The fall 2023 season has been a test of flexibility for all of broadcast television. As the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes continue, the Big 5 have had to rework their schedules to accommodate for the lack of new scripted content. Yet out of all these networks, Fox, with its long history of animation, reality programming and sports, has emerged as one of the least impacted.
When asked if this pivot has led to Fox thinking about ditching live-action scripted series altogether, Allison Wallach, president of unscripted programming at Fox Entertainment, was clear: “Not at all.”
“What’s great about being this broadcast network is that we offer a little bit of everything, between scripted, drama, comedy, animation, sports and unscripted,” Wallach told TheWrap.
“It’s unfortunate not to have some of the live-action series in the fall that we had hoped, along with our creative partners. But we’re still coming into this fall guns blazing,” Michael Thorn, president of entertainment for Fox Entertainment, told TheWrap.
Rather than run the risk of losing momentum on its scripted programming, Fox “took a step back” during this time. “How do we keep the audience engaged and new viewers engaged in the series?” Thorn asked. That question led to a series of catch-up campaigns launched this summer for all of the network’s returning shows. Keeping the “scripted audience engaged” also led to the decision to air “9-1-1: Lone Star” reruns in the fall. It’s all part of a strategy to hook new viewers and court repeat viewers, which Thorn notes is “a priority.”
“I’ll just take ‘Animal Control,’ for example, which is coming back for its second season after the strike is over. We did a catch-up campaign on Hulu. We used on-air and social. And we saw hundreds of 1,000s of new views and new viewers that have just discovered the show and are enjoying it and loving the characters and Joel [McHale’s] performance,” Thorn said.
These campaigns also offer some insight into how Fox has changed its strategy for hooking viewers. Thorn noted that they “talk a lot” about how current launches “take on a whole new meaning than they they used to.”
“A launch isn’t just the first episode in the first week, when you’re launching a new series,” Thorn said. “It’s really over the course of its first season, sometimes longer. It’s a long game now as you’re growing awareness and combining both a robust marketing campaign and, hopefully, word of mouth.”
And Fox is in the enviable position of being able to launch several new shows this fall. There’s the return of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” which will debut Season 8 after a roughly nine-year hiatus.
“The last time [Ramsay] did the show close to a decade ago, he owned about 10 restaurants,” Wallach said. “The Gordon Ramsay who’s coming into your restaurant today owns over 100. He’s a real businessman. The tone of it is bigger, and the intensity is greater.”
Then there are the network’s two wholly new series: “Snake Oil” and “Krapopolis.” Hosted by David Spade, the entrepreneurial guessing game show “Snake Oil” fits in with the network’s reality slate, which includes “I Can See Your Voice” and “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test.” The second new addition Fox has up its sleeve is “Krapopolis,” a comedy set in Ancient Greece from “Rick and Morty” creator Dan Harmon that will join Fox’s animation domination Sunday night block.
“On the scripted side, we’re very proud of the fact that we have a full night of scripted programming this fall on Sunday night,” Thorn said. “We’re really proud of [‘Krapopolis’]. It’s getting a lot of positive attention and reviews, which feels good. And Dan, as a voice, he’s one of the few writers who, in addition to being wildly talented, also has a fan base.”
Due to the longer lead times animation require, all of Fox’s Sunday night animated shows will air new episodes this fall, not just “Krapopolis.”
Thorn noted that Fox’s animated series are “key drivers” when it comes to digital streaming. Most of this digital viewing is done through Fox’s streaming partners, particularity the network’s agreement with Hulu.
Animation is one lucrative category Fox has figured out. Whereas other networks and streamers have launched animated comedies with mixed results, “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “Bob’s Burgers” continue to stand as the “Mount Rushmore of animated characters.” Thorn credited the network’s success in this tricky category to three elements: “unique, strong points of view,” long lead times and Fox’s reputation.
“We know that animation requires a level of patience that most other platforms don’t have. Animation is not an overnight success,” Thorn said. “Maybe because we were first in the space and really built it out, it gives us an understanding, appreciation and respect for this type of medium that maybe some other platforms don’t have. But ultimately, your success is really built on the creators that you engage with and partner with.”
Thorn noted that Fox’s long history with animation has led to top talent seeking out the network. “The most ambitious animators and writers and talent want their characters in [programming block]. They can hope and dream and aspire to be to be part of the lineup next to those iconic shows,” Thorn said. “That is a beacon that helps us attract other signature voices.”
There is one final trick Fox has up its sleeve: sports. Already, the network has seen some promising gains pairing its new programming with live sports during this relatively barren time for television.
“Just to give you some context, ‘The Masked Singer’ Season 10 [debut], right out of football, got a 0.9 for the season premiere. It was up 50% from its fall premiere last year, and it’s the most watched, highest-rated season premiere since Season 7,” Thorn said. “So clearly football and sports are a significant benefit to the entertainment.”
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