Fox’s laugh track

Net goes for 12 comedies on fall sked

Don’t tell Fox execs comedy is dead: Net is planning to unveil a fall sked today boasting a whopping 12 comedies — and not a single new reality show.

While some things could change by the time Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori presents his first lineup to advertisers, industry insiders expect the net to spread its dozen laffers over four nights, with a three-hour Sunday sked and hourlong blocks at 8 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Overall, Fox will have more comedies than NBC (four) and CBS (six) combined, as well as far more than any other network.

Unlike last year’s experimental (and ultimately confusing) three-part sked, Fox will keep things relatively simple this year, briefing ad buyers on a late summer/fall lineup and a January sked that includes reality powerhouse “American Idol.” Overall, net seems to be looking to keep its schedule as consistent as possible throughout the season, making as few changes as possible post-“Idol.”

And though Fox isn’t planning as much scripted programming this summer as last year, net has made it clear it plans to debut some of its shows as early as August, hoping to revisit its successful launch of “The OC” two years ago (Daily Variety, May 13).

In another switch from recent years, “We’re going to try to be as consistent as we can and bring on as much of our schedule as possible prior to baseball,” Fox scheduling guru Preston Beckman told Daily Variety last week in a discussion about the net’s summer strategy.

According to insiders familiar with the Fox gameplan, the net isn’t giving up on reality. Net has renewed frosh successes “Nanny 911” and “Trading Spouses” for next season and will have both shows available in case any fall efforts stumble. Fox’s reality division is also working on a slate of other projects that could be ready for midseason, while some of the net’s summer reality skeins could be continued if they break out.

As for the sked itself, it’s believed that critical darling “Arrested Development” will lead off Fox’s Monday comedy block at 8 p.m. in the fall, likely followed by Sony/New Line’s new Darren Star half-hour “Kitchen Confidential.”

Fox is likely to slate buzzworthy serialized hour “Prison Break” at 9 p.m., probably launching it in late summer so it can wrap its first season by earlier January. That’s when Fox is expected to duplicate this season’s successful strategy of airing “24” from January until May without any repeats.

No repeat zone

Indeed, if “Prison Break” works out, Fox will be able to claim Mondays at 9 as a “no repeat zone,” with original product in the timeslot virtually year-round.

On Tuesdays in the fall, look for new crime drama “Bones” at 8 p.m. followed by the second season of medical smash “House” at 9.

Come January, “Idol” will almost certainly return to its normal 8 p.m. Tuesday slot, with “Bones” sliding to 9. Fox used this strategy last year to turn “House” into a hit, and the net no doubt hopes the same play will work for the Barry Josephson-produced “Bones.” It’s expected “House” will then shift to Mondays at 8 p.m. in January.

As for Wednesdays, “That ’70s Show” begins its final season in its longtime 8 p.m. slot and will be followed this fall by the Pam Anderson laffer “Stacked,” insiders said. Comedic drama “Head Cases,” also from Josephson, will have the unenviable task of facing ABC’s mighty “Lost” at 9 p.m., at least until January, when “American Idol” reclaims the timeslot. Fox will probably sked laffer “The Loop” in the post-“Idol” slot.

Soap night

Fox has made it clear that “The OC” is staying put Thursdays at 8 p.m. It will likely be followed at 9 by another soapy drama, the innovative “Reunion,” in which each episode reps a single year in the life of a group of high school grads.

With ABC abandoning comedy on Friday nights, it seems a no-brainer for Fox to at least try a pair of established (if aging) comedies from 8-9 p.m., which explains the relocation of “Bernie Mac” and “Malcolm in the Middle” to 8 and 8:30, respectively. Laffer duo will likely be followed by the tentatively titled “Deviant Behavior,” a “CSI”-like drama created by “CSI” vet Josh Berman.

If Fox goes with this scenario, it will mean the net’s entire Friday block with be produced or co-produced by Regency Television.

As for Saturdays, TV’s longest-running two-hour block of programming — “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” — will return, with “Mad TV” back in latenight.

Toon time

Fox should also stay relatively stable on Sundays, with a couple of twists. Rather than announce a program for the 7 p.m. slot and then never actually air it — a longtime Fox tradition — Liguori and his team seem to have decided it’s much better to just air repeats of its various animated laffers. NFL overruns generally prevent Fox from airing entertainment programming at 7 in the fall anyway.

“King of the Hill” will return for what will likely be its final season at 7:30, followed by “The Simpsons” at 8. Industry sources believe family laffer “The War at Home” will inherit the 8:30 p.m. timeslot, while resurrected hit “Family Guy” and solidly performing newbie “American Dad” will remain from 9-10 p.m.

Experimental laffer “Freebirds” has also been ordered and will premiere sometime next season.

Fox execs declined comment Wednesday.

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