Fox won’t mess with good thing

Network's ratings still up with 'Idol' on the way

One of the clear winners in a strike-saddled season figures to be Fox, whose already dominant “American Idol” will burst onto the scene in mid-January — around the time most scripted series from fall run out of episodes.

The net last week detailed its midseason sked, with “Idol” returning to its traditional pattern of a performance show on Tuesday and a results show the next night.

And that’s a bit surprising.

For several reasons, now would have been the perfect time for Fox to go for the jugular and schedule “Idol” in a manner that would boost its profile on Thursday — the most lucrative advertising night of the week.

The net has smartly steered clear of Thursday in the past, letting the other nets slug it out while keeping “Idol” on nights where it is the undisputed king — and the best option for advertisers.

But if the strike persists, Thursday shows like “CSI,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Office” and “Ugly Betty” will run out of new segs, and Fox could have become a real player on the night instead of settling for its typically weak fourth-place finish.

One idea would have been to shift the “Idol” performance show to Wednesday, and the results show to Thursday at 8:30, followed by one of its new reality shows. Even if the scripted hits returned soon, Fox would have at least planted its flag and set a sked template for future seasons.

Another reason why Fox may have wanted to shake things up is the boffo perf of Tuesday drama “House,” which became a hit when it aired behind “American Idol,” but clearly no longer needs the help.

Sure, it would continue to get even bigger with “Idol” in front of it, but why not try to spread the wealth?

For now, though, Fox has opted for stability at a time when so much of the sked figures to be in flux — but if January’s lineups are strike-affected, don’t be surprised if Fox considers other options.

And programmers also seemed to have had — gasp — the best interest of viewers in mind. By keeping the “Idol” sked status quo, it’s not adding to the craziness of Thursday night, where DVRs across the country already get a workout.

As for other scheduling that may be affected or necessitated by a prolonged strike, CBS could spruce up its lineup by airing a special in-season “Big Brother,” perhaps Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 10.

Net also has “Jericho” in its back pocket, although Fox’s skedding of “Idol” in Wednesday’s 8 o’clock hour at the outset would seem to rule out the drama returning to its former timeslot in January.

ABC has to be concerned about Thursday serialized skeins “Ugly Betty” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” which do not repeat well. Ditto Sunday, where “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” will continue, but the soapy “Desperate Housewives” and “Brothers & Sisters” would wilt in repeats.

Net may want to air its new Oprah Winfrey realty show “Oprah’s Big Give” on Sunday at 9, behind “Home Edition.” It could also air it Thursdays at 8 in place of “Betty,” and perhaps add new drama “Eli Stone” to the night.

NBC could suffer because its hottest drama, “Heroes,” doesn’t repeat well, and gameshow “Deal or No Deal” — which could get more airtime during a strike — is on the downswing.

Net does have episodes of vet crime series “Law & Order” and “Medium” ready to go, and it may call on them to fill important hours, including Thursday at 10 (in place of “ER”).

And CW, with its limited 11-hour sked (if you don’t count wrestling, which is locked in and strike-proof on Friday), would seem to be well prepared for a lengthy strike. It has promising reality shows as well as vet drama “One Tree Hill,” which could excel on Wednesday if the hour’s other dramas are in repeats.

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