Fox Stations Have Deep Bench, But Few Shows Enter Game

School’s out for summer, but Fox’s O&Os are handing out plenty of tests. This year, the station group has tested six shows, with results coming back decidedly mixed. None of the trials has yielded a breakout hit, but some programs showed promise even during a time of year when audience levels are typically low.

Despite the wide range of results, Fox TV executives liked having an array of original programming to offer viewers over the summer. It remains a question whether any of these shows will make it into broader syndication, either via a slow rollout on a select group of stations, like NBCUniversal’s Access Hollywood Live, or via a national launch. Fox execs and their production partners plan to meet and discuss options around Labor Day weekend. Since so much is up in the air, the group’s execs did not want to speak for attribution, but B&C spoke with multiple stakeholders for their takes on how the tests went and what the future could hold.

The six shows that select Fox stations—and in some cases, stations from other groups—aired this summer are first-run programs The Jason Show, SoMe, Top 30, The Preachers, Page Six TV and the off-network unscripted series Kitchen Nightmares, starring Gordon Ramsay.

Among the half-dozen hopefuls, Page Six TV, produced by Endemol Shine North America in partnership with the New York Post and Fox Television Stations, drew the highest test ratings, though it also had the best time slots in the biggest markets. The entertainment magazine—branded for the New York Post’s famous gossip page—averaged a 1.0 rating/2 share in weighted metered market households over its first two weeks, July 18-31), according to Nielsen.

While that was the highest rating of any of the five first-run tests that ran this summer, Page Six TV was still down 44% in rating compared to its lead-in and down 29% compared to the year-ago time-period average. Page Six TV did show some improvement among the key demographic of women 25-54, climbing 17% from the first week to the second, up to a 0.7/3.

Page Six TV aired on seven Fox-owned markets, including highly valued access time periods in four top markets: WNYW New York at 7 p.m.; KTTV Los Angeles at 6:30 p.m; WTXF Philadelphia at 7 p.m.; KDFW Dallas at 11:30 p.m.; WAGA Atlanta at 7 p.m.; WTVT Tampa at 1 p.m. and WJBK Detroit at 11:30 p.m. Page Six TV featured a panel composed of host John Fugelsang, Page Six reporter Carlos Greer, Variety reporter Elizabeth Wagmeister, TV personality Bevy Smith, comedian and actor Mario Cantone, best known as Charlotte’s flamboyant wedding planner on HBO’s Sex and the City.

“We always saw ourselves as sitting really nicely on the Fox Station Group, which is why we brought this project to them,” says Rob Smith, head of unscripted at Endemol Shine North America. “[Page Six TV] offers a Hollywood angle while being very nationally based.”

Moreover, Page Six TV makes some sense for the Fox TV stations, since the New York Post is a corporate sibling of the Fox Television Stations— although the newspaper is now owned by News Corp., while the TV stations fall under the 21st Century Fox umbrella. The entertainment and gossip magazine fits nicely with some of the Fox stations’ other acquired shows, including Warner Bros.’ TMZ and TMZ Live. Sources familiar with the production said the show was expensive to produce, which would make a slow rollout less feasible.

The Preachers, produced by Warner Bros. with The View founder and former executive producer Bill Geddie at the helm, was the summer’s second-highest-rated first-run test, averaging an 0.8/3 over its three-week run that started July 11.

The Preachers is a panel talk show featuring four African-American pastors: John Gray, associate pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston; Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr., senior pastor and teacher at Atlanta and Macon, Ga.’s House of Hope; Orrick Quick, pastor and founder of God Seekers Church in High Point, N.C.; and Dr. Jamal Bryant, pastor and founder of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore.

While the show seems perfectly targeted at daytime’s core audience of African-American women, it didn’t perform as well in typically African- American markets as Fox executives thought it might. The test launched right after the police shootings in Dallas, so right off the bat some of the topics were more political than spiritual.

“They got into areas that weren’t really what we thought we were signing up for,” said a Fox station executive, “but I love the idea that it’s different and nobody else is doing it.”

Two other first-run programs Fox tested this summer were the group’s own The Jason Show, off of KSMP Minneapolis, and Top 30, which presented 30 news stories in 30 minutes (although it was really 21 minutes including commercial time).

Fox’s earlier four-week trials for The Jason Show and Top 30 both began June 6 and averaged a 0.5/2 and a 0.4/1, respectively, across the four weeks in households. Among women 25-54, the shows averaged a 0.3/2 and a 0.2/1, respectively. Those aren’t strong numbers, but Fox executives liked the direction Top 30 took creatively, and The Jason Show will continue to air on KMSP.

The Jason Show was leaps and bounds better by the end of the test,” said another Fox station executive.

Executives said a fifth first-run test, SoMe, which looked at the social-media happenings of the day, improved creatively over its four-week run, especially when producers added a new host, Samantha Schacher. Still, the show only averaged a 0.2/1 in households and women 25-54.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.