Fox hunts for summer auds with rerun hits

'90210' set to fuel season

Hoping to avoid the traditional summer Nielsen nosedive, Fox Broadcasting is readying an aggressive warm-weather programming strategy highlighted by original episodes of at least six series — including the never-say-die “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

The Aaron Spelling-produced sudser, which many industry observers expected to wrap production in spring after 10 seasons, is instead expected to air as many as a dozen segs between June and August. A final deal for an 11th season of “90210” is still being worked out, but all of the major cast members — save for Brian Austin Green — are expected to return.

While “90210” will likely air throughout most of the summer, Fox is also expected to bring back several of its existing hits for limited summer runs beginning in July or August. “King of the Hill” and “That ’70s Show” are considered the most likely candidates to make a summer appearance.

Several shows expected to return to the Fox lineup in spring — “Family Guy,” “The PJs” and perhaps “Titus”– will have enough original segs left to air throughout the summer. “The Opposite Sex,” which has been awaiting a midseason berth, may also get exposure during the summer.

Execs at the net are also holding open the possibility that emerging comedy hit “Malcolm in the Middle” could be brought back for a summer run.

Planting hybrid

In addition, Fox today will formally announce a 13-seg summer commitment to an hourlong drama/reality hybrid from producer R.J. Cutler (“The War Room”). Skein, a sort of reality-based “My So-Called Life,” documents a year in the life of a suburban Chicago high school (Daily Variety, Oct. 13.)

Fox may be able to further reduce the amount of repeats on its summer sked should quizshow “Greed” continue to perform as well as it has in recent days. No formal talks with Dick Clark Prods. about such an extension have taken place.

Specials are also expected to play an important part in the Fox summer sked.

The net will bring back the Teen Awards, produced in conjunction with Seventeen magazine, for a second annual broadcast. Fox is also expected to order additional segs of the TV Guide-branded “Behind the Sitcom Scandals” specs, which have performed surprisingly well in the ratings.

Lesson learned

Fox Entertainment prexy Doug Herzog said the summer push is a direct result of what happened last summer when the net aired virtually no original programming between the end of May and October. Because so many of Fox’s programs are serialized dramas, which repeat poorly, the network’s ratings dropped off a cliff, making it all the more difficult for the net to launch its fall programs.

“We’re going to be far from asleep,” Herzog told Daily Variety. “We’ve got to be in business all year round.”

A wild card in Fox’s summer programming plans is NBC, which next September will air the Summer Olympics. Like all other competing webs, Fox is still trying to determine how to program around the Games. One solution may be to launch several 2000-01 frosh skeins in August.

“The fall is not going to be a great place to be (for new shows),” he said.

Other nets will be experimenting with some original summer programming.

ABC may air “Millionaire” and the new gameshow “Mastermind” during the summer, along with original segs of “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and a boy band reality skein that could bow in spring or summer.

CBS has the much buzzed-about reality/gameshow “Survivor” and a new version of “What’s My Line?” And the WB will launch a “Dawson’s Creek”-linked sudser, “Young Americans,” as well as the Dick Wolf-produced “DC” for the summer.

Fox and other webs have tried original summer programming in the past, usually without much luck. Only a handful of skeins launched during the warm-weather months have succeeded; the cost of such programs is also prohibitive because of lower ad rates during the summer.

The success of ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” last summer, however, has convinced webs that distinctive, lower-cost reality programming can work in the summer. In the case of Fox, it also helps that the net has a number of shows on the shelf it can roll out for summer.

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