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Fox looks to music, dance and laughs for TV lineup
By Paul Thomasch
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fox Broadcasting took the wraps off a new prime-time TV lineup on Monday that banks on laughs from several new comedies, including the musical series "Glee," to reinforce a schedule that has been tops with young audiences for five years running.
Fox will preview "Glee" this week, before the hour-long comedy that follows a down-and-out high school musical club begins its regular Wednesday night run this fall.
Fox, owned by News Corp, is the first broadcast network to unveil its 2009-10 schedule. ABC, NBC and CBS will soon follow before TV executives get down to the business of negotiating billions of dollars of advertising sales.
Given the economy and generally weak ratings for prime- time, ad sales are likely to be down during this year's upfront market, so named because its occurs before the TV season actually begins. Last year, the broadcast networks brought in about $9.2 billion during the upfront period.
Fox finds itself in better shape than most of its rivals, however, because of its popularity with 18-49 year-old viewers. That can largely be attributed to the long-running success of "American Idol," as well as hit dramas such as "24" and "House."
Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said the network believed it could be "selective with pilots" due to its relative strength among younger viewers -- the most popular set with advertisers.
"We're in a pretty strong position right now from a programing standpoint," Reilly said on a conference call.
Still, some of the network's big bets for 2008-09 failed to make it with viewers, notably "Dollhouse," which looked set for cancellation, but will, in fact, be brought back this fall.
"Betting on something you have a core and you can believe will work is better than taking a flyer," Reilly said about the decision for the upcoming season.
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Another much-publicized move in 2008-09 by Fox to sell fewer but more expensive commercials in "Dollhouse" and "Fringe" has also been shelved. But executives said the initiative could be rolled out again.
"We're going to use it strategically," said Jon Nesvig, president of sales. "As much as I think it was a terrific experiment, week after week it was tough economically to make it work."
Along with "Glee," Fox introduced three half-hour comedies, a genre from which the TV industry is desperate to pull more hits. Comedies sell well in syndication -- meaning they can be great revenue streams -- but are notoriously tough to develop.
Fox will try to do so with "The Cleveland Show," a new animated series that is a spinoff of the popular "Family Guy;" "Brothers," which stars former NFL star Michael Strahan as a former NFL star player; and "Sons of Tucson," a midseason comedy about three brothers who a hire a substitute father.
Also on the lighter side, Fox brings its summer reality show, "So You Think You Can Dance," to Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the fall. The show adds another dance contest to fall prime-time, along with ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
Fox ordered only two new dramas, both for midseason. From the graphic novel by the same title, the network is rolling out "Human Target," an action drama about a security guard willing to put his life on the line to protect clients.
And Fox will broadcast "Past Life," about a pair of detectives who investigate the past lives of their clients.
Finally, Fox also announced a late night Saturday show hosted by comedian Wanda Sykes, known for her blunt take on current events.
ABC, a division of Walt Disney Co, CBS, a division of CBS Corp, and NBC, majority-owned by General Electric Co, will introduce their schedules this week.
(Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Andre Grenon)