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First-place Fox adding just two new shows to its fall schedule

Glenn Garvin
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Not needing much new programming after beating the other networks senseless in the Nielsen ratings this season, and not having much to choose from anyway after a writers' strike laid waste to production development, Fox is adding just two shows to its fall schedule, the company's executives said Thursday.

"The strike really did cause major devlopoment issues," conceded Kevin Reilly, Fox's chief programmer, in a teleconference with TV writers. "But we don't need a lot (of new shows). The good news is, we got what we needed."

That includes one of the most highly anticipated dramas of the fall season: "Fringe," a sci-fi thriller from J.J. Abrams, who produces ABC's megahit "Lost." "Fringe" follows two FBI agents and a possibly mad scientist as they investigate an airliner that landed in Boston with nothing but grisly corpses aboard.

"We're going to have a huge (promotional) campaign for it," said Reilly, adding that "Fringe" will be paired on Monday nights with the medical drama "House," television's top-rated scripted program, to create what Fox executives expect to be a Nielsen juggernaut: "That's going to be one hell of a night of television."

The unveiling of Fox's schedule capped a week of ceremonies in New York known as the upfronts, in which the broadcast networks present their new shows to advertisers. For Fox, it was also a victory party for the most successful season in the network's 22-year history. Not only did it finish No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings, it won the key 18-to-49 age demographic by a whopping 40 percent, the biggest margin in history.

With no gaping holes in its schedule - and plenty of NFL football and Major League Baseball to fill airtime during the autumn - the network only bought one other new show for the fall. Tentatively titled "Do Not Disturb," it's an upstairs/downstairs sitcom set at a chic celebrity hotel in New York, starring Jerry O'Connell ("Crossing Jordan") and Niecy Nash ("Reno 911!")

But when its sports programming disappears in January, Fox plans to debut four other series, including a second potential sci-fi powerhouse: "Dollhouse," from Joss Whedon, the creator of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." It stars "Buffy" alumna Eliza Dushku as member of a clandestine group of secret agents whose memory and personalities have been wiped clean so they can be hired to be anyone or do anything.

Another midseason show much buzzed about in Hollywood is "Sit Down, Shut Up," an animated series about the crazed and tyrannical faculty of a high school in a scruffy little fishing town. It was created by Mitch Hurwitz, whose subversive Fox sitcom "Arrested Development" was much loved by critics if not viewers.

A network lineup with shows from Abrams, Whedon and Hurwitz - all of whom have fanatic followings - is the television equivalent of shock and awe, Fox executives said, and viewers should fasten their seatbelts. "These are guys that don't do standard issue entertainment," Reilly said. "They're genetically incapable of doing that ... These are not going to be stock shows."

The other two Fox midseason offerings are "Secret Millionaire," a reality show with real-life plutocrats living undercover among the lumpenproletariat, and "The Cleveland Show," a cartoon comedy from the creators of "Family Guy" about a high-school couple hooking up years later in the wake of broken marriages and bratty children.

Fox canceled all four of the scripted series it debuted this spring in the wake of the writers' strike: "Canterbury's Law," "New Amsterdam," "The Return of Jezebel James" and "Unhitched." The network also dumped its most-promoted new series from last fall, "Back To You," with Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as feuding news anchors, even though its ratings were decent.

"With that kind of top-profile talent and a major marketing launch of the show this year - in proximity to `American Idol' in the second half of the season - the expectations were higher were higher," Reilly said. "The show really did not seem to be striking a chord."

Also canceled were "K-Ville," "Nashville" and "The Next Great American Band," all banished from the airwaves last fall.

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