As we head into the new fall season, this week we've been putting all of the broadcast networks under a microscope to see what they need to do to either pull ahead or stay dominant ... and the odds of them actually doing so. Today we take a long look at Fox. Traditionally the top drawer of young viewers, it's making a couple of big moves by adding The X Factor and Terra Nova: Will they be monster hits, or pricey anticlimaxes? And how will aging fare like Fringe and House hold up?
Preseason standing: Last year it remained a dominant No. 1 in the demo group advertisers love most, adults under 50. Even though American Idol lost some buzz in the second half of its season, the addition of J. Lo and Steven Tyler ensured Idol didn't collapse in its first Simon-free season; this, combined with the continued success of Glee and procedurals Bones and House, guaranteed Fox's continued success overall. The network was No. 2 in overall viewers, finishing more than one million ahead of third place ABC.
Primary goal: Yes, it would be nice if the elaborate Terra Nova (seemingly in the works since the Clinton administration) turns into a solid hit. But the show Fox really, really wants to work is The X Factor. Sure, the network already has a super-successful singing competition with American Idol, a series so hugely successful that it masks the scent of even massive rating failures such as Lone Star. But imagine Fox's position in the ratings game if X ends up even half as popular as Idol: Fox will have two big tentpole series taking up about one fifth of its prime-time lineup in both the fall and winter.
Most promising new show: Terra Nova should have a very successful debut, thanks to lots of anticipation and great marketing that has taken full advantage of the show's multiple production delays to get people talking about the show. We are worried, however, that folks who come looking for weekly dino-thrills may be a bit bummed by the show's equal emphasis on family dynamics. In the end, Fox's top-rated fall entry will likely be X Factor.
Veterans on the bubble: Fringe has skirted death almost from the beginning and it's unlikely to get off the bubble this year. High production costs could make this the last season for House. Fox may decide to trim back its Gordon Ramsay franchise a bit, reducing his workload from three to two series (Kitchen Nightmares would be the easiest to kill).
How they'll finish: A lock to end up No. 1 in adults 18 to 49. CBS is probably too far ahead among all viewers to catch, unless X and Terra Nova are both blockbusters and Idol declines by less than 10 percent.