Fox shuffling fall

Net planning sked changes for most nights

Fox execs are putting the finishing touches on a fall sked featuring at least four new dramas, two fresh laffers, a sketch/variety skein — and significant changes on most nights of the week.

But as has been the trend so far during this week of upfront announcements, Fox will also do everything it can to maintain some semblance of stability by keeping familiar faces in anchor positions. “Boston Public,” “That ’70s Show,” “Cops” and “Futurama” will continue to kick off Monday, Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

As for new fare, the Fox frosh crop includes two new family comedies: The “Wonder Years”/”Malcolm in the Middle” hybrid “Oliver Beene” and Randy Quaid starrer “The Grubbs.” Both will be part of a new three-hour Sunday night comedy block that will kick off with “Futurama” at 7, followed by “Oliver Beene,” “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and “The Grubbs” (Daily Variety, May 14).

Move takes Fox back to the early days of the network, when it started off by programming comedies from 8-10 p.m., including successes such as “Married… With Children.” Indeed, Fox had comedies at 9 p.m. every year until 1996, when it moved “The X-Files” into the timeslot.

Putting “Malcolm” at 9 p.m. exposes the skein to some risk: It will now face off against everything from “Alias” and “Angel” to “The Sopranos.” But Fox execs apparently felt comedies were the best way to compete against a slew of dramas on the other nets.

New Sunday sked is also good news for “King of the Hill,” which bowed to great numbers but has been victimized over the years by constant sked shuffling. Nonetheless, toon laffer still has a strong core following and critical acclaim and will only benefit from the added exposure of an 8:30 p.m. slot. A test airing of the skein in the slot produced strong Nielsens a few weeks ago.

As expected, Mondays will remain David E. Kelley night, with “Boston Public” returning for its third season at 8 p.m. and new femme lawyer skein “Girls Club” replacing “Ally McBeal” at 9.

Tuesdays will also remain familiar, with ” ’70s” sticking at 8 p.m. and “Grounded for Life” moving from Wednesdays to Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. The critically hailed “24” returns at 9 p.m. and will stick with its current hour-at-a-time format. One idea floating around for next season has the show picking up a year later, with Sen. Palmer now in the White House and Jack Bauer enlisted on another special mission for the new prexy.

One of Fox’s boldest plays comes on Wednesday nights, with “Bernie Mac” moving to 8 p.m. — directly opposite ABC’s Damon Wayans starrer “My Wife and Kids.” Both skeins feature strong, African-American male father figures as centers.

“Mac” will be followed at 8:30 by “The Cedric Show,” a sketch/variety skein featuring Cedric the Entertainer. Then at 9, look for Fox to go after men in a big way with the turbocharged “Fastlane,” a high-octane crime drama from producers McG and John McNamara.

On Thursdays, Fox could stunt with movies and specials until after the baseball playoffs wrap. Then the net will go with light reality programming from 8-9 p.m., with the half-hours “30 Seconds to Fame” and “Meet the Marks.”

At 9 p.m., Fox will go after family viewers with the drama “Septuplets.”

On Fridays, Fox will start off with the Joss Whedon-penned space drama “Firefly,” followed by the mystery drama “John Doe.”

“Andy Richter Controls the Universe” and “The Pitts” have snagged midseason orders; “Time Tunnel” and “Keen Eddie” are likely to get backup orders as well.

Fox skeins not returning are “Undeclared,” “That ’80s Show,” “Titus,” “Greg the Bunny” and “Family Guy.” And “Dark Angel,” which earlier this week seemed likely to return, has been canceled.