SUMMER STOCK: It’s summertime, the season when networks offer a steady diet of failed series (NBC’s Chicago Sons and ABC’s Spy Game) and grounded pilots (CBS’s Life…and Stuff), and viewers just as steadily look elsewhere for fresh entertainment.
Hoping to stop viewer flight, Fox is hyping its summer programming, which the net says contains 40 percent new prime-time fare. ”It has always confounded me, why we hang out the ‘Gone fishing’ signs during the summer,” says Fox Entertainment Group president Peter Roth. Although Fox’s intentions are good, that 40 percent figure is a bit of a fish story. The network’s summer schedule includes new episodes of Pacific Palisades (which got off to a mediocre start this spring), reruns of Mad TV, and two new low-budget shows (Brit-based talkfest The Ruby Wax Show and the Ripley-esque reality show Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction?) — hardly the stuff to keep bored viewers on the couch. ”There’s a lot of sizzle, but little steak,” says one rival network exec about Fox’s efforts.
Fox’s meatiest new offering, the medieval action show Roar, is something of a long shot. At $1 million-plus per episode, the Universal Television drama — from producers Shaun Cassidy (American Gothic) and Ron Koslow (Beauty and the Beast) — is best described as an Irish Braveheart. John Matoian, Roth’s predecessor as head of Fox Entertainment, ordered 13 episodes of the pricey series only weeks before he quit (some insiders joke it was Matoian’s revenge for Fox’s shoddy treatment of him).
While Roth is quick to profess his love for Roar, that he passed on it for fall seems to indicate otherwise. And advertisers aren’t holding their breath. ”New series that start during the summer usually don’t do that well,” says Steve Sternberg, senior partner at BJK&E Media Group. ”Viewers don’t want to invest the time.” Perhaps NBC has the right idea. The net’s ”It’s new to you” summer campaign points out that it’s only a rerun if you’ve seen it before.
READING IS FUNDAMENTAL: That’s the lesson ABC learned after it showed its irreverent ”TV is good” ad campaign to the network’s 200 affiliate stations last week. The campaign encouraged viewers to put down their books (”Books are overrated”), stop volunteering (”The whales can save themselves”), and leave the great outdoors (”It’s a beautiful day, what are you doing outside?”) to watch TV. Although it got high marks from advertisers, some of the TBWA Chiat/Day-designed ads failed with local stations. The Alphabet quickly pulled the anti-reading spot.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB: The clock is ticking for troubled Fox After Breakfast. While undergoing numerous behind-the-scenes changes, the morning show is also struggling to find an on-air partner for host Tom Bergeron. After releasing original cohost Laurie Hibberd (and Bob, the wisecracking puppet), FAB has been playing musical chairs with celeb cohosts, but it still can’t muster more than a 1 rating. Although things look bleak for FAB, a Fox spokesman said the network ”supports the show, which continues to undergo creative changes,” adding there are no ”current” plans to replace it.