Originally created 07/23/01

Fox in the fall: Pretty far out



Of all the broadcast networks, Fox has the best lineup of new series this fall.

I'm not wild about "Temptation Island 2," but when executives weren't busy dreaming up amoral "reality" shows, they managed to develop an impressive slate of new scripted series.

"The Tick," a superhero comedy I've been lauding since its pilot episode was released to critics more than a year ago, will finally find a spot on the schedule (unfortunately it's a suicidal slot at 8:30 p.m. Thursday). "Undeclared," a new comedy from "Freaks and Geeks" executive producer Judd Apatow, shows initial promise. Even though prime-time serials have been in the doldrums since the demise of "Melrose Place," don't count out "Pasadena," a somber, serious soap that stars Dana Delany as the scion of a family made wealthy through newspaper publishing.

But the show with the most buzz is the unique, mystery-filled action-drama "24." Each episode of the series covers a single hour. When all 24 episodes are put together, they make up a single day as a C.I.A. agent (Keifer Sutherland) attempts to stop an assassination attempt on an African-American presidential candidate (Dennis Haysbert).

Conceptually, "24" feels a bit like ABC's "Murder One," an ambitious legal drama that played out a single murder trial over the course of its first season. The show lasted only two years and suffered from a time slot opposite NBC megahit "ER."

Like "Murder One," "24" requires an investment from viewers willing to stick with the serialized story as it's told over the course of the season.

"I see the shows as very different," said Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman. "I won't sit up here and not embrace the serialized nature of the show, but I must let you know part of the show will be close-ended stories. We think the audience will be satisfied. This is not a plodding legal drama. It's an action thriller, and I think that, in and of itself, will cause an audience to be interested and to come back the next week for the excitement level the first episode generates. Our obligation is to keep the stakes high enough to keep the audience coming back."

In addition to an aggressive marketing campaign for the series, "24" may see additional runs on Fox-owned cable networks (most likely FX) in the same week it airs on Fox Broadcasting to further juice awareness and ratings.

For viewers accustomed to falling for serials only to see them canceled before they reach a conclusion, Fox's initial commitment to "24" is no more or less promising than to most first-year dramas. Only 13 episodes have been ordered, so it's possible the show's hour-by-hour story may expire after 1 p.m. on the day the series encompasses.

"I don't think our commitment to the audience is any different with '24' than any other series," said Sandy Grushow, chairman of the Fox Television Entertainment Group. "If the audience shows up and supports the show, then obviously we'll continue to invest in it. If they don't support the show, then they will have sent us a pretty strong message and it will be tougher for us to support the show at that point in time."

In other words, get hooked at the risk of disappointment.

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