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‘Juniors’ to juice ‘O.C.’

Knight, Gibson, Guarini to judge talented tots

Fox continues to put the finishing touches on its summer programming, finalizing a start date for the August launch of “The O.C.” and announcing a trio of judges for the kiddie contest “American Juniors.”

Pop legend Gladys Knight, sans Pips, leads the “Junior” panel, alongside ’80s teen queen Deborah “Don’t Call Me Debbie” Gibson and original “American Idol” runner-up Justin Guarini, who just so happens to have a new album out and the feature “From Justin to Kelly” hitting theaters soon.

Knight, Gibson and Guarini (who will actually serve as a “guest judge” this week) will join the show starting with tonight’s episode. Guarini will also perform a song — from his new release, natch — on Wednesday’s installment.

As for “The O.C.,” the sudsy skein will launch Tuesday, Aug. 5, at 9 p.m., where the show will air until the fall, when it moves to its regular Thursday slot.

Fox execs hope to take a page from the launch of another Southern California-set skein, “Melrose Place,” which also launched in the summer.

“We are strategically scheduling ‘The O.C.’ to debut early and to air behind the popular ‘American Juniors,’ which delivers a broad audience and very strong female demographics,” said Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman. “We believe this will give the show the very best chance to develop a loyal fan base before the other new fall shows premiere.”

That means the slot’s current inhabitant, “Keen Eddie,” will be yanked from the slot at the end of July. Fox will have aired eight segs of “Eddie” at that point, with five episodes still on the shelf; it’s unclear whether the show, which has bowed to disappointing numbers, will wind up elsewhere.

“The O.C.” follows the story of a troubled teen (Benjamin McKenzie) who moves in with a well-to-do Orange County family. Peter Gallagher, Adam Brody, Mischa Barton and Tate Donovan also star.

The show, from Warner Bros. TV, comes from exec producers Josh Schwartz, Doug Liman, McG, Dave Bartis and Bob DeLaurentiis.

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