Fox held its upfront presentation Monday afternoon at the Beacon Theater, a tighter and less dismal affair than this morning's NBC horror show. They also took better advantage of their troupe of celebrities, trotting all the stars out on stage and having a few, like New Girl favorite Max Greenfield and recent Fox adoptee Greg Kinnear, to do little bits. Though the execs admitted to having a bad year, slipping from first place to second or maybe third, the tone at the upfront was more upbeat, more confident than NBC's. Fox seemed healthy, even though The X Factor is a dud and American Idol is dying. And they were careful to stress one important thing: They are not afraid of cable.
Well, maybe more accurately they want people to know that cable doesn't have them licked just yet. Beginning the presentation with chipper business-speak, Fox entertainment chair Kevin Reilly insisted that while there are well over a thousand shows airing on cable, only four of them finished in the top fifty in last year's ratings. The point being that even though you might hear a lot about The Walking Dead or Mad Men or whatever cable thing that's caught the media's attention, far more people are tuning into the Big Four.
And of course he's right — for the most part cable ratings can't compare to broadcast. Though, we do hear about that happening more and more frequently these days. It was interesting to hear a broadcast executive even address cable television in this way, something that would likely not have happened a decade ago. Cable is no longer the silly Ace award-littered land of obscurity. Even the brash and cocky Fox has to acknowledge that it has many more competitors than it used to. (Including its own sibling, FX.)
The inevitable parity between cable and broadcast is still a little ways off, but Reilly's little broadcast apologia proves that it's close enough for the Big Four to be genuinely worried. Remember, Reilly wasn't defending Fox, he was defending the very notion of broadcast networks. After sitting through NBC's gruesome Danse Macabre this morning, it was refreshing to see someone at least kinda addressing the problem. Does Fox's new programming seem all that promising? No, it's all variations on cop shows and rude comedies (one seems to be mostly about Chris Meloni making jokes about his teenage son masturbating — why, Chris, why?), but there was an air of progressivism, of forward-thinkingness, in the room (or at least on the live stream) that was sorely lacking from NBC's presentation. That kind of thinking doesn't guarantee success, and of course Fox could continue slipping, but at least they are trying to assess the changing world around them, addressing the effects of cable and DVRs and all that. Tellingly, NBC didn't really acknowledge any of those realities this morning. Which is probably why they're NBC.
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(Stay tuned to The Atlantic Wire's upfront central for more TV news all week....)