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Liguori Plans Fox Comeback

Dec 18, 2006  •  Post A Comment

For Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori, the stomach pains stop next month.

The fourth-place ratings finishes, a succession of canceled new shows and negative publicity from the proposed O.J. Simpson sweeps stunt that have dominated press coverage of Fox in recent months have left him, he joked last week, with a “damaged stomach.”

But next month “American Idol” and “24” return to Fox’s schedule. If the past repeats itself, the order of a Fox-centered broadcast universe will be restored, as the network’s unstoppable reality show miraculously floats all of Fox’s series boats and leads the network to a first-place season finish in May.

In addition to the traditional midseason momentum, Mr. Liguori is counting on a new long-term strategy aimed at ensuring next fall’s story will be different.

Instead of airing mostly unscripted content alongside the home stretch of “Idol,” Mr. Liguori will launch new scripted series. If any of those programs catch on, Mr. Liguori plans to roll them into fall, Fox’s perennial ratings dead zone.

“By introducing and premiering a number of scripted bets, that better positions us for later in the year,” said Mr. Liguori, who took over as head of Fox last year. “They’re all fourth-quarter contenders. We’ll continue them into the fall, and even extend it deeper into summer.”

Fox has not launched a springtime drama since debuting “Wonderfalls” in 2004.

Possible upcoming titles include the action-drama “Drive,” starring Nathan Fillion from “Firefly,” about a cross-country race; the David E. Kelley comedy-drama “Wedding Planners” (working title); and half-hour comedy “The Winner,” starring “Daily Show” veteran Rob Corddry, about a late-blooming slacker looking for success. “`Drive’ is a big, audacious concept that’s distinctively on-brand for us,” he said. “`Wedding’ will take advantage of the high female traffic from `Idol.”‘

Mr. Liguori declined to speculate whether Fox would finish first come May.

“We’re a dog in the hunt, but there’s a lot of weeks ahead,” he said. “`Idol’ is a phenomenon in and of itself, and I don’t think anybody can explain it. We’re just going forward with bated breath for its premiere.”

Fox will also have some unscripted programming in the midseason mix that has not yet been announced. Mr. Liguori said the recent furor over the canceled O.J. Simpson quasi-murder confessional could result in some modest reining in of the network’s more sensationalistic tendencies.

“Fox will always be Fox,” he said, “but clearly we’ll respond to the appetites and needs of the audience.”

During the O.J. flap, Mr. Liguori kept silent. He also largely declined to comment about Fox’s performance during most of the fall season. Asked for his initial reaction to the O.J. pitch, he said he would add nothing more to statements already made by News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who called the project “ill considered.”

“I honestly don’t have anything more to say about it,” Mr. Liguori said.

As for the rest of the fall schedule, during which freshmen “Justice,” “Vanished,” “Happy Hour” and “The Rich List” were canceled, Mr. Liguori was more candid.

“The shows needed to be better,” he said. “When all is said and done, we’ll finish fourth quarter down 3 to 6 percent. Ultimately, we got hit hard on a number of angles.”