Other network heads are jokingly referring to their giant hit series as the underdog on Thursday nights next season, but Peter Ligouri is probably the one most able to call his show that -- and keep a straight face.
The president of FOX Entertainment acknowledges that Thursday will be "one monster night of television" in the 2006-07 season, thanks largely to ABC's moving "Grey's Anatomy" to 9 p.m. to face CBS' powerhouse "CSI." NBC has also moved its game show "Deal or No Deal" to the night.
Then there's "The O.C.," which will begin its fourth season on FOX in November with far less buzz than it once had, along with a major story overhaul, with its principal characters out of high school entering adulthood. Although the show perked up the network's typically anemic Thursday performance last year, it still averaged only about 5.7 million viewers per week.
On top of that, the network has only ordered 16 episodes of the show for the season. Ligouri says he wants to have the show repeat as little as possible, meaning the show could end by March.
"There are a number of options beyond that," Ligouri says. "If the show happens to be really strong ... we can call an audible with [creator Josh Schwartz] and extend it." The network also has a couple of other dramas in development -- "Drive," about an underground cross-country car race, and "Beyond," about a new space race -- and some unscripted options too.
The network's reality guru, Mike Darnell, "has spent some time fermenting a lot of good ideas in his little lab," Ligouri says. "So there's something we may have for you on that front."
"The O.C." is scheduled to premiere Thursday, Nov. 2. The season will find Ryan (Ben McKenzie), Seth (Adam Brody) and Summer (Rachel Bilson) dealing with the death of their friend Marissa (Mischa Barton, who has left the show) and moving on to the next stage of their lives. Ligouri still has confidence in the show creatively, saying Schwartz "a lot of stories to tell -- and they're juicy, and they're good."