Net mints 'Junior' version for summer berth

Fox has locked in a key component of its summer schedule, slotting its new kiddie take on “American Idol” in the same Tuesday timeslot as the original skein.

Tentatively titled “Junior Idol” will bow June 3 at 8 p.m., the same night Fox plans to introduce frosh drama “Keen Eddie.” Net hopes to copy the same script it’s used to much success this season — namely, pairing a high-profile reality show with a scripted show in an attempt to bring younger viewers to comedies and dramas.

“Junior Idol,” from 19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia, will feature kids under 16 in a format similar, but not identical, to “American Idol” (Daily Variety, March 7). NBC has its own kiddie talent competish bowing this week.

Net has ordered 10 hourlong episodes; skein will be seen once a week.

Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman said the launch of “Idol” and “Eddie” will serve as the net’s opening salvo in what is expected to be a fierce summer battle for viewers.

“June 3 is the start of a new season for us,” she said. “Every decision we make about our summer programming is going to be a planned decision. We’re going night by night; just putting stuff on the air is not a wise way to go.”

Indeed, one of the rationales behind pairing “Junior Idol” and “Eddie” is that such a combo will, if all goes according to plan, keep Tuesday nights warm for Fox throughout the year. After the two summer shows wrap their runs, Fox will likely sked another reality show Tuesdays at 8 as a lead-in to the third season of “24.”

Berman confirmed that “American Idol 3″ then will launch in January, again serving as a lead-in to “24.” The result: Fox’s Tuesday night will be one of the few nights on any network to be virtually repeat-free for the entire year.

Berman said all of Fox’s programming decisions regarding both “Junior Idol” and “American Idol” were made with an eye toward safeguarding the “Idol” brand.

“It’s in the background of any decision we make,” she said. “We can do brand extensions, but we intend to protect that brand and the franchise.”

To that end, “Junior Idol” will not be simply a pint-sized take on “American Idol.” None of the judges from the original skein is expected to be involved, nor is host Ryan Seacrest, Berman said.

What’s more, “We’ll have to make (changes) to the show because we’re dealing with children,” she added. “Many of the fundamentals will change, but there are certain sensitivities involved because we have children involved.”

Overall, Berman said Fox expects to have at least 50% original programming this summer. That includes the mid-July or August launch of at least one or two scripted series beyond “Eddie”; there’s also a chance a midseason laffer such as “Oliver Beene” could be drafted for a summer tour of duty.

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