For the past eight seasons Fox (its home locally on WZTV, Channel 17) has utilized a strategy quite different from its network rivals — by making headway halfway.
You see, while competitors largely debut most of their strongest programs in the fall and juggle new episodes throughout the year, Fox has always held its two most popular shows until the halfway point, then used them to make headway off whatever gains they've enjoyed during the season from pro football or perennial favorites such as The Simpsons.
But this season Fox has already had an above-average year for two reasons.
First, the new program Glee provided them a surprise hit among younger audiences, and it will return later this season. Second, Major League Baseball's World Series enjoyed a ratings boost due to the reappearance of traditional powerhouse New York Yankees.
This week Fox unveils its traditional mid-season powerhouse programs, although both have major lineup and/or format changes.
The ninth year of American Idol begins Tuesday night at 7 with a new face. Daytime talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres is the new judge, replacing founding member Paula Abdul. In addition, the Internet and tabloid/celebrity magazines have been running numerous stories saying this will be the final season on the panel for Simon Cowell — the man who in the minds of many fans has emerged over the years as the ultimate music expert/guru.
Fox also is varying the show’s presentation this season. New developments include episodes running longer than 60 minutes, separate semifinals for male and female contestants, and viewer participation in the evaluation process beginning only with the final 24 participants (in past years it started with the round of 36).
No matter the situation, Fox relies on American Idol to be its top program. Last year it began to slip, and CBS’ NCIS" (its time slot competitor) has recently emerged as the number one rated scripted show on network TV. Plus its companion show NCIS: Los Angeles is top among new program, and The Good Wife at 9 p.m. is a critical favorite. As usual, American Idol opens with a three-hour edition Tuesday night, then a second hour on Wednesday night (also at 7).
Their other long-running favorite 24 shifts locales in its eighth year, with the action taking place in New York City.
Things get underway rather quickly in the two-hour opener Sunday night at 8 p.m. (time approximate depending on whether the NFL playoff game runs long) when President Taylor (Cherry Jones) addresses the United Nations. A visiting head of state (Anil Kapoor) is part of an assassination plot that's only the beginning to a host of other events.
Though the show opens with Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) enjoying both retirement and being a grandfather, his happiness and relaxation don't last long. How he's drawn back into the fray, as well as the continued evolution of his relationships with the likes of Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub)and Agent Walker (Annie Wersching)form the foundation for what's expected to be another strong year.
With speculation rampant that this may be 24’s final season, the producers are a revamped and updated version of CTU, a few fresh faces and a scenario that could provide either an notable exit or suitable transition into a ninth year of what's been, along with the early seasons of House, the best dramatic show in Fox's tenure.
Another highly anticipated, heavily promoted new Fox show The Human Target finally debuts Sunday night at 7. Despite its comic book origins (dating back 38 years), the premise is ideal in terms of shifting from print to TV because the main character Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) has no super powers. He's not even a world-class detective like Batman, though his intellectual prowess is even with that of the Dark Knight.
Instead, Chance is a bodyguard, but hardly a conventional one. Instead, he relishes changing places with people targeted for death, something that keeps him in cliffhanger situations, and gets him dangerous and unusual clients.
Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer will be the guest star in the first episode, while other cast regulars include Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley. As usual, comic book/sci-fi devotees will watch each episode closely to see how closely (or not) the program dovetails with the classic characterization developed in the comics.
Still, unless they totally blow things, this new version should finally obliterate the bad memories from the 1992 ABC version that starred Rick Springfield and didn't make anyone happy until it was quickly canned.