Net requests only 16 new episodes of soap

Fox will be spending a little less time in “The OC” next season.

Turns out that when the net renewed the Josh Schwartz-created sudser in May, it also decided to cut back its episodic commitment to the show. Fox has asked producer Warner Bros. TV for only 16 episodes — a substantial reduction from the 22 that’s standard for most returning skeins.

A Fox spokesman attributed the cutback to the net’s scheduling needs. “The OC” won’t have its season premiere until Nov. 2 — about a month after most Fox shows — and therefore, the reasoning goes, net won’t need as many episodes in the can.

Nonetheless, even with the late start, Fox will be out of original “OC” episodes by the end of February. Net could be hoping to use the skein’s 9 p.m. Thursday slot to launch a show (or shows) in the spring, when “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy” likely will serve up a hefty dose of repeats.

“The OC” faces a tough task in the ratings, now that “Grey’s” is moving into the timeslot. Fox execs, however, believe the show’s core audience of young females will remain loyal.

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