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Fox shakes up fall TV; new show by ‘Buffy’ creator

By David Bauder, The Associated Press
Friday May 17, 2002

NEW YORK — The Fox network, stuck with sagging ratings and the end of two signature shows, will replace “Ally McBeal” this fall with another drama about lawyers produced by David E. Kelley. 

With “The X-Files” also ending its run, Fox will turn Sundays into a comedy night — part of an extensive overhaul that leaves only its Tuesday and Saturday night schedules intact. 

Meanwhile, the UPN network released a new schedule Thursday with three new series, including a remake of “The Twilight Zone.” 

Fox has seen audience erosion second only to ABC this year, slipping behind NBC and CBS in its target demographic of young adults. “The X-Files” and “Ally McBeal” badly faded in the ratings, and no breakout hits emerged to replace them. 

As a result, Fox is adding nine new programs — four dramas and three comedies — in the fall, and two non-scripted series and another drama in the winter. 

“We had to make some aggressive moves in order to show some growth on our network next year,” said Gail Berman, Fox entertainment president. 

“Dark Angel,” “Titus” and “That ’80s Show” were canceled, with “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” set to return in midseason. 

Kelley’s new drama, “Girls Club,” slips into the Monday time slot occupied by his old show, “Ally McBeal.” It focuses on the professional and personal lives of three 27-year-old female lawyers, friends since law school, in San Francisco. 

With its broadcast rivals airing dramas and “The Sopranos” returning on HBO, Fox opted for comedies in the Sunday 9 p.m. time slot vacated by “The X-Files.” “Malcolm in the Middle” will start a half hour later than it does now and a new family comedy, “The Grubbs,” will follow it. 

“It seems like such a wonderful alternative for families,” said Sandy Grushow, Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman. “If you want to end your weekend on a lighter note, there’s really no place else to go.” 

The acclaimed drama “24” will return for a sophomore season. After flirting with a change to a more traditional format, Fox will stick with having each episode be one hour in real time. 

Fox will run movies and specials on Thursdays until the winter. Then it will launch a new night of programming with two reality series and “Septuplets,” a drama about seven brothers and sisters about to turn age 16. 

Other new Fox programs are: 

—”Fastlane,” a drama about two undercover cops in Los Angeles, with “Beverly Hills 90210” actress Tiffani Thiessen as their boss. 

—”Firefly,” a science fiction series set in a war-torn world 800 years in the future, developed by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creater Joss Whedon. 

—”John Doe,” a drama about a mysterious man who knows virtually everything about the world but nothing about himself. 

—”Cedric the Entertainer Presents,” a sketch variety series led by the comedian. 

—”Oliver Beene,” a family comedy focusing on an 11-year-old in 1962. 

—”30 Seconds to Fame,” a weekly talent show that will debut on Thursdays in the winter. 

—”Meet the Marks,” the first obvious imitator of the reality sitcom genre created by “The Osbournes,” about actors set up in a real house rigged with hidden cameras. 

UPN is sticking with themes for its five broadcast nights: comedies with largely black casts on Monday, science fiction programming on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, professional wrestling on Thursdays and movies on Fridays. 

The latest remake of “The Twilight Zone,” with Forest Whitaker as host, will air Wednesday nights. “Haunted,” a dark supernatural drama, will follow “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on Tuesday nights. 

UPN, after several years of trying to appeal primarily to teen-age boys and young men, is trying to broaden its focus. 

“UPN is the best place for you to reach 18-to-34-year-olds,” Leslie Moonves, the CBS president who is also overseeing corporate sister UPN, told advertisers. 

“Half and Half,” about two half-sisters with little in common, is a new comedy that replaces the cancelled “The Hughleys” on Monday night. 

Two other UPN shows that won’t be back next fall are “Roswell” and “Special Unit 2.