20th Century Fox had been involved in television production as early as the 1950s, producing several syndicated programs. Following the demise of the DuMont Television Network in August of that year after it became mired in severe financial problems, the NTA Film Network was launched as a new "fourth network". 20th Century Fox would also produce original content for the NTA network. The film network effort would fail after a few years, but 20th Century Fox continued to dabble in television through its production arm, TCF Television Productions, producing series (such as Perry Mason) for the three major broadcast television networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS).
1980s: Establishment of the network
The Fox network's foundations were laid in March 1985 through News Corporation's $255 million purchase of a 50% interest in TCF Holdings, the parent company of the 20th Century Fox film studio. In May 1985, News Corporation, a media company owned by Australian publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch that had mainly served as a newspaper publisher at the time of the TCF Holdings deal, agreed to pay $2.55 billion to acquire independent television stations in six major U.S. cities from the John Kluge-run broadcasting company Metromedia: WNEW-TV (channel 5) in New York City, WTTG (channel 5) in Washington, D.C., KTTV (channel 11) in Los Angeles, KRIV (channel 26) in Houston, WFLD-TV (channel 32) in Chicago, and KRLD-TV (channel 33) in Dallas. A seventh station, ABC affiliate WCVB-TV (channel 5) in Boston, was part of the original transaction but was spun off to the Hearst Broadcasting subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation in a separate, concurrent deal as part of a right of first refusal related to that station's 1982 sale to Metromedia. (Two years later, News Corporation acquired WXNE-TV (channel 25) in that market from the Christian Broadcasting Network and changed its call letters to WFXT.)
Because Metromedia (originally known as Metropolitan Broadcasting at its founding) was spun off from the failed DuMont Television Network, radio personality Clarke Ingram has suggested that the Fox network is a revival or at least a linear descendant of DuMont. The former Metromedia stations WNEW (originally known as WABD) and WTTG were two of the three original owned-and-operated stations of the DuMont network, and that the former base of DuMont's operations, the DuMont Tele-Centre in Manhattan, eventually became the present-day Fox Television Center.
Beginning of the network
In October 1985, 20th Century Fox announced its intentions to form a fourth television network that would compete with ABC, CBS, and NBC. The plans were to use the combination of the Fox studios and the former Metromedia stations to both produce and distribute programming. Organizational plans for the network were held off until the Metromedia acquisitions cleared regulatory hurdles. Then, in December 1985, Rupert Murdoch agreed to pay $325 million to acquire the remaining equity in TCF Holdings from his original partner, Marvin Davis. The purchase of the Metromedia stations was approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 1986; the call letters of the New York City and Dallas outlets were subsequently changed respectively to WNYW and KDAF. These first six stations, then broadcasting to a combined reach of 22% of the nation's households, became known as the Fox Television Stations group. Except for KDAF (which was sold to Renaissance Broadcasting in 1995 and became a WB affiliate at the same time), all of the original owned-and-operated stations ("O&Os") are still part of the Fox network today. Like the core O&O group, Fox's affiliate body initially consisted of independent stations (a few of which had maintained affiliations with ABC, NBC, CBS or DuMont earlier in their existences). The local charter affiliate was, in most cases, that market's top-rated independent; however, Fox opted to affiliate with a second-tier independent station in markets where a more established independent declined the affiliation (such as Denver, Phoenix and St. Louis). Largely because of both these factors, Fox – in a situation very similar to what DuMont had experienced four decades before – had little choice but to affiliate with UHF stations in all except a few (mainly larger) markets where the network gained clearance.
The Fox Broadcasting Company launched at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time on Thursday, October 9, 1986. Its inaugural program was a late-night talk show, The Late Show, which was hosted by comedian Joan Rivers. After a strong start, The Late Show quickly eroded in the ratings; it was never able to overtake NBC stalwart The Tonight Show – whose then-host Johnny Carson, upset over her becoming his late-night competitor, banned Rivers (a frequent Tonight guest and substitute host) from appearing on his show (Rivers would not appear on Tonight again until February 2014, seven months before her death, when Jimmy Fallon took over as its host). By early 1987, Rivers (and her then-husband Edgar Rosenberg, the show's original executive producer) quit The Late Show after disagreements with the network over the show's creative direction; the program then began to be hosted by a succession of guest hosts. After that point, some stations that affiliated with Fox in the weeks before the April 1987 launch of its prime time lineup (such as WCGV-TV (channel 24) in Milwaukee and WDRB-TV (channel 41) in Louisville) signed affiliation agreements with the network on the condition that they would not have to carry The Late Show due to the program's weak ratings.
The network expanded its programming into prime time on April 5, 1987, inaugurating its Sunday night lineup with the premieres of the sitcom Married... with Children and the sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show. Fox added one new show per week over the next several weeks, with the drama 21 Jump Street, and comedies Mr. President and Duet completing its Sunday schedule. On July 11, the network rolled out its Saturday night schedule with the premiere of the supernatural drama series Werewolf, which began with a two-hour pilot movie event. Three other series were added to the Saturday lineup over the next three weeks: comedies The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, Karen's Song and Down and Out in Beverly Hills (the latter being an adaptation of the film of the same name). Both Karen's Song and Down and Out in Beverly Hills were canceled by the start of the 1987–88 television season, the network's first fall launch, and were replaced by the sitcoms Second Chance and Women in Prison.
In regards to its late night lineup, Fox had already decided to cancel The Late Show, and had a replacement series in development, The Wilton North Report, when the former series began a ratings resurgence under its final guest host, comedian Arsenio Hall. Wilton North lasted just a few weeks, however, and the network was unable to reach a deal with Hall to return as host when it hurriedly revived The Late Show in early 1988. The Late Show went back to featuring guest hosts, eventually selecting Ross Shafer as its permanent host, only for it to be canceled for good by October 1988, while Hall signed a deal with Paramount Television to develop his own syndicated late night talk show, The Arsenio Hall Show. Fox aired the 39th Primetime Emmy Awards and would air the next five editions.
Although the network had modest successes in Married... with Children and The Tracy Ullman Show, several affiliates were disappointed with Fox's largely underperforming programming lineup during the network's first three years; KMSP-TV (channel 9) in Minneapolis-St. Paul and KPTV (channel 12) in Portland, Oregon, both owned at the time by Chris-Craft Television, disaffiliated from Fox in 1988 (with KITN (channel 29, now WFTC) and KPDX (channel 49) respectively replacing those stations as Fox affiliates), citing that the network's weaker program offerings were hampering viewership of their stronger syndicated slate.
At the start of the 1989–90 television season, Fox added a third night of programming, on Mondays. The season heralded the start of a turnaround for Fox. It saw the debut of a midseason replacement series, The Simpsons, an animated series that originated as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show; ranked at a three-way tie for 29th place in the Nielsen ratings, it became a breakout hit and was the first Fox series to break the Top 30. The Simpsons, at 28 years as of 2017, is the longest-running American sitcom, the longest-running American animated program, and in 2009, it surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest-running American scripted primetime television series. That year, Fox also first introduced the documentary series Cops and crime-focused magazine program America's Most Wanted (the latter of which debuted as a half-hour series as part of the network's mainly comedy-based Sunday lineup for its first season, before expanding to an hour and moving to Fridays for the 1990–91 season). These two series, which would become staples on the network for just over two decades, would eventually be paired to form the nucleus of Fox's Saturday night schedule beginning in the 1994–95 season. Meanwhile, Married... with Children – which broke ground from other family sitcoms of the period as it centered on a dysfunctional lower-middle-class family, whose patriarch often openly loathed his failures and being saddled with a wife and two children – saw viewer interest substantially increase beginning in its third season after, in an ironic twist, Michigan homemaker Terry Rakolta lodged a boycott to force Fox to cancel the series after objecting to risque humor and sexual content featured in a 1989 episode. Married...'s newfound success led it to become the network's longest-running live-action sitcom, airing for 11 seasons.
1990s: Rise into mainstream success and beginnings of rivalry with the Big Three
Fox survived where DuMont and other attempts to start a fourth network had failed because it programmed just under the number of hours defined by the FCC to legally be considered a network. This allowed Fox to make revenue in ways forbidden to the established networks (for instance, it did not have to adhere to the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules that were in effect at the time), since during its first years it was considered to be merely a large group of stations. By comparison, DuMont was saddled by numerous regulatory barriers that hampered its potential to grow, most notably a ban on acquiring additional stations – during an era when the FCC had much tighter ownership limits for television stations (limiting broadcasters to a maximum of five stations nationwide) than it did when Fox launched – since its minority owner, Paramount Pictures owned two television stations (one of which had already disaffiliated from the network). Combined with the three television stations owned by network parent DuMont Laboratories, this put DuMont at the legal limit at the time. In addition, Murdoch was more than willing to open his wallet to get and keep programming and talent. DuMont, in contrast, operated on a shoestring budget and was unable to keep the programs and stars it had.
Most of the other startup networks that launched in later years (such as The WB, UPN and The CW) followed Fox's model as well. Furthermore, DuMont operated during a time when the FCC did not require television manufacturers to include UHF capability. In order to see DuMont's UHF stations, most people had to buy an expensive converter. Even then, the picture quality was marginal at best. By the time Fox launched, cable allowed UHF stations to generally be on an equal footing with VHF stations.
Although Fox was growing rapidly as a network and had established itself as a presence, it was still not considered a major competitor to the established "Big Three" broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. From its launch, Fox had the advantage of offering programs intended to appeal toward a younger demographic – adults between 18 and 49 years of age – and that were edgier in content, whereas some programs that were carried by the "Big Three" networks attracted an older-skewing audience. Until the early 1990s, when Fox expanded its programming to additional nights and outside prime time, most Fox stations were still essentially formatted as independent stations – filling their schedules with mainly first-run and acquired programming, and, during prime time, running either syndicated programs or, more commonly, movies on nights when the network did not provide programming. Few Fox stations carried local newscasts during the network's early years, unlike the owned-and-operated stations and affiliates of its established rivals. Those that did were mostly based in larger markets (including some of the network's O&Os) and retained newscasts that had aired for decades. Even then, these news operations were limited to one newscast per day, following the network's prime time lineup.
As Fox gradually headed towards carrying a full week's worth of programming in prime time – through the addition of programming on Thursday and Friday nights at the start of the 1990–91 season – the network's added offerings included the scheduling of The Simpsons opposite veteran NBC sitcom The Cosby Show as part of Fox's initial Thursday night lineup that fall (along with future hit Beverly Hills, 90210, which would become the network's longest-running drama, airing for ten seasons) after only a half-season of success on Sunday nights. The show performed well in its new Thursday slot, spending four seasons there and helping to launch Martin, another Fox comedy that became a hit when it debuted in August 1992. The Simpsons returned to Sunday nights in the fall of 1994, and has remained there ever since.
The sketch comedy series In Living Color, which debuted in April 1990, created many memorable characters and launched the careers of future movie stars Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Damon Wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Jennifer Lopez (the latter of whom was a member of the show's dance troupe, the "Fly Girls"). The series also gained international prominence after Fox aired a special live episode in January 1992 as an alternative to the halftime show during Super Bowl XXVI, which was broadcast on CBS, marking the start of Fox's rivalry with the "Big Three" networks while popularizing the counterprogramming strategy against the Super Bowl telecast.
The early and mid-1990s saw the debuts of several soap opera-style prime time dramas aimed at younger audiences that became quick hits, which, in addition to Beverly Hills, 90210, included its adult-focused spin-off Melrose Place (which initially had a mediocre ratings performance, before viewership rose significantly midway through its first season following Heather Locklear's addition to the cast) and family drama Party of Five. The early and mid-1990s also saw the network launch several series aimed at a black audience, which, in addition to Martin, included the sitcom Living Single and police procedural New York Undercover.
Luring the NFL and affiliation switches
Fox would become a viable competitor to the "Big Three" when the network lured the partial broadcast television rights to the away from CBS. On December 18, 1993, Fox signed a contract with the NFL to televise regular season and playoff games from the (which had been airing its games on CBS since 1955, fifteen years before the formation of the NFC and the through the merger of the and the NFL), starting with the 1994 season. The initial four-year contract, which Fox bid $1.58 billion to obtain (considerably more than the $290 million that CBS reportedly offered to retain the conference rights), also included the exclusive U.S. television rights to Super Bowl XXXI in 1997. The network also lured Pat Summerall, John Madden, Dick Stockton, Matt Millen, James Brown and Terry Bradshaw (as well as many behind-the-scenes production personnel) from CBS Sports to staff its NFL coverage.
Shortly afterward, News Corporation began striking affiliation deals with, and later purchasing, more television station groups. On May 23, 1994, Fox agreed to purchase a 20% stake in New World Communications, a television and film production company controlled by investor Ronald Perelman that had just recently entered into broadcasting through its 1993 purchase of seven stations owned by SCI Television. As a result of Fox acquiring a 20% minority interest in the company, New World signed an agreement to switch the affiliations of twelve stations (eight CBS affiliates, three ABC affiliates – two of which were subsequently placed in a blind trust and then sold directly to Fox due to conflicts with FCC ownership rules – and one NBC affiliate) that it had either already owned outright or was in the process of acquiring from Citicasters and Argyle Communications at the time to Fox starting in September 1994 and continuing as existing affiliation contracts with their existing major network partners expired.
That summer, SF Broadcasting, a joint venture between Fox and Savoy Pictures that was founded in March 1994, purchased four stations from Burnham Broadcasting (three NBC affiliates and one ABC affiliate); through a separate agreement, those stations would also switch to Fox between September 1995 and January 1996 as existing affiliation agreements lapsed. These two deals were not the first instances in which a longtime "Big Three" station affiliated with Fox: the network scored its first major coup when it moved its Miami affiliation from charter affiliate WCIX (channel 6, which became a CBS owned-and-operated station, now WFOR-TV on channel 4) to NBC affiliate WSVN (channel 7) in January 1989, the result of a three-station affiliation swap spurred by NBC's purchase of longtime CBS affiliate WTVJ (channel 4, now on channel 6). Through the expansion of its news programming and a refocused emphasis on crime stories and sensationalistic reporting under news director Joel Cheatwood, that switch helped the perennial third-place WSVN become a strong competitor in the Miami market.
The NFC contract, in fact, was the impetus for the affiliation deal with New World and SF Broadcasting's purchase of the Burnham stations, as Fox sought to improve local coverage of its new NFL package by aligning the network with stations that had more established histories and advertiser value than its charter affiliates. The deals spurred a series of affiliation realignments between all four U.S. television networks involving individual stations and various broadcasting groups – such as those between CBS and Group W (whose corporate parent later bought the network in August 1995), and ABC and the E. W. Scripps Company (which owned several Fox affiliates that switched to either ABC or NBC as a result of the New World deal) – affecting 30 television markets between September 1994 and September 1996. The two deals also had the side benefit of increasing local news programming on the new Fox affiliates, mirroring the programming format adopted by WSVN upon that station's switch to the network (as well as expanding the number of news-producing stations in Fox's portfolio beyond mainly charter stations in certain large and mid-sized markets).
With significant market share for the first time ever and the rights to the NFL, Fox firmly established itself as the nation's fourth major network. Fox Television Stations would acquire New World outright on July 17, 1996 in a $2.48 billion stock purchase, making the latter's twelve Fox affiliates owned-and-operated stations of the network; the deal was completed on January 22, 1997. Later, in August 2000, Fox bought several stations owned by Chris-Craft Industries and its subsidiaries BHC Communications and United Television for $5.5 billion (most of these stations were UPN affiliates, although its Minneapolis station KMSP-TV would rejoin Fox in September 2002 as an owned-and-operated station). These purchases, for a time, made Fox Television Stations the largest owner of television stations in the U.S. (a title that has since been assumed by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the network's largest affiliate groups).
Fox completed its prime time expansion to all seven nights on January 19, 1993, with the launch of two additional nights of programming on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (The method of gradually adding nights to the programming schedule that began with the network's April 1987 prime time launch was replicated by The WB and UPN when those networks debuted in January 1995). September 1993 saw the heavy promotion and debut of a short-lived western series that incorporated science-fiction elements, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. However, it was the supernatural investigative drama that debuted immediately following it on Friday nights, The X-Files, that would find long-lasting success, and would become Fox's first series to crack Nielsen's year-end Top 20 most-watched network programs. After several other failed attempts at late night programming following the cancellation of The Late Show (most notably, the quick failure of The Chevy Chase Show in 1993), Fox finally found success in that time period with the debut of MADtv on October 14, 1995; the sketch comedy series became a solid competitor to NBC's Saturday Night Live for over a decade and was the network's most successful late night program as well as one of its most successful Saturday night shows, running for 14 seasons until its cancellation in 2009.
An attempt to make a larger effort to program Saturday nights by moving Married... with Children from its longtime Sunday slot and adding a new but short-lived sitcom (Love and Marriage) to the night at the beginning of the 1996–97 season backfired with the public, as it resulted in a brief cancellation of America's Most Wanted that was criticized by law enforcement and public officials, and was roundly rejected by viewers, which brought swift cancellation to the newer series. Married... quickly returned to Sundays (before moving again to Mondays two months later); both it and Martin would end their runs at the end of that season. The Saturday schedule was revised in November 1996, to feature one new and one encore episode of Cops, and the revived America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back. Cops and AMW remained the anchors of Fox's Saturday lineup, making it the most stable night in American broadcast television for over 14 years; both shows eventually were among the few first-run programs remaining on Saturday evenings across the four major networks after decreasing prime time viewership – as more people opted to engage in leisure activities away from home rather than watch television on that night of the week – led ABC, NBC and CBS to largely abandon first-run series on Saturdays (outside newsmagazines, sports and burned off prime time shows that failed on other nights) in favor of reruns and movies by the mid-2000s. America's Most Wanted ended its 22-year run on Fox in June 2011, and was subsequently picked up by Lifetime (before being cancelled for good in 2013); Cops, in turn, would move its first-run episodes to Spike in 2013 after 23 seasons (ending its original run on Fox as the network's longest-running prime time program), leaving sports and repeats of reality and drama series as the only programs airing on Fox on Saturday evenings.
By the 1997–98 season, Fox had three shows in the Nielsen Top 20, The X-Files (which ranked 11th), King of the Hill (which ranked 15th) and The Simpsons (which ranked 18th). Building around its flagship animated comedy The Simpsons, Fox would experience relative success with animated series in prime time, beginning with the debut of the Mike Judge-produced King of the Hill in 1997. Family Guy (the first of three adult-oriented animated series from Seth MacFarlane to air on the network) and Futurama (from Simpsons creator Matt Groening) would make their debuts in 1999; however, they were canceled in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Due to strong DVD sales and highly rated cable reruns on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, Fox later decided to order new episodes of Family Guy, which began airing in 2005. Futurama would be revived with four direct-to-DVD films between 2007 and 2009 and would return as a first-run series on Comedy Central, where it ran from 2010 to 2013. Less successful efforts included The Critic, starring Saturday Night Live alumnus Jon Lovitz (which Fox picked up in 1994 after it was cancelled by ABC, only for the series to be cancelled again after its second season), and The PJs (which moved to The WB in 2000, after Fox cancelled that series after its second season). Other notable shows that debuted in the late 1990s included the quirky David E. Kelley-produced live-action dramedy Ally McBeal and period comedy That '70s Show, the latter of which became Fox's second-longest-running live-action sitcom, airing for eight seasons.
Throughout the 1990s and into the next decade, Fox launched a slate of cable channels beginning with the 1994 debuts of general entertainment network FX and movie channel FXM: Movies from Fox (now FX Movie Channel), followed by the debut of Fox News Channel in August 1996. Its sports operations expanded with the acquisition of controlling interests in several regional sports networks (including the Prime Network and SportsChannel) between 1996 and 2000 to form Fox Sports Net (which launched in November 1996), its 2000 purchase of Speedvision (later Speed Channel, which was replaced in the United States by Fox Sports 1 in August 2013; however, it continues to exist in other North American and Caribbean countries as Fox Sports Racing), and the launches of Fox Sports World (later Fox Soccer, which was replaced by FXX in September 2013) and Fox Sports en Español (now Fox Deportes) in the early 2000s.
2000s: Rise to ratings leadership, the American Idol effect and fierce rivalry with CBS
By 2000, many staple Fox shows of the 1990s had ended their runs. During the late 1990s and carrying over into the early 2000s, Fox put much of its efforts into producing reality shows – many of which were considered to be sensationalistic and controversial in nature – such as Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, Temptation Island, Married by America and Joe Millionaire (which became the first Fox program ever to crack the Nielsen Top 10), as well as video clip shows such as World's Wildest Police Videos and When Animals Attack!. After shedding most of these programs, Fox gradually filled its lineup with acclaimed dramas such as 24, The O.C., House, and Bones, and comedies such as The Bernie Mac Show, Malcolm in the Middle, and Arrested Development.
As the decade wore on, Fox began surpassing ABC and NBC in the ratings – first in age demographics, then in overall viewership – and placed second behind a resurgent CBS in total viewership beginning in 2002. Fox hit a major milestone in 2005 when it emerged as the most-watched U.S. broadcast network in the lucrative 18-49 demographic for the first time, largely boosted by the strength of the reality singing competition series American Idol. Regarded as the single most dominant program on 21st-century U.S. television, as well as the first Fox show to lead the Nielsen seasonal ratings, Idol had peak audiences of up to 38 million viewers during the 2003 season finale and double-season average audiences of around 31 million viewers in 2006 and 2007. Subsequently, it leapfrogged over Fox's Big Three competition to become the highest-rated U.S. television program overall starting with the 2003–04 season, becoming the first reality singing competition series in the country ever to reach first place in the seasonal ratings.
Idol remains the most recent U.S. television program to date to lead the national prime time ratings and attract at least 30 million viewers for at least two television seasons. It became as the most watched program on U.S. television by seasonal average viewership in the 2000s decade, as well as the most recent program scheduled to have successfully established a graveyard slot on U.S. television since the end of NBC's Friends in 2004 and the subsequent decline of the network's previously dominant "Must See TV" Thursday timeblock. By 2005, reality television succeeded sitcoms as the most popular form of entertainment in the U.S. as a result of Fox's rise with Idol and NBC's network declines. House, which aired as Idol's lead-out program on Tuesday nights, earned international prominence in the 21st century and became Fox's first prime time drama series (and the network's third program overall) to reach the Nielsen Top 10 beginning 2006.
Beginning 2004, CBS and Fox, which ranked as the two most-watched broadcast networks in the U.S. during the 2000s, have tended to equal one another in demographic ratings among general viewership, with both networks winning certain demographics by narrow margins; however, while Fox has the youngest-skewing viewer base, CBS is consistently regarded to have the oldest audience demographics among the major broadcast networks. Fox hit a milestone in February 2005 by scoring its first-ever sweeps victory in total viewership and demographic ratings, boosted largely by its broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIX and the strengths of American Idol, 24, House and The O.C.
A sweeping milestone came by the conclusion of the 2007–08 season on May 21, 2008, shortly after the widely acclaimed seventh-season finale of American Idol, when Fox outranked longtime leader CBS as the most watched television network in the United States overall for the first time, attributed to the strengths of Super Bowl XLII and its NFL game coverages, Idol and House during that season. Fox is currently the only non-Big Three network to earn first place overall since the start of Nielsen ratings in the 1950-51 season.
In the late 2000s, Fox launched a few series that proved to be powerful hits in different respects. In 2008, the supernatural mystery series Fringe debuted to moderate ratings but earned critical acclaim during its first season on Tuesdays. Throughout its run, the series developed a large loyal fanbase that turned the show into a cult favorite. In 2009, Glee premiered to average ratings when its pilot aired as a lead-out program of the eighth-season finale of American Idol, but earned positive reviews from critics. The show's viewership rose in the first two seasons, and attracted media attention that it formed a large, loyal international fanbase. The cast of the series has been acknowledged by notable luminaries such as the President of the United States Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, who have each asked the cast to perform live for various national events.
2010-2018: Network's ratings collapse and revamp in network programming
At the dawn of the 2010s, new comedies Raising Hope and New Girl gave Fox its first live-action comedy successes in years. The second season of Glee delivered that series' highest ratings during the 2010–11 season, with viewership peaking during its Super Bowl lead-out episode in February 2011. At the same time, Fox's live telecast of the Super Bowl XLV helped the network emerge as the first U.S. television network to earn an average single-night prime time audience of at least 100 million viewers.
American Idol lost its first place standing among all network prime time programs during the 2011–12 finale (falling to second that season behind ), ending the longest streak at #1 for a prime time broadcast network series in U.S. television history, through its eight-year ratings domination in both the Adults 18-49 demographic and total viewership. Idol also remained in the Nielsen Top 10 for eleven years from 2003 to 2013, and became the highest-rated non-sports prime time television program as well as the highest-rated reality series in the U.S. from 2003 to 2012; these records marked the longest Nielsen ratings streaks of any Fox program in these categories. The 2012 season finale of American Idol marked the end of the season-long 25th anniversary of the establishment of Fox network, helping it win in the 18-49 demographic for the eighth consecutive season, the longest such streak according to Nielsen measurement records.
Fox suffered a collapse in viewership during the 2012–13 season; American Idol and Glee suffered steep ratings declines, while the network as a whole fell to third place (suffering an overall decrease by 22%) in total viewership and to second place in the 18-49 demographic (where it remained as of 2014 ) by the end of the season.
The decline in ratings continued into the 2013–14 season, with Fox placing fourth among the major networks in total viewership for the first time since 2001. Subsequently, on January 13, 2014, Fox announced that it would abandon its use of the standard concept of greenlighting shows through the initial order of pilot episodes during the designated "pilot season" (running from January through April), instead opting to pick up shows directly to series.
Fox scored renewed ratings successes with its February 2014 live telecast of Super Bowl XLVIII, which became the second most watched television broadcast (by average) in U.S. history, and the lead-out programs that followed this event – New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Later, in May 2014, Kevin Reilly announced that he would resign as chairman of Fox Entertainment. On July 15, 2014, corporate parent 21st Century Fox announced that it would merge the operations of the network and 20th Century Fox Television into the newly created Fox Television Group, with 20th Century Fox Television co-chairpersons Dana Walden and Gary Newman appointed to head the division.
The 2014–15 season saw hits in the freshmen dramas Gotham (based on the Batman mythos) and the Lee Daniels-produced Empire. Ratings for Empire, in particular, increased week-to-week throughout its first season, becoming the network's first successful American Idol lead-out since House, as well as the first American television program to consistently increase its episode-to-episode viewership during its first five weeks since the 1992 feat set by ABC's Roseanne. Empire ended its inaugural season as the first U.S. television show ever to increase its episodic viewership on a consistent basis throughout the course of a single season, as well as Fox's fourth program overall (and the first since the 2013 finale of American Idol) to enter the Nielsen Top 10 by the end of the 2014–15 season.
The 2015–16 season marked a notable turnaround for Fox, as it jumps ahead of ABC to third place in nationwide ratings (both in overall viewership and in the 18-49 demo) and posted several firsts for the network and on U.S. television. Its improvement was boosted by the transfer of the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants from NBC, as well as shows such as Grease: Live, Empire and the return of The X-Files after its most recent season ending in 2002. Grease: Live became the first live American TV musical special of the 21st century to be broadcast in front of a live studio audience (as well as the first ever live musical special aired by a non-Big Three network on primetime), while Empire and The X-Files ranked in the Nielsen Top 10 for the season, the first season with 2 Fox programs entering the top rankings since the American Idol-House duo of the 2007-2008 season (and the first ever season that Fox achieved such rankings without American Idol or any other reality television show from Fox in the Top 10).
2016 also marked the finale of American Idol in its original run on Fox after airing for fifteen seasons, ending an era of one of the most successful shows in U.S. television history. In February 2017, Fox broadcast Super Bowl LI, which also featured the first ever overtime in Super Bowl history. The broadcast attracted a U.S-all-time high total of 172 million viewers on peak conclusion, marking the first time that any U.S. television broadcast exceeded the 170-million viewership mark.
2018-present: "New Fox" and sale of studios to Disney
On July 27, 2018, in a deal first announced December 2017, 21st Century Fox shareholders agreed to sell most of its key assets (including 20th Century Fox, 20th Television, and FX Networks) to The Walt Disney Company for $71.3 billion, following the spin-off of certain businesses. The sale will not include the Fox network or television stations, Fox Sports, or the Fox News and Fox Business Network cable channels, which are being retained as part of a smaller "New Fox".
It was acknowledged that Fox had placed a larger emphasis on its sports programming in its first upfronts since the deal was announced, including the acquisitions of the NFL's package and rights to the FIFA World Cup. It was also noted that Fox had been increasingly pivoting towards programs that could generate large audiences, as opposed to ones that become successful primarily through critical acclaim. On June 27, 2018, WWE announced that SmackDown would move to Fox on Friday nights beginning October 4, 2019 (replacing USA Network), under a five-year contract valued at $205 million per-year..
In August 2018, Fox Television Group CEO Dana Walden outlined how the network would operate following the transition to New Fox. The network will rely on series picked up and commissioned from "independent" studios (such as Lionsgate, MGM Television, and Sony Pictures Television), with Fox taking co-ownership stakes in the productions. Walden felt that the vertical integration of the major broadcast networks (including Fox itself) with associated studios had limited the opportunities for independents to have their programs picked up by major networks, and cited several top programs that were distributed by third-parties, such as The Big Bang Theory and This Is Us (produced by Warner Bros. Television and 20th Television for CBS and NBC respectively). There are also plans for Fox to acquire new pitches directly from their writers, and offer them to outside producers.