As broadcast networks roll out new series each season, some of them rely on tried-and-true launching pads on their schedule, usually following their biggest shows. CBS uses the post-Big Bang Theory slot to debut hits like Young Sheldon, Kevin Can Wait and Scorpion, while NBC relies on The Voice to funnel viewers to the premieres of This Is Us, The Blacklist and Blindspot.
For Fox, however, the most valuable piece of real estate on its schedule only comes around every other year—the time slot following Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, which alternates each year in prime time with CBS’ AFC Championship Game.
While both games drew upwards of 46 million viewers last year—ranking among 2017’s most-watched telecasts (topping The Oscars, which drew 34.2 million)—the prime-time game serves as an ideal launching pad for a new or returning series, especially for Fox. Two years ago, The X-Files returned to an audience of 16.2 million and a 6.1 rating in the 18-49 demo following that game. In 2014, Fox brought back The Following to a 4.4 demo rating and a total audience of 11.2 million.
This is Fox’s year again for the prime-time championship game, and after the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings face off Sunday with a Super Bowl LII berth on the line, the network has tapped its new medical drama, The Resident, for the coveted slot.
Unlike in past years, Fox had several strong contenders to choose from, including new Ryan Murphy procedural 9-1-1, the Season 11 return of The X-Files and its first post-American Idol music competition series, The Four.
“We went back and forth,” said Michael Thorn, Fox Broadcasting’s president of entertainment. “Ultimately, we felt like The Resident has a very unique approach to a medical show, and we wanted to give it the best possible shot to succeed.”
The Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 8 on NBC, also complicated Fox’s scheduling approach this year. The network wanted The Four, which only lasts six episodes, to wrap ahead of the Olympics, which meant that a late-January launch wasn’t feasible.
Also, Fox prefers the one-two scheduling punch of a post-NFC Championship debut that funnels audiences directly to the second episode, which airs the following day during that show’s regular Monday time slot. And rather than schedule The X-Files or 9-1-1 on Monday, the network wanted to pair them on Wednesday as a placeholder during Empire and Star’s midseason hiatus.
“We realized we could try to make a big impact with 9-1-1 coming out of The X-Files and giving it a really big marketing campaign,” said Thorn, who also felt that 9-1-1’s big-name cast of Peter Krause, Connie Britton and Angela Bassett meant that show wouldn’t require as much heavy lifting as The Resident.
“In terms of TV star power, with Peter and Angela and Connie, they’re extremely recognizable,” Thorn said. So, pairing 9-1-1 with X-Files “felt like the best way to launch.”
Fox’s plan worked, as 9-1-1 has been a Wednesday-night breakout for Fox and is actually outperforming its X-Files lead-in. Fox on Tuesday picked up 9-1-1 for a Season 2 after just two episodes had aired.
That left The Resident, which doesn’t have the star power of 9-1-1, though Emily VanCamp starred in ABC’s Revenge and Matt Czuchry appeared on CBS’ The Good Wife. And Fox was comfortable scheduling the medical drama on Mondays.
Fox’s post-championship series have faired better among NFL audiences than CBS’ efforts following its AFC Championship Game telecasts. Hunted, CBS’ stab at a new reality hit, debuted last year to an audience of 11.9 million and a 4.1 demo rating. Two years earlier, the network aired a regular episode of drama Scorpion following the game that drew 12.3 million and received a 3.2 demo rating.