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Fall skeds turn into tidy affair

Networks back to standard rollout strategy

HOLLYWOOD — Network premiere week is back.

A year after everything seemed to conspire against the webs’ fall launches — a later-than-usual Summer Olympics, a tight presidential campaign and the usual round of baseball playoff disruptions on NBC and Fox — the networks are mostly sticking to a standard rollout strategy in 2001.

“It’s like the swallows coming back to Capistrano,” says Preston Beckman, Fox exec VP of strategic program planning, whose net will spread its premieres due to baseball. “People still know that by mid-September the networks are coming out of repeats. (Premiere week) only went away because of the Olympics.”

NBC, in particular, heads into fall without any baseball playoff or World Series distractions for the first time in recent memory now that Fox carries the full Major League Baseball package.

As a result, the Peacock will premiere virtually all of its new and returning shows during “premiere week” (the first week of the new fall season as decided by Nielsen Media Research) — something it hasn’t done in years.

The Peacock also has a trick up its sleeve: NBC brass is in talks with the White House to produce a one-hour news special tentatively titled “The Bush White House.” The special would air at 8 p.m. Sept. 19, right before fictional president Martin Sheen returns for a third season of “The West Wing.”

They’re also stunting at the Alphabet web. ABC will employ a two-prong strategy this fall: Established series will return the first week of the season, while most new skeins will debut during week two.

In order to delay its series premieres, ABC will kick the season off with one-hour special editions of “Dharma & Greg,” “Spin City,” “The Drew Carey Show” and “My Wife and Kids,” as well as a two-hour “The Practice” movie.

“The premieres for returning shows will serve as a promo base for our new shows,” says ABC Entertainment exec VP Jeff Bader. “On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 8-10 p.m., we’re trying to come up with a comedy audience to see the promos for the comedies that premiere the following week.”

The strategy also keeps ABC’s new shows away from the high-profile returns of series such as “The West Wing” and “Frasier.”

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