Fox revs Ford for blurb-free ’24’ preem

Exec looks to 'eventize' award-winning skein's bow

Hoping to build on momentum from the show’s Emmy nominations and fall DVD release, Fox will air the upcoming season premiere of “24” without commercial interruption.

The network has sealed a deal with Ford to serve as the sole sponsor on “24’s” second season premiere on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 9 p.m. That means the episode, which is presented in “real time,” will chronicle the full 60 minutes of Jack Bauer’s (Kiefer Sutherland) first hour on the job.

“The whole goal is to eventize the launch of ’24,'” said Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman, who made the announcement alongside Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow at the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Sunday.

Ford is still deciding how to present its commercial message during the show; it’s likely the auto manufacturer will run spots before and after the seg, and the show will probably also include some element of product placement. Coincidentally, Sutherland’s character drove a Ford Explorer last season.

And speaking of product placement, Grushow warned that it shouldn’t be considered a panacea to the broadcast network business’ financial woes.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” he said. “(The upfront marketplace’s $ 8 billion take) won’t be replaced by $8 billion in product placement.”

At what cost?

Despite producing a bevy of high-price pilots (“Fastlane,” “Firefly”), the execs said they’re committed to figuring out ways to air lower-cost series. Grushow said the license fees for this year’s new crop of series were down between 5% and 7% from what Fox paid last year.

When it comes to reforming the business, however, Grushow said the industry hasn’t yet figured out how to respond to the looming storm clouds. “Not only will everyone have to get drenched, but struck by lightning before significant progress is made,” he said.

Also at the Fox session:

? Responding to criticism over Fox’s move to pit “Bernie Mac” against another family-oriented show with an African-American cast, ABC’s “My Wife and Kids,” Grushow said the decision was strictly business.

“I don’t feel we’re under obligation to ensure the success of any of our competitors’ shows,” Grushow said. “I don’t remember Bob Iger calling to ask for my permission (when ABC slotted ‘NYPD Blue’ opposite the premiere of ’24’).”

? Grushow weighed in on The WB’s assertion that it should be considered a “Big Five” network.

“I don’t believe any program service has the right to call themselves a network unless they program seven nights a week,” he said. “The issue is moot.”

? “The Rats” will finally get their due. The made-for-TV thriller, which follows the exploits of the city’s top exterminator and a single mom as they try to stop wild rats from taking over New York, airs Thursday, Sept. 19, at 8 p.m.

The telepic was originally scheduled to air last September, but was yanked in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Another original movie, “The Glow,” airs Friday, Aug. 30. Both pics are left over from Fox’s last stab at longform production; that department was dismantled last fall.

? Fox announced its premiere dates, starting with its Saturday crimetime lineup, which returns Sept. 14.

The network will also launch its Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday skeds before the baseball playoffs, but the net will steer clear of “premiere week” (the week of Sept. 23). Tuesday’s comedies return Sept. 17; Wednesday’s lineup–including new skeins “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” and “Fastlane” –takes off Sept. 18; and Friday — with frosh entries “Firefly” and “John Doe” — checks in on Sept. 20.

The rest of the schedule kicks in after the World Series, starting with Monday nights (which includes new entry “Girls Club”) on Oct. 21. Sunday’s 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. skeins return on Nov. 3 (including newcomer “The Grubbs” and the latest “Treehouse of Horror” installment from “The Simpsons”). “Futurama” rounds out the premieres on Sunday, Nov. 10.

While it waits for the baseball playoffs to begin, Fox will stunt with a variety of features, including the broadcast premiere of “The Matrix” on Sunday, Sept. 29.

Berman also said the network is developing a contingency plan in case a baseball strike leaves them in the lurch come October.

“The potential for a work stoppage has been on our radar for quite a while,” she said.

? “Fastlane” exec producer and co-creator McG said he’s talking to a number of his friends from the music world to make an appearance on the show, including No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani. A soundtrack is also likely in the works for the actioner.

? Fox will air the 300th episode of “The Simpsons” on Sunday, Feb. 16, the same day the net airs the Daytona 500.

? Net also announced its primetime plans for Sept. 11. Fox will air the two-hour special “9/11 — The Day America Changed” from its sister Fox News outfit. Brit Hume will anchor the special from New York’s Ground Zero, while Greta Van Susteren, Shepard Smith and Bill O’Reilly will also contribute reports.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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