Classic laffers on trip to Fox

Net looking to air 'MASH,' 'Three's Company' during May sweeps

This article was corrected on Mar. 7, 2002.

“Hot Lips” Houlihan and Jack Tripper could soon be coming to Fox.

Net is looking to put together specs featuring the casts of classic laffers “MASH” and “Three’s Company” — even though neither show ever actually aired on the 15-year-old Fox net. If deals can be finalized in time, both specs would be on the air for May sweeps.

Nostalgia projects are particularly hot right now, following the massive success of a “Carol Burnett Show” clipfest that aired last fall on CBS. Fox execs have been looking at both projects for a while, however.

“MASH” ran for 11 seasons on CBS (from 1972-83), while “Three’s Company” spent seven years on ABC (from 1977-84). Nonetheless, Fox programmers believe both reunions will appeal to the net’s core 18-49 aud.

In the case of “MASH,” skein has “aired basically on Fox-owned stations for the past 20 years, and now on FX,” one insider close to the reunion project said. “The audience that watches this net doesn’t perceive it as a CBS show anymore.”

While CBS would also seem a logical home for a “MASH” reunion, Fox had the upper hand in landing rights to clips: Sister studio 20th produced the original series. CBS aired a 20-year retrospective of the series in 1991.

Timing is also right for a “MASH” spec since this year marks the 30th anniversary of the show’s bow on the Eye net.

“MASH” exec producer-scribe Larry Gelbart is not attached to the spec, which is expected to be two hours long and feature a healthy dose of classic clips. Fox has just started talking to cast members about their participation in the spec, to be produced by Rocket Science Prods.

As for the “Three’s Company” reunion, Fox is lining up an OK for a deal to clip rights from producer Don Tafner, whose company syndicates the series. Hourlong spec would be lighter in tone and feature the cast talking about their show-related experiences.

Fox programmers are interested in a “Three’s Company” reunion in part because there’s never been one, and also because of the show’s continued success off-net on Nick at Nite and TV Land. “The audience that watched the show is right in (Fox’s) 18-49 demo,” an insider familiar with the project said.

Net hopes to land all living original cast members, including John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt.

Fox has already had success with retro-themed programming such as “That ’70s Show” and “That ’80s Show.”

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