TCA: Fox unveils new animation projects


The Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour continued to roll along on Sunday with Fox’s turn at the mic. The network has a lot of new shows to roll out in midseason – not to mention the eleventh season of American Idol:

– To start off, there was an executive session with entertainment president Kevin Reilly and addressed the crowd. He pointed out Fox’s 14 percent increase in prime-time ratings this year, thanks in part to The X Factor and NFL Football overruns.

While Reilly did address the fate of Allen Gregory (it was canceled of course), he did not address the future of freshman series Terra Nova or veterans Fringe or House. Expense was a major problem for Nova (not to mention underperforming ratings) while the age of Fringe and House is a sticking point. Reilly also declined to elaborate on the future of X Factor host Steve Jones, who is rumored to being bounced from the show next season.

Reilly also mentioned there will be no Glee spin-off, as ratings (and buzz) has faded. And while Ryan Seacrest seems to be a repellant to most people, he’s not to TV execs – Reilly wants to keep in the fold as host of American Idol as his deal is up. Earlier, NBCUniversal executives wanted to keep him in the E! family and is reportedly pursuing him if Matt Lauer steps down from Today.

– Fox announced on Sunday it was handing its Saturday night 10 pm – 11:30 pm (Central Time) slot to an “animation lab” devoted to producing animated content not only to air on Fox, but also on multiple digital platforms. The goal is to produce fifty animated shorts a year. Heading the effort is veteran adult swim programmer Nick Weidenfeld to head the new effort (the new block would actually go up against adult swim – and Saturday Night Live.)

Adult swim has had success with animated shorts – notably Aqua Teen Hunger Force/Unit Patrol Squad 1, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, and Squidbillies. The Simpsons once began as a series of animated shorts in between sketches of The Tracey Ullman Show.

Since MadTV departed a few years ago, Fox has had little success in late fringe on Saturday nights, with failed talk show entries from Wanda Sykes and Spike Feresten. For the last two years, the slot has been used to air reruns and burnoff episodes of Fox primetime programming. Despite its woeful history with late-night strips, Fox has programmed the 10 p.m. Saturday slot since 1988, starting with Comic Strip Live.

If the effort is successful, there is a possibility one of those shorts could wind up as a regular series on Fox’s Sunday Animation Domination block.

– Is there bad blood developing between American Idol and The Voice? Fox’s reality chief (Mike  Darnell) had this to say at TCA about first-season Idol winner Kelly Clarkson appearing on the rival signing competition show on NBC: “It’s  a compliment to Idol that other shows want to use our superstars. I mean, were not hiring a lot of people from The Voice to be on our show…” And from Idol judge Randy Jackson: “We won’t rip off a show like The Voice did with Star Trek and their spinning chairs.” LOL. Love the sci-fi reference. Of course, Idol would more than happy to lend 2006 “winner” Taylor Hicks to The Voice and forget he was ever on thir show to begin with.

– Kiefer Sutherland confirmed at TCA there will be a 24 movie during a panel of the new series he’s staring in, Touch, which has a preview on January 25 before settling in after its post-House time slot on March 19. Created by Heroes‘ Tim Kring (he’s baaaack…), Sutherland played a widower whose eleven year old son possesses the ability to predict the future via patterns. Wow, what an original  concept! Remind me again why Tim Kring is back working in television and not behind the counter at Burger King…

–  Nearly two years after Lost concluded J.J. Abrams is back with Alcatraz, a new drama that features the reappearance of inmates who disappeared from the island (there’s that word again) some decades after they vanished. Since the pilot was filmed, there were some behind-the-scene shakeups and some reshoots done – which Abrams defended (its what they call “sweetening the product”.) The series with Sam Neill and Lost alum Jorge Garcia, premieres January 16.

The Finder: Another new series debuting this month is the new Bones spin-off The Finder, starring Geoff Stults and Michael Clarke Duncan. The Finder is slotted in the coveted Thursday night slot after Idol beginning January 19. Based on The Locator series of books from author Richard Greener, the series follows a Iraq War veteran recluse who has a high demand for anything and is always skeptical about everything  (you don’t want to mess with this guy.) and has the ability to locate anything – anywhere, anytime (maybe he can the brains missing in Chicago government.)  The character appeared in a sixth-season episode of Bones. Creator Hart Hanson said he had to reject several proposed titles for the series, including Location, Location, Location, and The Locator. Why? “It too much like a real estate show” Hanson said. Good move – anything connection to the real estate business is not a good thing in television these days.

– Also of note: In a cost-cutting move Fox has dropped the results show of So You Think You Can Dance while Kurt Hanson said Bones has a good shot of returning for an eighth season. Finally, Fox premieres its new animated comedy Napoleon Dynamite this Sunday night after both The Simpsons and Family Guy with two new episodes. The series is based on the 2004 theatrical of the same name, and is produced solely by Twentieth Television – even though the movie was co-produced by 20th Century Fox and Paramount (whose film properties for television are now handled by Trifecta Entertainment.)