Fox Returns To Late-Night, Counters 'SNL'

Fox announced plans for a late-night talk show to air Saturday nights, the first step in what could be a full-fledged return to the late-night battlefield.

"Talk Show with Spike Feresten"--the working title--will launch this fall and air from midnight to 12:30 A.M., following MADtv. The show sounds more like "Saturday Night Live," which it will compete against, than "The Tonight Show." Fox says "Feresten" will mock the celebrity-host interviews that are a late-night staple, while guests will deliver the monologues and participate in comedy sketches a la "SNL."

In picking Feresten as host, Fox is taking a page out of NBC's book. Feresten is an acclaimed comedy writer, much as Conan O'Brien was when he was given a show by NBC in 1993.

Fox said last week that it would proceed cautiously in reentering late-night. Network President Peter Liguori said a show would be launched "in a more measured fashion," likely in a protected time period such as Saturday, where MADtv could serve as a lead-in. If the show is a success, it could propel Fox to take another shot at late-night full-time, where the network would have the advantage of an 11 P.M. time slot--a half-hour before Leno and Letterman--and perhaps a younger, potentially more lucrative audience than either of the Big L's. Fox launched in the late 1980s with a Joan Rivers late-night show.

In December, Fox hired Todd Yasui, as senior-vp for late night programming, and he served as the executive producer of the "Feresten" pilots, a role he will continue in this fall when the show hits the air.

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