Michael Thorn is heading into his first full development season as entertainment president of Fox Broadcasting Co. And it’s no ordinary development season. As Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden put it, it’s a “transitional year” for the network, which will move from being a vertically integrated to independent broadcaster with no affiliated studio.
During the Fox TCA executive session, Walden noted that this coming development season, Fox will be significantly reducing its dependence on 20th Century Fox TV, from 90% of its development last year to 50% as it boosts its collaborations with independent studios like Warner Bros. TV, Sony TV, Lionsgate TV and MGM.
Alongside that, there also will be a reduced volume of the projects Fox buys this season while it maitains the same number of pilots.
“In years past, I feel all the broadcast networks, including us, bought way too many scripts, 50-60 dramas and that many comedies,” Thorn told Deadline. “We are going to be much more disciplined in our buying and probably buy half as many scripts for approximately the same number of pilots we’ve been doing in years past, about 6 of each 9 (comedy and drama).”
Thorn indicated that “the independent studios are really excited to make us as their first stop because of an even playing field, so I expect a lot of ‘outside business,’ more than we’ve done in the past.”
Thorn confirmed our report from last week about the genres the network will be focusing on this season.
“On the drama side, we are going to look at character-driven procedurals, soaps and a few events in the spirit of 24, The Passage and shows like that,” he said. “On the comedy side, you’ll see us do what we’ve always done, bet on original voices, creators who have a vision to tell whatever is resonant for them.”
The network plans to develop both single and multi-camera comedies, Thorn said.
Fox has three off-cycle comedy pilots: the single-camera Bless This Mess, starring Lake Bell and Dax Shepard; the multi-camera Dan the Weatherman, starring Thomas Lennon, which is doing reshoots; and the untitled Rob McElhenney/Rob Rosell toplined by leah Remini, Kaitlin Olson and Rob Riggle.
Bless This Mess already has been delivered and has been getting “really, really positive response,” Thorn said. He expects at least one and possible more of the three pilots to go to series.
As the network is undergoing major changes this year, so is the way it develops series.
“One of the things that we constantly hear about is that in broadcast television the process sucks,” Thorn said. “I’d like to think that we do a very good job with the process right now but I think we can do much better as we look to work beyond vertical integration, we can find a specific way to change to process and make it better.”
Part of the changes is the network’s intent to sign script deals directly with writers and develop projects internally before laying them off at outside studios.
“We’ll start to make direct deals with talent,” Thorn said. “You need the right infrastructure to do that because of guild rules and is something we will have to develop internally, but I think this is a great example of something we will do. We will create a relationship directly with the artist, we’ll have minimal notes, very few layers. When the show is ready to be ordered, we can work with the writer to find the perfect home that also is passionated about that writer and the idea and maybe can help us package it with a director or some other element that will continue to set the show up for success.”
Will the new system affect the notorious practice of overwhelming writers with network notes?
“It’s more about how do we streamline the process so they they feel like they are getting notes with constant point of view, very few layers and incredible support,” Thorn said, noting that the Fox TV Group already is employing combined notes for FBC and 20th TV.