Fox's 2014-15 Season: Dark Dramas, A Wild Reality Experiment - And The End Of Animation Domination?

How will Fox fare this fall -- its first in several years without “The X Factor”? That's not to suggest that “Factor” was a strong show and that its cancellation was a significant loss for the network. But it did fill several hours of prime-time real estate with a high-profile (if low-impact) program during the time of year that is historically the most difficult for Fox to find widespread traction, largely because of numerous interruptions for coverage of baseball playoffs and the World Series. Fox hoped that “Factor” would put that problem behind it, but that wasn’t to be.

The network is also coming off a season that wasn’t particularly kind to most of its veteran series -- another issue to be considered when processing the information about its 2014-15 schedule that Fox released on Tuesday.

On the upside, it looks like Fox will have several of the most talked-about new series of the fall, including “Gotham” (easily the highest-profile new show so far), the high-risk reality effort “Utopia” (which can expand and contract as needed around baseball if it catches on), the equally risky scripted drama series “Red Band Society” and the limited series “Gracepoint,” a remake of the BBC’s extraordinary “Broadchurch” that will probably prove annoying to anyone who saw that emotionally devastating production but should be highly addictive to anyone who did not.

“Gracepoint” certainly looks watchable. But it also looks like a program that will appeal to the older end of the 18-49 demographic, plus viewers over 50, rather than the younger people Fox has always aggressively targeted. This will be one of the more interesting fall programs to monitor.

On the downside, Fox is doing something in the fall that history tells us a broadcast network should avoid doing if at all possible: Making significant changes on every night of the week (except Saturday, which doesn’t count). Even the network’s long-intact animation block on Sunday nights is getting some work done with the addition of returning live-action comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and new sitcom “Mulaney,” a vehicle for writer and comedian John Mulaney, into its cartoon mix. Actually, at first blush these shows look good together.

Much of Fox’s prime-time fortunes this fall will rest on “Utopia,” an unscripted series that will document the lives of fifteen people who are left in an undisclosed location for an entire year where they will have to create their own society, establishing rules and laws and moral guidelines (or not) while creating an environment in which to live. Those who don’t contribute their fair share or who cause too much of a problem can be sent back to civilization and replaced with someone new, which can perpetually change the dynamics of the experience for everyone, including viewers. I’m not sure exactly what we will be watching during the two hours of prime-time real estate that Fox has dedicated to “Utopia,” but I assume it will be more compelling than CBS’ “Big Brother” or Syfy’s recent “Opposite Worlds.” In other words, I hope this show will offer something more than endless scenes of self-involved people standing around pontificating, arguing and/or venting their grievances.

Similarly, I’m anxious to see “Gotham,” which as Andy Samberg vividly pointed out during Fox’s upfront presentation, could suffer from the same narrative structure that has proven detrimental to ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” -- the absence of superheroes in a franchise that everyone inherently associates with super-powered beings. If anything, “Gotham” has the advantage of learning from and presumably avoiding the many mistakes “S.H.I.E.L.D.” made during its freshman season, which would have been a complete wash without its connection to the “Captain America” theatrical film.

It’s been a while since Fox -- once the genre leader -- has taken a shot at a youth ensemble drama, which makes “Red Band Society” a show worth noting. Here’s hoping the pilot blows us all away; otherwise the simple description of this show -- an ensemble drama about kids who are either sick or dying or both -- could be such a downer that it won’t stand a chance. Even the 12-year-old narrator of the story is in a coma! This could be the most dynamic or the most depressing series of next season. It can’t be both.

Throughout the season Fox will be adding a number of ongoing comedies, dramas and event series that all look to be highly distinctive and original. Certainly not all of them will succeed. But as we all assess them in the weeks and months ahead, it is worth keeping in mind that when people left Fox’s upfront presentation last year they didn’t know what to make of “Sleepy Hollow,” a show that defied easy description. Even after viewing the pilot, many folks had no idea how the show would continue or if it would catch on. “Sleepy Hollow” proved to be one of the most successful new series of the 2013-14 season -- not only on Fox, but in all of broadcast television.

   

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