Originally created 01/17/04

Fox says traditional notions of TV season are disappearing



LOS ANGELES -- The traditional notions of a television season - reruns in summer, new shows in the fall - are obsolete for Fox.

Fox will develop and premiere new shows year-round, network entertainment president Gail Berman said Friday.

"The economic model that created this business has lasted too long," Berman said. "We've seen cable companies make inroads while we hid our heads in the sand. We need to change our business. We need to respond to our consumers and viewers."

Trying new scheduling ideas has been a recurrent theme with broadcast executives during a series of meetings with reporters this week. NBC said it is beginning its next fall season three weeks early in late August, and ABC said it will experiment with limited-run series like HBO is doing.

The collective yawn with which viewers greeted last fall's new schedule has rocked the television industry and left its executives searching for answers.

Changing the business model is easier said than done, however, since it bucks up against the way advertising is sold, actor contracts are structured. It also contradicts traditions in place as long as there has been television.

Berman said writers and producers resisted when she asked for new series ideas outside of the traditional winter development season.

"It was difficult at first," she said. "It was laughable at first, to be honest with you. I got a lot of laughs. But it's not laughable anymore."

Fox is leading the charge for change partly out of necessity. Baseball playoffs and the World Series have interrupted the network's attempts to debut programs in the fall, and its series have had woeful starts in the ratings the past two years.

The network's most successful new series, "The O.C.," premiered last summer. Another sensation, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie's "The Simple Life," started its run in December.

Fox will debut other new series this summer, Berman said. One is expected to be "Casino," a reality series set in a Las Vegas hotel, created by "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett. Another is a courtroom drama, "The Jury."

Fox is also beginning three new series in March: "Cracking Up," a comedy about a dysfunctional family; "Wonderfalls," about a Niagara Falls tourist-shop clerk whose life is altered when toys begin talking to her; and "Forever Eden," an unscripted soap opera reminiscent of "Paradise Hotel."

The key to the network's attempted comeback, however, is a new season of "American Idol," which begins Monday.

"We're about to begin our traditional midseason rally," Berman promised.

Berman conceded that the price of year-round scheduling, coupled with the itchy trigger fingers of network executives who tinker with their lineups on a moment's notice, is often a confused viewer.

"I think it's very difficult for viewers to know what is going on in television right now," she said, "and at Fox we'll do a better job of letting them know what our schedule is."