Today we had the privilege of participating in Fox's 2006 Annual Upfront Conference Call. During the discussion we heard from Peter Liguori, President, Entertainment, Preston Beckman, Executive Vice President, Strategic Program Planning, Jon Nesvig, President, Sales, Ross Levinsohn, President, Fox Interactive Media and Peter Levinsohn, President, Fox Digital Media. During this discussion they talked heavily about programming at the network for the 2006 season, their reasons for altering their schedule and the general business of television.

The conversation was led by Joe Earley and is an edited transcription of what was discussed.

Joe Earley: I just want to recap where we expect to finish the sweep and the season after next Wednesday's American Idol finale. For May we will win the sweep in Fox's target demos of 18-49, 18-34 and teens with a projected margin of victory over second place CBS of a full ratings point. Followed by ABC and then NBC. We'll be the only network that will finish the sweep up year to year and we expect to be up about 12%. We again will of course dominate the younger demos and finish number two in total viewers.

For the 2005-2006 season, Fox again dominates all the younger demos and will finish number one in 18-34 for the seventh time in the past eight years. We've been number one in teens now for six years in a row also twelve out of the past fifteen. Finally, next week for second year in a row we are going to claim victory as the number one network for the season in adults 18-49.

That's everything and I am going to turn things over to Peter Liguori.

Peter Liguori: Thanks Joe... I do wanna review the schedule a bit and give you some insight into our overall strategy. Our strategy for next season is based on stability, incorporating Baseball, really maximizing our powerful January surge and creating kind of a bimodal season. In terms of stability, this upcoming season 16 out of 16 returning series will either air on the same time period or on the same night. With returning hits like Idol, 24, House, The O.C., Family Guy and our breakout hits Bones and Prison Break, we're really able to build a schedule that shows strength and incredible stability across the board; every night of the week.

We plan, once again, to start our season early to allow our shows time to establish audience loyalty; prior to our baseball break. We'll also use the Major League baseball playoffs, better, to maximize our promotions. Using the more male oriented shows within baseball and using the World Series, with it's delivery of more woman and younger viewers, to kind of go after our broader shows.

When January arrives, this network has a 4th Quarter unlike any others. Of course we're gonna be bringing back Idol and 24, but our January and our February are going to be even stronger than ever for a couple of reasons. First, we're gonna have the BSC Championship Series this year. Second, in February we're gonna have the Daytona 500, which is the Super Bowl of racing. This will be great platforms to recharge our schedule but more importantly, help us introduce midseason premieres.

I really want to emphasize that we consider these premieres. These are not midseason replacements. These are shows that in our scheduling room and in our development, we specifically targeted for introduction in the 1st Quarter. They'll take advantage of sports, they'll take advantage of the great promotional platforms of 24 and Idol.

And kind of the last piece of our strategic design that I want to talk to you about, is the fact that we want to extend both ends of our seasons. First, by ordering enough episodes for some of our midseason shows to run beyond May, and secondly, by premiering our summer schedule immediately behind the finales of some of our biggest series; to take advantage of their huge ratings.

This year, yet again, we're going to present perhaps the stablest schedule we've ever had. Bringing back a number of proven performers and returning series on every night of the week to provide established companions for all our new shows.

On Mondays, we're gonna kick it off with Prison Break going into Vanished. Tuesday, we will start with StandOff going into House. On Wednesday, Bones will lead into... Justice.

And to be sure that we start Thursday's and Friday's of this season in a big way, we're gonna kick off early with Duets. It's a show from Simon Cowell that's a limited run, Thursday, Friday, event. This show is going to pair established musical stars like the Michael Boltons and Chaka Khans and Cindy Laupers of the world, Smokey Robinson, with celebrities not known for their singing. The duos will be competing for charity and it will have a home voting component. There will performances on Thursday with a results show on Friday.

Starting early on Thursdays we'll kick off with Till Death and Happy Hour, again, in our minds this is a very strong comedy block that's gonna kick off the night. Come November, we're going to premiere The O.C. for it's 4th Season. We're holding back The O.C. until after baseball, with this show being a serial we'll have more original episodes and more continuous big blocks of runs.

On Friday in the fall, again stability is the key. Were gonna be continuing our pairing of Nanny 911 and Trading Spouses. On Saturday, our perennial Cops at 8 and at 8:30, going into America's Most Wanted at 9. Saturday, there is some bigger news on the late night broadcast. Again, we will return Mad TV for its' 12th season at 11 o'clock. At midnight, we'll be introducing a talk show with Spike Feresten. Again, our first move into late night in quite awhile.

On Sunday, with football around in the fall... at 7 and 7:30 we'll be encoring some of our animation. At 8 we'll have The Simpsons and at this point leading into American Dad, then into Family Guy and finishing at 9:30 with War At Home.

What Spring '06 is going to look like is on Monday, we'll wind up taking StandOff from Tuesday at 8 and moving it to Monday at 8. That will lead into the premiere of 24. Just as we did last year, we're scheduling Prison Break from August to January. And a full season of 24 from January to May. Prison Break will return carrying original episodes at some point in the back half of the year. It will probably carry those episodes into the summer.

Again, Monday night is really gonna be this branded, nonstop, high octane kind of franchise for us all year long. On Tuesdays, when Idol will premiere at 8, again leading into House. On Wednesdays, we're gonna move... Justice up from the 9pm time slot to the 8 o'clock time slot. Having it lead into the 9 o'clock American Idol results show.

And then at 9:30, we're gonna bring back The Loop. On Thursday's it's going to remain the same. Friday's, our goal here again in terms of all the heightened female traffic and young viewer traffic that we have, we're going to be at 9 o'clock premiering The Wedding Album. We're gonna be moving Bones... to 8 o'clock. In the Spring, Saturday and Sunday will remain intact.

There will be a change at 7:30 when we bring King of the Hill back. And we're also going to have a new live action comedy called The Winner from Seth MacFarlane and Ricky Blitt. That will likely go into that 9:30 time slot. This is the first live action show that Ricky and Seth have ever written.

Finally, in Summer '07, we'll see the returns of Hell's Kitchen, So You Think You Can Dance? along with a new summer tentpole series called On The Lot which will premiere at some point in the late spring to take advantage of the big viewership we get from our season finales. On The Lot comes to us from two of the biggest names in TV, Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg. It's going to offer aspiring filmmakers the opportunity of a lifetime to really work with the top professionals in the business. One winner will be chosen by America, the winner here gets a two year development deal with Spielberg's company DreamWorks. The website is already up for entries.

Joe Earley: Thank you, we're now ready to take questions.

Was there any temptation to remove The O.C. this season?

Peter Liguori: There's no doubt that when ABC announced ratings on Thursday night that we all took a step back. We actually had a very brief discussion about possibly moving it, but the decision was quickly made that The O.C. has an incredibly loyal audience. We feel that that audience will be there. Again, given the emphasis on that show and how we've always viewed it as being an 18-34, a way younger show, the decision to stick where we are with the same time period was made.

Do you think the death that's airing in tonight's finale will give the show a shot in the arm for next season?

Peter Liguori: I think it's twofold. I think in the second half of the year Josh and his team really escalated the storytelling. And tonight's finale will no doubt cause tremendous controversy, and we are betting on the fact that we think it's going to really attract an audience to come to the show next year.

Was it hard for you to sign off on the death?

Peter Liguori: Yes.

Have you heard the plot for 24 next season?

Peter Liguori: Yes... I can assure you those guys amaze us every year with their storytelling. They have their game face on for next season.

Is it bigger? How can you get bigger than going after the President of the United States?

Peter Liguori: Well, first and foremost we ask that question of ourselves every single year. It's remarkable that the show does continue to grow. I can assure you that Bob and Joel and Howard have something up their sleeves that will compete with the storytelling from this year.

Other than Prison Break and 24, are there any other scripted series that you plan to run through without repeating?

Peter Liguori: I can say this, Vanished, we will have minimal, minimal interruptions. We're gonna try and compact all that storytelling in the 4th Quarter. Beyond that, on the O.C. we're gonna be minimizing the interruptions and running big continuous blocks. Will we have straight nonstop runs? No. But we're gonna have way less interruptions than the competition.

What is the Friday schedule for Duets?

Peter Liguori: Depending on how many runs we take which is an area we haven't finally determined. Again, how many performance shows we have on Thursday, we will have the same number of result shows on Friday. Probably at 9 and 9.

Could you tell us what shows you got rid of?

Peter Liguori: I'm gonna do this by memory. Bernie is not returning. Malcolm is not returning. Arrested is not returning. Free Ride, Stacked and I think That 70s Show, Killer Instinct and Head Cases.

You caused some problems with Prison Break fans last year with the schedule. Did you give any consideration to just running it straight through and letting it end early?

Peter Liguori: We do consider that, we will consider that but one of the great things about the show is that the audience is really loyal to the show. When we had that hiatus they came back as strongly as they had before we left. This year we're designing it with that break in mind. Knock on wood, fortunately the characters of Lincoln and Michael have really struck a chord with an audience and it appears they're following these characters wherever we put them.

You don't think you might upset them because you're rewarding their loyalty by giving them another break in the schedule?

Peter Liguori: Again, with the fact that we've designed next season with a break in mind, I think we're gonna be able to weather that storm. Plus, I look at shows like Idol and 24, that have these big six month breaks, it actually winds up building anticipation.

The Loop didn't get great ratings yet your returning it. Is this your Arrested Development for the year?

Peter Liguori: First, it actually did pretty well behind Idol. In fact, it had the second highest retention of any show that we've put behind Idol. Secondly, at some point we take a look at some shows and say, "What do we believe in?" The Loop is a show that really hit it's stride in the back half of it's order. Out of the gate what we shot for with the show was having it located in two places. Work hard and kind of play hard. It was a workplace place comedy and then going back into the home.

What we noticed was the show really had the bulk of it's humor in the workplace. So what we're going to do from this point forward is keep it as a workplace comedy, and you know what, frankly, with a lot of series you wind up investing and finding where the show is almost too late. With The Loop, we've actually found where the humor is right at the right time.

Are there other shows that you're going to shift the focus of to make them more successful?

Peter Liguori: I think it's an ongoing process. Yeah, we make minor adjustments as we go. But where The Loop's humor was became so clear, to the showrunners and to us, we feel really comfortable with where we're going with it at this stage.

How do you deal with the cliffhanger aspect of Prison Break considering there's going to be a break in it's schedule?

Peter Liguori: Look, it's almost like a book. There are chapters in each and every book. There are natural breaks in storytelling. Given the number of big plot points that Prison Break has, the escape, the manhunts... the intrigue amongst the escapees... there are clear and defined chapters of this ongoing story.

Have we seen the last of Unanimous?

Peter Liguori: No final decision has been made. Basically, that show could be a great backup player for us. Obviously, we'd have to introduce a few new twists to it, but given the fact that it was the number one new show of the season, it's not something that we're gonna walk away from quickly.

Does Simon Cowell's contract with you and American Idol preclude him from appearing on the other shows he develops?

Peter Liguori: Yeah, he is an on-air personality with us exclusively.

The summer roll out, that will be selective, right? You're not gonna roll out your whole schedule early are you?

Peter Liguori: We will get virtually our entire schedule premiered before the official start of the broadcast season.

After what happened with Reunion this year are you approaching serialized dramas differently? Are you making sure that there will always be a conclusion for viewers?

Peter Liguori: How we build the schedule is we pick the best available players. Fortunately, with our schedule this year the shows that we liked the most really did present a balanced mix of episodic and serialized shows. As far as something like Reunion goes, no one... anticipates failure. You do believe that these shows are gonna make it for the long haul, and that's one of the high wire acts of serialized shows. Yeah, it is disappointing for the small audience that gets invested in something like Reunion to not have an answer for that audience.

What we'll do is take it on the fly, hope that our serialized shows do take off and if we have an issue... we'll try to satisfy the audience and that may be an opportunity for us to look to our digital friends both online, video-on-demand and even mopisodes to kind of give an audience more satisfaction. If, in fact, a serialized product happens to end before it's true conclusion to the concept.

Cinemark Movie Club
Evan Jacobs