Fox yells 'cut' on commercials

Two new shows will have reduced ad time

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

At its upfront presentation Thursday, the network announced 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."

Both "Fringe" and "Dollhouse" would have network commercial loads of about five minutes per hour, about half the usual. The commercial pods would also be shorter and they would have about half the promo load as well.

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

Cutting down commercials will make the two already pricey sci-fi series even more expensive as 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 were generally upbeat about the idea, and said they liked the two shows picked.

"We're always clamoring for an uncluttered environment," said Carat Media's Andy Donchin. But he said that 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)," 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 -- two dramas, three comedies and an unscripted show, the most any broadcaster presented at the upfronts .

Once again, the network will launch its fall season earlier than most competitors.

During the week of Aug. 25, Fox will air special two-hour premiere episodes of several series, including "Prison Break" and "Fringe." "Dollhouse," which only wrapped up its pilot last Friday, will launch in January.

"We have high expectations for this," Reilly said of "Fringe." A large-scale marketing campaign for the series was launched Thursday.

As for "Dollhouse," Reilly said that he was "confident that this will become the next tentpole series for Fox."

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 they can find broad audiences. "I don't think any of these are hard genre shows," he said.

The two-hour "24" prequel movie also will air in the fall. Liguori described the stand-alone movie as "an E-ticket ride" that will help cue up the return of the series in January.

On Thursdays, "Moment of Truth" will air at 8 p.m., going up against CBS's top-rated reality show "Survivor." The game show will be followed by the return of "Kitchen Nightmares."

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

Reilly also said that next season, the "Idol" results show would be predominantly a half-hour. He said the pairing with "Idol" could be 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 have recently hit a string of five-year lows.

"Every season we're able to reset the table, 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," he said.

Absent from the schedule is sitcom "Back to You," which Fox canceled last week. Reilly defended keeping the lower-rated sitcom "Til Death" over the Kelsey Grammer comedy, and admitted that 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."