Timeslot Sinkers: Fox Sunday, 9:30

Timeslot Sinkers: Fox Sunday, 9:30
Photo Credit: FOX
After the end of the 2013-14 broadcast television season, Seth MacFarlane's American Dad closed out a decade-long run on Fox and made the move to basic cable channel TBS. The animated series had spent the last seven years airing Sundays at 9:30pm, putting up solid ratings with the help of its Family Guy lead-in. Once Stan Smith and company departed, the floodgates were open for fresh faces to take advantage of the plush, vacant timeslot. Even if nothing managed to replicate the success of American Dad, Fox deserves credit for allowing new sitcoms a shot at airing in one of their most lucrative timeslots. Here is a look at all the programs that have occupied the 9:30 slot since Dad departed.

Mulaney (2014-15)

Fox's Sunday lineup got off to a monstrous start in fall 2014 with the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover delivering a mammoth 4.5 A18-49 rating and the second season debut of Brooklyn Nine-Nine garnering a healthy 2.6 Nielsen rating. Unfortunately for Mulaney, the sitcom premiered a week after that surge of momentum. The John Mulaney vehicle bombed out the gate, debuting to a feeble 1.0 and shedding nearly half of Family Guy's audience (1.9). That result may be higher-rated than any comedy debut in the 2019-2020 broadcast season but was an absolute eyesore in 2014. The SNL star got a tiny bit of hope in week two when Mulaney perked up to a slightly less awful 1.1 rating, retaining a decent amount of a repeat of Family Guy (1.7). Sadly for those working on the sitcom, it dropped back down to a 1.0 the following week despite Peter Griffin rising into the mid-2s.

Fox gave it two more nights in the valuable timeslot before dumping its remaining order in the low-priority 7:30 slot, swapping it out with Bob's Burgers. After Mulaney weighed down the 8-10 comedies in its new home, Fox decided to move the disastrous performer up another half-hour, placing it in the 7:00pm slot. Although sports inflation helped it hit a new series high (1.2) for a January burnoff, it bowed out with an anemic 0.4 rating on February 15, 2015. Brooklyn Nine-Nine may have shown that live-action sitcoms can perform well amidst the animated folks but Mulaney proved that not all of them can strike Nielsen gold.

The Last Man on Earth (2015-18)
Will Forte's post-apocalyptic comedy series came just two weeks after The Simpsons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Family Guy hit devastating new lows (1.1/0.9/1.2) opposite the colossal SNL 40th Anniversary special (7.8). Considering its outlandish premise and ineligibility for football support, Last Man had little in its favor when it debuted on March 1, 2015. Despite all that, the experimental sitcom premiered to a remarkable 2.4 rating for its 1-hour telecast, registering as the night's top-rated broadcast. Not only did it help lift Simpsons and Brooklyn (1.8/1.8) well above the depressed levels they were at before but it also demolished Mulaney's fall premiere (1.0). It never got back to those heights for the remaining 11 episodes but stayed in the fairly solid 1.2-1.9 range. The Forte project ended up averaging a respectable 1.64 A18-49 rating and secured a second season renewal.

Last Man fell further in its fall 2015 return but only lost around two-to-three tenths from its Family Guy leadin on average, remaining in the perfectly acceptable 1.0-1.5 vicinity. Although still miles above duds like Mulaney, it became apparent that Last Man was more of a middling player than a clear-cut ratings success story. Nonetheless, its mediocre performance looked particularly refreshing when it came back in March 2016, hovering around a 1.0 for the most part. It easily outdid what previous occupant Bordertown was garnering in the winter months and once more retained a healthy portion of Family Guy. Even with a much lower 1.16 average (-27%), the series was locked in for a third season.

LMOE became a much weaker program in year three, premiering to its series low in September 2016 and losing a lot more of Family Guy's audience than before. Its fall numbers fluctuated between a 0.9, 1.0, and 1.1 rating, far below the 1.4s and 1.5s it had posted the season prior. Despite the almost cancellation-worthy performance, the 1.0 it posted in its spring return was relatively decent and it mostly remained around a 0.8 rating from March to May 2017. Its 0.90 average (-22%) did not look particularly flattering but was just enough for Fox to bring it back once more.

Last Man's fourth season started out well enough, retaining the same 0.9 rating it posted the previous year. The aging sitcom remained close to its year-ago numbers in the fall and even hit its highest rating in two years for a football-charged January episode (1.2). But Last Man on Earth's ratings became increasingly worrisome in spring 2018 when it never managed to rise above a 0.7 rating and began hitting new series lows. Even though its overall 0.78 ratings average was only 13% below the previous year, Fox decided to cancel the sitcom after a four-season run. It may not have been as stable as American Dad but Last Man certainly lasted a lot longer than one would have expected for a show with such a bizarre concept.

Bordertown (2016)
Bordertown emerged during the hiatus period of Last Man on Earth's second season in January 2016, seemingly destined to become a permanent Sunday fixture. Just about everything was in the animated comedy's favor, from the fact that it was made by Fox poster-boy Seth MacFarlane to the compatible post-Family Guy timeslot the network awarded it. None of that good will seemed to rub off on the racially-charged cartoon as it premiered to a dismal 1.1 rating, six-tenths below Family Guy. This was only a touch behind Last Man's fall 2015 low (1.0) and far below what could have been expected for a show that fit like a glove in the night's roster.

Bordertown redeemed itself a bit in week 2, garnering a 1.5 A18-49 rating even as Family Guy only grew one tenth (1.8). It continued that redemption arc for its third episode (1.2), posting another number above its premiere. That positive momentum turned out to be a fluke as Bordertown reappeared a month later to an outright pathetic 0.7 A18-49 rating, losing an egregious amount from Family Guy (1.2). It posted that rating one more week before Fox decided to toss it in the 7pm hour and bring back the much stronger Last Man on Earth. Aside from one NASCAR-inflated 0.8, the rest of Bordertown posted either a 0.4 or 0.5 rating. No matter how well it fit with Family Guy, viewers were just not interested in sticking around the extra half hour.

Rel (2018-19)
With Last Man on Earth's three-year stint over, Fox decided to give multi-camera sitcom Rel the chance to grow an audience following the hijinks of Brian & Stewie. The Lil Rel Howery sitcom got off to a promising start, posting a hefty 1.9 rating for the football-charged series premiere. It fell all the way down to a passable 0.8 rating for its timeslot premiere, losing a few tenths from Family Guy (1.2). For the following nine episodes, Rel went as low as a 0.5 while generally remaining between a 0.6 and 0.8. Although these numbers were not too far from how the final season of Last Man performed, Rel had the luxury of higher Family Guy lead-ins and still could not perform much better. Thanks to a massive football boost, Rel ended on a high note with a 1.1 rating for its finale. But, Fox was not fooled by the artificial surge and dropped the ax on the series after one 12-episode season.

Family Guy (2019-Present)
With Rel left without a back-order after its January 2019 closer and the second season of Cosmos delayed due to sexual misconduct allegations leveraged against host Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Fox decided to lay low and spend spring 2019 broadcasting Family Guy repeats in the 9:30 timeslot. Airing after originals of itself, the encores garnered Nielsens ranging between 0.5 and 0.7. These numbers were roughly about the same as Rel and the year-ago Last Man on Earth, ultimately putting both programs to shame. 

And then, in one of the most bizarre scheduling decisions in recent memory, Family Guy was booted out of the 9pm slot it called home for more than a decade in fall 2019. The seasoned comedy was pushed into the 9:30pm period, leading out of animated mainstay Bob's Burgers. Whether as a result of this change or not, the night as a whole floundered during the 2019-20 television season. The move caused Family Guy to decline a whopping 31% from its previous season, settling at a tepid 0.71. It may have still done about the same as its Bob's Burgers lead-in (0.73 average) but the unnecessary move certainly put a dent in its viewership. 

Where Next, FOX?
According to Fox's fall 2020 schedule, Family Guy will continue airing in the 9:30 slot for a second year. Considering how much damage the move did to the comedy's Nielsen ratings, it's quite appalling that Fox has not swiftly returned it to its old timeslot. Throughout the 2010s, the 9:30 slot has been characterized by an odd mix of occasional stability and erratic shifts. American Dad was consistently a sturdy performer but was driven out of the slot because of a network change. Last Man on Earth held the fort down nicely for a few years but fizzled out quickly. Fox may have found a solid timeslot filler in Family Guy but using its strengths to prop up the slot happens at the expense of the night's performance as a whole. Only time will tell whether Fox will continue wasting Family Guy's prowess or if the animated staple will be reinstalled to its rightful anchor position.

What do you think of this Timeslot Sinkers article? Were you a fan of any of the shows mentioned? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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