New shows from Abrams, Whedon on deck

Fox will get a jump on the competish in August, launching with an event-laden week of two-hour premiere episodes.

Net execs surprised media buyers at its upfront presentation Thursday by revealing its plan to significantly cut down the commercial and promo time in its two hot drama prospects, J.J. Abrams’ “Fringe” in the fall and Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” in midseason.

Dubbing the initiative “Remote-Free TV,” Fox plans to run half the usual amount of commercial and promo time during both shows, or just five minutes of national commercial time per hour.

Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori introduced the initiative as “less reason (for viewers) to grab the remote and change the channel… We need to give viewers new reasons to come to network TV.”

Fox ad sales prexy Jon Nesvig said the ads will air in shorter commercial pods, something advertisers generally applaud.

“It’s more entertainment for the viewer and more impact for your messages,” Nesvig told the crowd gathered at City Center for the last of this week’s marathon of broadcast upfronts. “We’re committed to this format,” Nesvig said.

The slimmer commercial load will add about six minutes of program time to “Fringe” and “Dollhouse.”

Advertisers will pay a premium to be in the smaller commercial pods. After the presentation, media buyers were mostly positive about the initiative.

“Advertisers and viewers have issues about too many long commercial pods,” said Shari Ann Brill, senior VP and director of programming services at Carat. “It’s not even an issue of fast forwarding, but channel changing. This heightens the opportunity for advertisers’ messages to be seen.”Fox’s fall sked will bow in late summer with “Prison Break” opening on Monday, Aug. 25, followed by the “Fringe” preem the following night. Fox will also bow two-hour segs of “Bones” on Wednesday and “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” on Friday of that week.

By going early, net execs said they hoped to grab Olympics viewers before they shut off their TV sets and head back to the beach. But the strategy was also born out of necessity: Fox will suffer through baseball and presidential debate preemptions through October and wanted to get a few weeks of series sampling before shows are bumped.

“There’s going to be a lot of noise in September, October and November,” Fox entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly said. “We felt the best way to manage that is to go out early. A lot of folks are going to be in front of the TV out of the Olympics. We want to ride that wave, provide them with big shows.”

But the early launch puts Fox’s premiere week up against the Democratic National Convention, which is expected to be much more contentious than the typical politico affair. Fox execs said they weren’t concerned – most of the action takes place after 10 p.m., they noted, after the network goes off the air.

As for the fall sked, Fox – which is coming off its fourth consecutive win in adults 18-49 – is sticking with what worked last year.

That means Fox will once again save most of its new skeins for midseason, launching just two in the fall: Abrams actioner “Fringe” and new comedy “Do Not Disturb.”

Net will also stick with scripted fare on Monday through Wednesday, with reality on Thursday through Saturday and its animated staples on Sunday. “We’re going to be very focused in the fall,” Reilly said. “Then we’ll be more aggressive in the second season.”

That’s when “American Idol” and “24” return, typically pumping Fox back to the top of the heap. In the second half of the year – or the “second season,” in Fox parlance – new entries include the highly anticipated Joss Whedon creation “Dollhouse,” as well as new reality series “Secret Millionaire.” New animated entries “Sit Down, Shut Up” and “Family Guy” spinoff “The Cleveland Show” will also be ready.

But like the other nets, Fox is still developing several projects that are also in contention for a midseason berth. Among the shows Fox cited at its upfront presentation: Paul Attanasio entry “Courtroom K,” Sam Baum procedural “Lie to Me,” comedy “Boldly Going Nowhere” (from the guys behind FX’s raunchy comedy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and the U.S. adaptation of Britcom “Outnumbered.”

One of those laffers may wind up in the post-“American Idol” results show midseason. Fox has reserved a slot there for a comedy but has labeled it “TBA.”

So far the big winner on Fox’s 2008-09 sked appears to be “Fringe.” Skein created by Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci will air Tuesdays at 9 p.m., in a plum slot behind hit drama “House.” In midseason, “Fringe” moves to Tuesday, in another fantastic spot: behind “American Idol.””We have high expectations for this one,” Reilly said.

Net’s other new series, the comedy “Do Not Disturb” (formerly known as “The Inn”), will air behind “‘Til Death,” as expected. Fox has shifted its Wednesday comedy hour to 9 p.m. – perhaps to get out of the way of CBS’ recently announced 8 p.m. lineup. Fox’s remaining live-action comedy, “‘Til Death,” will return, but with a makeover, de-emphasizing its original concept and focusing more on new star J.B. Smoove.

Gone from Fox’s lineup are “Back to You,” “Canterbury’s Law,” “K-Ville,” “Nashville,” “New Amsterdam,” “The Next Great American Band,” “The Return of Jezebel James” and “Unhitched.”

Asked about “Back to You’s” cancellation – which caught series stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton off-guard – Reilly said the show didn’t live up to ratings expectations, given the star power, auspices and marketing campaign.

“The show did not seem to really be striking a chord,” he said. “And the creative direction, there was a mixed bag in the dialogue on where we think it was headed.”

As for the net’s biggest hit, Fox execs said they are discussing ways to jumpstart “American Idol” next season. Show is still wildly successful, but has shown signs of decline this year.

“We’re satisfied creatively, but not necessarily with the performance,” Liguori said. “Both the network and producers want to take a look at the show for next year and see what we can do to inject it with new levels of energy.”

Reilly, though, added that the show isn’t exactly in its “death throes.””It’s been a phenomenon, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t go through natural aging like other shows,” he said.

Also Thursday, Fox confirmed plans to air a special two-hour “pre-quel” episode of “24” in November. Seg, which was shot in South Africa, will air Sunday, Nov. 23 at 8 p.m.

“24” star Kiefer Sutherland announced that thanks to the strike, for the first time the show’s exec producers have been able to map out the entire season’s story arc before it begins.

As a result, “I can tell you this will be the best season of ’24’ ever,” Sutherland said.

Fox Primetime ScheduleFox

primetime schedule: Fall 2008-2009

  8:00 8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00 10:30
Mon. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Prison Break  
Tue. House Fringe  
Wed. Bones ‘Til Death Do Not Disturb  
Thur. The Moment Of Truth Kitchen Nightmares  
Fri. Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Don’t Forget the Lyrics!  
Sat. Cops Cops * America’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back
Sun. ** The Simpsons King of the Hill Family Guy American Dad

* "MadTV" will return to Saturdays at 11 p.m. "Talkshow with Spike Feresten" will follow at midnight.
** "The OT" (NFL Post-game) will air on Sundays at 7:00 p.m.

Bolddenotes new show

Fox Primetime ScheduleFox primetime schedule: January 2009
  8:00 8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00 10:30
Mon. Dollhouse 24  
Tue. American Idol Fringe  
Wed. House American Idol Results Show TBA comedy
Thur. Hell’s Kitchen Secret Millionaire  
Sat. Cops Cops America’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back
Sun. ** The Simpsons King of the Hill Family Guy (Jan.) / Sit Down, Shut Up(spring) American Dad (Jan.) / The Cleveland Show (spring)

* "MadTV" will return to Saturdays at 11 p.m. "Talkshow with Spike Feresten" will follow at midnight.
** Comedy encores will air on Sundays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Bolddenotes new show

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