Fox gleeful about fall

Analysis: Returning hits should keep it on top

“Glee” has given Fox — winner of a record six straight seasons in the key young-adults demo — even more to be happy about.

The high school-set musical comedy wrapped its first season in June as one of the biggest rookie ratings successes in years, and then earned a whopping 19 nominations for this month’s Emmys.

And at a time when the median ages for all of the major broadcasters are climbing — and Fox itself has added gray hairs with procedural dramas like “Bones” and “Lie to Me” — the success of “Glee” also shows that youngsters will still flock to a scripted Big Four hourlong program.

But Fox may have to live off that megahit’s momentum for a while longer. None of its four new shows looks like a breakout, and one — “The Good Guys” — already appears on shaky ground based on low ratings for it summer batch of episodes.

Fox’s goal for the fourth quarter then should be to weather the fall storm, hope one of its newbies can deliver solid ratings, and then surge in the second half when promising new cop drama “Ride-Along” joins the sked. Oh, and “American Idol” is back then, too.

This isn’t to say that Fox can’t be a player in the fall. Last year saw the net enjoy its most competitive opening to a season to date, riding a strong baseball postseason (Yankees back in the World Series) to a first-place standing by early November — and then, of course, galloping to the finish line in the season’s second half behind “Idol.”

Looking at Fox’s fall lineup, “House” remains a potent performer as it enters its seventh season and returns to Monday’s leadoff hour. It was TV’s No. 2 or 3 drama in most key demo categories last season, and was the highest rated 8 o’clock series on any net among young adults.

It’s followed by intriguing new soapy drama “Lonestar,” one of the few standout pilots on any network this fall. It’s sophisticated and not as noisy as most Fox hours, but in “House,” it has a broad, upscale lead-in that should help it get sampled and hold up acceptably in a brutal time period.

“Glee” shifts to Tuesday at 8 in its second season, a move designed to let it serve as a lead-in to a pair of new comedies, “Raising Hope” and “Running Wilde.” At 8, “Glee” shouldn’t be affected too much by time-slot leader “NCIS” on CBS, which is more of a 35-64 show with male appeal while the Fox series skews more toward femmes 12-49.

As for the half-hours, the somewhat appealing “Hope” has a sweetness to it not unlike CBS’ new “Mike and Molly,” and like that sitcom, it benefits from a big lead-in that could allow it to bond with auds if afforded time. Time, though, may not be on the side of the offbeat 9:30 p.m. romantic comedy “Wilde,” which stars Will Arnett as an immature playboy; it would be surprising to see it last through the November sweep.

It was a good strategy for Fox to go with comedies on Tuesday, since there aren’t any among the competition, but the net isn’t likely to find its first long-running live-action hit since the days of “Malcolm in the Middle” and “That ’70s Show.”

Since Monday and Tuesday will require plenty of marketing muscle, Fox is sticking mostly to proven shows for the remainder of the week.

“Hell’s Kitchen” returns for two-hour segs on Wednesday before “Lie to Me” assumes the 8 p.m. slot following baseball and “Kitchen” shrinks to an hour. Though “Lie” is a modest performer, it could carve out a decent aud as the only procedural drama in its hour.

Thursday sees the return of “Bones” and “Fringe,” an underrated pair that kept Fox in the conversation on a night on which it has long been an also-ran.

Things could get ugly on Friday, however, where “Human Target,” coming off a so-so first season, is paired with “The Good Guys.” Like other networks’ attempts at Friday, this combo sounds like it could work on paper; it’s just a matter of whether the splintered audience on the low-wattage night will be enough to make these shows economically viable.

Rather than bow “Good Guys” early in the season, Fox might be better served using the first few Fridays of the season to air repeats of “Lonestar” at 9. As a serialized newcomer in such a congested Monday timeslot, it might benefit from a second on-air telecast (in the old “Dallas” timeslot, to boot).

“Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” are back on Saturday for a 14th consecutive season, where they should again win their slots or finish second to college football.

And Sunday features the return of last year’s male-skewing animation quartet: “The Simpsons,” “The Cleveland Show,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad.” In its first season, 8:30 p.m. entry “Cleveland” did a good job attracting most of the audience that watches the successful vets on either side of it — particularly tough in the fall because NBC’s ratings monster “Sunday Night Football” kicks off at that time.

And because of football, the net is smart in waiting to launch its new toon laffer, “Bob’s Burgers,” until spring.

Overall, although Fox may not have found its groove with regard to live-action comedies this fall, last year’s “Glee” and the new “Lonestar” and “Ride-Along” prove that the net refuses to be boxed in by typical broadcast conventions. And it’s only a matter of time for a net with such an innovative and somewhat irreverent streak (which has resulted numerous times with iconic shows) to land another smash.

On the ratings front, its bottom line is a no-brainer: A roster of returning hits spread across the week, along with sports assists from the World Series and Super Bowl, make Fox an easy pick to repeat as demo champs this season.

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