Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly kicked off Fox's upfront presentation by conceding his network's troubles this year — and vowing to return to No. 1 in the key demo next season.
"Part of an upfront is being upfront," he said, admitting: "This was not our best year."
CBS beat Fox in the 18-49 demographic for the first time in years this season as ratings for Fox's "American Idol" slipped. So Fox went into its upfront presentation at New York's Beacon Theater with lots to prove.
It is trying to recapture its top-ranking by embracing its reputation as a network that take risks. But it is also making several moves that are decidely conventional.
Reilly (above) said Fox will make several atypical moves in the 2013-14 season, including programming year-round and airing limited-run shows. One of its most-anticipated offerings next year — a 12-episode revival of "24" — will begin airing in May, when the traditonal broadcast TV season ends. It will help launch another limited-run series, M. Night Shyamalan's "Wayward Pines."
But the network also unveiled three sitcoms with concepts that couldn't be more traditional. "Dads" is about two guys dealing with their unpredictable dads. "Enlisted," like "F Troop," is about a ragtag group of soldiers. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is about a cop who refuses to grow up.
The jokes were often lowbrow: Monday's clip reels included jokes about Asian schoolgirls and naked roommates. One of the "Dads" dads referred to Rocky Dennis, the real-life inspiration for the movie "Mask," as "one of the ugliest people in human history." Dennis, played by Eric Stoltz in the 1985 film, suffered from a disfiguring cranial enlargement.
Advertisers' laughter was muted. Asked for comment, a Fox representative said it was unclear what would be in the final cut of "Dads" when it airs in the fall.
The network is also following the tradition of using the Super Bowl to promote its shows. In this case, it will give the post-Super Bowl slot to "New Girl," a hit for the network last year, and another comedy to be determined. The network brought out Super Bowl ring owners Michael Strahan and Troy Aikman to hype the network's airing of the game, to be broadcast from New York.
The network's dramas, meanwhile, mix traditional formulas with high concepts. Its "Sleepy Hollow" finds Ichabod Crane waking up in modern times — and the Headless Horseman now packing heat. "Almost Human," meanwhile, is a cop show that partners humans and robots.
The network ended its upfront with something that might have seemed like an edgy idea but felt past its expiration date: an autotuned song constructed from dialogue on Fox shows.