NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Sci-fi action dramas and hourlong reality shows populate Fox’s schedule for next season, which includes new shows from top producers J.J. Abrams (“Lost”) and Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).
Fox’s lineup, unveiled Thursday during its “upfront” presentation to advertisers, includes three new dramas, two comedies and an unscripted series. The network plans once again to launch its fall season earlier than most competitors. During the week of August 25, Fox will air special two-hour premiere episodes of several series.
Absent from the schedule is “Back to You,” which Fox cancelled last week. Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly defended keeping the lower-rated sitcom “Til Death” over the Kelsey Grammer comedy, admitting that cast salaries were a factor.
“The show did not really strike a chord,” he said. “Creatively, it was a mixed bag. We’re looking to find that next generation of comedy hits and it just did not feel like it would fit into that mix.”
The network’s upfront announcement contains more new shows for next season than any other broadcaster, though CBS has the most freshman shows set to launch in the fall.
Fox will start its fall season with a two-hour “Prison Break” on August 25. “Break” will then shift to 9 p.m. with the return of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” as its lead-in.
The Abrams thriller “Fringe,” about a trio who explore paranormal mysteries, will have a two-hour premiere on Tuesday, August 26. The show will then settle into its regular time period at 9 p.m. after “House.” “We have high expectations for this,” Reilly said. “We’ll have huge campaign for it.”
Although the season contains three dramas with sci-fi tones, Reilly said he’s confident they can find broad audiences. “I don’t think any of these are hard genre shows,” he said.
A new workplace comedy starring Jerry O’Connell, tentatively titled “Do Not Disturb,” will be paired with “‘Til Death” on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. “Bones” will air at 8 p.m.
On Thursdays, “Moment of Truth” will air at 8 p.m., going up against CBS’ top-rated reality show “Survivor.” The game show will be followed by the return of “Kitchen Nightmares.”
Reality utility players “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” will shift to Fridays.
The two-hour “24” prequel movie also will air in the fall. Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Liguori described the stand-alone movie as “an E-ticket ride” that will help cue up the return of the series in January.
For next year’s long-awaited return of “24,” producers have crafted an entire season’s storyline in advance. Last season critics complained that the show’s usual practice of writing the story’s elaborate plot as the season progressed was becoming all too obvious.
“None of us at ‘24’ took for granted the significance of this upcoming season,” star Kiefer Sutherland said. “The writers actually took the time to create a map of the entire season before we started shooting, we never had the time to do it before. Season 7, I know for a fact, will be the best season of ‘24.’ “
Along with “24,” the return of “American Idol” in January is typically when Fox’s ratings fireworks kick in. In 2009, Fox will pair “24” along with the Whedon series “Dollhouse” on Tuesday nights. “Dollhouse” stars “Buffy” alumna Eliza Dushku as a member of a government group imprinted with various personalities to carry out secret missions.
On the schedule, Wednesday night’s “Idol” results show is listed as a half-hour instead of an hour next year. Fox listed the show as a half-hour for the current season, then expanded the program to an hour. This time, however, Fox is inclined to stick with a shorter version.
“The half-hour results show is debated on a daily basis,” Liguori said. I would say we’re leaning more toward half hour next year.”
Liguori said he’s satisfied with the “Idol” creative quality this season, but not its ratings — which have recently hit a string of five-year lows.
“Every season we’re able to reset the table and I can assure you the network and the producers really want to take a look at the show for next year and inject it with new levels of energy and more unpredictable twist and turns,” Liguori said.
On Thursdays next year, Fox will seek to make permanent the move of former summer series “Hell’s Kitchen” to spring. “Kitchen” will be paired with the debut of new reality series “Secret Millionaire,” where wealthy people go undercover into impoverished neighborhoods.
Although the Sunday night animated comedy lineup will remain unchanged in the fall, the network will try out two new shows next year. “Sit Down, Shut Up,” from Mitch Hurwitz (“Arrested Development”) is about a group of unconventional high school teachers. The show will air at 8:30 p.m. after “The Simpsons.”
The network also will launch the “Family Guy” spin off “The Cleveland Show” a 9:30 p.m.
“Animation is the most repeatable form of comedy,” said Liguori, who emphasized that adding more animated hits is a top Fox priority. “We’ve been running repeats of ‘Family Guy ‘that are running neck-and-neck with ‘Desperate Housewives’ in adults 18-34.”
With its strong reality lineup in a year beset by a writers strike, Fox is set to win the broadcast season for the fourth year in a row among adults 18-49, the demographic coveted by advertisers. The network expects to win with its largest margin of victory yet over its closest competitor, CBS (about 40%). Fox is also leading season to date among total viewers for the first time.