Fox TV rolls out fall premieres ahead of pack
By Gary Levin
By Gary Levin
An early start helped "Prison Break" break out as last season's first hit, and the show returned as first in the pack for its second year with a premiere Monday. This time around, its now-escaped convicts will be joined by a record number of staggered launches as TV's premiere week becomes official in name only.
"Break" joined the serialized "Vanished" in opening the fall season a month early. Next week, Fox brings back "Bones" at 7 p.m. Wednesday. It also premieres legal drama "Justice" at 8 p.m. Wednesday and celebrity-singing competition "Celebrity Duets" at 7 p.m. Thursday.
"House," a pair of sitcoms and a third new drama, "Standoff," arrive Sept. 5, and Fox's Sunday animation lineup premieres Sept. 10.
By the time Nielsen's official TV season starts Sept. 18, Fox will have premiered all but "The OC," which returns Nov. 2.
The network is hemmed in by post-season baseball, which forces Fox to bench much of its entertainment lineup for October. For the past few years, it has gained a head start by premiering early, seeking to gain traction before pre-emptions begin.
This year, "the big difference is we have more returning shows," says scheduling chief Preston Beckman, "so we have the ability to not only bring on 'Vanished,' 'Justice' and 'Standoff' early, but we can pair them up with returning shows. Hopefully it's a double whammy for us."
It also might improve Fox's traditionally sorry start to the season, energized each January by the arrival of "American Idol" and "24." Those two have powered it to win the past two seasons among young adults.
"The whole ball of wax is really about improving our (fall)," Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori said last month. "We made some tremendous inroads last year, but the task at hand is how to continue to build that and set ourselves up for the spring to the end of the season."
Other networks aren't waiting around either, adhering less often to premiere week to give new shows breathing space and make promotions and talk-show appearances more effective:
Only CBS is largely sticking to a premiere-week rollout; exceptions are "Survivor" (Sept. 14) and "The Amazing Race" (Sept. 17), which usually get early starts. With just four new shows, "it's easier to do a rolling-thunder kind of approach," scheduler Kelly Kahl says.
The flood of serialized dramas makes an early start more important than ever, Beckman says. As "Prison Break" proved last summer, such shows benefit from a longer "gestation period" before baseball intervenes. That explains the early start for "Vanished," about the disappearance of a senator's wife.
A new baseball deal will split next fall's playoffs with TBS, leaving Fox with only one league championship series and the World Series. The change could push some premieres a week later, but Liguori says Fox is committed to early starts.