The network has always had trouble launching shows in the traditional fall season because about a month of its schedule is blown apart in October as it broadcasts the baseball playoffs and World Series. After a 2001-02 season that didn't meet expectations because viewers couldn't really sample shows in the midst of all that baseball, Fox set upon the summer programming strategy that may soon become the norm, even for networks that don't have to deal with baseball.
"American Idol" was the first experiment, catching fire when it debuted in the summer of 2002. It became a national phenomenon, and has been the staple of Fox's schedule ever since, having run since then in the sweeps-heavy January-through-May block. But Fox programmers realized they were also challenged for the coveted 18-to-34 demographic by cable networks who run original shows in the summer.
Enter "The OC," a youth-oriented drama that was the star of last year's Fox upfront and was launched in the summer. It began well for the network and has continued to do so; Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said in a recent conference call that when all was said and done, "The OC" will have run about 27 episodes this season since its launch in August.
It isn't unusual for a broadcast network to run unscripted shows in the summer. Everyone does that now, as a bow toward cable. But in announcing the summer schedule Monday, Fox served notice that this was the way Fox was going to do business from now on.
"This time we are creating a real year-round schedule. This is no longer a bold experiment," Berman said in a prepared statement. "Fox is redefining the television season."
The Fox schedule includes two dramas, "The Jury" and "North Shore," as well as sitcoms "Method & Red" and "Quintuplets," along with two reality series, "The Casino" and "The Simple Life 2." It's well beyond what the other networks are planning, at least so far. NBC will have four new reality series and a sitcom debuting in the summer. The other networks have also committed to programs in the summer.
Fox's plan is to debut "The Jury" at 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 8. Encores of "The Jury" will air Fridays in the same time period. That one-two punch of debut followed by an encore presentation will ensure more sampling, Fox said.
"Beginning in June, within days of this season ending, we will introduce a schedule designed to keep our offerings fresh and compelling, and our viewers engaged, continually, throughout the year," Berman said.
Although no other details were available, Berman promised even more launches in July, September, and January.