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Fox's Upfront: Defenders of Television

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Viewed from the cheap seats, the stars of Fox's series line up yearbook-photo-style.

Viewed from the cheap seats, the stars of Fox's series line up yearbook-photo-style.

Having gone to upfronts for years now, there’s a certain kind of presentation I’ve gotten used to. Network execs get up on stage and present a battery of statistics and selectively culled ratings to prove to advertisers that their dollar goes farther and their ads reach more people on Network X than any other network. 

What was different, a little unsettling, and perhaps a sign of a trend for the week today: Fox didn’t do this. Instead, it spent most of its time, before screening clips of its new shows, defending the medium of television itself. Despite what pundits in the media are telling you, they told advertisers, the vast majority of TV watchers still watch on a television set, and not online. And they do so watch the ads!

I’m not necessarily disputing the assertion: there are still a lot of people who watch old-fashioned live-on-air TV. Nor do I argue with new Fox prez Peter Rice, a former movie executive, when he says that a TV audience of 10 million–though much smaller than audiences past–is the equivalent in eyeballs of a $100 million movie audience.

But when you’re working this hard to persuade a room of advertisers of the basic efficacy of your medium—you are nervous about something. And mind you, this is the network that has American Idol. What the hell is ABC going to say tomorrow? 

Given Fox’s relatively high-ground position on the receding coastline that is network television, the network had relatively few schedule changes to announce. Some quick impressions, and more bad iPhone photography, after the jump:

somebodytolove_webWhere last year Fox’s hype was all about much-anticipated new show Fringe, this year the network is all about Glee (previewing tomorrow night), which has been so heavily promoted I feel as if it’s been on for a season and a half. Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly showed two screens full of laudatory critics’ blurbs—always an awkward feeling for the blurb-ee—showed the trailer that’s been running for months, and closed the show with a performance by the cast of that Simon Cowell favorite, Queen’s Somebody to Love. 

As for the other trailers:

BROTHERS: New comedy about an NFL star, now gone broke, who moves back home with his family and butts heads with his wheelchair-bound brother. Despite starring the fantastic C.C.H. Pounder, the clips did not wow me. 

THE WANDA SYKES SHOW: This being a late-night weekly talk show, there were no actual previews, just a number of greatest-hits clips that showed that, yes, Sykes has been funny other places. 

THE CLEVELAND SHOW: As TV critic Eric Deggans noted earlier today, Fox has singlehandedly cast more shows with minority leads than every broadcast network together did last season. That includes cartoons. The clips from this Family Guy spin-off were refreshingly light on the non-sequitur humor, and it would be nice to see Seth MacFarlane make a family comedy that actually focused on its family over the random gags. We’ll see. 

SONS OF TUCSON: Reaper’s Tyler Labine plays a con man hired by three rich kids to impersonate their father when their real dad, a banker, goes to jail for white-collar crime. (Trend alert: rich people down on their luck.) Show has a Malcolm in the Middle pedigree, but the kids in this trailer seem much more precociously and annoyingly bratty than Malcolm’s. 

PAST LIFE: A psychologist uses past-life regression therapy to solves crimes. I kid you not: Cold Case with reincarnation. 

HUMAN TARGET: Introducing this thriller based on a DC Comics title, Reilly says that “easy to watch” ’80-style action shows, “like The A-Team,” have been missing from TV for too long. If you don’t count Knight Rider. On the plus side: looks better than Knight Rider. 

In other news, Fox will no longer be doing regular “remote-free” seasons, as it did this year with Fringe and Dollhouse, which ran with reduced commercial time. He dd hold out the possibility of doing it by request, should any advertiser actually ask Fox to be featured on a show with fewer ads. Also, Fox will be experimenting with interstitial content during ad breaks—from folks including MacFarlane and Gordon Ramsay—to interest people in watching commercials. Even though, remember: TV viewers still totally watch commercials.


Let's hear it for the ad-supported broadcast television business!

Let's hear it for the ad-supported broadcast television business!

Let’s end this on a cheerful note—with some more bad iPhone photography—shall we? Last year Fox had the cow from Fringe mooing about outside the theater where it gave its upfront. This year, it hired a champion competitive cheerleading team from Freehold, N.J., to cheer on Glee. Gimme an F! Gimme an O! Gimme an X!