Fox Corp won’t be holding its usual upfront event this afternoon at New York’s Beacon Theatre—nor will it be conducting any kind of broad virtual alternative presentation—but the company is still throwing down a very big gauntlet to kick off upfronts week. Its Fox network has unveiled a largely pandemic-proof fall schedule, assuring audiences and advertisers that plenty of new shows will air next season even if production remains shut down by Covid-19 for months to come.
The Fox fall lineup includes its Sunday animation shows, whose production schedule has been unaffected by the pandemic; a pair of new series that were delayed from this current midseason (AI thriller Next and Southern soap opera Filthy Rich); the broadcast debut of cop drama L.A.’s Finest, previously only available to Spectrum cable subscribers; an already filmed new season of MasterChef Junior; and the delayed latest season of Cosmos, which Fox had planned to air opposite the Summer Olympics prior to that event’s postponement.
At this point, only three programs on Fox’s fall schedule could still potentially be affected by Covid-19: Season 4 of The Masked Singer, which Fox hopes to begin filming in August, Thursday Night Football and Fox Sports Saturday.
As Fox returns to No. 1 in the 18-49 demo this season for the first time in eight years—and is the only broadcaster this season to grow in both that demo and total viewers—it has assembled a fall lineup that addresses one of the biggest concerns among TV buyers: that the prolonged production shutdown will leave them with few new episodes of shows to advertise in later this year.
“The effects of this global health crisis leave no business unaffected. As a media company that prides itself on an entrepreneurial spirit and the focus that comes with doing fewer things better, we mobilized, swiftly creating an entirely new, original programming lineup for the fall to share with our partners this upfront,” said Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier in a statement.
During last week’s earnings call, Fox executive chairman and CEO Lachlan Murdoch confirmed that his company will not be holding a traditional upfront event this year. Instead, it has been hosting virtual town halls over the past month for its Fox Sports, Fox Entertainment and Fox News divisions, in which execs—including Collier and Fox ad sales chief Marianne Gambelli— spoke with clients about the state of the marketplace and Covid-19’s impact on their businesses, and began to share their upfront strategy.
“In remote meetings with advertising and marketing partners over recent weeks, we sought to listen first and understand each partner’s unique concerns,” Collier said. “Our primary goal is to help them back to business, so in turn, the message we’ve shared is one of relative stability on Fox, combining the best of primetime sports and entertainment with which to help our partners and their customers back to market.”
“Now, more than ever, consistency, results and stability take on an all new emphasis,” added Gambelli in a statement. “During these uncertain times, we remain focused on the individual business needs of our partners and will continue to work with them to develop custom solutions with our unmatched offerings of assets to help drive their businesses forward.”
The schedule leaves Fox protected this fall, even if Covid-19-related production shutdowns continue for several more months. In contrast, CBS said last Friday that 23 of its current shows would be returning next year, and picked up three new series, but most of its planned schedule (which will be unveiled next Tuesday) could be wiped out by a prolonged shutdown.
This fall on Fox, Mondays will see the broadcast debut of L.A.’s Finest, starring Gabrielle Union (reprising her role from Bad Boys II as Martin Lawrence’s sister) and Jessica Alba as Los Angeles detectives. The series had become a Spectrum Original, available only to Spectrum subscribers, after NBC passed on the pilot two years ago; Fox has acquired both seasons of the show. That’s followed by thriller Next, about the perils of AI technology and starring John Slattery, which had initially been scheduled for this midseason.
The latest season of docuseries Cosmos, subtitled Possible Words, which debuted on National Geographic in March and was originally set to air on Fox this summer opposite the Tokyo Olympics, will kick off Tuesday. That will lead into soap opera Filthy Rich, which stars Kim Cattrall and, like Next, had also been set to air this midseason.
Wednesday will see Season 4 of The Masked Singer, TV’s No. 1 entertainment show this season in the 18-49 demo, assuming that Fox can safely begin production in August. It will be followed by Season 8 of MasterChef Junior, which has already been filmed.
Thursday Night Football returns on Thursday, beginning on Oct. 8 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—and the team’s new quarterback, Tom Brady—playing the Chicago Bears.
WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown, which has remained in production during the pandemic, will continue on Friday. Fox Sports Saturday is usually devoted to college football in the fall, but Fox is keeping its options open depending on which sports events do, and don’t, resume later this year.
The week concludes on Sunday with Fox’s entire animation lineup, which has continued production despite the pandemic. The Simpsons is back for Season 32, followed by Bless the Harts, Bob’s Burgers and Family Guy.
This schedule allows Fox to save most of its current live-action shows for midseason, including 9-1-1 and spinoff 9-1-1: Lone Star, and buys it some additional months to resume production. Animated series Duncanville and Hell’s Kitchen are also scheduled for midseason.
Fox said it will announce soon additional returning series for midseason. The company hasn’t yet confirmed that Prodigal Son and Lego Masters will be back next season, even though Lachlan Murdoch said the company is “preparing” new seasons of both shows, for “midseason launch dates,” during last week’s earnings call.
Three new shows have also been picked up for midseason: sitcom Call Me Kat, starring Mayim Bialik and executive produced by her and her former Big Bang Theory TV spouse, Jim Parsons, along with animated comedies The Great North and Housebroken.
Fox’s Fall 2020-21 Schedule
(New programs in ALL CAPS)
8-9 p.m. — L.A.’S FINEST
9-10 p.m. — NEXT
8-9 p.m. — COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS
9-10 p.m. — FILTHY RICH
8-9 p.m. — The Masked Singer
9-10 p.m. — MasterChef Junior (new time slot)
7:30-8 p.m. — Fox NFL Thursday Presented by Verizon
8-8:19 p.m. — GMC Kickoff Show
8:20 p.m.-conclusion — Thursday Night Football Presented by Bud Light Platinum
8-10 p.m. — WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown
7-10:30 p.m. — Fox Sports Saturday
7-7:30 p.m. — NFL on Fox
7:30-8 p.m. — The OT/Fox Encores
8-8:30 p.m. — The Simpsons
8:30-9 p.m. — Bless the Harts
9-9:30 p.m. — Bob’s Burgers
9:30-10 p.m. — Family Guy
CALL ME KAT, Duncanville, THE GREAT NORTH, Hell’s Kitchen, HOUSEBROKEN, 9-1-1, 9-1-1: Lone Star