Ellen Gray: Cowell's a big 'Factor' for Fox

Simon Cowell's show will air on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Simon Cowell's show will air on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Posted: May 17, 2011

DON'T TELL Donald Trump, but while Simon Cowell may not be eligible to run for president, he is the "biggest star in reality television."

Bigger than NBC's "The Voice." Maybe even bigger than dinosaurs - and he requires far fewer special effects.

That's the takeaway from a conference call yesterday morning with the suits at Fox, who in announcing the 2011-12 prime-time schedule confirmed plans to splash the former "American Idol" judge's new talent show, "The X Factor," over Wednesday and Thursdays next fall.

There will be dinosaurs, though: Both Fox broadcasting chairman Peter Rice and entertainment president Kevin Reilly insisted the oft-delayed Steven Spielberg man-meets-dinosaur series "Terra Nova," originally announced for last fall, is a go for this one, even if the first season will likely be just 13 episodes.

And you're going to hear a lot about it, too, though maybe not, it was conceded, quite as much as about "The X Factor," whose promotion began months ago.

Fox, closing in on its seventh consecutive season of ratings victories among the 18- to 49-year-olds advertisers pay to reach, broke some hearts last week as it canceled several series, including "The Chicago Code" and "Human Target," to make room for new ones. Some of the axed shows "probably would've made the cut at other networks," conceded Reilly, who, besides "Terra Nova," plans to add at least two dramas to Fox's lineup next season as well as four comedies.

Of last fall's new shows, only one, "Raising Hope," made the cut for next fall, when it will air at 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays, opening up a spot after "Glee" for "New Girl," a sitcom starring Zooey Deschanel, the sister of "Bones" star Emily Deschanel, as "an offbeat and adorable girl in her late 20s who, after a bad breakup, moves in with three single guys."

(You can find the complete text of Fox's announcement, including fuller series descriptions, on my blog, Ellen Gray on TV - go.philly.com/ellengray - where I'll be posting updates all week as broadcasters unveil their fall plans. Next up: ABC, which is expected to release its schedule this morning.)

The announcement that "Glee" would take a six-week break beginning in March so that Fox can test a two-hour sitcom block elicited a question from one reporter about whether, with other networks also looking to build up their comedy rosters, there might not be too many comedies.

(Because there are really only three stages of TV comedy: It's dead, it's back and OMG, it's going to bury us alive.)

Reilly didn't seem worried, pointing out that drama and "reality" shows still dominate network schedules. But comedies tend to repeat better than dramas. So "it would be a very healthy thing for television, I think, to get that genre back again," he said.

Other highlights:

* Kiefer Sutherland may be back on Fox by midseason, playing the widowed father of a son with special needs - and special abilities - in "Touch," a drama in development from Tim Kring that sounds a bit like Kring's last show, "Heroes."

That doesn't mean the "24" movie is dead.

"I believe that they're working on the script," Rice said. "There's a great desire to see Jack Bauer on the big screen."

* "America's Most Wanted," which Reilly said hasn't made money for the network in years, will be reduced to quarterly two-hour specials. He wouldn't rule out the possibility that host John Walsh might yet make a deal to take the show somewhere else.

* Of the current "American Idol" judges, only Jennifer Lopez isn't already signed for next season. They say they want her back, but this being Fox - and J.Lo - I wouldn't be surprised by another down-to-the-wire, will-she-or-won't-she-sign situation, keeping "Idol" in the news even when it's off the air.

* Emily Deschanel, who's pregnant, seems to have gotten a Tina Fey-like break for maternity leave, with "The Finder" moving into "Bones' " time slot for a while at midseason. If you missed the introduction of the characters in "Bones" a few weeks ago, "The Finder" stars Geoff Stults as an Iraq war veteran whose brain damage has somehow enhanced his ability to locate the missing.

* Other new fall shows include the tentatively titled "I Hate My Teenage Daughter," starring Jaime Pressly ("My Name Is Earl") and Katie Finneran ("Wonderfalls") as ex-outcasts who realize their kids have become the girls who tortured them in high school; and "Allen Gregory," a new animated show for Sundays co-created by Jonah Hill ("Superbad") in which he's also the voice of "one of the most pretentious 7-year-olds of our time," moving from being home-schooled into a regular second-grade class.

* Other midseason shows include "Alcatraz," from J.J. Abrams ("Fringe"), a drama about the notorious island prison that sounds as if it, like "Fringe" and "Lost," will be playing games with time; and "Napoleon Dynamite," an animated series based on the movie, with original cast members, including Jon Heder, voicing the roles.*

Send email to graye@phillynews.com.

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