With yet another 18-49 ratings crown locked up and now with the title of most-watched network as well, Fox is hoping to use that stability—and a new J.J. Abrams show—to keep improving its fourth-quarter fortunes.
As expected, Fox will launch its most anticipated new project from the Lost creator when it debuts Abrams' science fiction drama Fringe on Tuesday nights in the fall.
Network entertainment president Kevin Reilly called the show Fox's "tentpole" in the fall, saying he has "high expectations" and that the network will back it with a "huge" campaign. It will get the network's best possible lead-ins, coming out of House in the fall and American Idol in January.
Fringe is one of only two new shows the network will roll out when it launches its fall schedule. Also bowing in the fall is comedy Do Not Disturb. Reilly said the light list of new shows was obviously due in part to the effect of the writers' strike on the development season. And, he said, rushing more development or making premature commitments would just "lead to failure."
The network will launch its fall schedule with a week of two-hour premieres starting Aug. 25 with Prison Break. Fox is betting that NBC will draw a big crowd to network television for the Summer Olympics, and so getting new episodes on Fox shortly after the Games end will help them.
For years, Fox was forced into a two-step premiere process, because its fall campaign had been interrupted by coverage of Major League Baseball's playoffs and World Series. But Fox has, as of last season, jettisoned the early rounds of playoffs to TBS. That shortens the time its primetime shows are idled.
The network announced a January schedule as well, but as with every network those are done in pencil, or at least light pen. But what is set is the January debut of Dollhouse from Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), which is slated to kick off Mondays followed by the return of 24, a strike casualty this season. Reilly called Dollhouse the "linchpin" of the second season.
Also currently slated for 2009 are alternative series Secret Millionaire and comedies The Cleveland Show and Sit Down, Shut Up. The network has several other series in development that could get greenlights soon.
And Fox plans on leaving American Idol in its customary Tuesday-Wednesday slots as of now, though the network will look at the length of the results show. While still the top show on television by a long shot, Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori conceded he was not satisfied with the show's performance in this season's seventh cycle, when Idol, though still hugely popular, suffered double-digit ratings erosion.
Liguori and Reilly also acknowledged that Fox is in an odd position, coveting its status as the nation's most watched network (in large part because of Idol) and still striving to maintain its reputation as a "rebel" and "innovator," as Liguori referred to the network. Reilly added, "We have one foot in the mature side of the network, one in the bull's-eye of the brand." The trick is keeping that balancing act going.
Boldest Move: Debuting Fringe in the fall, where the network has had limited success. However, it does get a big House lead-in.
Best Bet: Leaving American Idol in the same Tuesday-Wednesday slots for yet another year. Despite all the ratings talk swirling, the numbers are still astronomical.
Biggest Risk: 24 has been MIA for a long time after skipping a year. Can Jack get audiences back in 2009?