Fox divides development cycle

Execs also ditch the traditional pitch meeting

For years, Fox has had a split television season -- a slow fourth quarter interrupted by post-season baseball and a red-hot January-through-May buoyed by "American Idol" and "24."

Now, in what Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly billed as "the next step towards year-round" development, the network also is dividing up its development cycle.

"We are formally splitting our development season in two," Reilly said during the executive session of the network's presentation Monday at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour. "Where we would normally have a May pilot screening, we've recently set a December pilot screening in which we will screen half of our slate."

The December showcase will feature at least eight projects that are in different stages of production, including dramas "Lie to Me," "Courtroom K" and "Virtuality," and comedy "Boldly Going Nowhere."

Reilly expects the batch to yield "a couple" of early series orders.

In another twist to the development model -- as a way to boost the creativity of comedy writers -- Fox is scrapping the decades-old ritual of creators going to the network executives' offices to pitch their ideas.

"We're not going to take most of our comedy pitches in our office," Reilly said. "We're going to go out and meet the writers on their own turf, and that could be at a restaurant (or) their house, anything that gets it out of a sterile environment."

The network also will be offering comedy writers a little money to go and film their ideas, making the footage a part of the pitch.

"I feel like right now there is an opportunity for young voices to come up," Reilly said.

Comedy is a big priority for Fox.

"Our comedy brand has been a little anemic ... the last batch of years, and we're ready for our next 'Malcolm In the Middle,' " Reilly said.

The network also is on the hunt for the next "The Simpsons" with a concerted effort in the animated comedy arena. While the veteran series is guaranteed to go for at least 21 years as the network has already picked it up for this and next seasons, Fox also is working hard on adding "at least one or two" new animated series to its lineup every year -- in preparation for the "Simpsons' " eventual departure and as a way of keeping the median age of the network's viewership lower.

As for Fox's midseason animated entry "Sit Down, Shut Up," which has been held up by a labor dispute between producing studio Sony and the writing team, Reilly said he was "very hopeful" that there would be a resolution as early as Monday night and that the majority of the show's scribes, including creator Mitch Hurwitz, will return to work.

In other Fox news, Reilly confirmed that Fox will be moving its upfront presentation from Thursday to Monday next year, citing logistical issues.