Don’t call Fox the "American Idol" network.
Sure, the superpopular singing showcase has kept the network on top of the Nielsen ratings (among adults 18-49) for the better part of the last decade. And, despite some slippage, the show’s ratings remain mighty.
But Fox execs proudly point to the network’s increasingly long list of other success stories. "House" remains huge, "Family Guy" is one of TV’s most popular comedies with viewers under 50, "24" is still a populist hit, "Bones" has become a solid utility player and "Lie to Me" showed promise in its initial run last spring.
What’s more, Fox had one of the few hits to emerge from last season with "Fringe."
Key to Fox’s success lately has been the network’s dogged determination to bulk up its fourth quarter schedule. Once hobbled by its coverage of the baseball playoffs, Fox execs have found a way to effectively program the fall so the network remains in the ratings game year-round.
"We have established blocks to build off of across the week," says Kevin Reilly, president of entertainment. "That should be a buffer against any black holes. We should be in business across the week."
Behind-the-scenes, the past season did see Fox gently shake up its exec ranks.
Despite a successful tenure, Peter Liguori was let go as chairman of the network in order to make room for Peter Rice, the former film exec. Rice has taken a low-key approach, giving Reilly and alternative head Mike Darnell plenty of latitude.
BIG HOPE – "Glee"
If it seems like this show has been on the air for years, that’s probably because Fox has given Ryan Murphy’s musical comedies one of the most elaborate and extensive marketing campaigns in recent TV history.
Promos for the series began airing early last spring in advance of a post-"Idol" sneak preview in May; the hype continued throughout the summer.
So far, so good: "Glee’s" official premiere last week scored solid ratings, on part with last year’s "Fringe" debut.
There’s clearly a core audience for the show. The open question, however, is whether viewers will stay tuned in as the season goes on, and the competition gets tighter.
Moving "Fringe" to 9:00 on Thursdays.
This spooky mystery got a big boost from airing behind "Idol" much of last season, allowing it to build a loyal audience.
But will those viewers follow the mystery to one of TV’s most competitive time periods, opposite "CSI" and "Grey’s Anatomy"?
Reilly thinks so. " ‘Fringe’ feels like it’s move to appointment TV status with its core audience," he says.
Fox’s move will clearly boost the network on Thursday, giving the network a presence on a night it’s often struggled. It might suppress the overall ratings for "Fringe" in the process, however.
New Friday night sitcom "Brothers" has gotten hardly any promotion and it’s unlikely to get much love from critics. That said, with so few family comedies on the air these days — and even fewer shows with mostly African-American casts, "Brothers" could find a niche.
Fox has much higher hopes for "The Cleveland Show," which also revolves around a black family. The latest half-hour from the "Family Guy" factory should shore up Sunday nights and could help Fox build its portfolio of animated shows.
THE NETWORK’S TAKE
Reilly says he plans to be patient with "Glee" and other shows that might need time to find an audience. "Most really successful shows on TV took time to grow. They were not overnight sensations," he says. "One of the healthy things that could be coming out of this stressed economic situation is more patience."
Fox and CBS will spend most of the season battling for first place in adults 18-49. CBS has a big edge since it’s got the Super Bowl. But if Fox’s Thursday night shakeup works, and "Glee" holds on to most of its premiere ratings, the network will be in very fine shape indeed.