Having survived with relative ease the departure of Simon Cowell from "American Idol," Fox will now turn to the acid-tongued judge of talent to create a new musical talent franchise for the network with "The X Factor."
Cowell's "The X Factor," already a smash in Britain, will be expected to deliver numbers similar to those of "American Idol," which is having another huge year. So far this season, "American Idol," with new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler, has seen its audience grow by 3%, and it is still averaging over 24 million viewers a week. Tyler is signed on for at least one more season, and Fox is talking with Lopez about extending her one-year deal.
Fox will premiere "The X Factor," which reunites Cowell with "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul, in the fall on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Although the musical-talent-competition genre has heated up with the success of NBC's recent entry, "The Voice," the Fox brass is confident that there is still life in the format and that Cowell's fan base will support his latest effort.
"We feel we have the gold standard in both "Idol" and "X Factor," said Fox Networks Group Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice. "In Simon Cowell we have the absolute star of the genre."
"If we can capture even a fraction of that audience, we'll have the biggest show on television," added Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly.
Fox will again finish first in the key adults 18-49 category for the seventh straight season, although its ratings with that demographic are down 3%. The network has averaged 9.7 million viewers this season, second only to CBS, which is averaging 11.7 million, according to Nielsen.
Fox's other big gamble for the fall is "Terra Nova," an science-fiction drama about a family that has to travel back in time to the period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth in an effort to save the planet from its demise in the future. Its executive producers include Steven Spielberg, and it is from a production company headed by former News Corp. President Peter Chernin.
"It is unlike anything you've ever seen before," Reilly said.
The show was originally supposed to premiere last year and then had to be pushed back twice before ending up on the fall schedule. It is costly, with the first two-hour episode having more than 250 sets alone.
Fox is planning on using "Terra Nova" in the fall, but in the spring it will premiere a new J.J. Abrams drama called "Alcatraz," about the infamous prison.
Reilly did not rule out the possibility of "Terra Nova" continuing into the spring if it turns into a smash. However, given the high price tag of the show and the lengthy production process, it could prove challenging to go beyond 13 episodes.
Given the tens of millions of dollars that producing and marketing "Terra Nova" will run, the network expects to be patient with it if the ratings are not strong right out of the gate. Reilly said "short of disaster," he couldn't see "Terra Nova" not completing its fall run.
Fox is also aggressively trying to launch new comedies. It is bringing back "Raising Hope," which was the best-rated sitcom among younger viewers in a weak class in network TV this season. It has a comedy starring Zooey Deschanel tentatively titled "The New Girl" scheduled for Tuesday, and another called "I Hate My Teenage Daughter" about two moms who discover that their kids are obnoxious brats that will run on Wednesdays after the week's first episode of "The X Factor."
Also coming in midseason are a "Bones" spinoff called "The Finder" and a new drama featuring "24" star Keifer Sutherland.
Shows that are disappearing from Fox include dramas "Lie to Me," "Chicago Code" and "Human Target." Also heading into retirement is the long-running Saturday night show "America's Most Wanted." Reilly said the show has not made money for the network in many years and that it will now return only as a handful of specials.
Fall TV season: Fox unveils 2011-12 scheduled featuring Cowell's "X Factor" and Speilberg's "Terra Nova"
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-- Joe Flint
Photo: Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell arrive at the first round of auditions for Fox's "The X Factor" on May 8. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images