Net has trouble with 'Calling'

Fox is cutting back on “Tru Calling” before the show’s second season even begins.

Net Monday announced that the skein won’t premiere as planned on Thursday, Nov. 4. Instead, the timeslot will be filled by Hawaii sudser “North Shore.”

What Fox didn’t announce, however, is that the net seems ready to scale back the production order on the Eliza Dushku starrer from 13 segs to just six episodes. Decision could be a death blow to the 20th Century Fox TV/Original show, insiders conceded.

Fox execs made much of the decision to bring back “Tru” for a second season, hailing the call as evidence of the net’s willingness to be patient and give shows with potential time to find an audience. It’s the same rationale the net used to pick up season two of the critically-hailed “Arrested Development.”

What’s more, Fox execs are said to have liked the direction “Tru” writers have taken in early season two episodes.

So why the change of heart? Insiders said simple economics may have played a role.

With “American Idol” set to invade Fox’s sked again come January, and reality skeins such as “Renovate My Family” and “Trading Spouses” off to a strong start, net may not want to spend the coin on a full order of “Tru,” insiders claim. That’s particularly true now that Fox has ordered “Point Pleasant” (also from 20th/Original) for a possible early 2005 bow.

But there’s also evidence senior News Corp. management believes that “Tru” may simply be too narrow in its appeal, and that the skein will never be able to break out. While scaling back to six episodes is not the same as canceling a show, it’s rarely a good sign.

One caveat: Some industry insiders believe there’s still a shot “Tru” could produce its full 13-episode order, if only because under some scenarios, making the shows might be cheaper than not doing so. There’s also a chance Fox might try the show on Friday night, some insiders said.

The “Tru Calling” move was just one of several schedule shifts announced Monday:

  • Fox will pair “Trading Spouses” and “The Swan” Mondays at 8 and 9 p.m., respectively, starting Nov. 1.

  • “The Next Great Champ” will leave the Fox sked on Sept. 28. After taking a few weeks off, it will move to its Friday 8 p.m. slot on Oct. 22.

  • “Renovate My Family” will be back on the Fox sked later in the season.

  • ABC has made a last-minute call to premiere its reality skein “Wife Swap” Sunday, Sept. 26 at 10 p.m. following a two-hour season premiere of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” “Swap” makes its regular timeslot bow Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 10 p.m.

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