Fox thinks young, acts like veteran of television wars

May 25, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

The prime-time ratings for this TV season were the worst in years. And the schedule for next year is filled with no-names.

But no one seemed to notice that yesterday, as Fox Broadcasting unveiled its 1994-'95 prime-time schedule for advertisers in New York.

The main reason no one noticed, of course, is the thunderbolt of momentum the fourth network is riding after its announcement Monday that it will be adding 12 affiliates to its roster -- eight of the biggest ones coming out of the hide of CBS, which lost NFL football to Fox in December.

But there was another reason that the seemingly lackluster schedule generated some excitement: its emphasis on youth.

"Our goal continues to be to increase our delivery of the 18-to-49-year-old demographic. But we believe that the best way to do that is to rededicate ourselves to attracting the 18-to-34-year-old viewer," Fox Broadcasting President Sandy Grushow said.

And that's the most promising thing about the schedule, its obvious attempt to reach viewers in their teens and 20s after a season in which Fox tried to reach a broader audience. The twentysomethings are especially attractive to advertisers, because they have disposable income and their buying habits are easier to influence through TV ads.

Not only are most of the new series geared to young viewers, Fox is going to use its established hits with young viewers to directly attack its rival, CBS, the network with the oldest audience.

For example, Fox announced yesterday that "The Simpsons" will move from Thursdays to Sundays at 8 next fall where will it go head-to-head with "Murder She Wrote" on CBS.

The same strategy will be used at 8 on Monday, where Fox will move "Melrose Place" starting in September. CBS will be countering with "The Boys Are Back," starring Hal Linden and Suzanne Pleshette.

The two new sitcoms from Fox are both aimed at young viewers.

"Wild Oats," which will air at 9:30 Sunday nights, is described by Fox as a "glimpse into the roller-coaster lives of a group of out-all-night twentysomethings in search of romance and friendship."

"Hardball," which will air after "The Simpsons" on Sundays, is a locker-room sitcom about a gang of baseball players. The biggest star is Ashlee Levitch ("I'll Fly Away"), who plays the ballgirl. But who needs stars with all the video-jocks who will be tuned to Fox on Sundays thanks to football? "Hardball" looks like a clever programming move. It's also an indication of the many ways the NFL contract spills over and affects the rest of the network's lineup and fortunes.

"Models Inc.," which was announced earlier this year to explain Linda Gray's arrival on "Melrose Place," is the big new drama series from Fox. This series about "beautiful young women" will get the old "Melrose" time slot on Wednesdays.

"M.A.N.T.I.S." also is a known quantity. The action-adventure series from producer Sam Raimi ("Evil Dead") was tested this spring as a two-hour film. It stars Carl Lumbly as "an African-American paraplegic who turns into a superhero through technology," in the words of Fox. This is a show aimed at teen-agers.

"Fortune Hunter," a spy adventure in the "James Bond mold," is also targeted at young male viewers.

And there's yet more youth appeal with "Party of Five," a drama about five brothers and sisters who make it on their own after the deaths of their parents in a car crash.

On paper, "Uptown Undercover" looks like the perfect new drama for Fox. It's from an established producer, Dick Wolf of "Law & Order." Its appeal is going to be young with its focus on two young undercover cops. And it's ethnic -- "one police officer is Latin, the other is African-American," according to Fox. The network also promises that the officers will do a lot of their work in nightclubs, where the latest music will be featured.

Shows that were canceled include: "Roc," "Brisco County Jr.," "South Central," "Sinbad," "In Living Color," "Front Page" and "Code 3."

"The George Carlin Show" was renewed only as a midseason replacement, as was "The Critic," which had been dropped by ABC.

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