There had been a lot of speculation since Disney’s acquisition of Fox assets was announced last December that the soon-to-be-independent Fox broadcast network, aka “New Fox”, will rely heavily on reality, along with live and sports programming.
While at TCA last week, Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden stressed that while “we are definitely in the development business, and the mix of programming will remain as it was the past decade,” there has been a ramp-up in the network’s reality portfolio. At TCA, Walden announced three new series, all of them unscripted, The Masked Singer, a singing competition featuring celebrities in costumes and masks, Spin the Wheel and Mental Samurai.
In an interview with Deadline, the network’s President of Alternative Entertainment Rob Wade talks about the expansion, which started when he joined the network in early 2017. He addresses the fate of the network’s summer series The Four, Beat Shazam, Love Connection and veteran So You Think You Can Dance, whether he regrets not having American Idol‘s reboot on Fox, as well as the status of Labor of Love, the provocative series in development that follows professional women in their 30s or 40s who decide to have a baby. Additionally, the former Dancing with the Stars showrunner Wade talks about the mature, saturated reality landscape and says why he thinks that there are not too many singing and dancing shows.
DEADLINE: How big has been Fox’s ramp-up in alternative programming?
WADE: I got brought in for a reason, to increase the development, the output and the quality of unscripted television. When I arrived, the previous year, there were 12 development deals completed. In the last year, I’ve completed 30. We’ve increased our investment in unscripted development by 50%. I’m working with 25% more production companies.
What happened in the early days of reality TV is people just had an idea; hey, let’s do a cooking show, we’ll get contestants and then we’ll cook against each other; we’ll get a singing show and they’ll go against each other. It was easier, the fact that it was so new, the genre was fresh, so it wasn’t as difficult (to find a hit).
Now, it’s mature. It’s 20, 25 years old. Development takes a lot longer. I’ve planted a lot of seeds over the first few months I was there and I think now, finally, they’re coming to fruition. My job when I got here was to find a hit and I’ve been trying to do that ever since and I think we’ve had some good success. I’ve been very proud of how Shazam and The Four did, but ultimately we’ve got to keep pushing and pushing and pushing and trying to find hits. Spin the Wheel, The Masked Singer, and Mental Samurai , they’ve all got really big auspices, and they’re unique ideas, they’re fresh. We have a lot more coming through though, this is just the beginning.
DEADLINE: You have The Masked Singer for midseason. Will you try to avoid scheduling it against The Voice and American Idol as you did with The Four last season?
WADE: I think it’s difficult for us to count on a schedule at the moment. But wherever we put it, I don’t think it needs to be away from those shows because it’s completely different. It’s not a contestant singing show. It’s a celebrity who sung it, it’s about these elaborate costumes. It’s a comedic, joyous show. It’s very, very different to Idol and The Voice.
DEADLINE: From the shows that have aired this summer, you renewed Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours To Hell and Back. What about The Four? What are your plans for that? Will you continue to do two cycles a year?
WADE: We’re talking about that at the moment. We’ve been really happy with the way it’s grown throughout the entire summer. We’re really happy with the talent on that show, it has the right auspices to be a broadcast show. What we need to figure out is, if we’re going to bring this back, where should it go. I think we asked a lot of it to come back so quickly after the first season. The feeling was that we didn’t want to leave it off the air for a whole year so we put it back a bit sooner. I think we need to give it enough of a rest so people are looking forward to it.
DEADLINE: What about Beat Shazam and Love Connection? Will they be renewed?
WADE: We haven’t made a decision on Beat Shazam and Love Connection yet. Obviously, we’re very happy with the shows. We put them both up against AGT this season, which was a tough ask, it’s the biggest show there, but they’ve sustained and held well. Jamie (Foxx) is just a phenomenal partner, as is Andy (Cohen), so we’ll be looking into that in the next couple of weeks so you all should know something about that by the end of the summer.
DEADLINE: What about the fate of So You Think You Can Dance, which preceded you by many, many years?
WADE: Many years. Listen, I’m a huge dance fan, I did Dancing with the Stars. It’s a show that, although I had nothing to do with creating it, it’s close to my heart. It’s a very, very good talent show. There’s still a lot of fan love for that show. It actually does incredibly well in the L7s with a lot of pickup. It really grows, and the other thing about that is that it still gets a lot of Emmys. It’s definitely a jewel in the crown. So, again, we haven’t made a decision about that, but it’s a legacy franchise, and it’s proven that it’s a very resilient returning show.
DEADLINE: Now that you’ve seen the rebooted American Idol on ABC, do you regret not having it on your network?
WADE: No. I don’t regret it at all. Idol was canceled for a couple of reasons. It was the cost, the economics, and the ratings were declining. I don’t have a contact in the accounts of ABC, but I’m imagining, from what I’ve heard, it’s still an incredibly expensive show, and this season we saw a lot of rating erosion, so nothing tells me that the same wouldn’t happen if we had kept it on Fox. And the second thing is, I feel we’ve got to look to the future.
I think people in my position have got to look to the future. We can’t just expect the public to stick with 15-year-old shows that are declining. I want to try new hits. The way you do that is by freeing up your schedule. You have to have room in your schedule to try and move the genre on. With The Four, there’s a lot more urgency. It’s much more relevant. It’s the number one digital show. For me, it’s more exciting to try a new show like that than to stick with Idol, quite frankly. That being said, I know the people that made Idol, I think they did a good job, and I’m happy for them, I admire them for the fact they brought it back for a second season.
DEADLINE: What’s the status of Labor Of Love?
WADE: It’s still in development. It’s shaping up really well; honestly, the more I develop it, the more I like it. Everyone has a certain point of view about it. It’s about dealing with something which is really personal to women today and I think it could be an important message as well. So, we’ll see, it’s one of the many shows I’ve got in development, but it’s a show that I think is really interesting and it stands out.
DEADLINE: Are there any genres or areas you’re still chasing? Variety?
WADE: I’m looking, absolutely. I think the main pools that we look in are dating, I’m very keen to get a dating show. Variety, as you say. I think there’s an opportunity there, although now CBS is trying that. NBC is adding AGT: The Champions, and CBS is bringing World’s Best, from Mark Burnett and Mike Darnell, so that space might be a bit cluttered at the moment. I think there’s an opportunity in social experiment at the moment, and dance as well. We’re developing in all these big pools.
People always say there are too many singing shows, too many dancing shows, too many of these shows, and my response is always, well, there are too many cop shows, too many medical shows. The reason we as executives are being drawn to these is that’s such powerful, fertile area for drama and entertainment that, of course, we’re looking in those areas.
I’m trying to find things which are a little bit different as well. I’m very much focused on formats, that’s my strategy, but I am also looking at docuseries, which is a difficult one to crack for broadcast. I am looking at the idea of doing things in a live way more and trying to find that way. It’s more challenging because it’s kind of genre-defining in a way.