Fox fires up revved sked

'Wonder Falls,' 'The O.C.,' 'Keen Eddie' on the slate

Fox is living up to its promise to kick-start development for fall, giving early greenlights to a pair of drama projects.

As part of its effort to move toward a year-round sked of original programming, net has ordered 13 episodes (including pilots) of the lighthearted Todd Holland/Bryan Fuller hour “Wonder Falls” and the Doug Liman-helmed and McG/Josh Schwartz-produced SoCal sudser “The O.C.”

20th Century Fox TV and Regency Television are producing “Wonder Falls,” while Warner Bros. TV is backing “The O.C.” in association with Wonderland and Hypnotic.

While Fox won’t unveil its summer or fall schedule until next month, entertainment prexy Gail Berman has made it clear the net hopes to bow at least two new dramas and a new laffer this summer (including the already-skedded “Keen Eddie.”) New shows will also roll out in the fall, winter and spring as Fox attempts to solve some of the problems created by October baseball pre-emptions.

An announcement on early comedy pickups is expected in a couple of weeks. As per tradition, Fox also still plans to pick up several new dramas and comedies next month at the time of its schedule announcement.

“Our network has some unusual challenges that it faces, and we felt the best way to take advantage of that was to go to year-round development,” Berman said. “Doing it in the midst (of traditional development) is challenging, but our drama team has done a marvelous job.”

As for pilots that didn’t get greenlit Tuesday, Berman emphasized that Fox is far from done with its drama development. “Many of the shows that didn’t get an early order will get an order later,” she said.

What’s more, Fox has already started developing skeins for the 2004-05 season, Berman said.

Fox asked the producers of seven drama pilots to deliver 10-15 minute presentation tapes; several shows were also asked to staff up early with writers. Presentations were screened this week, with pick-ups announced Tuesday.

Under a traditional scheduling plan, Fox would probably need no more than three new dramas for its fall lineup, particularly given its status as TV’s top net in adults 18-49 for the second half of the current season.

But because Fox is looking to expand the number of hours it commits to first-run scripted programming, net could end up greenlighting far more hours than normal.

“When you have a year-round schedule, 22 episodes only takes you through half a year,” Berman said. “Certain shows will sit in time periods that they’ll share with other shows throughout the year.”

Indeed, “Keen Eddie” will bow Tuesdays at 9 p.m., the same slot now occupied by hit Fox drama “24.”

All this means more money devoted to scripted programming, at least in the short-term.

“Once the system (for year-round programming) is in place, it’ll become easier to do and thus become less expensive,” Berman said.

Producers of the two greenlit skeins said they welcomed the early pickups, despite the pressures associated with being guinea pigs of sort.

“The big advantage is we don’t have the big angst of waiting until May, and extra time is always a good thing,” said “Wonder Falls” exec producer Holland.

Assuming “Wonder Falls” bows in the summer or early fall, “There’s also less chance of getting lost in the pack (of premieres),” Fuller said.

“O.C” creator Schwartz said he’s already working summer storylines into the mix in anticipation of a warm-weather bow.

“Fox has had a lot of success in the past launching new dramas in the summer,” he said, referring to “Melrose Place.”

As for the specifics of the two projects, “Wonder Falls” was created and is being exec produced by Holland (“Malcolm in the Middle”) and Fuller (“Star Trek: Voyager.”) Skein stars Caroline Dhavernas as a woman who doesn’t really get how cool the world is until she goes a little bit crazy.

“The bottom line is that good things can come out of really crazy shit,” Fuller said.

Schwartz created and wrote the pilot for “The O.C.,” with McG (“Charlie’s Angels”), Liman (“The Bourne Identity”) and Dave Bartis on board as exec producers; Liman directed. Benjamin McKenzie and Peter Gallagher star in the ensemble drama, which Schwartz calls a “show about this world of Newport Beach where everyone is supposed to be an informed member of the community, but we find everyone feels like an outsider.””Doug Liman did a fantastic job directing, and (Wonderland topper) Stephanie Savage has been an immeasurable help,” he said.

McG’s Warner Bros. TV-based Wonderland is off to a fast start, having sold Fox this season’s “Fastlane”; “The O.C.”; and ABC’s Dan Finnerty comedy pilot, “The Dan Band.”

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