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Fox Won't Play the Slots (Much)

The new TV season: Fox adds only five new shows--three dramas and two comedies--and makes no changes on four nights; UPN rolls out three comedies and picks up 'Clueless.'

May 21, 1997|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Coming off a year in which it moved closer to parity with the other networks, Fox will stick with most of its current prime-time schedule next season while launching new programs against the juggernaut that is NBC's Thursday night lineup.

Unlike ABC and ratings leader NBC, which made changes every night of the week, Fox will leave four nights as they are. The network will also add new dramas, "Ally McBeal" and "The Visitor," to pair with "Melrose Place" and "Millennium" on Monday and Friday, respectively.

"The distinctiveness in our scheduling is in our stability," Fox Entertainment Group President Peter Roth said Tuesday, staying the course "while the other networks are sailing in a sea of chaos."

The UPN network, which also presented its lineup to advertisers Tuesday, used a similar approach, renewing most existing shows while acquiring the passed-on ABC series "Clueless."

Fox's "The Visitor" is a sci-fi show starring "Northern Exposure's" John Corbett as a man who returns from the Bermuda Triangle with strange powers; the series is produced by the team behind "Independence Day."

"Ally McBeal," from "Chicago Hope" producer David E. Kelley, lets the viewer see the fantasies of a young attorney played by Broadway actress Calista Flockhart.

The network's popular Sunday lineup returns unchanged, with a rotating program of video clips, "World's Funniest . . .," leading into "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill" and "The X-Files."

Fox hopes that scheduling "World's Funniest . . . " at 7 p.m. Sundays will retain the afternoon football crowd as well as cater to the audience that watched "America's Funniest Home Videos," which was left off ABC's schedule.

As for Thursdays, Fox will have the same configuration as this season--two comedies and a drama--but with three new programs. The night starts with "Between Brothers," starring Kadeem Hardison ("A Different World"), Dondre Whitfield ("Martin") and Tommy Davidson ("In Living Color"); and "Rewind," featuring Scott Baio and Mystro Clark as two friends grappling with adulthood, flashing back to them as teenagers in junior high school.

The drama is "413 Hope St.," about an inner-city teen crisis center run by Richard Roundtree. Actor Damon Wayans created the show and is also developing a sitcom for Fox in which he'll star.

Fox ordered additional episodes of current Thursday night series "Living Single" and "New York Undercover" (still two of TV's most-watched programs among African Americans, despite declining ratings) to have in reserve.

The network also announced three comedies for midseason: "Ask Harriet," about a man-in-drag advice columnist; "V.E.N.U.S. on the Hard Drive," in which two guys find a computer intelligence that comes to life as a "cyberwoman"; and the self-explanatory "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place."

Fox scheduled only four comedies in September, however, citing the unprecedented 18 sitcoms on NBC's fall lineup and another dozen on ABC. The network wants to provide a "dramatically different" alternative, Roth said.

Fox also has trumpeted plans to air more original programming this summer, including episodes of the serial "Pacific Palisades." Those programs remain candidates to return next season if they perform well.

Although it still ranks fourth among the networks in overall viewing, Fox has moved into a second-place tie with ABC among adults age 18-49, the most important demographic to advertisers. That marks the network's best competitive standing in its history.

UPN sought to provide stability as well with a lineup that features only three new comedies. The network also continued the tradition of programmers picking up each other's leftovers by nabbing "Clueless," which is produced by Paramount, a half owner of UPN. The series will lead into another show popular with teens, "Moesha."

UPN (which airs on KCOP-TV Channel 13 locally) canceled "The Burning Zone," "Social Studies," the Sherman Hemsley series "Goode Behavior" and the comedy with perhaps the best title of last season, "Homeboys in Outer Space."

The new series are "Hitz," starring Andrew "Dice" Clay as the head of a small record company; "Head Over Heels," which features two brothers running a video-dating service (and Connie Stevens as their mother); and "The Good News," which continues this year's trend toward shows dealing with the clergy--in this case, David P. Ramsey as a young African American minister.

UPN has also ordered a comedy for midseason, "Ruby," starring "Married . . . With Children's" David Faustino, with Whoopi Goldberg providing the voice of an animatronic puppet and serving as one of the show's producers.

In addition, the network will expand to a fourth night of programming early next year with the introduction of a sci-fi movie slot on Thursdays. The fledgling WB network also announced plans to add a fourth night in December, further crowding the network landscape.

CBS announces its lineup Thursday, concluding the annual schedule-setting ritual. The network is expected to order a new police drama from producer Steven Bochco, "Brooklyn South," as well as programs casting "NYPD Blue's" David Caruso as a district attorney and Danny Aiello--fresh off "The Last Don"--as a private eye.

Fast Forward: Fox, UPN Fall Lineups

Here is Fox's and UPN's night-by-night programming:

Fox

Monday: "Melrose Place," "Ally McBeal."

Tuesday: Movie.

Wednesday: "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Party of Five."

Thursday: "Rewind," "Between Brothers," "413 Hope St."

Friday: "The Visitor," "Millennium."

Saturday: "Cops," "America's Most Wanted."

Sunday: "World's Funniest . . . ," "King of the Hill," "The Simpsons," "The X-Files."

*

UPN

Monday: "In the House," "Malcolm & Eddie," "The Good News," "Sparks."

Tuesday: "Clueless," "Moesha," "Hitz," "Head Over Heels."

Wednesday: "The Sentinel," "Star Trek: Voyager."

Thursday: UPN Sci-Fi Movie.

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