The Fox upfront presentation last night began with a dazzling array of the network’s stars lined up onstage–from American Idol’s Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest to Family Guy’s Mila Kunis (clad in movie-star mufti jeans) to New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel and Mindy Kaling (formerly of NBC’s The Office, now of Fox’s new The Mindy Project). While NBC’s upfront presentation, that morning, began with a couple of stars delivering an overtly sentimental number, Fox’s was a calculated shock-and-awe campaign.
The same difference held true in Fox’s presentation; while NBC, earlier that day, had used conceptual (and appealing!) language about “coming back” and “upscale viewers” without offering specifics, Fox showed off charts indicating its success on social networks and among younger viewers (while CBS has more total viewers, Fox has long triumphed among the valuable 18-49 group), as well as comparing the success of even its lower-wattage shows to original programming on Hulu and Netflix. “They’re now buying shows,” said Peter Rice, chairman of entertainment at Fox. “Good for them! Welcome to the game. Or rather–welcome to the NFL.” He indicated that the platform of a television network was simply more effective as a means to create a hit.
President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly was yet more explicit in his criticisms of NBC specifically: “There are a lot of comedies coming at you this week,” he said, while introducing a Tuesday night all-comedy block. “I think this morning they [NBC] announced about 200.” He showed a downward-pointing line graph headlined “Decline of The Voice.” He also introduced Simon Cowell, with new X-Factor judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato; Mr. Cowell, his face immobile, said of The Voice: “I wish them luck, but second’s not great.” (For her part, Ms. Spears mutely mimed a guffaw when people onstage said the words “kick butt” and “stoked,” and said, “This will be so much fun and so different from anything I’ve done before and I’m ready to find the true star. Back to you, Simon.”)
Fox looked like a supremely confident network–with Mr. Reilly declaring that they cancelled all but three of their new entries from last year as “the bar is high.” (It should be noted that at last year’s upfront, Mr. Cowell promised 20 million viewers for The X-Factor–an unreachable total, it turned out–and introduced later-fired judges like Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger with the same fervor he used for Ms. Spears today). Its moves are granular, not network-redefining: The Mindy Project looks like another New Girl, and dramas like The Following look like the same just-edgier-than-normal procedurals Fox has long focused on. Its biggest move may be shifting Glee to Thursdays so it may follow The X-Factor; Fox now has a full night of musical programming, just like NBC did this season.
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