THE FOX NETWORK--They said it couldn't be done. They said no one could put together the stations, the advertisers and the production personnel necessary to get a new TV network off the ground. They said it wouldn't pay off.
On the last point, they may be right.
We won't know for quite some time. What is quite clear, however, is that they--the industry pundits, cynics and skeptics--were wrong on the first two counts.
The Fox Network is here. Actually, it debuted last Oct. 9 with "The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers." Sunday night, it invades prime time. Over KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, XETA Channel 6 in San Diego and 103 other stations--about half the number of affiliates as ABC, CBS or NBC, but reaching an estimated 85 percent of the population--it will unveil two comedy series, "Married . . . With Children" and "The Tracey Ullman Show."
Three times each.
That's right. Fox really wants you to sample its wares. So "Married . . . With Children," will premiere Sunday from 7 to 7:30 p.m. and "The Tracey Ullman Show" will follow from 7:30 to 8 p.m. Then the same two episodes will be repeated from 8 to 9 p.m. and yet again from 9 to 10 p.m.
"Fox's goal is to reach the largest possible audience for our first night of programming," said Jamie Kellner, president of Fox Broadcasting Co. "Our 'open house' approach allows viewers the opportunity to sample Fox programming without missing '60 Minutes,' 'Murder, She Wrote' or the 9 o'clock movies."
"Married . . . With Children" stars Ed O'Neill and Katey Sagal in what is billed as a more realistic comedy about married life than the major networks usually choose to show. It's not that they're not happy together; it's just that they're not happy all the time. Two teen-age sons don't help.
"The Tracey Ullman Show" features the young British actress in an unusual variety format that will mix music and animation with comedy sketches. Julie Kavner, who played Rhoda's sister Brenda on "Rhoda" and more recently was seen in Woody Allen's "Radio Days," will be a regular.
In the weeks ahead, Fox will roll out additional series so that it will have in place a three-hour block of first-run programming every Sunday by May 3.
Coming April 12 is a two-hour premiere, from 7 to 9 p.m., of "21 Jump Street," a drama about a young policeman (Johnny Depp) who works undercover at a high school. It will be seen thereafter from 7 to 8 on Sundays, followed by "Married . . . With Children."
At 8:30 p.m., beginning April 19, Fox has scheduled "Duet," a romantic comedy about the blossoming relationship between a businesswoman (Mary Page Keller) and a writer (Matthew Laurance), told in a step-by-step style that starts with their first meeting.
As of May 3, that will be followed at 9 p.m. by "Mr. President," a comedy starring George C. Scott as the chief executive. "The Tracey Ullman Show" will round out the Fox schedule from 9:30 to 10 p.m.
Fox will take further aim at your weekend viewing on May 30 and June 6, when it will introduce four more comedies for a Saturday prime-time block.
Television's burgeoning cadre of choices grows larger still. But better? We'll see.