What is Wrong with Fox?

The broadcasting company, not the character from X-files who was created by the broadcasting company. By Alexander B. Huls, Mondo Magazine

You’ve all been there, most of you more than once. You know what I’m talking about. The love that you cherished, that you connected with the moment you met. The love to which you were so attached — and looked forward to seeing every week. Things seemed good, and then before you knew what happened, somebody came and took your love away from you. Never to be seen again.

If you were ever a devoted watcher of one of the many cancelled Fox shows, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Amongst TV-lovers, Fox has developed a notorious reputation for being a network that often screws over some of its best shows. Their methods include insufficient promotion, changing a show’s time slot so often that nobody knows when it’s on, and a general impatience to let a show find its groove and/or audience. The end result? Fox either kills its children slowly and painfully (Arrested Development) or quickly and immediately (Wonderfalls). Want an idea of how bad Fox is? Allow Seth McFarlane — whose Family Guy was also once cancelled — to enlighten you.

With the recent news that Fox has yet again effectively killed another show before it even really got started (their most recent victim being Drive), I found myself wondering: what the heck is wrong with Fox?

Now, before I go further, I do think that credit should be given where it’s due. Whenever TV-aficionados discuss Fox, it’s usually through gritted teeth, holding back feelings of betrayal, disappointment, and melancholy, so objectivity is sometimes misplaced. As a result, I think something gets overlooked. Let’s be honest here, these shows would probably never have even made it on the air if it weren’t for Fox. Fox is one of the few networks outside of HBO and Showtime that actually takes creative chances and approves shows that aren’t just medical dramas or crime procedurals (though, of course, it has those too). Could you really see any other network approving a show about the daughter of Satan, about a living rabbit puppet, about a man dressed as a gigantic blue tick, about a young girl to whom novelty items speak to, or a space western? Even 24 before it hit the air was an unconventional risk with its real-time, split-screen gimmick. If for nothing else, we should at least acknowledge and be grateful that Fox even let these shows leave their creators’ brains or script pages.

That being said, this is precisely what is so damn frustrating about Fox. They differentiate themselves from other networks by giving quirky, fresh, and solid shows a chance, only to smother their new babies when they feel that they aren’t walking soon enough. What’s the point of believing in a show enough to make it, only to lose faith as soon as it hits the air? Frankly, this also doesn’t make sense financially. Why bother spending hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on a show that you’ll end up pulling your support for by either marketing it improperly or not picking a good or consistent time slot? Obviously, the network likes these shows on some level, otherwise they wouldn’t approve them for production — yet why is Fox so willing to throw the towel in as soon as it appears that these shows aren’t out-of-the-gate hits?

Part of it might be the state of the industry. While Fox is the worst example of this, there seems to be a general hesitance to let a new show find its sea-legs. Everyone wants a hit right out of the flood gates, a la Lost, Heroes, Ugly Betty, and Desperate Housewives. With specialty cable networks leading to increasingly compartmentalized audiences, networks want the big hits more than the small ones. Having a show in the Top 20 is where the real advertising money can be found. Not in the bottom 20. TV is, ultimately, a business, and as much as a show may be great, if it isn’t making money, then it just doesn’t make financial sense. Sucks for us though.

There are, however, multiple exceptions, and the above statement is by no means meant to be taken as a generalization. Criminal Minds and even the original CSI took some time to develop the audiences they hold now. Grey’s Anatomy didn’t start out as the ratings juggernaut it is now. ABC has recently announced that they are renewing critical darling Friday Night Lights, despite its poor ratings, so there is hope out there. Hell, as much as we all adored Arrested Development, if it came down to ratings, it should have been cancelled long before it did. Fox thankfully valued the critical love for the show and kept it going.

Arrested Development, however, is a perfect example of exactly what is wrong with Fox. In the end, I can’t fully fault a business enterprise for making the decision to axe a show that is losing money. My problem with Fox is how they go about doing it. In the last season of Arrested Development, Fox not only mid-season announced that the show wouldn’t get a full 22 episodes, but failed to promote the show properly, as well as failed to give the episodes consistent airing dates. The worst part of it was that the final four episodes were not only aired all together, but were put up against the opening of the Olympic Games that summer (which is pretty much the kiss of death for any show). Wonderfalls got a similarly bad hand. When the show wasn’t working on Friday, when did they move it to for a “better” chance? Thursdays: the most competitive night of the week. To make matters worse, they aired the final episodes of out of sequence. Now it’s rumored that Drive will be getting the same treatment, as apparently Fox is planning to air the final episodes on July 4th, the least-watched TV day in North America.

So what is wrong with Fox? Is there some sort of psychological explanation for their behavior? It’s hard to say, especially given that when a show gets cancelled nobody from the network is very forthcoming about why, or if they are, it’s doubtful they are being fully honest. Fox is, after all, old hat at this. While all networks cancel shows, it seems Fox is the only one who does so in this unfathomable way. If I had to postulate a theory, I might argue it has to do with Fox’s age. After all, compared to the big three (CBS, ABC, NBC), Fox is relatively young and in accordance to that has often been considered the “hip” alternative to the other three networks. Early hits like The Simpsons, 90210, and Melrose Place cemented that image. However, while that “hip” factor is still noticeable in the types of shows that Fox initially approves for production, it is almost as if the network is an adolescent being forced to grow up, but desperately clinging on to its youthful inclinations. At the same time, its youth means it has something to prove. It has to prove it can wrangle with the adults. The only problem? It is not the unique shows that are catching on, but the safe bets: House, Bones, 24, and American Idol. So if one of their shows doesn’t impress right away, it’s like a pre-teen desperately hiding their Pokémon cards so that the older kids don’t think he’s a little child. Then again, given that this is the network that brought us such fantastic shows like When Animals Attack, The Simple Life and Joe Millionare, maybe it does come down to the simple fact that Fox is as shallow as it appears and really does only care about ratings and nothing else, and thereby justifies its “sink or swim” approach to programming.

Obviously, this is all conjecture. We can postulate till the cows come home, because will this ultimately make you feel better about the fact that Fox screwed over that show that you loved, sending it to the television graveyard? Not really. Take comfort in at least knowing that, in time, your wounds will heal. Just don’t expect the bitterness to go away. That will probably take a while.

Published with permission by Mondo Magazine.

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  • Linda B.

    Great article.

    I think of all the shows FOX has screwed over in the recent past, I miss Wonderfalls the most. I have a wax lion on my desk right now staring at me (not talking to me) reminding me of what a fun, clever show that was. I think if marketed right (and given more time) that show could’ve been a big hit.

  • Dale

    I was disappointed (and very annoyed) when “Dark Angel” was cancelled, but I got over that. And now that the brilliant “Futurama” and reasonably entertaining “Family Guy” have both been given a second chance, I’m happy.

    “Arrested Development” ran longer than most people expected, and it did end well. I doubt however that I’ll bother watching any of Fox’s new shows, they so rarely make it past a first season.

  • Common Sense

    If the other broadcast nets had not passed on American Idol, FOX would probably be an also-ran trailing all competitors today. That one show saved their bacon, and gave them a platform to launch House, 24 and Bones.

    Still, I’m not hooked on ANY Fox show. And hopefully never will be.

  • Frank

    Arrested Development aired during the opening ceremonies of the WINTER Olymics. Not the Summer games.

    Great artice though, we have to give fox credit for at least trying out creative shows, even though thye never end up keeping them around

  • Ashlee

    Yeah buddy needs to fact check better, NBC renewed Friday Night Lights not ABC

  • InvaderSteven

    The article gets it wrong about Wonderfalls, too.

    “Wonderfalls got a similarly bad hand. When the show wasn’t working on Friday, when did they move it to for a “better” chance? Thursdays: the most competitive night of the week. To make matters worse, they aired the final episodes of out of sequence.”

    Not true. FOX aired the first four episodes in sequence. They didn’t air the final episodes at all. Us non-tv-critic types didn’t get to see the remaining nine episodes until we got the DVD.

  • InvaderSteven

    Allow me to correct myself. I just realized that the sequence on the DVDs does not match the air-date sequence as noted here: http://imdb.com/title/tt0361256/episodes

    Damn. FOX screwed with my mind again, three years later.

  • http://www.rottentomatoes.com/vine/showthread.php?p=10669697#post10669697 Edgeoforever

    Excellent points made here. I remember when surfing on Fox boards for its new shows – the common denominator was: “don’t get too attached, it’s Fox!.
    One note though: when you mention Bones a safe bet, you forget that it survived in spite of the very same treatment you describe (changes of schedule, lack of promotion etc) – and even now there’s that Friday threat looming over it in January in the 2008 schedule.
    I read similar frustration stories from House fans in the first 2 seasons.

  • hopeful…very

    I am hopeful for Bones. Its a wonderful show with a great cast. Emily Deshanel and David B. are great together. I hope fox doesn’t screw up. . .with promoting it. I usually don’t get attached to television shows just for the simple fact that they could cancel it but I try not to think that way.

  • tennisangel

    I miss “Firefly” the most. Such a great, great show.

    I love Bones, but watch them kill that in time. It already seems like they’ve started with all the air date changings they’ve had in recent months.

  • Raginbird

    I completely agree with the way FOX handles some of their shows. I am still pissed off about the way they “mis”handled Arrested Development. That is, in my mind, the most brilliant comedy series ever made! Makes me sick to see shows like Two and half men and According to Jim still on the air. Maybe it isn’t all FOX’s fault, our country seems to not want to have to think anymore, they just want dumb one-liners and laugh tracks. Arrested would have been much better off on HBO or Showtime.

  • Leish

    Thanks for writing this article. I’m beginning to think Fox is being run by untrained monkeys.

    Firefly. Firefly needed a chance a billion times better than what it got – they put it in the death-timeslot, one that had already seen other shows cancelled. they didn’t show the pilot episode, they showed the whole damn thing out of order, I mean come on, how do they expect a show to succeed if they don’t give it the opportunity to do so?

    Imagine my horror/anger when I got completely hooked on DRIVE, only to have it torn out from under me too! given only 10 days to find an audience? it’s second episode up against Heroes? as if it had a snowball’s chance in hell of beating that audience?

    I’m devastated, just, shocked and so, so saddened by the loss of Drive. I don’t think I can handle getting attached to any more TV shows. Especially not those made by the fantastic mr. Tim Minear – I can’t handle this repeated breaking of my heart. Firely. Wonderfalls. Drive….

    I’m done, Fox. Stick a fork in me.

  • ewanspotter

    How Fox managed to something as good as “House” I’ll never know. Loved this article, TV Addict. Just the other day I wrote a piece for a class (on sci-fi/horror shows and how “‘Supernatural” in particular has managed to survive, even though half a dozen shows of the same/alike genre were cancelled that same year). I even mentioned in the story how Fox is notorious for canceling genre shows. I mean, there was “Freaky Links”, “Dark Angel,” “Firefly,” “John Doe,” “Tru Calling” and “Wonderfalls” just between 2001 and 2004 alone. Granted, a few of those got two seasons, but nothing beyond that. But that still seems crazy too me.

  • Lindsey

    I loved Arrested Development and of course that got canceled. I’m a huge huge fan of Bones and am hoping its time slot doesnt get moved AGAIN next winter. I hate how Fox never gives shows a chance. They get canceled so quickly and new shows are brought in every season that are duds. I think the half-hour comedy/sitcom era is over so stop flooding the airways with them and premiering them in the timeslots of other shows! That’s what’s really annoying. You go to watch your show, like House, but instead some new show is being premiered in that timeslot this week. Does that make any sense at all…. its a wonder anyone knows when their shows are on. And then there are shows like Standoff. I really liked Standoff and it got barely any promoting and was canceled quickly. They were going to bring it back and air the last episodes back in march but that never happened so now I’ve had to wait and am still waiting for June 6th. Let’s just hope that on June 5th they don’t say, “Standoff will be coming back in August because of So You Think You Can Dance.”

  • http://redlightnaps.wordpress.com/ vacelts

    I remember when Fox was the cool alternative to the networks. Now it’s just home to reality television. I’m am still very bitter about Drive and will be very hesitate before I watch any new series by Fox.

    I recently put together a list of 20 Freshman Shows that Deserved a Chance to Wrap Up their Stories (http://redlightnaps.wordpress.com/2007/05/31/freshman-series/). You wouldn’t believe how many of them are Fox shows!

  • http://tvaddict Jerry

    I am so in love with “Firefly” and the tragedy of that is that I didn’t even know about it until after it was cancelled so therefore I didn’t have the chance to support it. Fox is insane to cancel such creative and wonderful shows waaaaaaayyyy before their prime. Now we are left to play the at least released DVD’s over and over and shaking our heads why there wasn’t much more.