Don’t let those hugging arms fool you; Cleatus, the Fox NFL Robot, knows no mercy
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez (Getty Images)

Although it had a happy ending—for fans of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, anyway; apologies to followers of Last Man On Earth, Lucifer, and The Mick—Fox took some heavy swings at its TV schedule this week, axing a number of some of its most well-established shows. (Pre-upfront cancellations are the norm these days, as networks move to lock in their schedules ahead of setting ad rates for the year, but its rare for the burden to fall so heavily on older programs as opposed to freshman offerings.) And while there are multiple theories—many involving Disney’s planned acquisition of its sister studio, 20th Century Fox Television—floating around about why Fox cleared off so many of its “bubble” shows, The Hollywood Reporter has an explainer this week that lays most of the blame on one all-powerful villain: Football.

Specifically, the piece points to Fox’s recent (and massive) deal with the NFL to serve as the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football for the next five years, which will eat up 30-or-so hours of its schedule in the coming season, as a major reason for the cuts. There’s just no damn space, the argument runs, for shows with cult followings but insufficiently knock-out ratings numbers to survive. (Especially when you consider that sports fans, who tend to watch TV live, have a lot of demographic appeal to those all-important advertisers.)

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Obviously, there are a lot of factors that go into why a TV show does or does not survive, most of which we have to just kind of guess at, since TV execs aren’t in the habit of explaining their every move to press. Looking at the initially baffling—and frustratingly timed—decision to resurrect former ABC series Last Man Standing yesterday, for example, and you can start to pull at a whole lot of threads: The show was a confirmed ratings hit before its death, for one. It’s a multi-cam (as are the network’s two new live-action comedies, Rel and Cool Kids), and those are suddenly back in vogue, for another. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that both Tim Allen’s politics, and his whole sort of general vibe, obviously line up pretty well with public perceptions of what NFL fans want to see, giving the whole thing a synergy that “sexy devil cop show” or “post-apocalyptic screwball comedy” could never hope to match.