Fox’s den in order

Net stands pat on 4 nights, stresses 'stability'

NEW YORK — Fox Entertainment Group President Peter Roth embraced a strategy of stability in the official presentation of his first fall primetime lineup, which keeps four nights of the schedule unchanged next season.

“Fox viewers will be rewarded with the return of the series they love in the time periods they are accustomed to,” Roth said at a press briefing prior to his presentation to advertisers at the Beacon Theater. “The other networks are sailing in a sea of chaos.”

The tactic is the opposite of that taken by NBC, which is moving hits shows such as “3rd Rock From the Sun,” and ABC, which is introducing a whopping 12 new programs. The new Fox schedule also is more conservative than last year’s, which included the web’s shift of “The X-Files” to Sunday from Friday.

If NBC is the comedy network, Fox is leaning heavily toward hour dramas, with three of its five new shows in that category — all produced inhouse. David Kelley’s “Ally McBeal,” a drama about a young female attorney, will air Mondays at 9 p.m. after “Melrose Place” (Daily Variety, May 20). The two female-skewing dramas will face comedies also targeted to women on NBC and probably CBS, which announces its schedule Thursday.

A new 20th Century Fox drama, “The Visitor,” from the creators of the feature “Independence Day,” will air on Fridays at 8 p.m., leading into “Millennium,” which Roth predicted will “hit its stride” next season. “The Visitor” is about a man captured by aliens who returns to earth years later with superpowers.

The third new drama, 20th’s “413 Hope Street,” is produced by Damon Wayans and features a New York City teen crisis center. It airs Thursday at 9 p.m., preceded by the net’s two new comedies — Warner Bros.’ “Rewind” at 8 p.m. and “Between Brothers” at 8:30. The three new shows replace “Martin,” “Living Single” and “New York Undercover.”

“Thursday is our most radically different night of the week,” Roth said. “Fox is an alternative to the juggernaut of NBC.”

Buyers were bullish on Fox’s prospects, “based on the fact that their top shows are growing while the top shows on other networks are declining said Steve Sternberg, senior partner at BJK&E Media Group.

As for the new shows, many liked “The Visitor” as a compatible companion to “Millenium,” but were less certain about the appeal of the few others joining the schedule.

Tuesday will remain Fox’s movie night, with features such as “Seven,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance” and “Star Trek: Generations” debuting next season. Dean Koontz’s “Intensity” and “Sole Survivor” will air as miniseries, as will “Stealth,” while made-fors include “Disaster at the Mall” and “Steel Chariots.”

Wednesday will remain the same, with “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Party of Five,” while Saturday also is intact with an hour of “Cops” and an hour of “America’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back.”

Fox’s most successful night, Sunday, returns unchanged too, with “World’s Funniest …” specials leading into “The Simpsons” at 8 p.m., “King of the Hill” at 8:30 p.m. and “The X-Files” at 9 p.m.

The potential downside of Fox’s conservative schedule is that it provides little room for the kind of growth the web saw on Sunday, when it moved “The X-Files.” While Fox is the only Big 4 network showing minor ratings gains from last season in adults 18-49 — perhaps reason enough to stay put — the web also would have suffered losses had it not aired the Superbowl and the World Series.

Fox ordered “New York Undercover” and “Living Single” as backups, as expected, and three new comedies will debut midseason, possibly on Mondays or Saturdays. The midseason comedies are Columbia’s “Ask Harriet” and 20th’s “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” and “Venus on the Hard Drive.”

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