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Fox's New Clothes

Do television networks Fox and CBS have a case of reputation envy?

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While CBS tries to become more Fox-like next fall (by airing the Melrose Place-like pilot Central Park West, for starters), Fox is countering with a unique strategy: trying to become more like CBS. ”You’re going to see classier vehicles coming out of Fox,” says network-television buyer Paul Schulman, who cites the dramatic pilot The Pastor’s Wife, from quirkmeister David E. Kelley (Picket Fences, Chicago Hope), as one example. Adds Dean Valentine, Disney’s president of network TV: ”They seem to care about quality an awful lot, which is a new thing for Fox.”

Other pedigreed producers creating pilots for Fox include Francis Ford Coppola, whose futuristic sci-fi adventure White Dwarf airs May 23; Northern Exposure‘s Joshua Brand and John Falsey — their Gemini Man tells the true story of a policeman who is also an emergency-room doctor — and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd‘s Jay Tarses, who will produce an as-yet-untitled show about a beleaguered high school English teacher. This journey onto the high road is apparently being led by the new president of Fox’s entertainment group, John Matoian, a former CBS executive who was hired away by Rupert Murdoch last fall. (The Tarses project is one that’s likely dear to Matoian’s heart — he once taught school in Fresno, Calif.) The exec, who declines to comment, has always stressed quality and praised such shows as The Simpsons and The X-Files for their ”singular vision.” Unadulterated Fox fans can take heart, though: Married … With Children will be back for its 10th season come September.