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Fox beefing up Thursday nights

May 18, 2009 | 12:03 pm

Fox has been TV's top network among young adults for five years. And now it hopes it has the goods to take control of Thursday, TV's most lucrative night.

The network kicked off TV's upfront week in New York on Monday by announcing a fairly conservative fall schedule that nevertheless contained a bold play for Thursdays, which has for years been ruled by rivals.
In the fall, Fox will start off the night with "Bones," its durable fifth-season forensics drama, followed by the second season of "Fringe," J.J. Abrams' sci-fi drama.

Last fall, Fox had essentially punted for the night, airing back-to-back episodes of the reality series "Kitchen Nightmares."

This time around, though, Fox -- which continues to derive most of its strength from the No. 1-rated "American Idol" -- smells weakness at other networks on Thursdays, when movie studios and other big advertisers spend heavily to lure consumers planning their weekends. CBS has suffered sharp erosion for "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" is not racking up the huge numbers of old. NBC has struggled to rebuild its Thursday comedy block.

"Thursday is more open this year than it's been in a really long time,"  Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told reporters in a conference call. 

Otherwise, Fox seems to be taking few chances with its fall schedule, given that the recessionary ad market has put broadcasters in the worst position in years. Fox has long had trouble developing audiences for new shows due to disruptions from postseason baseball.

So executives will give "So You Think You Can Dance," a summer perennial, its first regular-season berth. Tuesdays will be given over to a two-hour performance show. Wednesdays will have a one-hour "Dance" results show, followed by the quirky high school comedy-drama "Glee," which previews this week.

On Mondays, caution is again the order of the night. "House," Fox's top drama, will provide a strong lead-in for "Lie to Me," a second-year crime drama. This past season, Fox rolled the dice Mondays with two struggling shows, "Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles" and "Prison Break." Neither will return next year.

Viewers will have to look hard to see new Fox shows in the fall. The network's only new dramas -- the actioner "Human Target" and the mystery "Past Life" -- won't even appear until early 2010. "Brothers," a new comedy, has been shunted into a low-profile Friday slot. Fox is also giving comedian Wanda Sykes a late-night Saturday talk show premiering in the fall.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the return of "Dollhouse," the Joss Whedon sci-fi drama that has struggled to build an audience this season. However, Reilly and other Fox executives sound confident the series can grow -- especially given the network's other assets and current ratings. "We're in a pretty strong position now, from a programming standpoint," Reilly said.

-- Scott Collins