Fox Entertainment Boss Defends ‘Monarch’ Delay: ‘The Show Is Too Important to Us’

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“We don’t want to be in a position where COVID is deciding the show’s fate,” Michael Thorn tells TheWrap in a wide-ranging Q&A

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In pushing back the debut of its high-profile country-music drama “Monarch” until the fall, Fox is depriving one of the network’s prized newcomers one of the biggest launching pads in television.

“Monarch,” which features a cast including Susan Sarandon, Trace Adkins and Anna Friel, was originally supposed to premiere Jan. 30 at 10 p.m. ET. That would put it right after Fox’s broadcast of the NFL’s NFC Championship Game. That honor is now going to Gordon Ramsay’s “Next Level Chef” — which premiered to big numbers after a football double-header on January 2. Fox cited production delays related to COVID as its reason for delaying “Monarch.”

But how big of a launch pad is “Monarch” giving up? The last two NFC Championship Games have averaged more than 42 million viewers. Still, Fox believes it’s more important to guard against the pandemic throwing more wrenches into the show’s production timeline.

“The show is too important to us. It has too much potential,” Fox entertainment president Michael Thorn told TheWrap during a wide-ranging conversation. “We don’t want to be in a position where COVID is deciding the show’s fate.”

Thorn also discussed the loss of “Thursday Night Football” and whether “9-1-1” has “NCIS”-level franchise potential. The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity:

Regarding the “Monarch” delay, you cited COVID-related production issues. Have there been positive tests on set that have forced you to stop and start production, or is it more that you wanted to make sure you’d have a full season to show before you premiered it?

It’s both. We we’ve had a couple COVID scares. We have not had any serious shutdowns yet. We’ve just had to rearrange the production schedule, but as you know, just across the industry, including our other shows, COVID is impacting us all and it’s really intense right now.

We have a show that we love. It’s obviously our first fully-owned Fox drama, and we took a step back and we looked at the decision at its most simplistic point, which is, “If we have a shutdown, are we willing to risk a spotty schedule?” Meaning an inconsistent air pattern and/or making creative compromises back into that schedule? And what we realized was the show is too important to us. It has too much potential. We don’t want to be in a position where COVID is deciding the show’s fate. And because we’re smaller, and it’s a little more nimble, we realized we could move it to the fall. We would have all the episodes and we could take advantage of the long lead time.

Fox is putting the first seven episodes of the docu-comedy series “Welcome to Flatch” on digital platforms, including Hulu. Is that something you are looking to do more of?

We’ve never done this before. And the reason we’re doing it is because one of the things that we pride ourselves on is trying to offer each show their own kind of curated experience. Launching any show right now is hard, especially comedy. I certainly believe that launching a comedy is a long game, and so what we’re doing at Fox is trying to look at alternative ways to launch shows in this crazy environment.

And so we thought that on a show that we truly loved and that our feeling is the more episodes you watch, the more you fall in love with these characters, which I think happens on most promising comedies, we can try something different: Allow our audience to access the show through our platform and our linear model, but also give the audience another way to sample the show. The goal being to use both strategies to hopefully create conversation around the show that gets more sampling. By the time we get halfway through the season, maybe we will have shortcut a greater path to success.

Was there any thought to including Tubi as part of this digital rollout?

What we wanted to do, to be honest, was start with the partners we already have, and those partners embraced it. And I think once that happened, it felt like “OK, let’s lean into that. Let’s see if we can make it work.” Will Tubi be a part of “Flatch’s” future? It absolutely could be. But the thinking really was: We’ll start with the partners we have and see where it goes.

Welcome to Flatch - Fox
“Welcome to Flatch” (Fox)

Going into next season, for first time in five years you won’t have “Thursday Night Football.” Not only that, but you’ll have to program against it. How are you thinking about programming Thursday nights throughout the whole season?

It’s a great question. It’s something that we’re talking a lot about. We look at that as an opportunity. Right now, we’re looking at the night holistically to see what can we do to advantage ourselves now that we kind of have a “new” night. I don’t have anything to share, other than to say we’re obviously talking a lot about it and are going to try and capitalize on it and, strategically, see it as an opportunity to launch new shows.

“9-1-1” has been really a successful show, and the “Lone Star” spinoff has also done really well. Do you look at “9-1-1” as a potential franchise in the same way that CBS looks at “NCIS” and “CSI”?

We definitely do. We’ve certainly talked about a third [series], just generally with 20th [Century production company] and the producers. There’s nothing specific to announce yet. But we were so proud of the shows. They do an incredible job with both “9-1-1” and “Lone Star,” by making them feel like they’re both from the same universe, but unique in giving them individual characteristics. We would be open to doing another one, the producers just have to find the right way to do it. In a way that they’re as equally excited about it.