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Fox high-fives stability

Net touts a solid 16 returning series to lineup

See New Skeins

Fox Network prexy Peter Liguori took a victory lap Thursday as the net’s “American Idol”-driven schedule closes in on first place in adults 18-49 for the second straight year.

“We repeated without the Super Bowl and without a highly rated New York-Boston (World) Series,” he told advertisers at the net’s upfront presentation in Gotham, after a rousing opening number where showgirls urged them not to spend money on “crap like ‘Lost.’ ”

Liguori laid out his strategy for a three-peat, which includes starting the season early in order to establish an audience before the net breaks for the Major League Baseball playoffs, and then jumpstarting the first quarter with new seasons of “Idol” and “24.”

Fox will anchor every night with at least one established hit — most staying in their existing timeslots — to add stability to its fall lineup, which adds three dramas and two comedies to 16 returning shows, a network record (Daily Variety, May 18).

In that pre-baseball pack is “Duets,” a four-week performance series from Simon Cowell. Skein will air in summer on Thursdays and Fridays prior to playoffs.

Fox will take its biggest gamble on Thursdays, where it has lined up a pair of new comedies — Brad Garrett starrer “‘Til Death” and “Happy Hour” — leading into the fourth season of “The OC.”

Garrett, whose last show aired on CBS, drew laughs when he said he’s happy he won’t have to take performance notes from CBS topper Leslie Moonves, “a guy whose career peaked as ‘bad guy No. 2’ on ‘Six Million Dollar Man.’ ”

He added it was nice to be onstage for the first time without having “to kiss Ray Romano’s ass.”

True to Fox form, Garrett dropped the first f-bomb of the upfronts, asking if anyone knew if Ryan Seacrest was straight or gay. “It doesn’t matter; I’m going to f… him anyway,” he said, provoking nervous laughter and “oooohs” from the aud.

Liguori said he only briefly considered moving the teen sudser out of the “Grey’s Anatomy”/”CSI” time period, before deciding to stick with last season’s Thursdays-at-9 time period.

“No doubt with ABC announcing ‘Grey’s’ on Thursdays, we all took a step back,” he said. ” ‘The OC’ has an incredibly loyal audience and we feel that audience will be there. It’s also different from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘CSI.’ ”

On Mondays in fall, “Prison Break” will stay planted at 8 p.m., followed by “Vanished,” about the disappearance of a Georgia senator’s wife. In January, “24” will take over from “Prison Break” and air Mondays at 9.

To help appease fans, Liguori noted that this season, the story arcs in “Prison Break” would be designed specifically around the anticipated hiatus.

Crisis-negotiator drama “Standoff” will kick off Tuesdays, followed by “House.”

“Bones” will hold down its Wednesdays-at-8 slot, leading into “Justice,” starring Victor Garber as an aggressive attorney, at 9.

In the spring, “American Idol” will continue in its regular timeslots on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. When the show hits the sked, “Justice” will be bumped up to 8 while “Bones” will move to Fridays.

Steven Spielberg/Mark Burnett-produced filmmaker search “On the Lot” also is slated for a spring debut, and will begin accepting entries from aspiring directors Thursday via http://www.TheLot.com.

Fox’s fourth new drama, “The Wedding Album,” will launch in January on Fridays following “Bones.” “The Winner,” a comedy from “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane and Ricky Blitt, also is slated for midseason.

In addition, Fox announced its first latenight skein in some time, “Talk Show With Spike Feresten,” which the net greenlit in January (Daily Variety, Jan. 24). Talker bows Sept. 16 at midnight, following Saturday perennials “Cops,” “America’s Most Wanted” and “MADtv.”

In a year in which Fox acquired MySpace.com, it understandably made a big deal of its position on the Web.

Interactive chief Ross Levinsohn noted MySpace.com has as many registered users as California, Arizona and Texas has residents. It adds the equivalent of the population of a city the size of Buffalo each day.

Fox’s digital assets get more hits than Microsoft, AOL or Google, he said, positioning the company’s net assets as an ideal complement to advertisers’ traditional broadcast buys.

For anyone who left early, Simon Cowell said to Liguori near the end, “This is the most bored audience I’ve ever seen in my life.”

New on Fox:

COMEDIES

Happy Hour (WBTV)
Creators/Exec Producers: Jeff Filgo, Jackie Filgo, Tom Werner, Eric
Gold, Jimmy Miller
Stars: John Sloane, Lex Medlin, Jamie Denbo, Nat Faxon, Beth
Lacke, Brooke D’Orsay
Logline: Thirtysomething male roommates

’Til Death (Sony)
Creators/Exec Producers: Cathy Yuspa, Josh Goldsmith
Stars: Brad Garrett, Joely Fisher, Kat Foster, Eddie Kaye Thomas
Logline: Newlyweds move in next to older couple

The Winner (20th)
Creator/Exec Producers: Ricky Blitt, Seth MacFarlane
Stars: Rob Corddry, Keir Gilchrist, Erinn Hayes, Julie Hagerty, Lenny Clarke
Logline: 32-year-old man finally grows up

DRAMAS

Justice (Warner Bros., Bruckheimer)
Creator/Exec Producers: Tyler Bensinger, Jonathan Shapiro, David
McNally, Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman
Stars: Victor Garber, Rebecca Mader, Eamonn Walker, Kerr Smith
Logline: L.A. lawyers take high-profile and celebrity cases

Standoff (20th)
Creator/Exec Producers: Craig Silverstein, Tim Story
Stars: Ron Livingston, Rosemarie DeWitt, Gina Torres, Michael Cudlitz, Raquel Allesi
Logline: Pair of crisis negotiators who are dating

Vanished (20th)
Creator/Exec Producers: Josh Berman, Mimi Leder, Paul Redford
Stars: Gale Harold, John Allen Nelson, Rebecca Gayheart, Joanne Kelly, Ming-Na
Logline: Senator’s wife disappears as part of a larger conspiracy

The Wedding Album (Fox TV Studios)
Creators/Exec Producers: Andy Tennant, Wink Mordaunt
Stars: Some roles currently recasting
Logline: Wedding photographer captures nuptials

ALTERNATIVE SERIES

Duets (Fox TV Studios)
Creator/Exec Producer: Simon Cowell
Logline: Singing stars are paired with celebrities to perform duets in competition

On the Lot (Fox TV Studios, DreamWorks TV)
Creators/Exec Producers: Mark Burnett, Steven Spielberg
Logline: Contestants produce short films to compete for studio job

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