HOLLYWOOD — One of these years, “American Idol” won’t be enough to turn around Fox’s fortunes — but it doesn’t look like that will be this season.
The music talent show has opened as big as ever with its fourth edition, combining with healthy returns for the new season of “24” to give fourth-place Fox its first signs of life in a while.
For all of its troubles in the fall — primarily due to too few scripted series and an over-reliance on unproven reality shows — the net should be able to ride “Idol” and the Super Bowl to challenge for the season crown in 18-49.
Even more important for Fox in the second half, though, will be if it can nurture some sked pieces — candidates include dramas “House” and “Point Pleasant” and comedy “Family Dad” — that can return in the fall, so that it doesn’t fade to black without “Idol.”
Here’s a look at the net:
WHAT WORKED: The risky move of soph sudser “The OC” to Thursday has worked pretty well, although the net might have hoped for more since timeslot rival “Joey” on NBC is hardly a juggernaut. “OC” usually places third in 18-49 but is more competitive in under-35 categories.
It’s too early to tell if “Point Pleasant” will make for a compatible lead-out on Thursday, but it’s the right kind of show for Fox in the 9 o’clock hour. And it would be a big accomplishment if the net could bring back an entire night of programming to Thursday, which has been a nightmare for years.
Through 18 weeks, Fox was the only net up on Thursdays with regular programming, improving a sizable 41% in adults 18-49 (2.4 vs. 1.7), according to Nielsen.
The shift of “24” to Monday has worked better than expected, as net programmers smartly launched the show as a two-night, four-hour event to stir up interest.
Also, reality skeins “Nanny 911” and “Trading Spouses” have quietly performed well and can be expected to play a role for the net in the future.
WHAT DIDN’T: Remember “Complex: Malibu,” “Renovate My Family” and “The Next Great Champ”? Well, Fox would like to forget them, too, as the net mostly struck out with its new reality entries in the fall, making for another ugly November sweep.
Perhaps the most disappointing, though, was Richard Branson-fronted “Rebel Billionaire,” which consistently ran fourth in its Tuesday slot. Net had high hopes for the “Apprentice”-like series, but it never found an aud — making it tough for promising new medical drama “House” to make much noise on the night.
Friday remains a tough night, with “Bernie Mac” and new drama “Jonny Zero” keeping the net fourth. And Sunday is slumping, with nothing positive happening ratings-wise for “Arrested Development.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Animated laffer “American Dad” will get a post-Super Bowl sneak peek before becoming a series regular on Sundays in May. Also, Nicole and Paris are back for another batch of “Simple Life” episodes on Wednesday, and the night will also see comedy “Life on a Stick” bow in late March.
As for “American Idol,” viewer fatigue could set in as the show begins airing three times a week for a while beginning in late February. Still, like CBS’ “Survivor,” it’s hard to imagine the show’s popularity dropping overnight.
BOTTOM LINE: Thanks to baseball, football and “American Idol,” Fox has a good shot of winning the season in adults 18-49 without a scripted program among the season’s top 20 shows. But in “House,” “The OC” and “Point Pleasant,” the net appears to have solid young sked pieces going forward.