Net puts more reality in mix
Fox has finalized a summer sked that takes a step back from last year’s focus on firstrun scripted fare while still serving up a healthy dose of original programming.Net made a lot of noise last year about the need to launch scripted series year-round, including summer — when most nets focus on reality shows and repeats. Viewers weren’t keen on much of what Fox unveiled, and the strategy yielded modest Nielsen benefits at best. The good news: After a rocky fall, Fox rebounded nicely and now finds itself guaranteed to snag at least a share of the season’s 18-49 crown. What’s more, execs at the net think hits like “House” and “Nanny 911” will repeat well, allowing Fox to try a summer sked that emphasizes stability headed into the fall. The successful late-season launches of “Family Guy” and “American Dad” will help Fox continue its Sunday night “Animation Domination” sked through much of the summer, with original episodes of both skeins planned through June, if not later. “We’re in a different place than we were a year ago,” Fox scheduling guru Preston Beckman said. “We have more repeatable, returnable programming. We’re trying to keep our schedule stable through a big chunk of the year.” The bottom line is Fox plans to premiere just one scripted series in June and July, with crime drama “The Inside” slated to air Wednesdays at 9 p.m. starting June 8. Last year, wanting to avoid the roadblock of the Summer Olympics, net premiered five scripted skeins in June alone. However, there’s also a good chance Fox will launch several new and returning scripted shows — perhaps the buzzworthy “Prison Break” — in late August or early September. That strategy paid off big in 2003, when Fox premiered “The OC” in late summer. “What you’ll see next week (at Fox’s upfront) is, 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,” Beckman said. Another big shift from recent years: Fox will launch fewer reality skeins than usual this summer, instead focusing on just a couple of potential players. By contrast, NBC, ABC and CBS are planning a slew of unscripted debuts this summer. Fox already is hyping its first reality skein of the summer, the Brit import “Hell’s Kitchen,” featuring cold-hearted chef Gordon Ramsay (Daily Variety, July 15). It will air Mondays at 9 p.m. starting May 30, with repeats of “Nanny 911” remaining at 8. About a month later, net will try out “Princes of Malibu,” its half-hour unscripted comedy starring heavyweight music producers David and Linda Foster and their sons (Daily Variety, Jan. 18). It will debut Sunday, July 10, at 8:30 p.m., sandwiched between repeats of “The Simpsons” and original episodes of “Family Guy.” Fox will continue airing an hour of “The Simpsons” on Sundays through June and early July. Original segs of “Family Guy” are slated to air through much of the summer, with firstrun episodes of “Dad” staying on through at least June. The rest of Fox’s Sunday sked will stay as-is through most of the summer, though “King of the Hill” might shift to 7:30 p.m. On Tuesdays, rookie smash “House” stays put at 9 p.m., while “Trading Spouses” returns at 8 p.m. with repeats (and perhaps some originals later in the summer). Fox will continue with double reruns of “That ’70s Show” leading into “The Inside” through much of June and July. Latter skein has 13 original episodes to air throughout the summer and will return midseason if successful. On July 20, Fox replaces “’70s” reruns with its big reality gun of the summer: “So You Think You Can Dance” (Daily Variety, Jan. 17). Competish, from the producers of “American Idol,” will air weekly at 8 p.m.; it pits teams of amateur dancers against each other. In something of a break from Fox tradition, net is keeping repeats of sudser “The OC” on Thursday nights throughout the summer. Indeed, net will air two episodes of the show each Thursday through June 23. On June 30, reality skein “Renovate My Family” returns for a six-week run Thursdays at 9 p.m. “We did some research on (“The OC’s”) audience, and interestingly, because of the nature of its audience, the viewers aren’t there every week; people missed a lot of episodes,” Beckman said. “We said, ‘Why don’t we give people a chance to catch up and watch a big chunk of the season.’ ” As an added incentive, Fox plans to have “OC” interstitials throughout the summer featuring the show’s cast. Fox will stick with theatricals on Friday nights, while the Saturday combo of “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” stays in originals through most of the year.