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Fox assistants play programmer

Studio hitches 'Unhitched' to staff

When it came time to schedule the new Farrelly brothers TV laffer “Unhitched,” Fox didn’t stray too far to find its focus group.

Instead, the net enlisted a group of young Fox assistants to screen the series’ five post-pilot episodes. The group of 35 mostly twentysomethings were then asked to pick the order in which the episodes would air.

Fox scheduling topper Preston Beckman, who generally decides these things himself, said “Unhitched” provoked a wide reaction at the net — some staffers found the show hilarious, others, not so much. (Beckman, for the record, finds it funny and even “Seinfeld”-esque.)

Noting that the difference of opinion could come down to generation lines, Beckman decided to hand the reins over to the net’s fresh-faced minions — the show’s target aud, after all — at the suggestion of casting exec VP Marcia Shulman.

“This was a way to empower some of the younger assistants and make them feel a part of the process,” Beckman said. “I gave my word that we’d air them in the order that they chose.”

Beyond the egalitarianism of such an approach, the exercise is unusual in that most series these days contain enough of a narrative thread that it’s nearly impossible to rearrange scheduling patterns. But beyond the pilot to “Unhitched,” which set up the show’s premise, about a group of newly single friends,and will remain episode No. 1, the series segs are close-ended enough that the scheduling order doesn’t matter.

For the record, the Fox assistants wound up keeping the first three episodes in order, as planned; the last three were shuffled around.

“Unhitched,” which comes from 20th Century Fox TV, Watson Pond Prods. and Conundrum Entertainment, will air Sundays at 9:30 p.m. starting March 2.

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