Fox won’t mess with success

Net upfront about its primetime stability

Poised to win its second consecutive ratings title, Fox today will unveil a fall schedule that stresses stability over sizzle.

Net plans to introduce four hours of new programming — three dramas and two sitcoms — on its 15-hour sked. Frosh fare featuring stars such as Brad Garrett and Victor Garber will be spread over four nights, with Fox keeping at least one hour of returning programming on every night of the week.

Only uncertainty is whether Fox plans to move “American Idol” from its current Tuesday-Wednesday air pattern to a Wednesday-Thursday sked when the show returns for a sixth season in January. While there’s been no buzz about such a move, it’s always an option in Fox’s arsenal.

Other Fox sked moves are easier to read given the net’s already confirmed pickups and the fact that it heads into the 2006-07 season a relative bastion of stability and strength. Having proven they can launch new dramas in the fall, Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori and his team seem to have finally broken the fall baseball playoffs curse that has plagued the net for years.

Fox’s biggest play is on Thursdays, where it seems ready to go after the traditional comedy audience NBC is abandoning.

Net is expected to pair Garrett starrer ” ‘Til Death” at 8 p.m. with ensemble laffer “Happy Hour” at 8:30. Both shows are traditional four-camera laffers with potentially broad appeal, in contrast to the single-camera comedies NBC and ABC are programming on the night.

Look for “The OC,” minus series star Mischa Barton, to return at 9 p.m.

Elsewhere, industry observers predict Fox will keep its three fall drama tentpoles where they are.

“Prison Break” will likely return in August or early September on Monday nights, paired with new missing persons drama “Vanished.” Only question outstanding is whether “Break” stays at 8 or airs in the 9 p.m. slot it occupied in the fall.

On Tuesdays, white-hot medical hour “House” should stay planted at 9 p.m., with crisis negotiation drama “Standoff” (formerly known as “Primary”) airing at 8.

“Bones” returns for its second season on Wednesdays, probably at 8 p.m. It’ll likely be followed at 9 by the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Garber starrer “Justice.” Latter skein had been known as “American Crime,” but that title would have given Fox — home of “American Idol” and “American Dad” — a bit too much patriotism.

This year is the second Bruckheimer has landed a show at a net with the working title “American Crime.” CBS’ “Close to Home” was developed with that title last year.

On Fridays, look for some combo of Fox reality skeins such as “Nanny 911” and “Trading Spouses” in the fall — or perhaps the net’s new Endemol gameshow “Show Me the Money.” Retooled dramedy “Wedding Album” could land on the night sometime during the season.

“Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” will stay anchored on Saturdays.

With other networks making major changes on Sunday, it seems logical Fox will play a pat hand. Football and various animated repeats will fill 7-8 p.m. in the fall, with “King of the Hill” returning in January post-football.

“The Simpsons” will begin its march toward its 400th episode by remaining Sundays at 8, with “American Dad” expected to get a new timeslot at 8:30. “Family Guy” is likely to stay at 9, followed by “The War at Home” at a new time.

Not returning next fall: “The Bernie Mac Show,” “That ’70s Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Arrested Development,” “Kitchen Confidential,” “Free Ride,” “Reunion,” “Killer Instinct,” “Stacked” and “Head Cases.”

Fox declined to comment on its plans in advance of today’s press conference unveiling its schedule. As always, it’s possible the net could make a last-minute change to its sked.

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