Fox will kick some ads with 'Remote-Free' TV

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Fox Broadcasting Co. is shaking up the commercial TV model with "Remote-Free TV."

At its upfront presentation Thursday, the network announced that it will air two new drama series, J.J. Abrams' "Fringe" and Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse," with dramatically reduced commercial breaks.

"It's a simple concept and potentially revolutionary," Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori said. "We're going to have less commercials, less promotional time and less reason for viewers to use the remote. We're going to redefine the viewing experience."

"Fringe" and "Dollhouse" will have network commercial loads of about five minutes per hour, about half the usual. The commercial pods will be shorter, and the shows also will have about half the promo load.

In an interview after the presentation, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly acknowledged that "Remote-Free TV" is a risk but said there needs to be a "paradigm shift" in network TV.

Cutting down commercials will make the two already pricey sci-fi series even more expensive because they have to produce longer episodes. To offset that and the reduced commercial inventory, the network is planning to charge advertisers a premium.

Ad buyers generally were upbeat about the idea and said they liked the two shows picked.

"We're always clamoring for an uncluttered environment," Carat Media's Andy Donchin said. But he said he wanted to see how much of a premium would be placed on it.

"It would be nice if it was one (new) and one (existing show)," another media buyer said, "but that may not be economically feasible."

"Fringe" and "Dollhouse" highlight Fox's slate of six new series for the 2008-09 season, the most any broadcaster presented at the upfronts.

The network will kick off the fall season during week of Aug. 25, when it will air special two-hour premiere episodes of several series, including "Prison Break" and "Fringe." "Dollhouse," which only wrapped its pilot May 9, will launch in January.

The addition of "Fringe" and "Dollhouse" to "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" makes for a sci-fi-heavy lineup, but Reilly said he's confident the trio can find broad audiences. "I don't think any of these are hard genre shows," he said.

In "24" news, Fox confirmed that the two-hour "24" prequel movie will air in the fall and said that for the first time, the entire season of the real-time drama has been mapped out before shooting began.

On Thursdays, "The Moment of Truth" and "Kitchen Nightmares" will alternate at 8 p.m., going up against CBS' top-rated reality show "Survivor."

Reilly had no qualms about taking on "Survivor." "It's eroding, its an older show," he said. "It's eventually going to give up, and we're trying to accelerate that."

Reilly also said the "Idol" results show probably will a half-hour next season. He said "Idol" could be paired with one of several shows, including "Boldly Going Nowhere," which will be shot in the fall, and "Outnumbered," which recently shot a pilot.

Liguori said he's satisfied with the creative quality of "Idol" this season but not its ratings, which recently hit a string of five-year lows.

"Every season we're able to reset the table," he said, "and I can assure you the network and the producers really want to take a look at the show for next year and inject it with new levels of energy and more unpredictable twist and turns."

Absent from the schedule is recently canceled sitcom "Back to You." Reilly defended keeping the lower-rated sitcom " 'Til Death" over the Kelsey Grammer starrer and said cast salaries were a factor.

"With its proximity to 'Idol,' the expectations were higher (for 'Back to You')," he said. "The show did not really strike a chord. Creatively, it was a mixed bag. We're looking to find that next generation of comedy hits, and it just did not feel like it would fit into that mix." (partialdiff)
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