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Are Fox's Gambles Paying Off?

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Mar 26, 2014 | 12:14pm EDT

Almost HumanFOX

Fox began in 1986 as an attempt to establish a fourth network. It succeeded by taking gambles to distinguish itself from NBC, CBS, and ABC. Series like Married…with Children, 21 Jump Street, and The Tracy Ullman Show not only brought commercial success to the network but also defined television. The network continues to buck the system to this day. It’s gearing up for major changes that seem to be paying off.

Fox has always explored more risqué humor and often focuses on working class families. This began with Married…with Children, which opened the door to future critically acclaimed series like Malcolm in the Middle and Raising Hope. This eventually led to the success of ABC’s The Middle. 21 Jump Street led to the eventual development of the teen drama and nighttime soap with shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. The entire line-up of The CW can thank Fox.

Ullman’s comedy series was a sketch series centered around a comedian. Doesn’t that sound like a ton of Comedy Central series? It also spawned The Simpsons, one of the longest running series on television. Fox was also a driving force in creating animated series for adults. It has had major success with Family Guy, Futurama, and Bob’s Burgers.

Fox was also at the forefront of the reality television craze. It was probably one of the most overzealous with a ton of bizarre reality shows. Cops and When Animals Attack gave way to the ratings behemoth American Idol. There were also the low points of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? But let’s be honest, is that show much different from The Bachelor? The network has prudently reined in their reality television in favor or more scripted series which is working.

The network’s current line-up of shows definitely breaks barriers. The network has not shied away from being diverse. The casts of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Sleepy Hollow are full of people of color playing against stereotype. Both shows have been wins for the network. Brooklyn Nine-Nine won a Golden Globe and Sleepy Hollow is boosting the network’s ratings. The network also gave Mindy Kaling her own sitcom. It’s is a big deal considering an Asian woman hasn’t headlined her own series since Margaret Cho, and TMP is the first American network sitcom to have an Indian-American woman as the series lead.

The network isn’t afraid to play with unique premises. On paper, Sleep Hollow seems like Ichabod Crane meets a sassy cop. But it’s so much more. Series lead Nicole Beharie plays an intelligent, sympathetic, female action hero and is in no way a sassy stereotype. Almost Human tackles the complicated premise of a procedural crime drama set in the future. Shows about the future have so much trouble. And yet, this series smartly blends its premise with the popular 1970s buddy cop genre to make a show that works.

Network chairman Kevin Reilly made headlines when he said the network would be opting out of pilot season. This is a pretty controversial move considering so much of Hollywood production and casting is built around pilot season. However, with original programming getting produced for cable networks and streaming sites like Amazon and Netflix, there’s an added pressure to make groundbreaking and entertaining television. So Fox is putting on their competition pants.

Fox’s upcoming series are no less risky. The network is planning a sitcom about stand-up comic John Mulaney. Gotham is a drama series about the characters from the Batman franchise, but features Bruce Wayne as a child. There is an American version of David Tennant’s detective series Broadchurch. There’s even Hieroglyph, a drama series about Ancient Egypt!? Talk about a wide net.

It seems like the network has no intentions of changing its penchant for taking chances. No network can guarantee a stronghold on ratings and Fox’s gambles do not always pay off (re: Dads). But the network’s many crazy chances have resulted in some major shifts in television and made Fox a major player in the ratings game.

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