Although it is coming off a fall television season in which two of its new, high-profile shows flopped, Fox said it has no plans on rethinking its scheduling strategy.
Speaking at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour held in Pasadena, Fox's top programming executives said the disappointing results for the drama "Lone Star" and comedy "Running Wilde" did not mean that the system itself of using the fall as a launching pad is broken.
"We launched shows in the fall we were hoping would be hits and they weren't," Fox Networks Group Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice said.
Since both shows flamed out, there has been second-guessing in some circles that perhaps it would have been better to debut them in a less crowded environment than in September when the networks debut their new programs. Fox's biggest new hit, "Glee," was launched in May 2009, and this May it is launching a highly ambitious science-fiction series, "Terra Nova."
All the networks are struggling to launch and sustain shows in an era in which viewers not only have scores of channels to choose from instead of a handful but also have new platforms and ways to view content. The growth of digital video recorders allows people to record shows and watch when they want to, as opposed to when the networks schedule them.
Furthermore, programs end up going online or made available via DVD or iTunes so soon after their first run on a network, the urgency to watch a show when it premieres is often no longer there. Although the audience that watches shows on a DVR are valuable, the business model of broadcast television is still built around getting the most viewers to tune in at the same time.
"I still believe in the power of a schedule," said Kevin Reilly, the president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting.
With regards to his own network's performance, Reilly acknowledged that Fox needed to develop a "next generation" of hits. While the network is generally satisfied creatively with shows such as "Lie to Me," "Fringe" and "Human Target," none are "breaking through to the next level" in terms of ratings, Reilly said, adding the network will have a "few decisions to make."
Shows that are secure include in the new comedy "Raising Hope," which has already been renewed for a second season. Veteran dramas "House" and "Bones" are also likely to be back next season, but deals for the two still need to be negotiated.
As for "American Idol," Fox's biggest show, it returns next week with new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. The consensus among media industry watchers is that without Simon Cowell on board, the show will face a ratings drop. Fox's Rice acknowledged that the network also expects a ratings decline, but he did not speculate on how big.
"There's no science to it," Rice said of trying to determine how "American Idol" might do when it returns.
The show's audience has been declining for several seasons, but it is still the most-watched program on television. Last year, "Idol" had an average audience of 24.3 million, a 9% drop from the 2009 edition. Even with the declines, the talent show is still expected to finish on top this season.
Any decrease in ratings for "American Idol," may very well be offset by "The X Factor," Cowell's new singing talent show that is already a monster hit in the U.K. and will debut here in the fall.
So far, Fox is still keeping close-mouthed about what days it will run "The X Factor," which like "American Idol" will be on twice a week. Also not known is who, besides Cowell, will be a judge. Rice said Cowell is still trying to find the right mix, but ultimately the network will have "traditional" approval.
-- Joe Flint