Fox ready to 'come out swinging'

Liguori: Less MLB should help fall sked gain traction

Fox Broadcasting Co. will try to reverse its fall misfortunes with a fleet of new series introduced Thursday.

The network is launching three new reality series in the fourth quarter along with three new scripted series. Four more scripted series will roll out midseason, when they should get a lift from the presence of "American Idol," which has nearly single-handedly given Fox the ratings crown in recent years.

Peter Liguori, president of entertainment at Fox, believes that the stability of 17 returning series also will help give Fox the momentum that has eluded it in early fall.

"I think we're better prepared to come out swinging," Liguori said during the upfront to explain how the network will find its stride in the fourth quarter, which he said has been challenged in the past.

Liguori also noted that Fox's fall chances will be helped by less of an interruption from postseason baseball, which takes over primetime for just 14 nights this year, down from 26 in 2006.

"Our break will be considerably shorter, allowing us to build a more consistent schedule," he said during a news conference earlier in the day.

An abridged postseason also will allow Fox to launch programs later if it wants, though no decision has been made as to whether new series will launch in late August or early September.

A trio of new reality series will fill out Fox's Thursday and Friday lineups, including "Kitchen Nightmares" and the tentatively titled pair of "Nashville" and "The Search for the Next Great American Band." "Nightmares" will be joined by the return of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

Fox will open a new comedy block on Wednesday, moving returning comedy " 'Til Death" from Thursday to join new half-hour "Back to You." With such stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, Liguori has high hopes for "Back." "We're in the hands of seasoned pros both in front of and behind the camera," he said at the news conference.

New drama "K-Ville" goes to Monday, while new hour "New Amsterdam" goes to Tuesday.

Still holding for midseason is "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," which will have Fox break from its all-comedy approach on Sunday to come in at 9 p.m., where another notable Fox sci-fi drama, "The X-Files," once ruled.

Also on hold for midseason are "Canterbury's Law," "The Rules for Starting Over" and "The Return of Jezebel James" (both "James" and "Rules" are working titles).

Fox also announced during its upfront presentation that "House" would have the coveted spot right after the Super Bowl, which is on the network. The red-hot drama, which has been performing exceptionally well in its post-"American Idol" slot at 9 p.m. Tuesdays, will air after Super Bowl XLII, which takes place Feb. 3 in Glendale, Ariz.

Fox's upfront clocked in at a little less than an hour, most likely the briefest in a week of network upfront presentations that surprisingly seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. Fox, which took criticism for last year's event, wasn't shy about saying that it had learned its lesson by changing the venue and having a taped skit involving "24" star Kiefer Sutherland and his "president," Liguori.

The skit involved Sutherland as Jack Bauer, in split-screen "24"-style, via cell phone. Sutherland, in the middle of defusing a bomb, implores Liguori — he addressed him as "Mr. President" — to keep the upfront presentation to an hour. Liguori reluctantly agreed, and the last screen before the Fox entertainment president arrived onstage said, "The following takes place between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m."

At the end of the presentation, just short of an hour, Sutherland again appears onscreen, calling Liguori's cell phone to make sure that the presentation came in on time.

Liguori said during the presentation that Fox Broadcasting acknowledged that the network was disappointed by last year's fourth quarter and greenlighted shows that weren't necessarily the best it had to offer. He said it had fixed that problem this year by only doing shows it was passionate about and added that with less postseason baseball this year, Fox would have far fewer pre-emptions.

The network's offerings seemed to go over well with advertisers and media buyers, who made up most of the audience at New York's City Centre.

"I think they're going to have a better shot this year in the fourth quarter," said Donna Speciale, president of Investment and Activation at New York-based MediaVest USA. She said that Liguori does a great job pairing talent, and the network's comedies seemed quite good this year.
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