Fall TV: Fox looks to laughs to boost ratings

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NEW YORK -- Coming off a television season that featured a few high-profile flops, such as the expensive dinosaur drama ‘Terra Nova’ and the time-traveling crime show ‘Alcatraz,’ as well as somewhat disappointing ratings for its musical talent show ‘The X Factor,’ Fox is betting on more traditional programming for the new season.

Fox saw its prime-time audience drop 8% to 8.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen. While it is still No. 1 in the coveted 18-49 demographic, its ratings there were off by 9%.

The network on Monday unveiled a lineup to advertisers for the 2012-13 season that includes three new comedies and two new dramas as well as an overhaul of its Saturday night schedule. Also, the musical comedy ‘Glee’ is being uprooted from its Tuesday home and moved to Thursdays. While ‘Glee’ is still one of Fox’s strongest shows, its ratings have sagged somewhat this season.

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Getting a makeover is the musical talent show ‘The X Factor.’ While the show had solid ratings with an audience of more than 12 million viewers, given the hype about it from both Fox and its lead judge Simon Cowell, its numbers were viewed by the industry as a letdown. The network tossed out some of the judges, including Paula Abdul, and speculation is rampant that pop singer Britney Spears and teen star Demi Lovato will be joining Cowell and record executive L.A. Reid.

‘We think the mix can be more entertaining and more exciting,’ said Peter Rice, the chairman of entertainment for the Fox Networks Group. ‘The X Factor’ will face increased competition come September from ‘The Voice,’ which NBC is putting on in the fall for the first time. Rice said he thought the showdown would be good publicity for both shows. ‘We think it’s going to be a big spotlight in the fall.’

Also coming in for repairs will be ‘American Idol.’ While the godfather of singing shows is still formidable, its ratings took a tumble this year that caught the network off-guard. Last season, ‘American Idol’ averaged over 24 million viewers per episode, while this season its audience has fallen to about 19 million.

‘This season was a bigger drop-off than we anticipated,’ said Kevin Reilly, Fox Broadcasting’s president of entertainment, who promised ‘creative tweaking’ on ‘American Idol’ in the off-season. But he’s not throwing in the towel on the long-running hit. ‘We’re nowhere near ready to put that show out to stud; it’s got a lot of life to it,’ Reilly said.

On the comedy front, Fox will add two new sitcoms to its Tuesday lineup. Joining returning shows ‘Raising Hope’ and ‘New Girl’ are ‘The Mindy Project,’ starring Mindy Kaling of NBC’s ‘The Office’ as a doctor who struggles to balance work and romance, and ‘Ben and Kate,’ an ‘Odd Couple'-type show about a brother and sister. Fox’s third new comedy, ‘The Goodwin Games’ from the executive producers of the CBS hit ‘How I Met Your Mother’ will debut in midseason and is about three estranged siblings and the hoops they have to jump through to get their hands on an inheritance.

For years Fox struggled to create comedy franchises that weren’t animated, but with the success of ‘Raising Hope’ and ‘New Girl,’ it seems to be finding a groove. The network also lucked out in that ‘New Girl’ will not be bumped from the schedule in the fall to make room for postseason baseball, as was the case last year.

The network is also launching two dramas, one in the fall and one in the spring. Premiering in the fall on Monday is ‘The Mob Doctor,’ starring Jordana Spiro as a physician who ends up becoming the in-house HMO for the Chicago mafia.

In the spring, Kevin Bacon will make his broadcast TV debut in ‘The Following,’ a drama created by Kevin Williamson (‘Dawson’s Creek,’ ‘Scream’) about a retired FBI agent who returns to work to hunt down a notorious serial killer. Fox has ordered 15 episodes and it too will run on Monday night.

‘We think it’s our next ’24,’ ' said Reilly, referring to the long-running thriller about terrorism staring Keifer Sutherland.

For the first time in years, Fox is also shaking things up on Saturday nights. Long the home of reality shows ‘Cops’ and ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ the network is handing the keys to Saturday over to the sports department in the fall, with ‘Cops’ returning in the spring.


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-- Joe Flint