Sputtering Fox shifts into ‘Idol’

'70s,' 'Mac' moved for reality

With the November sweep essentially behind them, the Big Four Tuesday revealed a number of key winter scheduling shifts — including the much-anticipated news of how Fox plans to launch the second season of its monster hit “American Idol.”

“Idol’s” one-hour audition/performance show will air Tuesdays at 8 starting Jan. 21, while the half-hour results episodes will be seen Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.

Fox will air 90-minute editions of “Idol” on Jan. 21, 22 and 29, with the show settling into its regular air pattern on Feb. 4 and 5.

To make room for “Idol,” Fox is moving “That ’70s Show” to Wednesdays at 8 p.m. and shifting laffers “Bernie Mac” and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” an hour later to the post-“Idol” 9-10 p.m. Wednesday slot.

Frosh drama “Fastlane” will then move to Fridays at 8 p.m., with another first-year hour — “Firefly” — taking some time off.

Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman said the moves would give Fox “our strongest 8-9 p.m. on Wednesday in years” while creating “a solid foundation for ‘Bernie Mac’ and ‘Cedric.’ ”

At the same time, moving “Fastlane” to Fridays will “liberate” the show from one of TV’s toughest timeslots and “give it a chance to find the audience it deserves,” Berman said.

On the docket

While Fox announced the most detailed changes, the other nets also firmed up some midseason plans Tuesday. Among the announced changes:

  • CBS will give “Survivor” a few weeks off to make room for its new incarnation of “Star Search.” Latter skein will bow Jan. 9 at 8 p.m., with “Survivor” reclaiming the slot in February.

CBS topper Leslie Moonves hinted “Search” could eventually be double-pumped, with episodes airing on Thursdays and Wednesdays at 9 p.m.

  • Confirming industry speculation, NBC announced new drama “Mister Sterling” will replace “Providence” Fridays at 8 p.m., starting Jan. 10. But in an odd bit of second-guessing, NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker said he’s told the cast of “Providence” that he might yet order another season of the drama.

“I’m not sure I made the right decision (by canceling ‘Providence’),” Zucker told reporters during a Peacock conference call. “I may have made a mistake.”

Indeed, Zucker said NBC has already started calling next month’s expected “Providence” swan song a “finale” rather than a “series finale” — though it’s unlikely most viewers know the difference between the two phrases.

NBC said it will premiere midseason laffer “AUSA” in February, with Zucker hinting at some “special” scheduling stunt designed to boost the half-hour’s chances during the competitive sweeps month. Hourlong limited-run series “Kingpin” and the second season of “Watching Ellie” are set for March bows.

  • ABC will roll out its “Dragnet” update and new drama “Miracles” on Monday, Jan. 27 — the day after the net’s broadcast of the Super Bowl. As previously announced, “Dragnet” will air at 9 p.m., with “Miracles” following at 10 p.m.

It’s likely ABC will air family drama “Veritas” Mondays at 8 p.m., though no final decisions have been made. ABC also confirmed plans to roll out “The Bachelorette” on Jan. 8, with reality programming and the third edition of “The Bachelor” filling the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. slots through spring (Daily Variety, Nov. 22.)

12 new series

Between now and the summer, ABC hopes to premiere up to 12 new series, including as many as a half-dozen reality concepts. “We want to be thoughtfully aggressive about turning this ship around as fast as we can,” ABC Entertainment Television Group chairman Lloyd Braun said.

Nonetheless, the net has no plans to shift “Alias” from Sundays at 9 p.m. to the post-“Bachelor” Wednesday slot — a move many industry observers believe would be an easy, logical way of giving the critically acclaimed hour a better shot at finding its aud.

As for the “Idol” scheduling, industry observers noted Fox’s plans seem particularly well-suited for weakening ABC’s budding Tuesday comedy block and the WB’s still-growing “Gilmore Girls.” Fox execs dismissed such talk.

“These moves are not being made to hurt ABC (or other nets),” Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow said. “These moves have been made to help Fox.”

While Fox is moving “Bernie Mac” away from ABC’s “My Wife and Kids,” Berman stood by the net’s original decision to schedule “Bernie” opposite another half-hour led by a black actor.

“We always felt there was room for both shows,” she said.

Fox is expected to bow midseason drama “Keene Eddie” and new laffer “Oliver Beene” in March, though no official decisions have been made. Also awaiting a premiere date: half-hour laffer “The Pitts.”

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