Altering its launch playbook, Fox will premiere most of its fall skeins in September — prior to its coverage of the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series.
That’s a switch from recent years, when the net didn’t kick into full gear until November due to baseball preemptions. By launching early, Fox execs hope to avoid the fall ratings woes the net usually encounters.
This time out, Fox felt it had enough returning hits to launch early — and unlike last year, it wouldn’t run into the tail end of NBC’s Summer Olympics coverage.
Fox is even launching its Sunday night schedule early for the first time in recent memory, thanks to the ahead-of-schedule delivery of several episodes of “The Simpsons.”
Net kicks off fall on Monday, Aug. 29, with the two-hour season premiere of “Prison Break”; series settles into its regular 9 p.m. slot the following Monday.
Fox then will launch its Thursday skeins, hit drama “The OC” and newbie “Reunion,” on Sept. 8. Saturday’s crimetime lineup of “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back” returns Sept. 10.
The net’s Sunday mix of “The Simpsons,” newcomer “The War at Home” and animated half-hours “Family Guy” and “American Dad” arrive Sept. 11 (with “King of the Hill” launching a week later, on Sept. 18).
Tuesday frosh drama “Bones” and sophomore smash “House” join the schedule Sept. 13, with new Wednesday entry “Head Cases” in on Sept. 14.
Monday laffers “Arrested Development” and “Kitchen Confidential” come in Sept. 19, while the Friday lineup of “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Killer Instinct” preem Sept. 23.
Wednesday sitcoms “That ’70s Show” and “Stacked” are the only two shows that won’t arrive until after baseball.
Because they’re launching in September, several of Fox’s new and returning skeins will air only a few times before being temporarily shelved for baseball. Fox execs believe enough of the returning shows are established, and most of the new series’ episodes aren’t serialized, allowing them to handle October and return with more momentum in November.
“We’re getting out of the gate early with our new series and returning favorites in order to create maximum buzz among viewers,” said Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori.
Meanwhile, the WB has announced its initial plans for the Frog’s post-kids afternoon block. Starting in January, the web will air off-net repeats of long-running NBC drama “ER” at 3 p.m., followed by back-to-back episodes of the ABC laffer “8 Simple Rules” at 4 and 4:30 p.m.
That schedule will run through September 2006, when “Reba” is scheduled to air on the WB at 4 and 4:30 p.m.
The Frog struck a deal with TNT, which holds the exclusive off-net strip rights to “ER,” giving the medical drama its first weekday broadcast window. TNT will continue to air “ER” weekday mornings, allowing the WB an afternoon window of the show, which is licensed to the WB from Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution.
As for “8 Simple Rules,” the WB has picked up 76 episodes of the laffer from distributor Buena Vista Television. The WB will launch the show with its original episodes starring the late John Ritter.
“We’re taking a bold step with the new afternoon strategy, and the TV community has really stepped up and embraced our new model,” said WB chairman Garth Ancier.