CAN SLY FOX REACH THE TOP?; DURING SORRY SEASON FOR TV, FOURTH NETWORK MAKES A MOVE.Byline: Bill Carter The New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times
The news about this television season has sent the established network powers into denial. They surely wish it were not true, but the results of the November ratings sweep made it almost impossible to refute:
The hottest network in prime time is Fox.
The evidence: The most talked-about new show of the fall season is ``Ally McBeal For the character, see .
Ally McBeal is an award-winning American television series which ran on the FOX network from 1997 to 2002. The series was created by David E. Kelley, who also served as the executive producer, along with Bill D'Elia. .'' The strongest second-year show on the air is ``King of the Hill.'' ``The Simpsons,'' ``Beverly Hills Beverly Hills, city (1990 pop. 31,971), Los Angeles co., S Calif., completely surrounded by the city of Los Angeles; inc. 1914. The largely residential city is home to many motion-picture and television personalities. 90210'' and especially ``The X-Files'' have become even stronger this season.
Which network do all these shows belong to? As its own promotional campaign would put it: ``Just one. Fox.''
Fox was up in November when the other three networks were down. But the results of sweep periods are often skewed skewed
curve of a usually unimodal distribution with one tail drawn out more than the other and the median will lie above or below the mean.
skewed Epidemiology adjective Referring to an asymmetrical distribution of a population or of data by special events and stunt programming, something Fox has been especially adept at in recent years with what some critics saw as the world's scariest, deadliest and most irresponsible specials.
Cars have crashed on Fox, animals have attacked on Fox, and swarms have infested in·fest
tr.v. in·fest·ed, in·fest·ing, in·fests
1. To inhabit or overrun in numbers or quantities large enough to be harmful, threatening, or obnoxious: on Fox in every recent sweeps month, the competitive periods, three times a year, when shows' ratings are monitored in order to set advertising rates. Such specials in the past have earned Fox widespread derision in the industry. Don Ohlmeyer Don Ohlmeyer (born Donald Winfred Ohlemeyer, Jr., February 3, 1945, in New Orleans, Louisiana) is an American television producer and former president of the NBC network's West Coast division. He grew up in the Chicago-area and attended Glenbrook North High School. , the president of NBC's West Coast division, has labeled these efforts ``snuff television.''
No crash course
But this November, Fox improved, even without including its lineup of specials. Not even ``Secrets of Magic Revealed,'' which exposed every magic trick that ever thrilled a child and set a record as the highest-rated special in Fox history.
Every network has problem areas, of course, and Fox's include a failing movie night on Tuesdays, an overall weak showing on Thursdays and a chronic problem in finding any comedy with living people in it (nobody has more successful cartoon comedies than Fox).
But unquestionably un·ques·tion·a·ble
Beyond question or doubt. See Synonyms at authentic.
un·question·a·bil , Fox is doing better this season, critics generally agree, because its shows are better. The same network whose early success - with the likes of ``Married ... With Children'' ``Herman's Head'' and ``Martin'' - was largely based on appealing to men watching television in their undershirts, establishing a critical reputation for celebrating the crass and the vulgar, is now receiving critical praise for putting on some of the smartest, most sophisticated shows on any network.
Certainly ``Ally McBeal,'' the new drama-comedy about the life and loves of a young Boston lawyer (whose fantasy life Noun 1. fantasy life - an imaginary life lived in a fantasy world
fantasy, phantasy - imagination unrestricted by reality; "a schoolgirl fantasy" is played out in a series of comic and revealing inner monologues by the lead character), has captured the imagination of young, professional women and the affections of their male counterparts, who quickly adopted it as a can't-miss cult hit.
And ``The X-Files'' has, if anything, grown in its stature with critics who now discuss it as one of the most stimulating, brain-teasing entertainments in recent television history.
The positive critical reaction to Fox's shows has reached the point at which Peter Roth Peter Roth may refer to:
Snickers is a sweet bar made by Mars, Incorporated. from his competitors.
On their tails
Indeed, Fox's competitors have noticed the growing strength of the network's offerings. As Warren Littlefield Warren Littlefield is the head of programming for Sony Pictures Television and the former president of NBC Entertainment.
Littlefield was born in Lincoln, NE. Warren graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, and was awarded a BA in Psychology. , the president of NBC NBC
in full National Broadcasting Co.
Major U.S. commercial broadcasting company. It was formed in 1926 by RCA Corp., General Electric Co. (GE), and Westinghouse and was the first U.S. company to operate a broadcast network. , the dominant entertainment network over the last three years, put it: ``When we look in our rear-view mirrors, Fox is who we see.''
How is Fox doing it? Roth said in a telephone interview: ``We pride ourselves on being the alternative network. When the other networks zig, we have to zag.'' He pointed to what he called ``a calculated decision'' last fall to make as few changes as possible in the prime-time schedule.
``We knew we had an opportunity to build on the success we'd had in the '96-'97 season,'' Roth said. ``We deliberately held out a lot of our productB from the clutter of this past fall. When you look at 49 percent of the other networks' schedules changing, stability starts to be a smart way to go. It's just disrespectful dis·re·spect·ful
Having or exhibiting a lack of respect; rude and discourteous.
disre·spect to the audience to change that much - disrespectful and disdainful dis·dain·ful
Expressive of disdain; scornful and contemptuous. See Synonyms at proud.
dis·dainful·ly adv. .''
The other piece of programming strategy Roth offered as important to Fox's recent success was consistent with the ``alternative network'' theory. He said: ``If you look at the record of recent hit shows, it is always the shows that are different and distinctive that grow to be hits. `Ally McBeal' is working because it dares to be a little different. Whenever there's a homogenized ho·mog·e·nize
v. ho·mog·e·nized, ho·mog·e·niz·ing, ho·mog·e·niz·es
1. To make homogeneous.
a. To reduce to particles and disperse throughout a fluid.
b. trend, we try to go in the opposite direction.''
Fox became a network in 1986, beginning with a late-night talk show starring Joan Rivers Joan Rivers (born June 8, 1933) is an American comedian, actress, talk show host, businesswoman, and celebrity. She is known for her brash manner and loud, raspy voice with a heavy metropolitan New York accent. that became one of the more memorable flops in broadcasting history. The network's first brief schedule of shows, over two nights, included oddities like George C. Scott Noun 1. George C. Scott - award-winning United States film actor (1928-1999)
Scott in ``The President'' and a sitcom called ``Women in Prison.''
But the schedule also displayed Fox's flair for breaking with convention, in the crudely funny ``Married ... With Children,'' and for finding the key casting move that could connect with younger viewers: That season, a Fox drama called ``21 Jump Street'' starred a young unknown named Johnny Depp John Christopher Depp II (born June 9 1963) is an American actor. Biography
Depp was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, to John Christopher Depp Sr., a city engineer, and Betty Sue (Wells), a waitress. .
The same season included a sketch comedy “Sketch Show” redirects here. For for the British TV programme, see The Sketch Show.
Sketch comedy consists of a series of short comedy scenes, or 'sketches', commonly between one and ten minutes long. show starring Tracey Ullman Tracey Ullman (born 30 December, 1959) is a British-born, now U.S. citizen comedian, actress, singer, dancer, screenwriter, and author, who is most famous for being the host of her eponymous variety television show. that became more notable for its cartoon interlude, which became an entire series: ``The Simpsons.''
The network made subsequent leaps with such reality series as ``America's Most Wanted'' and ``Cops,'' and youth-oriented prime-time soaps ``Beverly Hills 90210'' and ``Melrose Place This article or section needs copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone and/or spelling.
You can assist by [ editing it] now. .''
Throughout its decade of history, Fox has been able to be different from its bigger network brethren by its willingness to leave shows alone, even when they appeared to be failing. Of course, on many occasions, Fox didn't have anything else to put on, so these decisions may have been made more from necessity than bravery.
But the strBategy resulted in the survival of such shows as ``The X-Files'' and ``Party of Five,'' both of which spent long periods near the bottom of the weekly ratings before they caught fire with the audience.
Another accident of fate may be even more responsible for the increasing strength of Fox's competitive position. Fox was set up from the beginning as a limited network, with just 15 hours in prime time as opposed to the other networks' 22 hours.
Now that encroachment from cable and other forms of program delivery has greatly eroded the power of the networks, Fox seems to have a far better model for survival in the diminished world of network television. With 15 hours to fill instead of 22, Fox has fewer opportunities for what network executives call ``the crater effect,'' in which weak shows fail so utterly that they drag down the performance of the entire network.
The other three networks suffer drastically because of those shows, which could all be eliminated if the networks didn't have those extra seven hours to fill.
The top 15 hours on NBC, for example, would be a hugely potent schedule, dwarfing anything Fox could put up. ABC ABC
in full American Broadcasting Co.
Major U.S. television network. It began when the expanding national radio network NBC split into the separate Red and Blue networks in 1928. , which is now regularly beaten by Fox in the 18-to-49-year-old group it most aims to reach, would crush Fox in that category if it counted only its best 15 hours of programming.
One senior executive at a competing network said, ``Fox has been getting away for years selling this notion that it is No. 2 in terms of 18 to 49. That's not true. In terms of total number of viewers reached, it doesn't even beat CBS (Cell Broadcast Service) See cell broadcast. in viewers 18 to 49. Fox just gets to count the hours it wants to count.''
Roth said of Fox's limited schedule: ``Of course it's an advantage. It is far easier for me to target the holes we have.''
If not exactly craterlike holes, Fox still has those problem areas, even with all its success this year. Its Tuesday movie has barely poked its head above the ratings horizon, and, like everyone else, Fox has had trouble competing Bwith the NBC programming juggernaut on Thursday night.
Kelly Kahl, the chief scheduler for CBS, said: ``Fox really blundered on Thursday by taking off a schedule that was working. They went from second to fourth on the night.''
More than anything else, however, Fox has fallen short in finding a way to inject half-hour comedies onto its schedule. Almost all its strength is in hourlong shows, and it does not have a single successful comedy with a live person in it.
``We have to find a way to add comedy to the schedule,'' Roth acknowledged. Several years ago, Fox's television production arm, 20th Television, spent millions signing up comedy-writing talent.
``They have $3 million and $4 million deals with comedy writers nobody ever heard of,'' one television industry executive said, ``and nothing to show for it.''
Roth said he believed that was about to change in the next couple of months as Fox brings on a batch of new comedies. One, ``Damon,'' starring Damon Wayans Damon Kyle Wayans (pronounced "Waynes") (born September 4, 1960) is an American stand-up comedian, writer, and actor who began his career as a stand-up comic in 1982. He is one of the Wayans brothers. as an undercover policeman with a brother, played by David Alan Grier David Alan Grier (born June 30, 1955) is an American actor and comedian known for his work on the sketch comedy television show In Living Color. Biography
Early life , in ``home security,'' is the great comedy hope for the network, Roth said. He singled out another show, ``The Way We Work,'' with Vivica A. Fox and Jon Cryer
Jon Cryer (born on April 16, 1965 in New York, NY), is an American actor, writer and producer. He is currently starring in the CBS comedy series Two and a Half Men with Charlie Sheen. , which will probably be given a spring tryout.
Fox will try to make some comedy headway with a show called ``Ask Harriet,'' which stars Anthony Tyler Quinn Anthony Tyler Quinn (born July 25, 1964 in New London, Connecticut, U.S.) is an American actor best known for his role as Jonathan Turner on Boy Meets World from 1994-1997. as a newspaper writer who begins writing an advice column as a woman - and then has to dress for the job. Roth has placed that one at 8:30 on Thursday nights, ``with great calculation,'' he said. The reason: He sees NBC's powerhouse comedy lineup with a weak link at 8:30 in ``Union Square.''
He also admitted that Fox, like every other network, was now factoring into its future strategy the sudden black hole that NBC faces on Thursday night with the departure of ``Seinfeld'' at the end of this season.
Eye on `Seinfeld'
Roth implied that with Jerry and his friends gone, Fox was ready to be the first network to gBo after NBC on Thursday night with comedies. ``Just wait until you see what we do,'' Roth said. He added that he was eager to propose new shows to Seinfeld's exiting supporting cast.
Introducing new comedy is especially difficult because Fox doesn't have a comedy working anywhere but Sunday, and the conventional wisdom says that it would be risky to move ``King of the Hill'' away from its animated partner, ``The Simpsons.''
Roth refused to rule out that possibility, however. ``I'm not going to commit to any plan,'' he said. ``But we do need to be more aggressive. We will start to take some risks.''
He also implied that Fox might drop its Tuesday movie to make room for more shows, including ``Significant Others,'' a new drama about life among 20-somethings from the makers of ``Party of Five.''
Most of Fox's existing hits seem to have additional life in them, even the venerable ``90210'' (though Roth said the decline of ``Melrose Place'' had been ``a bit troublesome'' this season). That would seem to leave open the possibility that Fox could become an even greater threat to the network front-runner, NBC.
Does Roth think Fox could pass NBC next year in that 18-to-49-year-old group both networks prize?
``It would be a little arrogant for me to predict that outcome,'' he said. ``But if we continue to execute our plan, it will be a matter of time only. Our plan was to be the No. 1 network in the next two to three years. We're getting closer.''
Photo: (1--4--Cover--Color) CRAZY LIK LIK Lesna Industrija Kocevje (Wood Industry Kocevje, Slovenia) FOX
Under the Big 3, wily network is doing a lot of things right
(Fox TV shows)
Cover design by Lori Valesko
(5) Fox is turning office politics and singles' angst into a critical and ratings hit with ``Ally McBeal,'' featuring Gil Bellows and Calista Flockhart as ex-lovers who work in the same law firm.
(6) With Jason Priestley and Jennie Garth still on board, ``Beverly Hills 90210'' remains a Fox mainstay.
(7) The decline of nighttime soaper ``Melrose Place,'' starring Heather Locklear, left, Rob Estes and Lisa Rinna, had been ``a bit troublesome'' this season, sBays Fox Entertainment president Peter Roth.