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Fox sets up new fall season 10/24/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Fox is ready to take its first swing. After this week's MLB World Series between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, the network will launch its new fall lineup. Post-season baseball has loaded the bases for the new slate—which includes reality shows The Rebel Billionaire
and My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss
and medical drama House
—but it's up to the network to deliver the ratings grand slam.
(Fox is saving its big gun, American Idol,
for January.)

Last week's seven-game American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and New York Yankees averaged a strong 11.7 household rating, up 9% over last year's series, and 18.5 million viewers, a 13% increase over the 2003 games, per Nielsen. The pivotal Game 7 nabbed a stellar 19.4 rating and 31.5 million viewers, up 15% over the teams' equally dramatic 2003 finale.

The National League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and Cardinals also went seven games, averaging
a 7.1 rating and 10.4 million viewers through Game 6.

Baseball aside, Fox's audience is down this fall. Its non-sports schedule was a confusing tangle of reruns and reality that torpedoed ratings. For the first month of the season, Fox's household ratings are off 37% in prime, to a fourth-place 5.1 rating, and 18-49s are down 36% to a 3.0 rating, also a fourth-place performance. (The playoffs started a week earlier last fall, pulling up ratings.)

And baseball may not prove to be the best opening act. The post-season MLB audience traditionally skews older than Fox's 30-something viewership. "Even though you have the eyeballs for baseball, it might not translate to higher viewing for Fox shows," says Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming for media buying firm Carat USA. That's exactly what happened last fall, when Skin
and Joe Millionaire 2
flopped.

Meantime, Fox's competition continues to fare better. ABC and CBS are enjoying growth in household ratings and 18-49s, while NBC is off slightly. Despite competition from baseball last week, hits like ABC's Desperate Housewives
and Lost
still pulled in big audiences, and NBC's season premiere of The West Wing
recorded a respectable 12.2 million viewers and a 4.0 rating in 18-49s against the deciding ALCS Game 7.

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