2011-12 season in review: Fox scores with ‘The X Factor,’ ‘New Girl’

Trouble is brewing.

This is the fourth part of a series looking back at the 2011-12 TV season as a whole from the vantage point of the five major networks. Be sure to also read our pieces on CBS, ABC, and NBC.

Now, we turn to Fox — a network that may not be feeling as good about themselves as you may think. Despite finishing at the top yet again with adults 18-49, this is a network that saw many new shows disappoint, some get canceled outright, and even their established shows drop. What was once a juggernaut now faces a bit more of an uncertain future.

What worked – Be grateful that America loves singing competitions. It’s really thanks to “American Idol” and “The X Factor” that Fox can really claim any title at all, and these two shows consistently delivered steady victories in the demo. thanks to Simon Cowell’s presence on the fall, there are really only a few weeks in the season when Fox does not have on any singing at all.

The other major success for the network this year? “New Girl.” The Zooey Deschanel comedy not only emerged as a critical darling, it became overnight their highest-rated comedy series — even if the ratings dropped pretty dramatically over the course of the spring due to some issues we’ll get to soon.

A prehistoric flop.

What didn’t – Let’s try to figure out just where to start here. First and foremost, you should put an asterisk next to “The X Factor.” While it was a hit by some standards, it was nowhere near the 20 million viewer mark — which Cowell predicted as his goal before the season. It’s also expensive, and you have to wonder just if the gamble really paid off that much for season 1.

To an extent, almost all of the network’s trademark series struggled at times this year — “New Girl” was hurt thanks to a silly Tuesday-night comedy block featured two shows (in “I Hate My Teenager Daughter” and “Breaking In”) that barely had a pulse, and “Glee” never really took off this season despite a strong start (which was unfortunately damanged later on by gimmicks and an abysmal Christmas episode). “American Idol” also lost a gigantic chunk of its viewership, and it could take a major shake-up to bring some of these people back.

Now, we turn to the biggest issue — programming. “House” is over. “Fringe” is ending this coming season. Fox canceled three new dramas in the ambitious “Terra Nova,” “Alcatraz,” and “The Finder” — and while they decided to renew “Touch,” they are moving it to a risky night in Fridays. The only drama series that really did something for this this season and is still around is “Bones,” and it aired a shortened season.

While Fox still has their animation block on Sunday, there are some problems here. “The Simpsons” is starting to finally wind down, and moving “The Cleveland Show” to 7:30 turned out to be a terrible mistake (even if it will be back). They also lost “Napoleon Dynamite,” and kept a show in “Bob’s Burgers” with no buzz to it at all.

The future – Somewhere, Fox programming head Kevin Reilly is probably praying to whatever he believes in that Cowell delivers a hit with Britney Spears on “The X Factor,” and that moving “Glee” to Thursdays will bring back some of its old audience. These two shows, “Bones” and “New Girl” are really his best hope.

While Fox was at least smart enough to structure their schedule so that there would be few disaster nights, we don’t understand the logic at all in bringing back the Tuesday comedy lineup when it drew such low ratings this spring. (You’re also putting it up against other comedy blocks elsewhere.)

The real question the network has to ask itself is what happens if the new shows don’t pan out? While ABC has “Once Upon a Time” and “Grey’s Anatomy” and CBS has all sorts of long-standing hits, Fox doesn’t have much scripted programming it can rely on for huge numbers. There’s some uncertainty here, but we are hoping for the best from a network that does at least try to be bolder, edgy, and more interesting with some of their concepts than some of the more conservative networks. (Yes, don’t get Fox confused with their News counterpart.)

Do you think Fox is set up well to succeed in the fall, or do they need a few more steady hits on their schedule?

Photo: Fox

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