THAT SIX DEGREES of Kevin Bacon game is about to get a lot easier.
The Philly-raised Bacon, who's famously worked with at least half the actors in Hollywood, will be tracking a vast network of serial killers in "The Following," a new drama from Kevin Williamson ("Vampire Diaries," "Dawson's Creek") that Fox's entertainment chief calls "our next '24.' "
Premiering at midseason — where Fox is still at its strongest — it has Bacon playing a former FBI agent brought in to help deal with a death-row escapee (James Purefoy, "Rome") who's found a way to make connections with other serial killers, getting them to form alliances and work together.
I'm thinking LinkedIn — or the Bacon game — but with a much higher body count.
The 53-year-old Bacon, son of the late city planner Edmund Bacon, has made an occasional TV guest shot — often playing himself — and was nominated for an Emmy for the HBO movie "Taking Chance," but he's never starred in a series.
Landing him "really was the casting coup of the year," said Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly in a conference call with reporters Monday morning, hours before the network unveiled its 2012-13 schedule to advertisers in New York.
"He had expressed an interest" in a series, Reilly said. "There are more and more big stars who are intrigued with doing television."
It probably didn't hurt that Bacon's wife, Kyra Sedgwick, is coming off an extremely successful seven-season run on TNT's "The Closer," which will air its final six episodes beginning July 9.
Or that "The Following" will have a cablelike schedule, with a 15-episode season that will allow Fox to air it for "15 weeks straight," Reilly said.
"We want to start experimenting, selectively, with shorter orders," he said. "Kevin was willing to do 15 maximum [per season], not 24 … and he just loved the script. So he signed on. He's really one of the great actors of our time."
As for the shorter season, "we like this model of trying to work in some shorter-order series, rather than the 22 [-episode] template of one-size-fits-all. I think in this day and age it helps," especially in the spring, when viewership levels have been dropping, to have something that's "really compelling an audience" to keep watching.
Along with NBC, which also met with advertisers on Monday, Fox kicked off a week known in TV circles as the broadcast "upfronts" — because this is when networks get their advertising commitments up front for the following season — by unveiling a schedule that expanded its Tuesday-night sitcom block to a full two hours, moved "Glee" to Thursdays, where it will follow "The X Factor" this fall and "American Idol" after that, moved "Touch" to Fridays and added three new comedies and two new dramas.
"Touch," which stars "24" lead Kiefer Sutherland, hasn't had the kind of ratings success that "24" had, but Reilly seemed to be at pains to say it wasn't being moved to a lower-rated night as punishment.
"Friday's a curious time," he said, noting that "Fringe," which will end its run with a 13-episode order this fall, gets "almost 70 percent of its audience [from viewers watching later] on the DVR" and that he expects "Touch" "to have a similar pattern. That's the business we're in these days."
Look for changes in both "The X Factor," and "Idol," although neither Reilly nor Fox Entertainment chairman Peter Rice was willing to discuss details Monday morning or to talk about Demi Lovato and Britney Spears being tapped to replace Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger as judges, an announcement they held for the upfronts extravaganza later in the day.
"Not to be negative about the people who are leaving, but we think the mix could be more creative and more exciting," said Rice.
"Glee," which will follow some of its characters to New York in what Reilly described as "a show within a show," has signed Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker for guest roles, with Hudson appearing in a six-episode arc.
As for "American Idol," an aging hit whose ratings drop-off, Reilly acknowledged, had been larger than expected, its producers "know what happened this year" and will be tweaking accordingly.
Besides "The Following," which likely will premiere on Mondays starting this winter, Fox's new shows include what may be the best-titled show of the fall, "The Mob Doctor."
Starring Jordana Spiro ("My Boys") as a "a brilliant young female cardiothoracic surgeon" who's forced by circumstances to moonlight for the Chicago mob, it's scheduled to follow "Bones" on Mondays.
Other new shows include: "The Mindy Project," a Tuesday sitcom created by and starring Mindy Kaling ("The Office") as an ob-gyn "navigating the tricky waters of both her personal and professional life, as she pursues her dreams of becoming the perfect woman, finding the perfect man and getting her perfect romantic comedy ending"; "Ben and Kate," a Tuesday sitcom about "a pair of odd-couple siblings — one, an overly responsible single mom; the other, an exuberant kid-at-heart — and their friends as they push each other out of their comfort zones and into real life"; and "The Goodwin Games," a midseason comedy from the producers of CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," about three siblings (Scott Foley, Becki Newton and Jake Lacy) competing for a $20 million legacy from their late father, a mathematics professor (Beau Bridges) who hoped to teach them lessons he'd failed to impart while he was still alive.
Renewed: "Fringe" (for the final 13), "The Cleveland Show," "Raising Hope," "American Dad," "Bones," "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "Glee," "Touch" and "Bob's Burgers."
Outta here: "The Finder." "I Hate My Teenage Daughter," "Breaking In," "Terra Nova," "Alcatraz," "House," "Allen Gregory," "Napoleon Dynamite." n