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Fox May Keep ‘5th Grader’ in School

Mar 12, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Fox is positioning breakout hit quiz show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” to help boost its traditionally modest fall ratings.

“It looks like ‘5th Grader’ could be part of our fall schedule,” said Preston Beckman, executive VP of strategic program planning at Fox. “We’ve ordered enough to get through May sweeps. We’ll probably order enough episodes to have the option of keeping it on during the summer and fall.”

In recent years, Fox has been in fourth place during the competitive fall season, only to rebound once “American Idol” returns to its schedule in January. This year, Fox is premiering several late-season series, including an unprecedented two dramas (“The Wedding Bells” and “Drive”), in hopes of finding a vehicle it can use to jump-start ratings next fall.

But nobody at Fox figured “5th Grader” could be the network’s fall savior.

“Those numbers way exceeded the expectations,” Mr. Beckman said. “What’s been encouraging is how well it’s held up over three telecasts.”

The tentative fall plan hinges on whether “5th Grader,” which has averaged a 9.9 rating among adults 18 to 49 and maintained a record-setting 85 percent of its “Idol” lead-in, can continue its ratings momentum without “Idol.”

The network will watch closely this Thursday to see how “5th Grader” fares on its own for the first time. Fox is pairing “5th Grader” with repeats of “Family Guy” to see if the game show and animated comedy make a good match.

Since game shows can be produced quickly and inexpensively, Fox is under no time pressure to decide whether to order future episodes.

Two of Fox’s other recent premieres, however, are shaping up as tougher decisions.

Last week, Fox debuted two episodes of the Rob Corddry comedy “The Winner” on Sunday night and aired a premiere/preview of the David E. Kelley comedy “The Wedding Bells” on Wednesday.

“The Winner” premiered to a 3.5 rating, improving the time-period average but falling from its “Simpsons” lead-in. A second episode after “Family Guy” didn’t fare as well, scoring a 3.1, and fell even further from its lead-in.

“You have to evaluate it by how we expect a live-action show to perform after our animated shows,” Mr. Beckman said.

“Bells” earned a solid 5.2 rating, but retained only 47 percent of its “Idol” lead-in.

“Our target is women 18 to 54, and the rating in that group was a 7,” Mr. Beckman said. “We’re going to repeat the pilot. The bar is low. We’re just looking for the show to be competitive in the time period.”

Next up is “Drive,” which Fox is launching in April with a “24”-style two-night premiere.