HOLLYWOOD – Gail Berman is trying to get away from the term “fall launch” to describe how Fox rolls out its new schedule.

“We’re trying to look at it a little bit differently,” Berman, president of Fox Entertainment, told reporters Thursday at the TV Critics Association press tour. Because coverage of the baseball playoffs takes over the network for much of October, the network is trying to make the launching of series a more year-round process.

That’s no easy task, as the network has learned in the past few seasons. Shows launched at the traditional start of the fall season in late September aired maybe twice before being pulled for a month of baseball, leaving them lost when they return at the start of November sweeps.

Berman says Fox will still have some percentage, although she’s not yet certain how much, of its lineup on the air prior to the playoffs. The bulk of the schedule, however, won’t appear until after the World Series ends (and has been promoted heavily throughout the playoffs).

“We know what we have to do in October, and then in November,” she says. “We also know that when midseason comes, we have additional engines” for the lineup, most prominently “American Idol.”

The network’s biggest gamble this season is the summertime launch of new drama “The O.C.” It’s scheduled to premiere Aug. 5, and air for several weeks before taking October off. It will then move to Thursday nights when the World Series ends.

The idea behind the early launch, Berman says, is to “build traction” for the show, particularly among teenagers and young adults, for when it moves to Thursdays, where it will air opposite TV’s No. 1 show, CBS’ “CSI,” and NBC’s “Will & Grace.”

“This is a long-term play for us,” Fox Chairman Sandy Grushow says. “(Building an audience on) Thursday is going to take a while, but a year from now, with no “Friends’ … there are going to be opportunities for us.”



“24′ PREMIERE – SET THREE YEARS IN FUTURE – GOES COMMERCIAL-FREE

As it did last season, FOX will air the season premiere of its thriller “24” commercial-free.

The series, returning for its third season, is scheduled to debut at 9 p.m. ET Oct. 28, the network announced Thursday at the TV Critics Association press tour. Ford is sponsoring the debut – as was the case last fall – and will air an extended ad piece at the beginning and end of the episode.

The network is planning a big promotional push for the Emmy-nominated series. A four-minute trailer for the coming season will air during Fox’s showing of the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” on Sept. 7. A version of the teaser will also air in movie theaters in October.

Gail Berman, president of Fox Entertainment, also dropped a few hints about what viewers can expect in Season 3 of “24.” She wouldn’t reveal the crisis that drives the plot, but she did offer some details about the status of people affected in the cliffhanger finale of Season 2.

As previously reported, the show will jump three years into the future. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who’s back working at the government’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, will have a partner. Bauer’s daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) is also working at CTU.

Dennis Haysbert will be back, which would appear to mean that President Palmer survived the biological attack that felled him in last season’s finale. The timeline of the show would put Palmer in the middle of a re-election campaign, something Berman says is probably a safe bet.



MARRIOTT, DE LA HOYA, LEWIS PROVIDE “SIMPSONS’ VOICES

This fall, Fox’s animated centerpiece “The Simpsons” will enter its 15th season with a diverse slate of vocal talent including several returning celebrity favorites.

In the season’s premiere episode, “My Mother the Carjacker,” Glenn Close will return as Homer’s fugitive mother who returns to Springfield only to get sent to jail. Later in the season, Jackie Mason reenters the cartoon fold as Rabbi Krustofsky, father of television’s Krusty the Clown.

The 14th installment of the series’ “Treehouse of Horrors” series will feature “Alias” star Jennifer Garner and boxer Oscar De La Hoya playing themselves themselves and Jerry Lewis will also make a cameo as, fittingly, the father of the show’s nutty Professor Frink.

As has already been reported, the Simpsons will go to England in the episode “The Regina Monologues.” Prime Minister Tony Blair, J.K. Rowling, Ian McKellan and Evan Marriott will voice yellow versions of themselves. Jane Leeves also adds her pipes to the episode as Grandpa Simpson’s old flame.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, Simon Cowell, Mr. T and the late Robert Stack will also be featured during the season.



ALL-STAR GAME MATTERS, RATINGS STAY THE SAME

After weeks of heavily promoting the fact that this year, baseball’s All-Star game actually mattered, Fox had a difficult time convincing fans. While the American League won the game 7 to 6 and thus claimed home field advantage for the World Series, its ratings stayed low by All-Star standards.

The game, decided by a Hank Blalock home run in the eighth inning, drew a 9.5 Nielsen rating, roughly the same as the rating for last season’s game, which ended in a tie. After that debacle, Major League Baseball officials decided to alter the game’s rules both to prevent a similar result and to give the game added meaning.

Fox’s advertising repeatedly emphasized the game’s new meaning in an effort to drum up attention for the network’s biggest summer special event. The pregame featured Sean Connery and clips from his film “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” but little could be done to make viewers believe that the game itself was extraordinary, despite the exciting action on the field.

The game’s average viewership declined to 13.8 million, down five percent from last season’s effort.

If Fox is looking for positives to take away from the experience, the game’s overall viewership increased by three percent over last year and as the game progressed, ratings improved, reversing last season’s downward trend in the later innings.



IT’S CLEAR VIEWERS LIKE “QUEER,’ GET USED TO IT

Bravo’s gay-themed makeover show “The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” drew record ratings in its premiere on Tuesday night. The show performed particularly well in coveted young adult demographics and provided triple-digit time period growth.

Overall, the premiere, which ran from 10-11 p.m. ET, drew 1.64 million viewers. Among adults 25-54, the show attracted nearly 1.17 million.

The 25-54 numbers represent an 804 percent increase over Bravo’s demographic average for the 2002-3 season and a 657 percent improvement on what Bravo shows had been doing in the time slot.

The series, which features a Fab Five of gay lifestyle experts making over slovenly straight men, helped Bravo rise to No. 2 among ad-supported cable networks for the hour. Only MTV, with “Real World Paris” and “The Osbournes” did better. For the season, Bravo comes in at No. 38 for the hour.

“It’s great when everything comes together – a terrific show, great reviews and now fantastic ratings. This is an example of the new energy at Bravo and the first of what we hope will be lots of ratings records to come,” says Jeff Gaspin, the network’s president.



ARQUETTE LAUGHS WITH ABC FAMILY

Rosanna Arquette will develop a half-hour scripted comedy series for ABC Family. The untitled show will be based on the actress’ own unusual and entertaining life.

The script for the pilot was penned by Holly Goldberg Sloan, writer of “Made in America” and “Angels in the Outfield.” Shot documentary-style, it will focus on events in Arquette’s own life.

Born into an acting family, Arquette broke into television and films at a young age, emerging as a minor star in 1985’s “Desperately Seeking Susan.” She inspired a 1983 Grammy-winning song by Toto and went on to star in more quirky independent films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Crash.” Arquette’s television credits include the classic 1982 telefilm “The Executioner’s Song” as well as several episodes of “Will & Grace.”

“Rosanna Arquette is such a great, unique talent with a very interesting life,” says Linda Mancuso, ABC Family’s head of programming. “We know this show can be water-cooler television and we believe that we have all the elements required for a breakout hit. Rosanna has proven that she can tap in to unique cultural trends, which will be a great asset for us in reaching a broad audience.”



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AP-NY-07-17-03 1639EDT


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