming well before they rollout weekly on Fox. The network hopes its patience and the rollout’s risk will be rewarded with “Welcome to Flatch” becoming the next “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation,” during a broadcast season that has seen comedies like CBS’ “Ghosts” and ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” score big Season 1 fanbases early on.
“Rarely does anything ‘open’ anymore, and comedies take longer to find an audience — docu-style comedies specifically,” Michael Thorn, president of entertainment for Fox Entertainment, told Variety about the network’s inaugural attempt at this binge-first strategy. “We’ve been talking about trying to find the most specific types of voices that will hopefully capture a real fan base and grow from there, as opposed to trying to appeal to everyone at the same time, which doesn’t feel possible or likely anymore.”
“Welcome to Flatch” is told through the lens of a documentary crew exploring the lives of residents of the midwestern town of Flatch. The crew finds worthy subjects in young-adult cousins and best friends Kelly Mallet (Holmes, a newcomer actor who goes by that single name) and Lloyd “Shrub” Mallet (Sam Straley) who let the production in on their lives and local current events. The rest of the key players in Flatch include Joseph “Father Joe” Binghoffer (Seann William Scott), the local minister who tries to guide Kelly and Shrub, and his former girlfriend, Cheryl Peterson (Aya Cash), who is the editor of the local newspaper, the Flatch Patriot, as well as Shrub’s obsessive friend Mickey St. Jean (newcomer Justin Linville), Kelly’s frenemy and the head of the Flatch Historical Society, Nadine Garcia-Parney (Taylor Ortega), and Mandy Matthews (newcomer Krystal Smith) the town’s resident badass and entrepreneur.
“With ‘Flatch,’ there’s a really specific tone and sensibility through the point of view of two self-centered, narcissistic characters who are very atypical in their age for a broadcast comedy,” Thorn said.
Bicks created “Welcome to Flatch” based on the BBC series “This Country” and executive produces it alongside Feig, who directs and wrote two of the episodes of the show from Lionsgate, BBC Studios’ Los Angeles production arm, Fox Entertainment and Feigco Entertainment. Bicks sees “Flatch’s” mockumentary humor and British comedic roots as something that will be enjoyed by fans of “The Office,” which counted Feig among its producers, and “Parks and Rec.”
“There is a certain type of humor and a reliance on character-driven comedy that I don’t think we see that much anymore,” Bicks said. “It tends to either be lowest-common-denominator sitcoms or stuff that is put into categories for comedy at award shows that you kind of wonder, what makes it a comedy? This is very much a broad-spectrum audience, but that uses a certain tone that I think is slightly dry, ironic British. It comes from a British show. And I think that’s why it probably appeals to you, if you like those other shows, because it has that certain feel of being in a little insular, odd world with these characters that you want to spend time with.”
Originally set up at Fox in December 2019, “Welcome to Flatch” had just begun shooting its pilot when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the industry to a screeching halt in March 2020. At that time, Bicks says she and Feig never intended for “Flatch” to be dropped in this binge-able format. But when Fox came to them with the idea of launching half of Season 1, which has already wrapped production, on digital platforms upfront to give the show its best chance to break through, Bicks says they were on board.
“Paul and I are thrilled at the idea. Look, nobody really watches linear alone anymore. And to get a chance to have people binge-watch this, it’s going to be terrific,” Bicks said. “It’ll just allow more eyes on it and have people fall in love with Flatch and with the people. We have to get eyeballs wherever we can. This is not the ’90s for TV. It’s all about getting people to stop and pay attention to you. And I think the best way to do that is to just bombard them with fun. And that’s what we’re hoping to do.”
With Episodes 1-7 available for your viewing pleasure starting Thursday, and then seven weeks to watch them before the show goes to a linear-first airing model, Fox wants to give “Welcome to Flatch” fans a chance to, well, become fans before asking them to tune back in regularly to Fox broadcast. Of course, that option is still there for you, because Fox — which Thorn says is coming back to its “comedic roots” this season, nearly four years after canceling beloved series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “The Mick” and “Last Man on Earth,” with additions like “Flatch” and new female-driven comedy “Pivoting” — intends to give you every option it can to make “Flatch” work.
“We’re so passionate about the show and we so believe in these characters. Once you watch a few, you’ll know these characters are contagious,” Thorn said. “So our hope is that we’ll put it on our linear platform on Thursday nights, it has a nice time slot behind ‘Call Me Kat.’ But at the same time, we want to complement that strategy with dropping seven on Hulu and our other partners, where we really can give people who watch television differently a chance to watch the show, connect with these characters and hopefully tell their friends and laugh. This show, we think, will both appeal to our typical Fox viewer, but also maybe younger viewers who aren’t always watching broadcast.”
“Our thinking is to just give it a unique shot to succeed and be seen and be consumed based a comedy viewer’s own schedule and what works for them,” Thorn added. “So we’re going to drop half the season, and then by the time we get to Episode 8, our hope is that there will be more word of mouth, more discussion, more fandom, and that when it returns to our weekly linear schedule, it will hopefully bring a bigger audience. It also speaks to our confidence in the show, because we’re willing to go, ‘Here’s the first half of the season. Watch it on whatever your timetable is.’ Hopefully quality wins out and starts a conversation around the show and these characters.”
Thorn says the decision to give out the first seven episodes of “Flatch” all at once was “embraced” by everyone at Fox, including its affiliate group, which really saw the “potential of, if it works and it comes back with a strong second half of the season or Season 2, it can really benefit the show and the longevity of the show, if we can maybe fast track an audience finding the show.”
Thinking about NBC’s beloved mockumentaries, Thorn notes that those shows were “immediately” cult favorites, but took a while to “hit a broader audience,” and it’s the latter part Fox is trying to avoid with “Welcome to Flatch.”
“We’re hoping — and these are high aspirations when you talk about some of these shows, we admit it — but we’re hoping to be in a conversation about docu-style comedies that include ‘Welcome to Flatch’ with those two shows someday,” Thorn said. “So you’ve got to take some risks in order to get there.”