The Fox television network announced on Thursday a program slate heavy on new dramas, departing from the reality genre that produced such breakaway hits as American Idol and buzz-building The Simple Life. Fox signed on five new dramas and four new comedies for the 2005-2006 broadcast season to shore up its number 1 ranking among young adult viewers, helped by the popularity of returning series The O.C. and 24.
Facing a dearth of new hits from the past season, Fox's scripted shows include such protagonists as a death-row inmate, a troubled lawyer, and a forensics expert who solves crimes based on a victim's bones. "There is no conscious move away from reality," said recently appointed Fox Entertainment president Peter Liguori on a conference call. "There is a 100% conscious move to put forward the best possible schedule." Among Fox's new dramas, Prison Break depicts a man who commits a crime solely to be jailed with his death-row inmate brother, then helps him plan an elaborate escape. Bones features a forensic anthropologist consulted on murder investigations, while in Head Cases a lawyer tries to rebuild his practice after a nervous breakdown. Returning reality shows Trading Spouses, Nanny 911, and Paris Hilton's The Simple Life are not listed on Fox's schedule but will be inserted during the season.
Fox presented its lineup to advertisers Thursday as part of the annual upfront market, where U.S. television networks book the bulk of their commercial time in advance of the fall season. Fox swung to first place among 18- to 49-year-old viewers prized by advertisers in a supertight race this season between rivals CBS, ABC, and NBC. Even with the ratings rise, industry analysts expect Fox's advertising take in the upfront market will be comparable to last year's $1.6 billion.
Fox also decided to stick with a three-stage staggered schedule around its two biggest broadcast events, Major League Baseball and American Idol, a move deemed risky by analysts last year. Fox maintains the rollout of shows starting in the summer is key to try and hook viewers before its programming turns to baseball league playoffs through October. This year, though, the network will try to lure audiences to some shows in the summer that will then resume later in the fall. "We are planning on maintaining our year-round programming and developing," said Liguori. "The network is clearly responding to the opportunities of a changing marketplace." Cable television's rollout of new shows year-round has also challenged networks not to rely on rerunning old broadcasts during the summer months.
New comedies on the schedule include the midseason sitcom The Loop, about the career angst of a 20-something executive and his friends in Chicago. Mimi Rogers appears as a sexually forward colleague. The life of a celebrity chef takes the spotlight in Kitchen Confidential, a comedy about an expert cook based on the autobiography of Anthony Bourdain from out executive producer Darren Star (Sex and the City, Melrose Place).
The past season has not been smooth sailing for the News Corp.-owned network, from which former entertainment chief Gail Berman parted ways in March while Fox was in the throes of selecting new programs. Network staple American Idol also faced new scrutiny early this month when ABC aired an interview with a former contestant who claimed to have had an affair with judge Paula Abdul. Fox confirmed its renewal of Arrested Development, a critically acclaimed show yet to garner strong ratings, as well as medical drama House. Shows dropped from the slate include Life on a Stick and Quintuplets. (Michele Gershberg, via Reuters)