'Idol' worship still the rule at net

NEW YORK — Fox has always presented a confounding mix of high and low, and that schizophrenia was both in evidence as well as carefully hidden during Thursday’s upfront presentation, which, following UPN, concluded this year’s parade of sexy stars, hyperbole and videotape.

After opening with an interminable “Star Wars” spoof and the usually curtain-closing perp walk of its stars, Fox showcased a roster of series cut-downs that exhibited promise (“Prison Break,” “Reunion,” “The War at Home”), except for those that didn’t (everything else).

Similarly, the network drew big cheers for the acclaimed “24” and barely renewed “Arrested Development,” suggesting most viewers of the latter somehow wangled invites to the New York City Center Theater. Both are scheduled for Monday nights, but the clock is ticking more ominously for the latter, since Emmys and critical praise can keep the dogs at bay for just so long.

Conspicuous by its absence, meanwhile, was any mention of unscripted programming — a genre where “Fox attitude” can make otherwise stalwart media buyers tremble — much like the ill-behaved pooch kept locked away from party guests.

Indeed, the only representatives from that sector were the net’s Saturday-night mainstays and “American Idol,” whose judges delivered the kind of painful banter that ended, as all reality shows do, with Paula Abdul actually calling her experience “an amazing journey.” Consciously or not, she sounded like someone who doesn’t expect to be back next season.

Only weeks into the job, Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori smoothly delivered a scheduling rundown in which he stressed the web’s demographic leadership and stability. Given the current season’s Nielsen arc, however, it’s hard not to wonder if the fall lineup is just an elaborate place-holder until “Idol” comes riding to the rescue again in January.

Indeed, while Fox ends the season on a high note, expect the by-now customary post-baseball headaches, surprise twists and harrowing cliffhangers just when the net’s being left for dead. Because at Fox, life is always an amazing journey.

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