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Fox Renews ‘That ’70s Show’; Berman Talks Up ‘Idol’

Jan 17, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman announced Monday during the Television Critics’ Association winter press tour that the network’s teen sitcom “That ’70’s Show” is coming back for an eighth season in 2005-06, but with limited appearances from actors Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher.

“We have secured the entire cast for next year with the exception of Ashton and Topher at this time,” Ms. Berman said. “Both will appear over the season.”

Ms. Berman also addressed the January return of music variety/competition show “American Idol,” last year’s No.1 show among adults 18 to 49. With the failure of a slate of reality shows launched this fall, including “My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss” and “Who’s Your Daddy?” Ms. Berman made no secret that “American Idol” is important to the network, despite the fact that it is going into its fourth season, a time when shows traditionally see an erosion in ratings.

“It is a very big engine and an important part of our schedule,” she said, “but that said, we think we have a lot on our schedule in January, starting with ’24.’ We want a good return of ‘Idol.’ We expect January to be a good time for us, even (as we) anticipate some declines for ‘Idol.'”

Responding to a question about Fox’s strategy of launching new programming in the summer, Ms. Berman said this summer should be easier for debuting shows because the network will not have to compete with the Olympics. She said a challenge still exists in getting audiences to understand that summer is a time when they can actually sample new shows.

“There’s no question that the audiences, in our mind, (are) ready, willing and able to accept new programming in the summer,” she said. “They don’t know yet that we’re not giving them ‘burn off’ theater in the summer.”

Ms. Berman also said there had been an internal debate over the January season launch of “24,” which premiered with a special two-episode run on Sunday, Jan. 9 and continued with another two episodes on Monday, Jan. 10. Initially some Fox insiders proposed debuting it in fourth quarter 2004. The later launch allows the show to run weekly at 9 p.m. for the duration of this season’s episodes without repeats or pre-emptions.

“It was a real risky move for us, certainly going against ‘Desperate Housewives,'” she said of the special Sunday episodes. “The audience responded because it was presented as an event.”

She also said the conventional wisdom inside the network that Fox couldn’t launch a miniseries may now be proven wrong, considering the event-like nature of the “24” premiere and that the network might be able to drive ratings using the strategy with other shows.

“I’m very interested in the strategy going forward,” Ms. Berman said.

During her session with reporters, Ms. Berman was also asked about the fate of the critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged comedy “Arrested Development.” On Sunday night Jason Bateman, who introduced Ms. Berman at her TCA session, won a Golden Globe for his performance on the show.

“We’re thrilled with the acclaim and we’re happy the show is up year to year, so that’s good news,” she said, noting that the show is up 3 percent in adults 18 to 49 from last year and up 13 percent in adults 18 to 34, according to Nielsen Media Research. “Would I have liked to see it do better? Of course, but I was pleased to see some growth. What I would like to see going forward, I would like to see that reflected on Sunday night as well. Our strategy of an all-comedy lineup may also help ‘Arrested.’ We certainly didn’t have the best ratings for the fourth quarter, and to see some growth was positive.”

Ms. Berman also announced an original sports-themed episode of “The Simpsons” will air Feb. 6 after the Super Bowl. Guest voices will include sports stars Tom Brady, Warren Sapp, Yao Ming, LeBron James and Michelle Kwan. Fox will also air a sneak preview of the pilot of its new animated series “American Dad” on Feb. 6 after “The Simpsons.” The new series will premiere Sunday, May 1 at 9:30 p.m. (ET).

“About a year ago we talked to ‘The Simpsons’ about creating a special event that was football-oriented,” she said, describing the episode as a “major tent pole” and a launch pad for “American Dad,” even though the show will not premiere until three months after the pilot’s sneak preview. This May also marks the airing of the 350th episode of “The Simpsons.”

Fox’s new sitcom “Life on a Stick,” about an 18-year-old juggling family concerns, romance and his job at a hot dog stand is set to premiere Wednesday, March 23 at 9:30 p.m.