Debut sitcom benched; 'Single' gets nod

Fox Broadcasting Co. has benched its new 8 p.m. Thursday sitcom “Rewind” two weeks before it was set to debut, replacing it with fifth-year comedy “Living Single,” which was originally ordered as a backup.

Both sitcoms are produced by Warner Bros. TV, and “Rewind” will remain a candidate for a midseason slot. However, the last-minute decision to abort its fall launch doesn’t necessarily bode well for the show, which was one of five new series on Fox’s schedule.

Sources say Fox Entertainment president Peter Roth was unhappy with the retooled pilot of “Rewind,” which stars Scott Baio and Mystro Clark, and he didn’t feel it was ready to go on the air. In a statement, Roth said the series was “evolving,” and the web decided it was “wiser” to go with the more established show.

However, “Rewind” never was very well-received by advertisers, who also questioned the strategy of launching an all-new lineup Thursday nights against NBC’s powerhouse schedule of “Friends” and “Seinfeld.”

” ‘Living Single’ is getting a little long in the tooth, but it hasn’t ever done that bad Thursday nights,” said Kristian Magel, VP of national broadcast at DeWitt Media Inc. ” ‘Rewind’ with Scott Baio wasn’t seen as much of a fit anyway, and it didn’t get a great reaction from advertisers.”

While Fox last season yanked several new shows after one or two airings, including the midseason action hour “Lawless,” it’s highly unusual to pull a scheduled series before it even gets on the air.

Last year, the Fox station group at the 11th hour canceled the launch of the latenight syndicated strip “Loveline,” which subsequently ended up on MTV. Last year, CBS delayed the launch of “Ink” in order to rework the Ted Danson sitcom, which won’t be returning this season.

But a delayed launch doesn’t always spell death. In 1992, CBS bumped the launch of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” from fall to January 1993, and that show went on to be a success and continues today.

For its part, sources say Warner Bros. is happy to have “Living Single” on the air, and the studio hopes “Rewind” will launch in a more protected timeslot later in the season. Fox isn’t saying if or when “Rewind” will return.

“At least you know what you’re going to get with ‘Living Single,’ ” said Doug Alligood, senior vice president of special markets at BBDO Worldwide ad agency.

Fox has performed passably well on Thursday nights by targeting a niche, urban audience with ethnic sitcoms and dramas. “Living Single” was the No. 1 series in black households for the first half of last season, the latest period surveyed by BBDO. Overall, the sitcom, which stars Queen Latifah, averaged a 4.0/11 in adults 18-49 last season and a 6.2/10 in households, with an average of 9.3 million total viewers.

In setting its fall sked, the web kept the urban strategy but scrapped the previous lineup, which consisted of “Martin,” “Living Single” and “New York Undercover,” which also was ordered as a backup for next season. Instead, Fox scheduled “Rewind,” Columbia’s new sitcom “Between Brothers” and 20th’s new drama “413 Hope St.”

Although Fox has been successful in launching new dramas in recent years, the web has struggled to find new comedy hits, and that remains the network’s biggest challenge in coming seasons. Last year, Fox yanked its frosh comedies “Lush Life” and “Party Girl” after just three weeks on the air. Fox’s new Thursday schedule will debut Sept. 11.

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