Fox laffs in limbo

Sitcom-heavy slate hinges on 'X-Files' deal

Fox, the network that failed to launch a live-action laffer for most of the 1990s, heads into fall as TV’s new king of comedy — at least in terms of volume.

Fox is expected to air 12 half-hour comedies next season, the most in the web’s 14-year history. The network will announce two new dramas and three new sitcoms when it holds its upfront presentation Thursday in New York (Daily Variety, May 15).

Meanwhile, CBS execs kept the biz guessing Tuesday as to the shape of the Eye’s 2001-02 fall sked, though several pieces of the puzzle seemed to be falling into place. Net will add five new dramas, two comedies and a new reality show to its lineup (Daily Variety, May 15). The net announces its sked this afternoon.

Fox execs are in a scheduling holding pattern, however, until the net works out a deal with Chris Carter to return with another season of “The X-Files.” The network has at least three different schedules in the works — one with “X-Files” back on Sundays, and the other two sans the sci-fi drama.

The net is expected to make an 11th-hour deal with Carter to either return to “X-Files” or serve as a consultant. But in the unlikely event that “X-Files” signs off, Fox is mulling placing either new drama “24” or returning David E. Kelley skein “Boston Public” in the slot.

Otherwise, Fox will announce a schedule that’s heavy on stability.

All together, net will launch just five new series this fall: The dramas “24” (from Imagine TV and 20th Century Fox TV) and “Pasadena” (from Columbia TriStar and Brad Grey TV) and comedies “Undeclared” (from DreamWorks), “Bernie Mac” (from Regency TV and 20th) and “The Tick” (from Columbia TriStar and Sonnenfeld/Josephson Prods.)

“Undeclared” and “The Tick” were originally developed for last season and then pushed back as Fox stockpiled original programming due to the threat of a writers’ strike.

Another one of those series warming the bench, the animated laffer “Family Guy,” will also return after a year-long hiatus.

Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays remain the same, which means “Malcolm in the Middle” won’t be making an oft-rumored move to Wednesdays, at least until midseason.

Midseason moves

Fox is actually delaying a lot of big moves until the second half of the year.

The Paramount/20th Century Fox TV laffer “Andy Richter Controls the Universe,” one of this development season’s most-buzzed-about pilots, won’t be launched until midseason; nor will the 20th puppet comedy “Greg the Bunny,” once considered a shoo-in for the post-“Simpsons” time slot.

Other series likely to land on the midseason list include the comedy “Nathan’s Choice” (Warner Bros.) and drama “Emma Brody” (20th).

Beyond steady skeds for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, here’s how the rest of the Fox week is shaping up:

  • Original episodes of powerhouse Carsey-Werner-Mandabach laffer “That ’70s Show” will anchor Tuesday night at 8, followed by the new Judd Apatow-penned college laffer “Undeclared.”

    At 9 p.m., Fox will likely sked the real-time drama “24,” which tracks an attempted assassination plot against a major political candidate as it unfolds, hour by hour. Drama is a fave of net execs.

  • Wednesdays is expected to be anchored by a mix of original and repeat editions of Fox faves such as “That ’70s Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill.” At 8:30, net will bring back laffer “Grounded for Life” for its sophomore season.

    Fox used a mix of repeat and original “That ’70s Show” episodes this spring to launch “Grounded for Life”; it also double-pumped “Malcolm in the Middle” in this slot last fall in an attempt to launch the failed John Goodman laffer “Normal, Ohio.”

    The comedy cavalcade will continue at 9 p.m., with Tuesday yukfest “Titus” moving into an anchor position. It will be followed by “Bernie Mac,” which stars the standup comic as a man who suddenly finds himself the father of three.

  • Barring a last-minute change, Fox will also make a bold play on Thursdays by scheduling the animated laffer “Family Guy” at 8 p.m., with the oft-delayed live-action superhero comedy “The Tick” at 8:30.

    Former skein has been off the air for more than a year, while latter skein has been in development for more than a year. What’s more, Fox hasn’t had luck with laffers on Thursdays since the days of “Martin” and “Living Single.”

    But with Sunday’s animated lineup flourishing, Fox probably figures it has little to lose by giving “Guy” and “The Tick” a chance in a slot where the net has had little luck lately.

    The move also allows the net to present to advertisers another hour of scripted programming — not a small point during a depressed ad market where nets are trying to squeeze out as much coin as possible. Reality shows typically attract less revenue than scripted fare.

    At 9 p.m., the net is leaning toward a “reality wheel,” much like what the Wednesday night 9 p.m. slot ended up becoming this year. “Temptation Island 2” is expected to kick off the time slot; “Endgame” and “Love Cruise” could also end up in the slot next season.

  • All signs point to Fox moving soph drama “Dark Angel” to an 8 p.m. Friday slot. Net once again is hoping to find success with sci-fi fare on the night that birthed “The X-Files.” “Dark Angel” will be followed at 9 p.m. by the sudser “Pasadena.”

As for CBS, a spokesman repeatedly refused requests to confirm or deny scheduling decisions. Producers and agents seemed similarly in the dark, or sworn to silence under penalty of death.

CBS programmers have always preached the virtues of stability and keeping successful shows in the same slot whenever possible– a mantra other nets seem to be adopting.

Some industry insiders expect CBS to move veteran drama “Touched by an Angel” to either Friday or Saturday nights in order to launch a new hour in the primo 8 p.m. Sunday slot — though it should be noted that those rumors seem to pop up every May.

If the Eye does let “Angel” fly, the leading candidates for the slot seemed to be “Citizen Baines” or “The Education of Max Bickford,” with the latter the frontrunner. Whichever skein doesn’t land on Sundays is expected to replace “Family Law” Mondays at 10 p.m.

Another big question mark: Where CBS will place its two new laffers, “The Ellen Show” and “Community Center.”

Should CBS decide to move one of its Monday comedies, “Community Center” might end up on the Eye’s winning comedy night. An alternative scenario had CBS keeping Monday 8-10 p.m. in tact and launching the two new comedies from 9 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday– a risky move considering the Eye’s losing track record with Wednesday comedies. A third gameplan suggested CBS would try comedies on Friday, moving “Yes, Dear” in the process.

Tuesday is expected to remain unchanged, while most believe CBS will kick off Wednesday with “The Amazing Race.”

“Survivor 3” seems headed for an 8 p.m. berth on Thursday, with “CSI” at either 9 or 10 p.m. The CIA drama “The Agency” also seems headed for this night.

Par drama “That’s Life,” a critical fave that struggled in the ratings, might yet return, though as of late Tuesday, producers hadn’t yet been called. “The Guardian” also seemed a possibility for Saturday, particularly if “Angel” ends up on the evening.

Spooky drama “Wolf Lake” looked like it might make sense on Friday nights along with “Family Law.”

While CBS officials straunchly refused to confirm or deny any potential skeds, industry insiders were buzzing late Tuesday about one particular lineup.

According to that would-be sked:

  • Monday nights would kick off with “The King of Queens,” followed by new Daniel Stern starrer “Community Center.” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Becker” remain from 9-10, while “Citizen Baines” would get the 10 p.m. slot.

  • Tuesdays would remain the same, with “JAG,” “60 Minutes II” and “Judging Amy.”

  • On Wednesdays, Eye would lead off with the Jerry Bruckheimer reality skein “The Amazing Race.” “48 Hours” would land at 9, with either “The Guardian” or “Family Law” settling in at 10.

  • “Survivor 3” and “CSI” would continue to anchor Thursdays, with new CIA drama “The Agency” doing battle with “ER” at 10.

  • In a risky gambit, CBS might move “Yes, Dear” to Friday night at 8, with “The Ellen Show’ following at 8:30 p.m. It’s a tricky move, considering the net’s woeful comedy record on the night (think “Meego.”)

    At 9, the creepy “Wolf Lake” would find a home, while either “Family Law” or “The Guardian” would replace “Nash Bridges” at 10 p.m.

  • Saturdays would be boosted by the return home of “Touched by an Angel” at 8, with soph drama “That’s Life” getting a second chance at 9 p.m. Hit drama “The District” stays put at 10.

  • On Sundays, look for “60 Minutes” to return at 7 p.m, and the “CBS Sunday Movie” remaining at 9 p.m. as the sole network pic franchise on TV. At 8 p.m., Richard Dreyfuss comes to the small screen in “The Education of Max Bickford.”

CBS has also ordered the Supreme Court drama “First Monday” as a midseason backup.

UPN looks to ‘Trek’

Meanwhile, UPN has indeed made a deal with sister studio Paramount to acquire “Star Trek: Enterprise.”

“Moesha” was not expected to return; candidates to replace the series include the Greenblatt-Janollari family laffer “One on One.”

Another series candidate, the drama “Stephen King’s The Dead Zone,” may be pushed to midseason.