Fox Family Revs Up Original Fare

NEW YORK -Fox Family Channel will again ramp up its original-production slate this fall, with nine movies and 12 series in development for 2001-2002.

The network will also add four series to its daytime kids' lineup, Fox Family president Maureen Smith said during an upfront press briefing here last Wednesday. (Sister broadcast operation Fox Kids, which Smith also heads, will add four series, including an animated version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

Smith-who replaced Rich Cronin in the top spot last year-said Fox Family notched significant primetime gains among adults 18 to 49 in Nielsen Media Research's household ratings for both fourth-quarter 2000 and first-quarter 2001. The network's once-mature median age is now "in the high 30s" in primetime, she noted.

"We've turned this ship around," said Smith.

Fox Family's new shows are meant to maintain that younger and more upwardly mobile course. Last week, Fox Family ran a second week-long batch of five Scariest Places on Earth
episodes; the first stunt last October proved to be a ratings hit among young adults.

Following the stunt, Scariest Places
will become a series to air Fridays at 9 p.m. Fox Family's upcoming Thursday-night Major League Baseball telecasts, which begin April 5, should serve as an ideal promotional platform for that offering, Smith said.

Given Scariest's success, Fox Family has slated several other reality shows that put families, rather than strangers, into compelling situations, said Smith. Two such shows now in the works are Breakout
and Back In Time.
In addition, the network plans Pet Games, a two-hour pilot that pits families' dogs and cats against one another "in Olympic-style competitions."

On the scripted-series front, Fox Family executives were most enthused about four half-hour dramedies: State of Grace (which Smith called "a female Wonder Years," narrated by Oscar winner Frances McDormand); Favor & Family
("The Honeymooners
meets All in the Family"); Quincy's Quads
(about an African-American couple coping with quadruplets, created by The Cosby Show's Erich Van Lowe); and an untitled Debbie Allen project about a divorcée who opens a dance studio.

Fox Family has also ordered a script for the one-hour drama Soul Provider, which Smith described as " Moonlighting
The Sixth Sense."

In its previous incarnations, Fox Family was "trigger-happy" in terms of axing new series after brief runs, conceded Smith. Though she hopes improved advanced planning will make that less likely, she emphasized that the recent cancellations of Courage
and The Fearing Mind
had to be swift because "they simply did not work," and were a drag on the network's ratings average.

Several of Fox Family's planned original movies are romantic comedies, sparked mostly by the recent ratings success of Au Pair. That telepic scored a 5 household rating last year.

Au Pair II
is set for April 22. Smith also mentioned Till Dad Do Us Part
(a June possibility that reunites Night Court's John Larroquette and Markie Post); and When Good Ghouls Go Bad
(a Halloween vehicle starring Christopher Lloyd).

Dramatic films on tap include Three Days
(part of the network's planned 225-hour long "25 Days of Christmas" stunt), and films with a biographical bent, such as its successful movie about basketball icon Michael Jordan.

Biopic topics range from celebrities (tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams) to true stories about people who are "not household names."

Specials also will dot the primetime schedule from time to time. Cher's recent Home Box Office concert will air March 31; another music special is planned for November. The network also has acquired HBO events starring Janet Jackson and Garth Brooks.

Fox Family has given the go-ahead to four kids' series, notably So Little Time, a live- action show starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson. Plans also call for three animated series: Braceface, produced and voiced by Alicia Silverstone; Da Mob, about a teen hip-hop band; and Totally Spies, which tracks three Beverly Hills teens turned spies.

Nine current shows were renewed; 270 fresh episodes of those series are on tap.

Fox's overall kids' programming budget has "remained pretty consistent" year-to-year, but its marketing support has grown, Smith said. In primetime, Fox Family's program budget "will be up slightly next year," although she declined to provide figures.