While the world was in lockdown for the last 14 months, Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier says the network took a close look at its approach to storytelling and gave a great deal of thought to what audiences would want after this very tough past year.
“We talked a lot about themes that would be resonant as the world came out of the pandemic,” Collier told Variety. “As you can imagine, it doesn’t take an enormous leap of faith to suggest that people are going to be thinking a lot about what it means to reinvent themselves, what it means to be heard, given some of the issues we’ve all been dealing with on top of the pandemic, [and] what it means to have a voice in society. Frankly, one of the big things you’ll see in both our scripted and unscripted is what it means to have a second chance. Because all of those themes are so relatable.”
“The Big Leap,” a dramedy about a group of down-on-their-luck dancers who participate in a reality show in the hopes of changing their lives, is one of those bets for the fall television lineup. In deciding what made the schedule for the 2021-2022 season, there are always tough calls.
The fate of certain programs, however, are not quite so hard to determine: renewing “The Masked Singer” was “a bit of a no-brainer,” he said. Fox has also been buoyed in recent years by the success of Ryan Murphy-produced procedurals “9-1-1” and “9-1-1: Lone Star,” both of which are top 20 players in primetime for the network.
Collier further pointed to Fox’s fairly newly acquired ad-supported streaming service Tubi as an anchor of its streaming strategy moving forward.
“If broadcast goes broad, Tubi allows you to go really deep,” he said, calling the ad-supported streaming sector “an enormous differentiator for Fox.”
Following Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets, “Lachlan [Murdoch, Fox Corp. CEO] was very clear that we were committed to being a free ad-supported service,” said Collier of the company. “And we have the No. 1 network, it looks like, for the second year in a row. Then we added, by design, a streaming service that was free and ad-supported. And so we’re literally the only network-centric, U.S. broadcaster who also is 100% free and ad-supported on streaming. And so that is very much our strategy — that’s not part of our strategy, that is our strategy.”
On the development side, Fox dissolved content accelerator SideCar last year and is trying out new business models, such as its script-to-series approach. Lee Daniels and Karin Gist’s “Our Kind of People” is the first series to be greenlit through the network’s new model.
“‘Our Kind of People’ and ‘Monarch,’ those were both room-to-series structures. And that was new for Fox in the pandemic,” said Collier, who believes the model allows greater flexibility for its writers.
“So often what’s in the pilot defines a series,” he said of the traditional pilot-driven cycle. “But imagine if you’re writing six scripts, and in script four you have a great idea to change your character, but now you need to thread it back to the original episodes. Because you’re [still] writing, you could do that. So we’ve had character changes and character insights and real beats that the gift of time, if you’re using it well, allows you to do.”
“Monarch” is just one such project that is wholly owned by Fox, under the network’s structure of owning and co-producing every new project on its airwaves.
“We are both the studio and the network,” he said. “And we’re really focused on being able to do fewer projects, admittedly, than the normal streamers or the conglomerates, but we think we do fewer things better. And I think it really hopefully shows in our relationships, hopefully shows them the type of talent that we’re bringing here.”
The network continues to be committed to animation, notably with its Animation Domination Sunday-night block of programming, and new additions from prolific producers such as Dan Harmon. Fox has also inked a licensing deal with Toei Animation to expand its animation footprint on Tubi.
And while linear ratings continue to shrink, Collier says that broadcast advertising remains “an enormous storefront window, whether it be the NFL or the World Series or ‘Masked Singer’ and ‘9-1-1’… I think broadcast amasses reach within a day, a week, at a scale that that still is unmatched.”
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