2010’s over — but for the broadcast networks, December marks only the halfway point of a season-long campaign to capture viewers. Before the ratings race starts up again next week, Vulture is taking a look at where each of the Big Four broadcasters stands mid-season. Today: Fox.
The Numbers: It wasn’t a great fall for Fox: It finished fourth in viewers (7.7 million) and settled for a weak second-place tie with NBC among adults 18 to 49. More troubling, the network was down more than 15 percent versus last fall. In a way, the so-so numbers were really just a tradition for the network: Except for the past two seasons, Fox has tended to whiff in the autumn. This year it was hurt by a boring baseball postseason, declines for existing hits, and one really big flop (see below). In any case, if history is any guide, Fox will be back in the hunt for the under-50 title by March or April.
What’s Working: Glee was an underdog when it premiered and is now one of biggest shows on TV with viewers under 50. Fox scheduling guru Preston Beckman says moving the show to 8 p.m. Tuesday was the best thing the network did this fall: “It improved its performance (versus its 9 p.m. airing last season), and it helped us build a comedy behind it,” he says. That comedy would be Raising Hope, the very sweet half-hour family comedy that’s been getting solid ratings and strong buzz. The pairing of Glee and Hope has gone so well, in fact, Fox decided to shift American Idol off of Tuesdays so that it could keep the two shows together. As for the rest of Fox’s lineup, some Sunday comedies are doing fine (The Simpsons, Family Guy), while others are tepid (American Dad, The Cleveland Show). Bones has been a strong anchor on Thursdays.
What’s Not: Lone Star was hands-down the most acclaimed new show of the fall season, got a ton of marketing support over the summer … and was dead on arrival when it debuted in September. “We were not expecting Lone Star to be rejected as quickly and definitively as it was,” Beckman says, adding that in retrospect, he wishes the show had been held for mid-season where it might have had more time to find an audience. But Fox’s even bigger Monday headache has been House: It remains a solid performer that often finishes second in its 8 p.m. time slot, but versus last year, its ratings are down more than 25 percent. Glee has made up for some of the pain, but Fox has to hope the show has found its bottom. Meanwhile, Fringe is creatively strong but has failed to grow on Thursdays, which is why it’ll shift to the lower-pressure Fridays next year.
2011 Resolution: The big goal for Fox next year is to successfully shift Idol to its new Wednesday-Thursday air pattern. Fox is choosing to make all of its Idol changes at once, shaking up both the on-air talent and scheduling in one fell swoop. If it works, though, Fox will be in very good shape, since the network could finally have a powerful player on Thursday nights. “Being the No. 1 network on Thursday would be fulfilling our wildest dreams,” Beckman says. And while critics have been suggesting Idol could take a massive hit minus Simon, Beckman is upbeat: “I’ve said this before, but this show is not about Simon or Paula or anyone else. It’s about the kids.” Vulture has seen about 30 minutes of audition footage from the new season, and there are definitely some strong performers in the mix (though compared to last season’s losers, Susan Boyle would be considered Mick Jagger — like in her stage persona).