Fox topper sees year-round sked

Berman calls an end to seasonal programming

HOLLYWOOD — The broadcast network that brought audiences the hit drama “24” is now bringing them “52” — as in a year-round development sked.

Speaking Friday at the Television Critics Assn. tour in L.A., Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman went further than any net exec has gone in declaring the traditional television season, with all of its trappings, canceled. The only way broadcast nets will survive the competition from cable and other platforms is if they provide consumers “vital programming” throughout the calendar year.

“There is no more free lunch in this game. The economic model that created this business has lasted too long,” Berman said.

With Sandy Grushow’s resignation as Fox Entertainment Television chairman earlier this month, Berman flew solo at TCA for the first time. Fox has had a hand-wringing TV season, but Berman predicted that the midseason lineup would boost ratings. Today, net launches another installment of “American Idol” as well as the reality show “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance.”

Fox leads pack

Fox has been at the forefront of the migration to a seamless TV schedule. Last summer, network bowed hit drama “The OC” with enormous success.

The competish points out that Fox is handicapped when it comes to the fall premiere sked because of baseball playoffs, so it really isn’t taking much of a chance in launching shows at different times.

Still, most of the other broadcast nets agree that the traditional model driving the biz isn’t working, with the idea of a year-round sked emerging as the dominant theme at the winter press tour. As Berman envisions it, the fall premiere would cease to be. Same goes for the November and February sweeps. Instead, the broadcast nets would resemble cablers like HBO, which runs episodes of a series straight through.

ABC entertainment prexy Susan Lyne announced at TCA that the Alphabet will experiment with the HBO model and air two upcoming shows straight through. In another sign of the changing times, NBC Entertainment, News and Cable prexy Jeff Zucker said the Peacock would premiere its fall season two to three weeks early, immediately following the Summer Olympics at the end of August.

No worries on ads

Net execs say they aren’t worried about alarming advertisers, since all Madison Avenue wants is a good hit.

“Year-round programming is a lot of work. We are changing the viewing habits of our audience and the Hollywood community, but the excitement of creating a new model for network television makes this a very special time to be associated with Fox,” Berman said.

Likely to debut this summer on Fox is Mark Burnett’s new reality show “The Casino” and procedural courtroom drama “The Jury,” from Tom Fontana, Barry Levinson and Jim Yoshimura.

Berman said Fox will try to change its sked less frequently. to do a better job at not changing the sked so much. “Frankly, I think it’s a very difficult year for a viewer to know what’s going on in television right now,” she said.

Fox affiliates, also concerned with too many scheduling changes, expressed their worries at the affiliate board of governors meeting in Las Vegas on Friday. Fox net execs echoed Berman’s commitment to a more stable sked.

Berman made these key programming announcements:

  • Fox will launch quirky drama “Wonderfalls” on March 12 at 9 p.m., with “Boston Public” going on hiatus. Net is hoping that fans of NBC’s frosh Friday hit “Joan of Arcadia” will flock to “Wonderfalls.” Both spiritually themed shows focus on young women who receive instructions from above.

  • Television’s first unscripted soap opera, “Forever Eden,” premieres March 1.

  • Sitcom “Cracking Up” will bow March 8, paired with repeats of “That ’70s Show.”

  • “Oliver Beene” returns to the sked Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m., with “King of the Hill” moving to 7 p.m.

  • Net has lined up celebrity guest stars for the February sweeps, including Ben Stiller, Christina Applegate, Melissa Etheridge, Laurie Metcalf and Cloris Leachman.
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