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Fox Is Finding Ways To Win Despite Itself

May 14, 2007  •  Post A Comment

For all the recent media reports about “American Idol” and “24” hitting slumps, Fox has firmly outperformed competitors in both ratings and year-to-year growth.

Season to date, Fox is the only major broadcaster to have gained total viewers. And while everybody else is down among adults 18 to 49, Fox’s numbers are flat.

Though “Idol’s” ratings have dipped in recent months, along with nearly every other show on television, its first few weeks broke series records. Furthermore, “House” has grown more than any returning drama on television thanks to its “Idol” lead-in, an audience funnel so powerful it also launched quiz show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” to initially stratospheric levels before the series found its own more modest plateau.

The ratings success is all the more remarkable considering Fox has seemingly made few good decisions this year.

Fall was once again a wash, with Major League Baseball hitting frustrating lows and the network landing in fourth place by year’s end. Fox’s new fall shows struck out. The network’s plan to use spring to debut dramas such as “Wedding Bells” and “Drive” and roll them into next fall didn’t work. Critics have bashed “Idol” and “24” for creatively having their worst seasons ever.

But ratings growth has come from unexpected sources—those “5th Graders” and the growth of returning series “House” and “The Simpsons”—along with more traditional sources of Nielsen manna, such as college bowl games and NFL overruns.

“Flagship shows like ’24’ and ‘Idol’ are starting to show their age,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media. “They were pretty sluggish in terms of new shows and didn’t have a ‘Prison Break,’ ‘Bones’ or ‘House’ like previous years.”

Fox’s ongoing ability to defy gravity will be aided in the fall by having fewer postseason baseball games. Plus, some of Fox’s pilots suggest the same sort of geek-friendly fun that has made “Heroes” and “Lost” hits — such as the Warner Bros./C-2 Pictures drama “The Sarah Conner Chronicles,” based on the “Terminator” movie series, which is considered a front-runner.

As with most of Fox’s competitors, creating comedies continues to be a challenge. One question is whether the Brad Garrett sitcom “Til Death” will return. The show had anemic numbers until getting a ratings infusion from “Idol,” but reports surfaced last week indicating that its renewal is a certainty.

Another question mark hovers over “War at Home,” which critics avidly dislike but Fox has found useful to plug holes in its schedule.

FOX SNAPSHOT

When: Thursday, May 17, 4 p.m. (ET)

Where: New York City Center Theater

Key executives: Peter Liguori, President, Fox Entertainment; Jon Nesvig, President, Sales

Adults 18-49 season to date: 4.0, N/C

Total viewers: 10.3 million, +4%

2006-07 breakouts: “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and “Til Death”

Biggest holes: Thursdays at 9 p.m.; Fridays at 9 p.m.

Source: Nielsen Media Research ratings data for Sept. 18, 2006, to May 5, 2007, compared with Sept. 19, 2005, to May 7, 2006

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