Fox Broadcasting doesn’t know whether it will still be a part of 21st Century Fox by this time next year—if the Disney-Fox deal closes, it will be spun off into a company called New Fox—but the network shared its plans for its own future with buyers at today’s upfront presentation.
“We want to welcome you to New Fox,” Fox Television Group CEO and chairman Dana Walden told attendees at New York’s Beacon Theater. Her fellow CEO and chairman, Gary Newman, added, “We have an opportunity to chart a new course for broadcast television.”
That pivot began with two big pickups for this fall: Thursday Night Football, which Fox landed for the next five years, and Last Man Standing, which the network picked up one year after ABC canceled it.
The four pillars of New Fox, according to Newman: “Broadly appealing dramas and comedies, star-driven unscripted and live events, prime time’s only animation block and the biggest broadcast portfolio in sports.”
Another “essential feature” of the network, Newman added, will be its exclusive focus on U.S. audiences. Walden explained, “As other networks are focused on monetizing ownerships of their shows, they need to program with an eye to the international market.”
This evolution is a “game-changer” for Fox, said Walden, who along with Newman made these bold predictions for the fall: The network’s 18-49 demo rating will increase by “double digits,” Fox will have “its highest audience circulation in years” and its live viewing will also grow. The network will have “82 percent real-time consumption of our content this fall, more than any of our competitors.”
That’s a surprising mantra for a network that years ago stopped reporting live-plus-same-day ratings, explaining that they were no longer an accurate representation of viewing patterns.
“Our audience next season will be bigger and broader,” said Newman, who at one point made himself dizzy with all the spinning he was doing onstage. He touted the network’s “93 percent positive social sentiment,” before admitting, “that’s so New Fox, I don’t even know what it means.”
Joe Marchese, Fox Networks Group’s president of advertising revenue, kicked off the presentation with his sales pitch, promising to bring advertisers “closer to the drama, closer to the laughter, closer to the competition” with new innovations like JAZ pods, which his company had begun to discuss with buyers this spring.
The JAZ pods—“Just the A and Z positions,” said Marchese—are ad breaks of two 30-second spots each. That will be the only way to buy linear advertising on FX’s new series with The New York Times, called The Weekly, which Marchese said will reduce the total number of ads by “more than 60 percent.”
“These will be among the most powerful ads in television,” said Marchese, who will offer them on National Geographic, Fox Sports and Fox on “some entire Sunday nights.” (That is a slight change from the company’s previous plans regarding JAZ pods.)
Marchese also took a swipe at competitors like A&E, which will be offering performance-based guarantees this upfront. “I’ve never understood how anyone can promise you sales outcomes, and then also work with your competitors,” said Marchese. “What we can promise is the greatest opportunity and environment to engage an audience.”
The event’s pacing felt sluggish, thanks to multiple presenters who tried to stay onstage as long as possible, including Jamie Foxx (who kept trying to liven up the crowd by having the DJ play music he thought they might be interested in), the Fox Sports crew (which at one point spent a considerable amount of time discussing the eagle that Terry Bradshaw had purchased in New York that day), and The Four’s Diddy, DJ Khaled and Fergie (whom Dana Walden almost had to drag off stage at the end of their segment).
9-1-1 co-creator Ryan Murphy made a surprise appearance onstage alongside stars Angela Basset and Peter Krause to announce that Jennifer Love Hewitt would be joining the cast next season. She’ll in essence be replacing Connie Britton, who had only signed on for one season.
In honor of The Simpsons’ upcoming 30th season, Fox played an amusing video in which Homer Simpson made more predictions about the future, given the show’s eerily accurate track record in calling Donald Trump’s presidency and the Disney-Fox merger. Among the best lines: “Due to declining ratings, ABC will launch a new show called 0.8 Is Enough,” and “Apple and Crackle will partner for a new network called, Crapple.”
Tim Allen talked up Fox’s revival of his sitcom Last Man Standing, which ABC canceled last year. “There are certain things in life you know have reached their end … but last year, Last Man Standing wasn’t one of those things,” Allen said. “The fans of Last Man Standing wouldn’t leave this alone.”
Allen then proceeded to set the bar pretty high when it comes to the show’s ratings this fall on Fox, telling buyers, “We can bring literally 8 million of the most passionate and appreciative fans to a big new network, and a big, new Friday night.”
During the lengthy portion of the upfront devoted to Fox Sports (which is the company’s cash cow, especially in the fall), Joe Buck made another big ratings promise: “We guarantee that America’s Game of the Week [Fox’s Sunday NFL package] will continue to be the No. 1 show on television for the 10th straight year.”
Buck also had a lot to say about the addition of Thursday Night Football to the network. “For the first time in its history, we are putting can’t miss match-ups on Thursday night,” he said.
Walden and Newman, who unveiled Fox’s 2018-19 schedule this morning, shared trailers for Fox’s new shows, including The Cool Kids, which Newman called “the Golden Girls, reimagined by Charlie Day,” the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star who executive produces the show.
There’s also new comedy Rel, starring and inspired by the life of Lil Rel Howery, who will play multiple characters in the show.
Midseason dramas include Proven Innocent, which Walden said is not just a legal drama but also a “big, juicy soap opera.”
The Passage is “definitely our most epic” series, said Walden, adding that it features “one of the most incredible performances by a young actor than I have ever seen.”
Next year, Fox and National Geographic will air another season of Cosmos, subtitled Possible Worlds.
There was also one unintentional reference during the presentation to Walden’s uncertain future, as the exec could stick with Fox Broadcasting at New Fox, follow 20th Century Fox Television to Disney, or leave for a different job if and when the Disney deal closes. Walden joked at one point, “I think we’ve established today that executives cannot dance,” which prompted Diddy to reply, “Next upfront, you’ll be dancing.” That left several in the audience wondering which upfront Walden might be at next year.
Another judge from The Four, Meghan Trainor, closed out the event with a performance of her new single, “No Excuses.”