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Fox fielding new team for sweeps

With World Series over, network turns to shows
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

The moment the Boston Red Sox broke the curse and clinched the World Series on Wednesday night, the battle began anew for the entertainment programming team at Fox Broadcasting Co.

Now that Fox’s annual primetime break for postseason baseball is completed -- with a historic World Series win by the Sox that yielded the highest ratings for the Fall Classic since 1995 -- it’s once again time for network’s entertainment division to step up to the plate.

Fox turned itself inside out this year to find a way to work around the double-edged sword that baseball’s October pre-emptions bring to the network. The league playoff games and World Series bouts give Fox a huge promotional platform to build on, but they also mean weeks of schedule disruptions at a time when viewers are just settling in with the broadcasters’ new fall lineups.

Fox’s solution to this quandary has been to shift its primetime calendar to a pattern of rolling out original programming on a year-round basis. The network mounted a miniseason of new shows in June, but it still hasn’t been able to avoid the need to launch a bunch of new shows on the back of baseball, which happens to coincide with the start of the November sweep.

“We’ve been down this road enough to know that even with the enormous ratings for baseball, it doesn’t mean that we’ve raised our expectations for how we’re going to perform going forward,” says Preston Beckman, Fox executive vp strategic program planning. “Our No. 1 priority is to improve our performance over last November and December.”

During the next two weeks, Fox will rolling out three new reality shows -- “Nanny 911,” “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” and ”The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best” -- plus a new medical drama, “House,” and the return of its promising Emmy-winning-but-ratings-challenged comedy “Arrested Development” to a new, post-”Simpsons” Sunday time slot.

Sunday, SundayIndeed, Fox has a lot riding on Sunday night, where ABC’s sudden explosion with “Desperate Housewives” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” has upped the competitive stakes considerably since the broadcasters mapped out their 2004-05 season scheduling strategies in the spring.

After last year’s disappointment with “Joe Millionaire 2,” Fox brass also are gamely trying a new spin on last season’s reality hit “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance” with “Obnoxious Boss” in the Sunday 9 p.m. berth opposite “Housewives.”

Beckman admits that “Boss” is either going to be a hit or a miss -- there won’t be any middle ground -- and though it has to face the hottest new series of the season, it at least has the counterprogramming advantage of being the only unscripted offering in the time slot.

Fox won’t be at full strength until January, when “American Idol” sings out again and the clock is reset for the fourth season of “24.” But in Beckman’s view, the network’s biggest challenge of the season arrives Thursday, when “The O.C.” returns for its second season in an unfamiliar time slot: 8 p.m. Thursday.

There’s no questioning “O.C.’s” pop culture bona fides --it’s hard to find a magazine cover that hasn’t had an ”O.C.”-related face on it during the past month -- but how well it performs in its new time slot, a zone that once belonged to ”Friends” and is now dominated by CBS’ “Survivor: Vanuatu,” will speak volumes about Fox’s competitiveness during the next six months.

“It’s our first opportunity (in years) to really get in the game on this night, not only because ’Friends’ is gone but because we have a real (hit) show here,” Beckman says. “We’re being realistic about what to expect ... but we also know it’s our big move of the year, and how it fares will say a lot about how Thursday night will go for us and a few other networks.”