Fox light looks bright pre-upfront

Net brings back its dramas, sets new comedies

Fox is heading into its upfront presentation Monday with bragging rights no other network can match this season: It is returning all of its freshman drama series, including "Fringe," "Lie to Me" and cancellation escape artist "Dollhouse," which snatched an 11th-hour pickup.

Fox already boasts one of the best-reviewed new fall series with "Glee," which is getting a preview Tuesday after "American Idol." Fox also is finishing another season as the top network in the adult demo on the strength of the top-rated show on TV, "Idol."

Still, there are areas for improvements with comedy, where the network went 0-for-2 last season with "Do Not Disturb" and "Sit Down, Shut Up," probably at the top of the list.

Next season, Fox has high hopes for the "Family Guy" spinoff "Cleveland," already renewed for a second season, which is expected to join the network's Sunday animated lineup in the sought-after 8:30 slot sandwiched "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy."

Meanwhile, new live-action drama "Brothers" is rumored for the much less desirable Sunday 7:30 p.m. berth, coming out of NFL, which is often preempted by games, while "Sons of Tucson" looks like midseason-bound. (Though some suggested both new live-action comedies may launch in midseason).

On the drama side, Fox's new series picks are "Human Target" and "Past Life.")

At its presentation, Fox likely will announce a first in-season edition of the summer reality series "So You Think You Can Dance."

The network and producer 19 Entertainment last week started casting for a new "Dance," which may be summoned to fall duty to help launch Fox's heavily promoted new musical; comedy "Glee."

"Dance" was speculated to follow a Tuesday-Wednesday scheduling pattern similar to "Idol," with the performance show airing Tuesday 8 p.m. slot, possibly leading into "Fringe" which would stay put at 9 p.m. The "Idol" result show on Wednesday would be a lead-in for "Glee."

Newly renewed midseason drama "Lie To Me" is looking good to get one of the cushiest Fox slots -- Monday 9 p.m., following powerhouse "House."

"Bones," which received a renewal Saturday after prolonged haggling over its license fee with sister studio 20th TV, is expected to stay on Thursday, followed by Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" and possibly later "Past Life."

Meanwhile, "Dollhouse" would stay on Friday. There was speculation that it may be paired with "Human Target," but sources in the know stressed that the hot new action drama would be scheduled outside of the low-traffic Friday lineup, possibly in midseason when Fox fires on all cylinders with "Idol."

Perhaps no other pickup in recent memory took the industry by surprise more than "Dollhouse," whose ratings declined with nearly every episode. The show, which concluded its freshman run with about 2.8 million viewers and a 1.0 adult demo rating, could be the lowest-rated scripted drama ever on a major broadcast network to get a second season.

Insiders said several factors came into play when making the call: a gain between live-plus-same-day ratings to live-plus-7-day due to DVR use of about 40%, a strong number of online downloads and potentially strong DVD sales for producer 20th TV, which also agreed to shoulder a significantly larger portion of the show's budget.

With NBC's modestly rated "Chuck" and the CW's lowest-rated scripted series "Reaper" (albeit as a syndicated series) also in contention for next season, there's a suggestion of an industry shift that goes beyond the macro trend of networks continually lowering the ratings bar when deciding the fate of shows. It's about bringing new elements to the table, ancillary factors like youthful fan passion that drives traffic to networks' Web sites, downloads on Hulu and blogosphere buzz; factors that are increasingly cited as important, though remain far less easily monetized than a ratings point.

Not expected to get a renewal at Fox: the network's Remote-Free TV, last year's innovative sales strategy that offered buyers fewer commercial interruptions in exchange for premium sponsorships on "Dollhouse" and "Fringe."

Although research suggested the strategy was effective in increasing viewer retention of commercials, this year's tough upfront climate leaves networks bracing for a reduced revenue tally where convincing buyers to pay a premium will be very difficult.

James Hibberd reported from New York, Nellie Andreeva from Los Angeles.
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