On the final day of television's midseason press tour, journalists finally got a chance to pepper Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori with questions about two of pop culture's most urgent matters -- O.J. and "A.I."
Dressed in jeans and a dark sport coat, the calm and casual Liguori handled the press as deftly as any NFL running back -- he deflected the attempted tackles.
When he was asked about his judgment in the botched O.J. Simpson television special "If I Did It," Liguori said he couldn't discuss the matter because of legal considerations. (The family of murder victim Ron Goldman is suing HarperCollins Publishers for its role in the TV special's companion book deal. The book publisher, like the Fox network, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)
"Our lawyers asked me not to comment," Liguori said Saturday morning in Pasadena. "I apologize for that. I understand where the question is coming from."
The network president just as skillfully repelled potential barbs aimed at the hit show and cultural phenomenon "American Idol." The show, while reveling in record-breaking premiere episodes in its sixth season, took hits because of the judges' merciless mocking and ridiculing of particularly untalented contestants.
"It's part of what makes 'American Idol' 'American Idol,' " Liguori said. "People know what the show is about."
As for the widely circulated video showing "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul slurring her speech and appearing intoxicated during television interviews, Liguori stood behind the singer.
In the video, Abdul was finishing up hours of interviews and was being pelted with questions, he said.
"After that amount of time and after answering questions from all angles, I'd probably be a little slap happy too," said Liguori. "We're pleased with what Paula does for 'American Idol.' "
Regarding the network's perennial fall ratings swoon, Liguori accepted the blame. The network's broadcast of Major League Baseball playoffs certainly disrupts the fall schedule, Liguori said, but ultimately it comes down to programming.
"We have to put on better shows," he said.
Departing from its recent trend of reality-based programming, this spring Fox will offer three new scripted shows. "The Wedding Bells," a new romantic dramedy about a family-owned wedding planning business from executive producer David E. Kelley -- creator of such shows as "Ally McBeal" -- will debut March 9.
Meanwhile, a new comedy called "The Winner," starring "The Daily Show's" Rob Corddry as a 32-year-old still living with his parents, begins March 4. And an action drama called "Drive," about an underground cross-country race, debuts April 15.
"Spring is the new fall," said Liguori, referring to the relatively high number of shows being launched in the coming months.
In another bid to find an audience, the struggling freshman comedy " 'Til Death," starring Brad Garrett, should get a boost when it follows "American Idol" on Feb. 27 and 28. Beginning March 14, the show will permanently move to Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m.
"The ratings clearly aren't where we want them to be," Liguori acknowledged, but "you have to be a little more patient with comedies."