This summer, FOX’s president of entertainment Kevin Reilly “resigned” from his position. After promising a new way of doing business and development at the network, and some disagreement with his boss, he left, and Gary Newman and Dana Walden were brought in to turn the ship around.
Their jobs, however, just got a little more difficult this week because they’re starting with a schedule that’s imploding — early premieres for FOX have been as close to disastrous as you can get.
It all started with the poor initial results of the new reality show “Utopia.” Back in May, Reilly described the show as one that would be “very noisy and the most exciting new entry in unscripted for quite some time.” It’s been everything but that. After an NFL-driven Sunday premiere, the show settled around 2.4 million viewers and 1.0 million in the much sought-after 18-49 demographic for its Tuesday episodes. In its most recent Friday broadcast, only 1.5 million viewers tuned in, fewer than the “Red Band Society” repeat that aired before it. Instead of helping two nights of the schedule find their footing, the show’s ratings are crumbling and taking those nights with it.
“Utopia” isn’t the only failure on the Fox schedule this year. The aforementioned hospital drama “Red Band Society” scored only 4 million viewers and 1.3 million in the key demo. The show did very well with young women, though, finishing Wednesday as the top program among females between 12 and 17. Those numbers will also rise significantly when viewers who DVR-ed the show are factored in. It also maintained the majority of its “Hell’s Kitchen” lead-in, which was 4 million viewers and 1.4 million in the key demo. Still, a series led by Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer should have a bigger draw.
Fox’s Tuesday comedies also suffered losses in their premieres, with “New Girl” opening to its lowest-rated season premiere (3 million, 1.7 key demo) and “The Mindy Project” failing to improve on its low numbers from last season (2.7 million, 1.3 key demo). “New Girl” is one of the biggest DVR gainers out there, and both shows improved upon their “Utopia” lead-in, but those numbers are still low.
Despite all of the misfires, it’s not worth calling FOX’s season a loss yet. On Monday, the network will debut the drama it has the most investment in this year: “Gotham.” The network has been significantly promoting this show and it could be one of the biggest hits of the season. Fox also has its surprise hit from the previous year, “Sleepy Hollow,” returning the same night. “Sleepy Hollow” has been off the air for nine months, and it remains to be seen whether it can keep the momentum it built last season. Even if the show simply matches its numbers from the previous year it’ll be considered a win for Fox.
While the Monday premieres should create something to build upon, the rest of Fox’s schedule is collapsing. The question going forward: Does Fox exhibit patience with “Utopia” and “Red Band,” or do they pull them in favor of something else? It has a lot in the pipe for midseason, but I’m not sure how many of those shows could be ready to premiere in the next six weeks. Fox has a ringer in “Masterchef Junior,” but, that show being a legitimate triumph in its Friday slot, it seems an unlikely play. The network has a history of such moves (it moved “Bones” off Friday right as it was starting to build momentum); “Masterchef Junior” could be used in the same fashion to save its schedule.
Whatever Fox is going to do, it’s going to have to do it quickly. If it’s not careful, it’ll turn into a smoldering pile of dust.