When the Knights of the Laptop begin to examine the fall broadcast schedule in earnest, expect a deluge of think pieces on how, after a seemingly robust return to form a few seasons back, broadcast comedy is dead all over again (or, at the very least, comatose) and how midseason is the new fall. Whether there’s anything to that premature assessment remains to be seen, but at this very early juncture in Upfronts Week, it would appear that a trend is in the wings.
With the collapse of its Tuesday night comedy block and the relegation of Simon Cowell and The X Factor to the U.K., Fox looks like a different network altogether. An all-new series is slated for nearly every night of the week, and the Sunday Animation Domination block will be studded through with live-action comedies. Moreover, as is the case at NBC, Fox has held back a nice chunk of fresh material for 2015.
The network starts the week with what would appear to be a felicitous pairing in the new Batman prequel, Gotham, which is paired with the returning supernatural lark, Sleepy Hollow. Gotham reflects the superheroes trend (see also: Constantine, The Flash, Agent Carter) that threatens to supplant the I-See-Dead-People trope that ruled 2013.
Tuesdays mark the launch of an ambitious competition series that’s being billed as “television’s biggest social experiment.” The Dutch import Utopia isolates 15 contestants on a godforsaken spit of land and challenges them to form the rudiments of a new society. (While the pitch sounds a bit more highbrow than, say, Temptation Island, it probably stands to reason that Utopia will offer its share of pioneers humping like bunny rabbits.)
Utopia will lead into the limping battery that is New Girl and The Mindy Project. Just two years after sparking a live-action comedy revival at Fox, New Girl cratered in Season 3, averaging just 3.31 million live-plus-same-day viewers and a 1.7 in the adults 18-49 demo. Mindy fared even worse (2.55 million/1.3). While it remains to be seen if ABC will continue to add to the comedy traffic jam Tuesdays at 9-10 p.m., New Girl and Mindy are already slated to go head-to-head with NBC’s Marry Me and About a Boy.
With The X Factor out of the mix, Wednesday nights will be given over to a mix of unscripted series (Hell’s Kitchen) and the buzzy teen drama, Red Band Society. Developed by Amblin Entertainment and starring Octavia Spencer (The Help), Red Band Society centers on a group of kids who live in the pediatric wing of an L.A. hospital. (Call it Beverly Hills, 90210 on an oncology ward.)
Thursdays will play host to yet another new drama, as Fox unveils the 10-part event series, Gracepoint. An adaptation of the English murder mystery, Broadchurch, Gracepoint stars Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn and David Tennant in the role he originated.
Given that Fox hasn’t aired a live-action Sunday night comedy in seven years, the introduction of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and newcomer Mulaney to The Simpsons/Family Guy-dominated lineup is a bit jarring. In another interesting twist, the two meatspace shows aren’t running back-to-back. The sophomore ensemble comedy (and Golden Globes winner) Brooklyn Nine-Nine will lead into Seth MacFarlane’s lone remaining fall series, which in turn will set the table for Mulaney.
Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly’s vaunted no-pilots strategy allows for a flexibility that long has been lacking; in fact, much of the new content will be parceled out in cable-sized doses of 13 episodes or fewer. Among the short-run strips slated for a 2015 premiere are the hip-hop family saga, Empire; M. Night Shyamalan’s 10-part mystery, Wayward Pines; the Rainn Wilson procedural Backstrom; and MacFarlane’s latest animated comedy, Bordertown.
Fox will unveil its fall schedule this afternoon at New York’s Beacon Theatre.
FOX FALL 2014 SCHEDULE (New series in UPPER CASE)
8-9 p.m. GOTHAM
9-10 p.m. Sleepy Hollow
8-9 p.m. UTOPIA
9-9:30 p.m. New Girl
9:30-10 p.m. The Mindy Project
8-9 p.m. Hell’s Kitchen
9-10 p.m. RED BAND SOCIETY
8-9 p.m. Bones
9-10 p.m. GRACEPOINT
8-9 p.m. MasterChef Junior
9-10 p.m. UTOPIA
7-10:30 p.m. Fox Sports Saturday
7-7:30 p.m. NFL Overrun
7:30-8 p.m. Bob’s Burgers
8-8:30 p.m. The Simpsons
8:30-9 p.m. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
9-9:30 p.m. Family Guy
9:30-10 p.m. MULANEY
BACKSTROM, BORDERTOWN, EMPIRE, HIEROGLYPH, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, WAYWARD PINES and WEIRD LONERS join the schedule in 2015, as do the returning series American Idol, The Following and Glee.