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The Simple Life 2  

Hilton and fellow celebutante Nicole Richie return to slumming it with the little people in The Simple Life 2, one of six series the network has lined up for a summer run.

Fox has spearheaded the trend away from the typical rerun dog days toward year-round programming, and network execs haven't relied just on reality shows for summer fare. Back in 1997, Fox unsuccessfully launched Roar, but last summer the net scored a solid hit with The O.C.

This summer, along with another dose of the unscripted antics of Paris and Nicole (this time they cross the country in an RV), Fox is rolling the dice on the reality series The Casino, as well as two scripted dramas, The Jury and North Shore, and two scripted comedies, Quintuplets and Method & Red.

"This is a redefinition of the TV season," Gail Berman, president of Fox Entertainment, told Daily Variety. "We will be the first network unveiling a real year long schedule. Circumstances pushed us forward, and if there is success, we're quite sure others will follow."

The "circumstances" she refers to is Fox's contract with Major League Baseball which interrupts its schedule in October, long the traditional month for premiering new shows. Fox wants to hook viewers before baseball interrupts the schedule. To that end, the network informed producers last year that Fox suits needed to see scripts before Thanksgiving in order to give an early greenlight for potential new series to launch in this summer.

Advertisers have already been briefed on the moves and next month at the upfronts, when networks parade their schedule to the Madison Avenue crowd, Berman intends to make it very clear that--although most of the advertising for this summer is already locked--this all-year-round plan is really and truly workable. So, ad buyers also need to start rethinking their calendars. The success or failure of Fox's move will clearly impact sales for summer 2005.

New series would not only premiere in June but also in July and next January, while most established shows like 24 and The O.C. would return either right before or right after baseball playoffs, either in September or November. It's the most vigorous attempt yet to try to stop viewers clicking over to the alternative cable channels to avoid a steady diet of stale reruns.

Fox also continues to disrupt the standard once-a-week format for scripted programming. As with last year's summer debut of The O.C., Fox intends to repeat the premiere episode of the Hawaiian-based pretty-young-things drama North Shore on the Friday of the same week in which it debuts.

The new-look summer lineup begins airing early June, hard on the heels of May sweeps, long the wrap-up for the season begun in the fall.

North Shore will probably lead in to The Casino (produced by Survivor and Apprentice mastermind Mark Burnett), which premieres at 9 p.m. on June 14.

The Simple Life 2 kicks off June 16 and airs Wednesdays along with the comedies Quintuplets, starring Andy Richter as the father of the five, and Method & Red, starring rappers Method Man and Redman movin' on up to the posh side of town. The Jury, a legal series produced by Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana (creators of Homicide: Life on the Street) has garnered a 9 p.m. Tuesday night slot.

The network also tunes in some fresh episodes of Oliver Beene, and first runs of episodes of The Bernie Mac Show. Some reality shows such as The Complex: Malibu (no need to explain the concept) could also be readied in time for summer exposure.

With ratings usually down about 10 percent in summer months, other networks have been slow to adopt the year-round model, relying on reruns and reality to make it through. For instance, CBS is banking on fifth seasons of The Amazing Race and Big Brother, while NBC has new runs of For Love or Money, Last Comic Standing and Who Wants to Marry My Dad, as well as the new stunt-themed show, The Next Action Star. NBC also airs some fall premieres at the end of August, on the heels of its Olympics coverage.

But struggling ABC, which has nothing to lose, is programming limited episodes of a new family drama, The Days, and burning off unseen episodes of the canceled Drew Carey Show.

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