Fox remakes ‘Breakfast’

NEW YORK — The struggling “Fox After Breakfast” show is getting a morning makeover.

Fox Broadcasting and producer Twentieth Television have tapped interim host Vicki Lawrence as the chatfest’s permanent replacement, and are relaunching it today as “The Vicki Lawrence Show.”

The retooling, which also has added an audience to Fox’s Gotham apartment studio, is a belated recognition that the young, hip and irreverent feel attempted by the show first on the FX cable web and for the past year on Fox hasn’t worked.

That’s largely a function of the show’s 9 a.m. timeslot, where it airs live in East Coast markets, and a style most viewers were unaccustomed to on network television.

“What we found out is it doesn’t matter if you’re on CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox; the daytime audience is the daytime audience,” said Rick Jacobson, president of Twentieth Television. “The young, 18-to-49 people who watch ‘Melrose Place’ … they’re not necessarily the 9-to-noon audience Monday through Friday.”

Instead, Lawrence personifies the more traditional daytime talk audience so successfully captured by “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” and its progeny, and Fox will now depart from its standard primetime target by wooing 25-to-54-year-old women.

“This is just a nice warm chat show geared more to me,” Lawrence said, crediting Rosie O’Donnell with “making it OK to just have fun in daytime. Talk has gotten so depressing, stuck in a rut I think.”

New creative direction

Lawrence replaced host Tom Bergeron on a temp basis July 7, and although ratings haven’t improved since then, Fox execs say they are encouraged by the show’s new creative direction.

Household ratings averaged an anemic 0.9 rating with a 4 share from the network launch in August 1996 until Bergeron’s departure June 19, a pattern repeated in six weeks with the interim host.

A major problem is promoting the new show to Fox’s existing audience, which already has rejected it.

Target viewers

But Jacobson said Lawrence’s familiarity to target viewers should help, as will the new title, more easily “recognizable” in daily TV listings. He plans an aggressive promo campaign that won’t rely heavily on the network, and any improvement should help supply a better lead-in to Twentieth’s “Home Team With Terry Bradshaw,” which debuts on many Fox O&Os this fall at 10 a.m.

Fox, which is loathe to give up the time period to affiliates, is “likely to be more patient in this daypart than we would if this were primetime or late-night,” Jacobson said, in part because “expectation levels” are lower.

With the exit of Bergeron and, earlier, co-host Laurie Hibberd and Bob, a sock puppet, “After Breakfast” has abandoned the distinctiveness that gave it a critically lauded, cultish following on cable that simply could not be supported as a network show.

Gone are the “Road Warrior” remote segments, hand-held cameras and roving, almost MTVish feel. Instead, Lawrence is surrounded by an audience of typical talk viewers with whom she’ll interact frequently, and just two rooms of the sprawling apartment set will be used. Nancy Giles remains the show’s announcer but will now act as an in-studio sidekick. Exec producer Kim Swann also stays in place on the retooled show.

The actress, perhaps best known as part of the ensemble cast of CBS’ “Carol Burnett Show” in the late 1960s and ’70s, went on to star in NBC’s “Mama’s Family,” based on a Burnett skit, and appeared on “Win, Lose or Draw” before nabbing her own talker, Group W Prods.’ “Vicki,” from 1992-94.

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