'Roar' tops Fox's unseasonal originals

Fulfilling a promise not to cede the summer months to cable, Fox Broadcasting Co. has unveiled an aggressive slate of original summer programs led by Universal TV’s action-adventure drama “Roar.”

A full 40% of Fox’s summer schedule will consist of original programming, including two new reality series, new episodes of the sudser “Pacific Palisades,” movies, specials and sports. Fox will also give Saturday- night sketch comedy show “Mad TV” extra exposure by repackaging half-hour episodes in primetime Mondays at 8 p.m. starting June 9.

“This may alter the way broadcasters do business in the future,” said Fox Entertainment Group president Peter Roth. “It has always confounded me why broadcasters hang out ‘gone fishing’ signs in the summer months.”

The linchpin of the new summer schedule is “Roar,” a drama set in 5th-century Ireland, described by many in the industry as “Braveheart,” the series. Created by Shaun Cassidy (“American Gothic”) and Ron Koslow (“Beauty and the Beast”), the show debuts Monday July 14 at 9 p.m. Fox is expected to unveil its summer marketing campaign in the coming weeks.

“Roar” will receive the network’s biggest promotional push and will also be the top financial gamble for Fox, since industry estimates put the show’s license fee north of $1 million per episode.

Premiering the show mid-summer “is certainly a risk because it’s different,” said Tom Thayer, president of Universal TV. “But it’s an opportunity to get traction we never could have had in the fall. Summer is ripe for the taking.”

Leading into “Roar” on Mondays at 8:30 p.m. will be the U.S. premiere of the offbeat London-based celeb talkshow “The Ruby Wax Show.” Starting June 9, Wax will go on location for comedic interviews and sketches, and the show will include original segments as well as episodes that have aired in London.

Another new reality series executive produced by Dick Clark and hosted by James Brolin, “Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?” will air Sundays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Debuting May 25, the show will recreate real-life stories of the bizarre, as well as one fictional story that will be revealed as false at the end of the episode.

Thirteen new episodes of Aaron Spelling’s soap “Pacific Palisades” will run Wednesdays at 9 p.m. starting June 11, after a three-week hiatus. Fox will also air numerous new movies, specials and sports events, including “Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy,” “Goosebumps,” and the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Championship.

While Fox will not be airing any new sitcoms, the scope of the summer push is still unprecedented for the broadcast networks, which usually burn off busted pilots and rerun regular series hits before September.

Roth said any of the summer shows that succeed will find a place on the schedule sometime next season, although not on the fall schedule, which will be set in a few weeks. The risk for Fox in spending money on new series is that fewer viewers are glued to their sets during the summer, so advertisers may pony up less.

“Unless we take the economic risk, the networks are abdicating the summer to cable,” said David Hill, president of Fox TV.

Bill Croasdale, president of national broadcast at Western Intl. Media, said Fox may not recoup its investment, but ad time sold in the scatter market for the third quarter will probably be 20% to 40% higher than prices for the upfront.

“Whatever the dollars are, the best shot will be on Fox, particularly with the strength they’ve shown this year,” he said. “This is a good way to give new product a trial run.”

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