Upfronts: FOX

Sylvia Criger, managing partner of Toronto-based MBS, reviews the three new comedies, four new dramas and three new reality programs FOX trotted out on the final day of the TV upfronts in New York.

This afternoon the upfront week ended with FOX ‘s presentation at the New York City Centre, a theatre which wins the prize for the most beautiful painted ceilings. Tiny seats however, but a beautiful venue.

The show opened with a video clip of Kiefer Sutherland telling Peter Liguori, the president of FOX, how to cut this year’s show to 60 minutes, suggesting ditching charts and potshots at the competition. The voice over said that the events following were taking place between 4 and 5 pm which was loudly applauded by the crowd. Last year FOX had the longest (almost 3 hours!) and most boring presentation of the week, so this was welcome news to the audience. FOX was also the only network to hype the value of TV, stating that it was still the best to build brand image and awareness – very nice to hear! Of course they did include all their content extensions including Fox.com, Fox mobile and Fox one which combines all their media assets.

Starting with the new comedies, FOX has Back to You, which stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as two news anchors who can’t stand each other. Grammer plays his usual egotistical self and there are some really good one-liners. It’s from the producers of Frasier, so there’s a good supporting cast of zany characters.

Next is The Return of Jezebel James from the Gilmore Girls producers. Parker Posey stars as a perfect book editor who asks her very different sister to become a surrogate mother for her. It will air mid-season, but it wasn’t very appealing or funny.

The first TV project from the Farrelly brothers, The Rules for Starting Over, is about four divorced friends looking for new romance. It has some questionable gags and lines including a monkey, a banana and many short people jokes. Fairly juvenile but it could appeal to a younger demo.

On the drama side FOX has KVille about two uneasy police partners in New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina. They try to impose law in a dangerous city while dealing with their own personal issues. Fairly intense and raw, this one will likely follow Prison Break on Mondays.

New Amsterdam is about a New York city homicide detective who’s immortal – he’s doesn’t age or die. He uses his past to help solve murders while searching for his true love. Yeah. It’s ambitious and interesting and might have an audience.

Canterbury’s Law stars Julianne Margulies as an unpredictable, difficult lawyer. It’s well written and hard hitting and actually looks good. Dennis Leary also stars as the romantic interest.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is, yep, the Terminator story. She’s protecting her son John from terminators who come from the future to kill them. They move constantly, this time to a small town where John meets a cute girl who turns out to be from the future also. But she’s there to help them. It will likely be a mid-season replacement as it’s not a very strong show.

FOX also has three unscripted programs (reality) including The Search for the Next Great American Band. It’s from the producers of American Idol and uses the same format – cross country auditions, short list and playoffs with one super group as the winner. It will probably be a success given the popularity of this genre.

Nashville, another reality program, is from the producers of Laguna Beach and it’s all about the country music dreamers and the dream makers. Kitchen Nightmares is about nasty chef Ramsay who takes on restaurant disasters and turns them around. That includes décor, food and the people who work in the restaurants.

Jon Nesvig, president of sales, also overviewed the sports offerings quickly – the various college football championships, Nascar, Baseball regular season, MLB All Stars Game, World Series (October 24 start), NFL and of course, the Superbowl.

FOX has their current hits back on schedule including House, the #1 scripted show, Bones, Prison Break, 24, The Simpsons and American Idol which will return in January along with 24. House will air after the Superbowl on February 2, 2008.

At the end of the presentation, Peter’s phone rang and it turned out to be Kiefer Sutherland again as Jack Bauer counting down his last ten seconds – it was a good gag and made FOX look good, poking fun at themselves.

The after party was at Central Park under a tent – lots of good sushi and chocolate lollipops with a sparse sprinkling of ‘real’ stars. All in all, a good presentation, lively, interesting and thankfully, brief. A class act which was a great way to end the Upfront Week. It’s all over now except for the spending!

More on Fox’s 2007-08 Line-up from the MiC Team

Fox’s strategy for the upcoming season is to premiere only three of its seven new scripted series in the fall – while bowing three new reality shows for Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The idea is to keep the competition with all the other nets’ new shows to a minimum, while going gangbusters to promote the dramas it believes will do best.

The buzzed-about dramedy Back to You airs Wednesdays at 8 pm, bringing Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) back to prime time as newscasters who used to be romantically involved. Meanwhile, the fall drama K-Ville, the post-Katrina cop show starring Anthony Anderson (The Departed) and Cole Hauser (The Break-Up), will air Mondays at 9 pm, with a strong lead-in from Prison Break. The other drama, New Amsterdam, is skedded for Tuesdays at 8 pm, right before Fox’s top scripted show, House.

Reality Thursdays will kick off with the return of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? – which leads in to the new reality series Kitchen Nightmares, giving chef Gordon Ramsay the chance to turn around impaired restaurants. And Friday bows the next move by American Idol producers. The Search For the Next Great American Band starts prime time off at 8 pm, followed at 9 pm by Nashville, which puts artists in the country music capital on the reality TV stage.

In January, Canterbury’s Law debuts on Thursday, leading-out of Fifth Grader. The Sarah Connor Chronicles, or the terminator show, hits the 9 pm time slot on Sundays, breaking up the animated fare. Other shows skedded for mid-season premieres are sister comedy The Return of Jezebel James and 30-somethings romance show The Rules for Starting Over.