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Fox pins hopes on 'Gotham'

“Batman” prequel is key to network’s comeback strategy, while fading “American Idol” will shrink in 2014.

GOTHAM: GOTHAM traces the rise of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told.
GOTHAM: GOTHAM traces the rise of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told.Read moreJessica Miglio/FOX

FOX, coming off a disappointing season in which the once unstoppable "American Idol" became just another singing show and the network's ratings took a serious dip, is hoping that a few super-villains can help turn things around.

"Gotham," the much-touted prequel to "Batman" from Bruno Heller ("The Mentalist," "Rome"), will kick off Monday nights at 8 this fall, leading in to the returning "Sleepy Hollow."

Ben McKenzie ("The O.C.") stars as detective (and future police commissioner) James Gordon, Philadelphian-by-marriage Jada Pinkett Smith plays a gang boss and nightclub owner named Fish Mooney, and Donal Logue is controversial cop Harvey Bullock. Besides introducing a young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), "Gotham" is expected to feature the earlier lives of the Riddler, Catwoman, the Penguin and, eventually, the Joker.

So, what can "Gotham" do that the also much-anticipated comic-book spinoff "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" didn't accomplish for ABC this season?

"Those weren't the actual franchise characters" on "SHIELD," Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly told reporters in a conference call yesterday in advance of his annual presentation to advertisers in New York. "These are the actual franchise characters."

Reilly, who's been trying to break the network away from Nielsen's 36-week "season" but still needs to deal with advertisers' expectations of a fall rollout, announced a "portfolio of content" that included five new dramas, two new "event series," four new comedies and one new unscripted show.

In a departure from previous years, he gave schedule details only for the fall, when he'll be shuffling the lineups for six nights.

Besides "Gotham," new fall dramas are: "Red Band Society," a teen soap set in a hospital pediatrics ward that stars Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as a nurse and will air at 9 p.m. Wednesdays; and "Gracepoint," a 10-episode limited series based on the British murder mystery "Broadchurch" and starring David Tennant ("Broadchurch," "Doctor Who") and Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad") that will air at 9 p.m. Thursdays.

"Mulaney," airing at 9:30 p.m. Sundays, stars John Mulaney ("Saturday Night Live") as a "rising standup comic trying to take his career to the next level," with a cast that includes veterans Martin Short and Elliott Gould.

"Utopia," based on a Dutch series that will run twice a week for its first six weeks, will move 15 people to an isolated location and challenge them "to create their own civilization." As people thrown together on TV shows do.

"Idol," entering its 14th season in early 2015, will see its footprint shrink, with a format change that Reilly expects will cut it to about 37 hours from the current 50-plus. After the audition periods, it's likely the show will air once a week.

"Sleepy Hollow," whose 13-episode first season was one of Fox's biggest successes, has an order for 18 episodes this season.

"I wish I had more last season as well," Reilly said, but added, "I think you're a little damned if you do, damned if you don't." He noted that fans of cable dramas seem to be fine with the long waits between shorter seasons.

"Glee," which is going into its final season, won't return until 2015 and may see its 22-episode order cut back, Reilly hinted, saying that he and creator Ryan Murphy have to talk about the best way to end the show.

Other returning scripted shows include: "New Girl," "The Mindy Project," "Bones" (moving again, to Thursdays), "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (moving to Sundays); "The Simpsons," "Bob's Burgers," "Family Guy" and "The Following" (not yet scheduled).

Won't be back: "Surviving Jack," "Dads," "Enlisted," "Rake," "Raising Hope," "The X Factor" and "Almost Human."

Of local interest: "Wayward Pines," the 10-episode limited series directed by M. Night Shyamalan, won't be on till 2015. Also waiting till later in the season: "Empire," from Philadelphia's Lee Daniels, a family drama set in the music industry that stars Lafayette Hills' Terrence Howard.

On Twitter: @elgray