New Fox Series to Get ‘Idol’ Boost

Jan 19, 2007  •  Post A Comment

With the sixth season of “American Idol” breaking ratings records, Fox plans to use the powerhouse reality show to help debut its new David E. Kelley drama, boost ratings for a struggling sitcom, and possibly launch other new shows.

Mr. Kelley’s upcoming drama “The Wedding Bells” will premiere March 7, following one of several Wednesday night “American Idol” results shows, before moving to its Friday at 9 p.m. slot. The Brad Garrett sitcom “Til Death” will move from Thursdays at 8 p.m. to Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. starting March 14, in order to follow the regular Wednesday night “Idol” results show.

Fox plans to announce some of its “Idol” scheduling strategy at its Television Critics Association press tour session on Saturday.

“We plan on using ‘Idol’ to give ‘Til Death’ a second wind, it’s been in a really tough time period,” said Preston Beckman, executive VP for strategic program planning at Fox. “We also will have a few Thursday night ‘Idol’ results shows. We’re hoping to use those three results shows to get sampling for the new shows, one of which will be ‘Wedding Bells.’ You can’t buy the kind of eyeballs you get with an ‘Idol’ lead in.”

“American Idol” premiered Tuesday to a record-setting 15.7 rating among adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. Even more stunning was its Wednesday performance, which retained 99 percent of its premiere audience and represented an 18 percent increase over the same performance last year.

Few inside Fox thought “Idol” would retain its power this season. At 5 a.m. the morning after the “Idol” premiere, Mr. Beckman, Fox President of Alternative Programming Mike Darnell and Entertainment President Peter Liguori were all wide awake, checking their BlackBerrys and calling each other, shocked, as the numbers rolled in.

“You know I like the word ‘relieved,” Mr. Beckman said. “Every year we say, ‘Can this be the year we see [‘Idol’] decline?’ Yet this show surprises us every year.”

This year, Fox had no intention of resting on its “Idol” laurels and prepared a full spring slate of new dramas. In addition to “Bells,” there’s also the race-car drama “Drive,” starring Nathan Fillion of “Firefly” fame. “Drive”, will air on Mondays at 8 p.m. starting in April. This week the network also announced “When Women Rule the World,” a classic Fox-style reality series, where men must perform as slaves to group of women to win.

But since “Idol” returned stronger than ever, Fox is in the enviable position to have the best of both worlds: New shows plus a ratings sledgehammer to drive them home.

“You have to take full advantage of ‘Idol,'” Mr. Beckman said. “[But] we weren’t counting on it this year.”

(Editor: Baumann)