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Fox Family Plows Ahead Despite Questions

PASADENA, CALIF.-With its fate still up in the air, Fox Family Channel will move ahead with several new original series that aim to position it as a "family friendly" network "with a contemporary sensibility."

At the recent Television Critics Association tour here, Fox Family officials unveiled plans for the primetime dramedy State of Grace
and for turning Scariest Places on Earth-the network's recent hit specials-into a weekly 9 p.m. series starting April 6. Fox Family in June also will launch a new half-hour animated daytime series called Braceface,
which will be voiced by actress Alicia Silverstone.

In addition to those efforts, Fox Family said it will produce eight adult-targeted original movies this year. It will unveil its official production and development slate in the next few weeks.

Fox Family is already benefiting from its connection with News Corp., which currently owns 49.5 percent of the channel and could wind up getting nearly all of it. That's because Haim Saban, chairman of Fox Family Worldwide Inc., has exercised a so-called "put" option that forces his partner, News Corp., to acquire his 49.5 percent of the company. Valuations of Fox Family from both sides' investment bankers are due Jan. 31.

Fox Family president Maureen Smith briefly addressed the pending change in ownership with the assembled TV writers.

"As for valuations and negotiations, that's really strictly between the owners involved," Smith said. "But what I can tell you is that News Corp. has been nothing but extremely supportive of Fox Family and they continue to be."

That support was particularly reflected in one TCA announcement: Through a deal with News Corp.'s Fox Sports Net, Fox Family will for the first time carry a package of 26 Major League Baseball games. The ballgames will air on Thursday nights, starting April 5.

"It's going to bring new viewers to our audience, but we also think it's a great new kind of family programming to bring to our channel," Smith said. "It's good for Friday nights.because this will serve as a great promotional platform to drive viewers to Friday nights."

And in yet another play with News Corp. and its Fox Cable Networks Group, Fox Family has acquired the off-network rights to 3rd Rock from the Sun.
Under the deal, Fox Family has the flexibility to run the sitcom on any of Fox's cable networks.

It was one big lovefest between Fox Family and News Corp., as Rupert Murdoch's FX did its TCA presentation right after Fox Family, on the same stage.

Kevin Reilly, FX's president of entertainment, said that network has a development slate of more than 40 projects, including scripted comedies, one-hour dramas, telepics and reality series. FX has ordered pilots on three half-hour comedies already, according to Reilly.

Those are: The Kronenberg Chronicles,
written and directed by John Landis, a show-within-a-show about a scientist who goes in search of unsolved paranormal mysteries; StraightWhite Male,
a look at fidelity and morality from a man's point of view; and Bad News, Mr. Swanson, about a man who finally begins to live after he finds out that he is dying.

Hour-long dramatic series are a priority for FX, according to Reilly, and the network plans to put at least one on the air this year. Some of those projects include a show from Jim Manos, the Emmy winning producer of Home Box Office's The Sopranos, who is doing a crime drama from the criminal's point of view.

"It's a pretty interesting twist," Reilly told the critics.

The second drama project is Dope, created by Chris Brancato and Bert Salke. It looks at the drug world in a similar way as the theatrical film Traffic.
"Traffic, I think, is making a real impression in the national psyche," Reilly said. "Six months ago, we ordered this script in development. It's a perfect territory for FX. It deals in that vein."

Reilly also detailed some of the original movies that FX has in development. Those include American Guru,
written and directed by Academy Award winner Tom Schulman, which is about self-help guru and EST founder Warner Erhart; and Sins of the Father,
based on a New York Times Magazine
cover story about a father-and-son relationship set against the backdrop of the murder of black teens in the 1950s by the Ku Klux Klan.

Another News Corp. service, Fox Movie Channel, will a feature-length documentary to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1971 Academy Award winner The French Connection.
The untitled documentary will be produced by Grosso-Jacobson Communications.

Sonny Grosso is the ex-New York police detective who was the basis for the Buddy Russo character, played in The French Connection
by Roy Scheider.