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Networks return to preem week sked

Fox joins Big 3 in rolling out shows starting Sept. 20

The networks have leveled the premiere week playing field.

Not only have broadcasters fallen into line and opted to launch virtually all of their wares the week of Sept. 20, but they’ve also kept the stunting to a minimum.

That may make this year’s premiere week the most accurate measure in years of true network performance, as almost every show will be there to do battle starting in week one.

As a result, “we’ll have an earlier sense of how things are doing,” one exec said. That includes a quick read on who had the most effective marketing and what shows might be poised for breakout status. But the nets may also get a quicker read than usual on this year’s flops.

In forgoing premiere week stunts this year, the networks have pulled back on their usual crop of two-hour openers (such as two-hour “Grey’s Anatomy” or “House” segs). Execs have realized that those kind of premieres are nice to pop a number — but leave you with one fewer episode, something the network might be desperate for come the dog days of March and April.

“With every stunt, you’re gambling,” one exec said. “There’s a price down the road.”

Two-hour premieres also prevent networks from utilizing the return of those popular shows to give the series behind them a boost.

“You’re hurting your new shows if you don’t give them the largest lead-ins,” said Fox’s Preston Beckman, exec VP of strategic program planning and research. “If you’re trying to win premiere week, sure, you can do things like that. But if you’re trying to get shows launched and maximize the changes of new shows working, you want to make them a part of your premiere schedule.”

The networks have been creeping back to a traditional premiere week rollout over the past few years, as they’ve learned to appreciate the marketing power of launching their big guns during the same week. There’s no better way to send a message to viewers to tune in to broadcast TV than the media blitz that comes with a robust premiere week, they figure.

But not too long ago, premiere week appeared to be out of favor at the nets, except for more traditional CBS. Not only were the networks more willing to space out premieres, but stunting became the norm, as shows frequently got previews in special timeslots.

Fox popularized the trend of going outside premiere week, the network needed to make some noise and generate interest early in its life by getting out ahead of the Big Three.

Later, as Fox grew closer in parity to ABC, NBC and CBS, the network still launched earlier — but out of a different necessity: Back when it aired the full slate of baseball playoffs, Fox needed more time at the start of the season to launch its shows before those October pre-emptions.

But with fewer baseball pre-emptions these days, Fox — which announced its fall rollout plans Tuesday — can now join the other networks in launching during premiere week.

“As much as it seems crazy to put these shows up against each other, it’s not a zero-sum game anymore,” Beckman said. “The gamesmanship of premiere week is a thing of the past. You’re going up against much more than the three other broadcast networks. You play your game and put your best schedule on, in a way that’s most effective for you.”

This year, Fox’s lineup kicks off with the Monday combo of “House” and newbie “Lone Star” on Sept. 20.

That’s followed by “Glee” and the new comedies “Raising Hope” and “Running Wilde” on Sept. 21. A two-hour “Hell’s Kitchen” bows Sept. 22, followed by “Bones” and “Fringe” on Sept. 23 and “Human Target” and “The Good Guys” on Sept. 24.

Meanwhile on Sept. 25, with no new latenight franchise in place yet, Fox will repeat “Lone Star” at 11 p.m. and “Running Wilde” at midnight.

Fox’s Sunday night kicks off Sept. 26 with “The Simpsons,” “The Cleveland Show” and an hourlong “Family Guy.” (“American Dad” returns the following week.)

As for “Lie to Me,” the show returns to Wednesdays at 8 starting Nov. 10, as “Hell’s Kitchen” moves to 9.

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