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Talk, Magazines in Fox Sports Game Plan

Fox Sports Networks is testing a play designed to keep viewers in their seats: entertainment fare on Fox's 20 regional sports networks. Used as shoulder bits for games and news, the shows will include talkers, celebrity and pop-culture vehicles, and interview programs—all sports-related.

"We need people to stay longer. We need to branch out. We need more variety," says Executive VP of Programming George Greenberg. (Fox owns 11 of the regional sports nets; the other nine are affiliates.)

Starting March 21, Fox Sports Net Across America
is a weekly magazine show culled from reporting across the regions. Riding the casino-game craze, Fox plans an invitation-only poker show featuring top players.

Daily strip The Sports List
is a countdown show with athletes and celebs dishing on top sports moments and players with former Olympic champ Summer Sanders, who has signed on to host. Both those shows arrive in May.

And here's an interesting cross breed. "Nightline
meets Bill O'Reilly's show" is how Greenberg describes another strip show in the works, a topical sports show tackling hot sports issues.

Greenberg and his development team, led by Vice President of Development Zig Gauthier and director Geoff Suddleson are sifting through hundreds of pitches looking for about a dozen series. Both are MTV vets. They're steering clear of scripted shows for now, though: too risky.

But the slate may include a sports-themed animated show from Jeff Nodelman about two agoraphobic videogame designers. It will mix animation with live-action sports footage.

Fox is also plotting stunts and specials, like quarterly interview specials that Greenberg bills as "the Barbara Walters [interviews] of sports," hosted by a Fox Sports talent and pegged to big events like the Super Bowl or NBA Finals.

But these new shows can't run uniformly across the sports channels. The nets have to accommodate live events and different time zones. So Fox is requesting—rather than requiring—that programs premiere on certain nights and repeat throughout the week. Fox Sports Net Across America, for example, would debut on Sunday nights, rerun Mondays and Fridays.

If Fox's gamble succeeds, it may be the start of a programming revolution.