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Feresten talks for Fox

Slot will try potential weeknight latenight gabfests

Fox is little bit closer to getting back into the latenight wars.

Net on Monday greenlit production on “Talk Show With Spike Feresten,” a new half-hour talk/sketch hybrid that will air after “Mad TV” starting in fall. Former “Seinfeld” and “Late Show With David Letterman” scribe Feresten — who wrote the Soup Nazi episode of the former skein — will host and exec produce (Daily Variety, Dec. 8, 2004).

For now, Fox is positioning “Talk Show” as nothing more than an expansion of its Saturday latenight franchise. Longer term, however, Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori said Feresten is a potential player to host a Monday-Friday latenight strip for the network, should it decide to return to the fray.

“We want to give Spike a chance to get some reps underneath his belt,” Liguori told Daily Variety on Monday from Las Vegas, where he had just introduced Feresten to the net’s annual affil meeting. “We want to see what sticks.”

Order for Fox TV Studios-produced “Talk Show” comes just a few weeks after Fox tapped Todd Yasui, who produced Feresten’s pilot, to serve as its head of latenight programming (Daily Variety, Dec. 28). Combined, both moves rep the most activity on the Fox latenight front in years.

That said, Fox’s previous latenight fumbles have the net taking a measured approach to returning to the daypart.

“It’s very clear to me that because of Joan Rivers and Chevy Chase, they’re rolling me out like a slow gas leak,” Feresten quipped in an interview. “The word is caution.”

While originally envisioned as an entertainment news parody, “Talk Show” has undergone an extreme makeover in development. It will now mix traditional talkshow segments with sketch elements, field pieces, fake commercials and pop culture parodies.

“It’s all the comedy you’d find in a talkshow, but without any of the talk,” Feresten said. “We’ve got a little real estate on Saturday night, and we want to have some fun.”

Skein is designed to air Saturdays from midnight to 12:30 a.m. Fox-owned stations are aboard, but net must now clear the show with its affil body over the next nine months.

Liguori compared Fox’s approach with Feresten to NBC’s decision to tap Conan O’Brien to replace David Letterman as host of “Late Night.” Like Feresten, O’Brien had little on-camera experience before getting tapped to host his own show.

Rather than start by going after a big star, Fox seems to be using Saturdays as a lab for cultivating talent.

“We’re going straight at comedy,” Liguori said. “There are a lot of (famous) cadavers lining the road in latenight.”

Net is also positioning itself for 2009, when Jay Leno steps down and O’Brien takes over as host of “The Tonight Show” — giving nets like ABC and Fox a chance to become a player in a market now dominated by NBC.

“It takes a while to breed personalities from the ground up,” Liguori said.

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