IF YOU'D been listening in on a conference call yesterday between Fox executives and reporters, you might have thought "Dollhouse" was the most important show on the network's 2009-10 schedule.
But with the return of many shows already confirmed days, weeks and months before yesterday's formal announcements to advertisers in New York, and most of the new shows still unseen, there didn't seem to be much else to talk about than the renewal of "Dollhouse" and the cancellation of another sci-fi show, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles."
"This is a bet on Joss Whedon," declared Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly, as he explained to reporters yesterday that the network's decision to give the struggling "Dollhouse" a second season was more a vote of confidence in the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" than in the numbers his latest show is drawing.
Sure, it probably didn't hurt that "Dollhouse," which averaged just 3.72 million viewers this season and ranked 149th in the Nielsens among the 18- to 49-year-olds advertisers target, is "one of the biggest time-shifted shows on the air," or that "Terminator," which drew 4.63 million and ranked 122nd in the target demo, "was not an inexpensive show."
But first, insisted Reilly, "it's a bet on creativity and that's something that has never changed."
" 'Terminator' has completed its run, and I think it had a nice little run," he said when asked if there were any possibility that it could be brought back should the latest movie in the franchise, "Terminator Salvation," increase demand.
Not surprisingly, Reilly dodged the one question he received about "American Idol" - regarding the number of judges the show would have next year. My guess? Fewer than the number of new comedies (four) and more than the number of new dramas (two).
The new comedies are:
* "Glee," an hourlong show with music, dancing and backbiting from Ryan Murphy ("Nip/Tuck," "Popular") that gets a not-so-sneak preview tonight after "American Idol" before returning in the fall.
* "The Cleveland Show," an animated spin-off of "Family Guy" focused on Cleveland Brown (Mike Henry) that's set in his Virginia hometown. Announced last year, it's already been ordered for the full season. Oh, and Arianna Huffington apparently will guest-star as a talking bear. (Don't ask.)
* "Brothers," starring Michael Strahan ("Fox NFL Sunday") and Daryl "Chill" Mitchell ("Ed") as, yes, brothers. Strahan plays a retired NFL player, which shouldn't be a stretch, and Mitchell a restaurant owner who's been in a wheelchair since a car accident. CCH Pounder ("The Shield") plays their mother.
* "Sons of Tucson," a midseason comedy about three brothers who hire someone ("Reaper's" Tyler Labine) to play their father when the real one's sent to prison.
New dramas, both scheduled to launch midseason, are:
* "Human Target," an action series based on the DC Comics graphic novel that stars Mark Valley ("Fringe") as Christopher Chance, "a unique private contractor/security guard hired to protect." Co-stars Chi McBride ("Pushing Daisies") and Jackie Earle Haley ("Watchmen") as Chance's colleagues.
* "Past Life," inspired by the M.J. Rose book "The Reincarnationist," in which Kelli Giddish stars as psychologist Kae McGinn, who studies "the science of the soul" and uses past-life regression to help her clients solve their present-life problems. Nicholas Bishop co-stars as former New York homicide detective Price Whatley, who's grieving over his wife's death and isn't necessarily on board with McGinn's methods.
Other highlights of Fox's announcements, which lead off a week of network presentations to advertisers:
* Expect to see more commercials during "Fringe" and "Dollhouse" next season, as Fox's experiment with "Remote-Free TV" becomes sporadic, thanks to an economy that made fewer, more expensive commercials a tougher sell. It might pop up on other shows - Reilly used "Bones" as an example - if an advertiser wanted to pay for it.
* This year's pitch to Fox advertisers: "Alive Air," or programming created by show producers that breaks up commercials (and, perhaps, fools those fast-forwarding through them into stopping to look).
* "So You Think You Can Dance," traditionally a summer show, will get a second, regular-season edition this fall.
* "Glee," which will get a one-shot preview tonight after the first night of the "American Idol" season finale, is scheduled for 9 p.m. Wednesdays, after the results show of "Dance."
* "Bones" has been picked up for two more seasons and will be paired next fall with "Fringe" on Thursdays. On Mondays, "House" will stay at 8 p.m., followed by "Lie to Me" (with Shawn Ryan, creator of "The Shield," coming on as executive producer) in the fall and by the eighth season of "24" in the spring.
* "The Wanda Sykes Show," a roundtable discussion hosted by the free-wheeling comic from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine," will replace "MadTV" on Saturday nights.
* Though neither "Hell's Kitchen" nor "Kitchen Nightmares" was listed on the schedules announced yesterday, both are renewed. Either show could be used "opportunistically" before next summer, Reilly said. (Translation: If any of these new shows tanks, Gordon Ramsay's on speed-dial.)
* Other returning shows include " 'Til Death," "Cops," "America's Most Wanted," "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and "American Dad."
* Dead and buried: "Prison Break," "Talk Show with Spike Feresten" and "MadTV." *