Fox Plays It Safe This Fall


The biggest surprise about Fox’s new fall schedule? How few new shows were on it. Glee, The Cleveland Show and that Wanda Sykes late night show were the only new additions to the fall lineup. And they all seem like fairly safe bets. Glee was probably the first new series Fox picked up this year, the network’s airing the first episode after tomorrow night’s American Idol and the show’s already getting good reviews. Cleveland was actually picked up last year but was pushed back to this fall, it’s from Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane and Fox has already ordered a second season. And that Wanda Sykes show is on Saturday from 11 p.m. to midnight, so it won’t affect Fox’s primetime ratings.

The fall season is typically more lower-rated than Fox’s spring season (thanks to American Idol), so it makes sense that the network would play it safe during the season that it needs higher ratings across the board. It can bow riskier fare in the spring when Idol and Fox’s other hits will put the network in a ratings lead.

The only risky move Fox made was putting Fringe at 9 p.m. on Thursday, where it will go up against Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, The Office and 30 Rock, assuming ABC, CBS and NBC’s lineups stay the same. There’s plenty of competition during that time slot, but Grey’s probably won’t pose much of a threat, and Fringe doesn’t even need to beat any of those shows in the 18-49 demo to satisfy the network, according to the ratings experts at TV by the Numbers.

That Dollhouse renewal, meanwhile, is looking more like an appeasement to the fans who were likely ready to harass Fox if the show was cancelled. It was dumped back at 9 p.m. on Friday nights and when no one watches it (again) because of its awful timeslot, Fox can say, “Well, we tried.”

Plus, TV by the Numbers suggests that Fox’s Friday night was all about the money. The network found the cheapest shows it could put on the air with the most benefit, assuming the viewership that night would be low anyways:

I’m now certain FOX’s decisions with regard to Friday were about a flight to lower cost and higher benefit, though I believe FOX when it says that scripted shows carry higher CPMs, scripted shows with very low ratings won’t wind up making more money than unscripted shows with higher ratings (more viewers offset lower CPMS), but FOX probably figured if there wasn’t going to be much difference in the number of viewers, might as well go the lower cost, higher CPM route.

While I buy that DVR viewing did increase Dollhouse‘s cumulative numbers, I still do not buy it being a primary factor in FOX’s decision to renew Dollhouse. I’m not sure I buy it being any factor at all. I buy Dollhouse being a lower cost/higher benefit option for FOX. [Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’] cumulative numbers increased about as much as Dollhouse‘s with DVR viewing. But TSCC cost more, and since it was WB produced there was no potential benefit at all to FOX with regard to DVD, international, online and syndication. Bottom line if it’s cheap enough, FOX will air it (hello, ‘Til Death!), TSCC wasn’t cheap enough, Dollhouse was and with added benefit potential.  Is FOX betting on Joss Whedon?  Sure, they are.   But it seems a low cost, low risk bet from FOX’s perspective.

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