Fox Out to Stoke Q4 Ratings Growth

Jul 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

After its performance the past two seasons, Fox “is pretty much the dominant network” and for 2006-07 “the whole goal is to improve fourth quarter,” Fox Broadcasting Entertainment President Peter Liguori said Monday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

As it did last season, the drama “Prison Break” will premiere in late August in order to get at least six episodes aired before the beginning of post-season baseball coverage, which wreaks havoc on Fox’s regularly scheduled series.

Although there won’t be any changes for this season, Fox’s announcement in June that it was moving some of the playoff schedule to cable was a “plan to present the best-rated games,” Mr. Liguori said.

In answering this press tour session’s recurring question on serialized shows, Mr. Liguori said it is a “legitimate question” to ask what networks have planned if one of the shows get pulled from broadcast schedules early due to poor ratings.

It is “not an idea we think about going into the season,” he said, but it may be in the networks’ best interest to have contingencies in place, like offering some sort of conclusion online, or in future seasons “audiences will be gun shy about committing to these shows.”

For Fox’s own “Reunion,” a murder mystery that died an early death last year, the network offered the drama’s creator the chance to end the series with some sort of wrap-up, but “frankly, it was too daunting for him,” Mr. Liguori said.

While earlier in press tour some of his colleagues downplayed the Federal Communications Commission’s recent moves to more aggressively fine inappropriate content, Mr. Liguori said, “The FCC rules create a chilling effect on creativity.

“None of our business plans are designed to take on such huge fines,” he said.

With many new serialized shows showing up on broadcast schedules this season, Fox is debuting more closed-ended and procedural series, which Mr. Liguori defined as “portfolio management.”

The network “is in discussions” to bring back the critically panned but strongly-rated reality series “Unan1mous,” but in order to avoid a “Joe Millionaire” second-season slump scenario, Fox is trying to “find a different bounce on that show,” he said.

Time-shifting and DVR viewing is less of an impact on a network if it schedules must-watch shows, Mr. Liguori said.

“You are going to be hard pressed to TiVo the finale of ‘American Idol,'” he said. “If we’re creating event-like shows that are of the moment and people are appointment-viewing them, that takes the edge off TiVo.”

Mr. Liguori also made no apologies for appearing to be less aggressive than the other broadcasters in making deals to show Fox series on the Internet or through downloads.

“Being first is not the most important; being creative is the most important for us,” he said.

Calling Thursday “one monster night of television,” Mr. Liguori said he still had confidence in the Thursday drama “The O.C.,” despite the ratings erosion on the show and the fact that for now the series only has a 16-episode order for 2006-07.

Asked if Fox is an underdog on Thursday, Mr. Liguori quipped, “Everyone is an underdog.”

In terms of the continued audience growth for “American Idol,” Mr. Liguori said, “There’s no one wearing a suit giving a satisfying answer” to why the No. 1 show strengthened in its fifth season.

“Every year we’ve been surprised,” he said, noting his “Idol” strategy is “to predict a little bit of erosion, and keep my fingers crossed and hope the opposite occurs.”

Fox also made some programming announcements:

  • Summer reality performers “Hell’s Kitchen” and “So You Think You Can Dance?” have both been picked up for next season.

  • Fox has secured Cyndi Lauper, Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, Randy Travis, Brian McKnight, Patti LaBelle, Kenny Loggins, Chaka Khan and other recording artists to perform on its reality series “Duets,” which debuts Aug. 29 before settling into a limited Thursday run.

  • “The Simpsons” will have another roster of celebrity guest voices for its 18th season, including Kiefer Sutherland, Natalie Portman, Eric Idle and Betty White.