Fox scripts early bows

Summer launch of new skeins would be unprecedented for any network

If you’re writing a 2004-05 drama pilot script for Fox, stop reading this story — and get to work.

In yet another bid to move closer to its goal of year-round scripted programming, Fox Broadcasting Co. has told scribes working on drama projects for next season to turn in their finished pilot scripts by mid- to late November — up to six weeks earlier than standard industry practice. Net is also expected to step up the timetable for its comedy development.

The reason: Following the successful summer launch of “The OC,” and disappointing ratings results for many of this fall’s Big Six frosh, Fox wants the flexibility to launch any — and perhaps all — of its new sked in late spring and summer. Indeed, there’s already some industry speculation that Fox will almost certainly launch the bulk of its 2004-05 sked before September, but insiders at the net insist no decisions have been made.

A summer launch of most of Fox’s new skeins would be unprecedented for any network.

Whatever the timetable, the early script deadline gives Fox much more leeway to roll out shows away from the premiere-week chaos that has dominated the network biz for decades. In addition to simply realizing that the old way of premiering shows doesn’t work, Fox faces the unique challenge of having to schedule around post-season baseball.

“It’s the responsibility of everyone in the entertainment division to figure out a way to maximize the benefits of baseball and to minimize the costs — the costs being the possible disruption of (the fall) schedule,” Fox topper Sandy Grushow told reporters in January. “The belief is that that’s far more likely to happen if shows get launched in the middle of summer than if shows get launched two weeks before baseball, are preempted for four weeks and then come back and try to get their sea legs against the firmly entrenched competition in the November sweep.”

With all drama scripts turned in by Thanksgiving, Fox execs will now have the ability to put pilots into production before Christmas and launch new shows in summer. Last year, Fox moved up the development timetable for a handful of projects, and launched one of those skeins (“The OC”) in August. (“Keen Eddie,” which bowed in June, had been in the can for months.)

The difference this year is that Fox is demanding that almost all of its drama pilot scripts be turned in by the end of next month (save for a smattering of projects just now getting script orders.)

It wouldn’t be surprising to hear some scribes complain about the new deadlines, though Fox insiders insist they’ve had no resistance to the plan. Indeed, after the lackluster start so many new skeins have had this fall, scribes and producers may welcome the chance to bow outside the September spotlight.

Plan also makes it easier to nab ideal casting for projects, since Fox will largely avoid the pilot casting mania that takes hold in early spring.

It’s not yet clear if Fox will once again order additional scripts of promising greenlit pilots before the pilots are actually picked up to series. That plan, launched earlier this year, was also part of Fox’s move toward year-round scheduling.

A Fox spokesman declined comment for this story.

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