Fox Keeps Strategy, Won't Move 'Idol'

PASADENA, CALIF. -- Fox is sticking with success. It has no plans to move any big programming to the hotbed of TV viewing--Thursday nights--as ABC has done. Instead, the network's strategy will mimic last year's, which gave it victory for the season among viewers ages 18-49.

For the first time in years, Fox was able to debut all of its shows, including its early-season new hit, "Prison Break," before the baseball playoffs last season. "We aired seven episodes of "Prison Break" before the baseball playoffs; then we used baseball as a promotional vehicle," Peter Liguori, president of Fox Entertainment, told critics at the Television Critics Association meeting.

"We were up 14 percent in the fourth quarter last year," Liguori says. "It really set us up well for the rest of the season." "Break" had a long break, coming back with new episodes in March. Liguori says the new episodes in the spring matched or improved those that aired before baseball.

Right before June's upfront, Fox considered moving its heavyweight "American Idol" to Thursday night. That night will now become a major dogfight. CBS' "CSI" will battle ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" at 9 p.m.



Liguori says Fox thought about moving "Idol", TV's No. 1- rated show. "But if it ain't broke, don't fix it." "Idol" grew some 15 percent in 18-49 ratings last year versus the year before. It will continue as a twice-a-week show, running Tuesday and Wednesday, starting in January with 45 hours, the same as a year ago.

Fox will have three serialized dramas on the air this fall, too: "Prison Break," "24," and one new show "Vanished." For the entire critics tour, network executives have been asked about failed serialized shows. When the stories don't end, viewers get angry.

Why should viewers commit to a new serialized show like "Vanished" when Fox did not properly end last year's "Reunion"? "It's something all networks have to look at," Liguori admits. "What do we do about serialized shows? The viewers deserve some closure." He did say he gave "Reunion" producers the chance to write a proper ending for the series.

Rather than offer a prediction on "Idol" ratings, Fox's approach is to remain conservative. Fox executives had assumed the show would have a natural ratings pullback--and told the press as such. But the show defied these predictions--and historical TV ratings trends--growing 10 percent in the 2004-2005 season and another 15 percent last year. Hoping for the same scenario, Liguori won't jinx the outcome: "I can only predict a little bit of erosion."

Fox's Thursday fortunes will continue with the lagging "O.C.," but only for 16 new episodes that end in March. "O.C" ratings have been challenged recently," says Liguori. After March, Fox is looking at a number of other possibilities for "The O.C.," which airs at 9 p.m.

Asked about the recent crackdown by the FCC on indecent content, Liguori says: "The FCC rules creates a chilling effect on creativity. It's difficult; the waters are incredibly murky. None of our business plans are designed to take on such huge fines."

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