As this season breakout freshman series, This Is Us keeps getting bigger, as last night's return notched a 3.0 in the 18-49 demo for the first time. And while Fox, which produces the drama, had first dibs on the project last year, execs realized that the best home for the show was actually its broadcast rival, NBC.
"We made a commitment to the writers at our studio that we're going to give them to greatest chance to succeed," Gary Newman, co-chairman and co-CEO, Fox Television Group, said at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. "When we read that script, we just felt that tonally, it was a show that seemed consistent with Parenthood and Friday Night Lights, and NBC had had some real success with that. And if NBC had responded to that the way we did, we thought that could be a pretty good home for it."
Indeed, NBC did love the project, and talked with Fox about using the Rio Olympics and The Voice as a way to launch the show. "We went ahead and made that show for them, and the results are, we have the No. 1 new show on television at our studio," said Newman, who has no regrets about his decision. "This Is Us is going to be a lucrative, important show for us and live in our library for the rest of time."
With Fox's strategy of spreading the wealth, the studio is now producing series for around 15 different outlets, said Newman. And it's home to the No. 1 show on six different networks: Fox (Empire), ABC (Modern Family), FX (American Horror Story), Showtime (Homeland), TBS (American Dad) and NBC (This Is Us).
As for the Fox network, Newman said that no big integrations are in the works for rest of the season, a la Empire's Pepsi integration. "We're very careful about integrating brands into our shows. We think by and large, consumers want an experience where they can immerse themselves on our world and not have too many commercial messages sent to them within the body of our work," he said.
"That being said, we know people don't like commercial interruptions, and if we can find new ways of connecting and bringing value to our brands, we're going to do that that," said Newman. "You will see a lot of off-air integrations and off-air connections between brands and our shows." As one of those integrations, Samsung is creating a virtual reality experience that serves as a prequel to its 24 reboot, 24: Legacy.
The network won't be reducing ad loads this spring for any of his high-profile shows, like 24: Legacy or its Prison Break revival, said Newman.
While integrations may be on the backburner this spring, they'll be back in full force this summer, when Fox airs Beat Shazam, a game show in which two teams compete to quickly identify some of the most popular songs of all time. The network has signed Jamie Foxx to host and executive produce the show and Shazam will be a production partner. "He's been at the top of our wish list for this project since the beginning," said Newman, and will help make the series "a big summer event."
Beat Shazam is part of Fox's new summer strategy: "bring together big stars with compelling concepts," said Newman. Also on the summer slate: an updated version of Love Connection, hosted by Andy Cohen, that will feature same-sex couples as well as heterosexual contestants. And Gordon Ramsey will be hosting a live food variety show, The F Word.
Thanks to the World Series and new fall hit Lethal Weapon, Fox finished the fall in second place, and was the only network to build on its ratings from last fall, said Newman.
But Lethal Weapon's success won't change Fox's approach when considering shows based on existing intellectual property (IP): The concepts need to stand on their own as an ongoing series. "If we're just living within in the four corners of the movie, I don't think that's interesting for the audience," said Newman. "We're looking at TV series based on IP to grow and become their own things."
Fox announced that it has ordered 4 additional episodes of its hit midseason comedy, The Mick, which is rare for a midseason series.
Newman said he's also proud of Shots Fired, a limited series about race relations in a small town after a police shooting. "We think Shots Fired will be a major awards contender," said Newman, who will give the series one of its best shots to succeed: pairing it with Empire (the No. 1 broadcast drama in 18-49; Fox renewed it today for Season 4) when that series returns March 22.
While the series seems like Fox's version of American Crime, Newman said Shots Fired is a different type of show. "It takes thoughtful, sensitive issues and explores it in a way you have not seen on television," he said.
With Peak TV, it's tougher than ever for networks to connect with audiences, but Newman said Fox is up for the challenge. "It's a confusing time, but it's full of opportunity. We have to do the best premium content," said Newman. "we're proud to be a broadcast network. We're still interested in aggregating for a large audience."
Fox also announced the midseason premiere dates for its new and returning shows: Making History debuts on March 5, the same night that Last Man on Earth returns; Kicking and Screaming premieres on March 9; Shots Fired debuts on March 22, the same night that Empire returns; the Prison Break revival begins on April 4; Brooklyn Nine-Nine is back on April 11; Gotham returns on April 24; and finally Lucifer is back on May 1.