Fox feeling feisty

Exex tout ratings gains, plans to tackle NBC

Fox is in the hunt.

The network, flush from its midseason success, has made it clear it’s gunning for NBC’s adults 18-49 crown next season. To that end, Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman took some not-so-subtle jabs at the competish Thursday.

“Fox is now in exceptional shape,” said Berman, speaking to reporters at Fox’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour. “While other networks are facing the end of long-running series with no new hits in sight, we have a very full stable of established shows, fast-growing assets and promising new series to carry us forward.”

Berman noted Fox — fueled by reality skeins “Joe Millionaire” and “American Idol,” as well as soph hit “24” — is tops with adults 18-49 and 18-34 post-January.

“Year-to-year, our ratings are up, while our closest competitor, NBC, is down,” she said. “Whether you include sports or not, we are up and they are down.”

Fox Television Entertainment Chairman Sandy Grushow admitted the network still faces one big stumbling block: Baseball playoff coverage and the World Series, both of which continue to disrupt Fox’s primetime throughout October.

“The good news is that the schedule the network is returning this year is significantly stronger than the schedule that was launched last year,” he said.

Grushow said the network also is placing a major bet on new drama “The O.C.,” which debuts in August.

“It’s a tough challenge, because I think we’ve largely conditioned audiences in this country to believe that the summer is a time for failed scripted television series,” he said. “We’ve got to recondition them, and we’ve got about three weeks to do it.”

Also at the press tour, a group of protesters from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans picketed outside the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, angry over the depictions on Fox’s new skein “Banzai.”

The show, a U.K. import, parodies Japanese gameshows and features characters with exaggerated Japanese accents. Reps from the group were particularly concerned about the voices, which they said were damaging stereotypes.

“We’ve received remarkably little protest as it relates to this show,” Berman said. “We certainly don’t intend to offend anyone. But in this case, we’re sorry that some folks feel that way.

Berman said the show may wind up airing through the fall on Fox, depending on how it does in future installments. With football overruns likely pushing Sunday night’s “Oliver Beene” until January, “Banzai” would fill the hole in weeks when the network starts primetime on time.

Also, Grushow and Berman reiterated their commitment to keeping reality skein “American Juniors” on the schedule this fall. But Grushow left the door open to potentially replacing it.

“If another opportunity presents itself between now and November that we believe is significantly stronger than ‘American Juniors,’ then we’re definitely going to consider that,” he said.

Also at the Fox press tour:

  • Fox has partnered with Ford to sponsor the commercial-free third-season premiere of “24” on Oct. 28.

Partnered with Ford, net also will promote “24” via a four-minute trailer during its Sept. 7 showing of the theatrical “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and will distribute a free “24” CD-ROM in various consumer publications.

  • Net has joined with AOL to promote upcoming drama “The O.C.” in conjunction with various record labels.

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