Fox Has Faith in Serial Dramas

Peter Liguori: 'Great Content Conquers All'

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PASADENA, Calif. ( -- Is it too much to ask of today's time-shifting, short-attention-span audiences that they commit to a crop of new serialized dramas on network TV? Peter Liguori, Fox's president-entertainment, said the abundance of such shows on fall schedules could tax TV watchers and challenge him and his competitors.
Peter Liguori
Peter Liguori Credit: AP

As audiences flocked to hits such as Fox's "24" and "Prison Break" and ABC's "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," networks began looking for more shows in a similar vein and plan to launch a number of them during the next TV season, beginning in the fall. The theme of serial oversaturation was constant during the recent Television Critics Association semiannual conference here, with network executives discussing the time commitment and loyalty that's required for the success of such shows.

Mr. Liguori, speaking earlier today at the convention, defended Fox's decision to add to the serial pool in the upcoming season with the new show "Vanished," which follows the case of a missing senator's wife throughout its episodes.

'A telling season'
"It'll be a telling season for all of us," Mr. Liguori said during the first day of Fox's two-day presentation. "How do we manage all these serialized shows? It might sound naive, but great content conquers all."

Fox has tried to create events around its serialized dramas, such as the much-hyped finales of "24" and "Prison Break" this past season, drawing in sizeable audiences. Ratings for the veteran thriller series "24" were up 12% from a year earlier, while the new drama "Prison Break" improved its time period by 18% from 2004-05.

To help audiences keep the thread of a serialized show, Fox has tried to air as many original episodes in a row as possible. Mr. Liguori said he will continue to do so, compressing the new episodes into a continuous clump and minimizing reruns that tend to turn off viewers.

Fox also will stack its serialized shows on Monday and Tuesday nights, so audiences will know where they are on the schedule. The network hopes to create appointment TV on those nights.

Wrapping up
If a new serialized show like "Vanished" doesn't work, Mr. Liguori said the network will try to serve the fans by wrapping up the story either online, through digital platforms or on air. Usually, serialized shows that don't become hits drop off the schedule with no warning and no closure, frustrating fans.

Among Fox's other new shows for the fall are "'Til Death," a comedy starring "Everybody Loves Raymond's" Brad Garrett and ensemble sitcom "Happy Hour," along with cop drama "Standoff" and legal eagle show "Justice" from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. There will be a sprinkling of unscripted shows, such as "Hell's Kitchen," "So You Think You Can Dance?" and new singing contest "Celebrity Duets," which pairs up recording stars with celebrities not known for their vocal chops.

Though Fox has ordered only 16 episodes of the once-white-hot teen drama "The OC," that doesn't mean the network has lost faith, he said. The show's ratings have declined since its early phenomenon days, but Mr. Liguori said he will consider ordering more new episodes depending on its November launch and subsequent run on Thursday nights.

Fox first
Fox ended the season first among networks in the key 18-49 demographic. It was the second consecutive win for the network in that advertiser-coveted demo.

One of Fox's big challenges is to improve its fourth quarter, the period after Major League Baseball ends and before "American Idol" returns in January. Mr. Liguori didn't give any peeks into the next "Idol" season, except to say he tries to prepare himself for a ratings dip.

"It stands up to logic and reason that the show will see audience erosion," he said. "But each season, it just hasn't happened. All I can do is predict that it will happen and cross my fingers that it doesn't."
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