Topless mothers. Sexually active teens. Incest between stepkids. Heavy-duty violence. Expletives deleted.
Yup, "There Is Just One Fox."
If only its $$%@*& shows weren't so &&&$$#@@! well-executed.
The truth is that several of the Fox series are so smart that they don't need all the sexual nonsense to get attention. But the young audience Fox is trying to draw probably won't mind the so-called pushing of standards as much as critics who feel responsible for our nation's safety and welfare.
Besides, pilots often exaggerate how far series will go and then pull back and become more conservative.
Doug Herzog, the president of Fox Entertainment who is responsible for putting "South Park" on Comedy Central, vows not to react to critics of his programming philosophy. He says what you see in the pilots is what you're going to get.
Herzog should be thanked for finally saying goodbye to "Melrose Place" and putting Heather Locklear and the rest of the cast out of its misery. For reducing the number of exploitive reality series on the network. And for making Matt Groening happy by putting his "Futurama" behind "The Simpsons" on Sunday night.
If Herzog's programming philosophy fails, look out for a new Fox reality series, "When Censors Attack."
Here is a capsule look at the seven new series that will premiere on Fox sometime this summer, fall or winter. Because of its football and baseball coverage, Fox rolls out its series a little differently from the other networks.
"Time of Your Life," 8 p.m. Monday: Jen
nifer Love Hewitt, or Love, as her friends call her, has become a major star because of her film career, because of her hair commercials and because she looks great in tight dresses. But Fox must have hated her pilot (a "Party of Five" spinoff), because it didn't even screen it for critics. The producers say they are dressing the show up to make it more compatible with "Ally McBeal" on Mondays.
The plan is for Sarah, Love's character in "Party," to leave Bailey for New York City in search of her biological father. Once there, she'll have to compete for jobs and men with all the young actresses in similar-sounding series on WB and on ABC's "Wasteland."
Sarah moves into her mother's old apartment in the East Village, befriends a struggling actress (Jennifer Garner on WB's "Felicity") and an eccentric apartment manager (Pauley Perette) and a ladies' man (Diego Serrano) who works in an upscale hair salon. Bailey may be looking good again by January.
"Ally," 8 p.m. Tuesday: It sounds as silly as any idea from Biscuit. This is a half-hour series created from old outtakes of "Ally McBeal." But since it's in an impossible time slot opposite "Spin City," "JAG," "Just Shoot Me," "Dilbert" and "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," maybe Fox isn't as silly as we think. It certainly can't do much worse in the ratings than any show the network could put here.
"Get Real," 9 p.m. Wednesday: A different family in crisis. Mom (Debrah Farentino) and Dad (Jon Tenney) argue all the time, 18-year-old overachiever Meghan (Anne Hathaway) can't handle being perfect, 16-year-old Cameron (Eric Christan Olsen) is sleeping with his girlfriend in his home, and 15-year-old Kenny (Jesse Eisenberg) wishes he were a year older and as smooth as his brother. And then there's Grandma (Christina Pickles of "St. Elsewhere"), who offers advice on how to handle the stressful times.
Though the parents often look clueless and there are three over-the-top sexual scenes that clash with the title, the soundtrack is great and there is potential here for a smart and funny series. There are too many references to TV shows, though the homage to "South Park" after the younger boy was involved in a fight was funny until summer promos beat it to death. "They killed Kenny," said a friend.
If it gets more real and less sexually outrageous, this promising show's biggest problem will be its killer time slot opposite "Drew Carey," a CBS movie, "The West Wing," "Star Trek Voyager" and WB's best new series, "Roswell."
"Manchester Prep," 8 p.m. Thursday: Scheming, smart-aleck Sebastian Valmont (Robin Dunne) battles scheming, sinister stepsister Kathryn Mereuil (Amy Adams) on the upper East Side of New York for their parents' and peers' love and attention.
It's based on the movie "Cruel Intentions," which in turn was based on "Dangerous Liaisons."
The pilot went beyond dangerous, as our two schemers seemed to have dallied in incest, though the producers said that inference was incorrect and will be cleared up in the second episode.
Dunne, who looks like Griffin on "Party of Five," smartly combines the sinister and sweet sides, and Adams could be the best (expletive deleted) on Fox since Locklear left the network.
This series cleverly deals with the caste systems at a swanky high school, but it may be too smart and too evil for its own good. And it is good.
"Action," 9:30 p.m. Thursday: The most outrageously clever new series of the season. Jay Mohr plays an aptly named ruthless producer, Peter Dragon, who hires a prostitute (Ileana Douglas) to find scripts to make into films for a mogul who is gay, married and amply endowed in more than just his bank account.
Only in Hollywood. The pilot has an unforgettable cameo from Keanu Reeves and the producers promise more.
Originally commissioned by HBO, the pilot is a blast, and Mohr is perfectly cast as a pretty boy shark. However, creator Chris Thompson is known for making great pilots and then failing to keep the momentum going. In a time slot opposite the far-out NBC series "Stark Raving Mad," "Action" has a good chance of getting some traction.
There is one big problem, besides all the penis jokes. Critics tend to love inside-Hollywood series much more than the public, as evidenced by the critical support for HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show," which never got much of an audience on the pay cable channel.
"The Badland," 8 p.m. Friday: Originally titled "Ryan Caulfield," the name was changed to protect the innocent. It should just be called "Bad Show." Sean Maher plays Caulfield, a teen-ager who isn't prepared for what he sees on the beat in the Philadelphia Police Department. And I'm not talking only about the sexy Latino female officer, Kim Veras (Roselyn Sanchez), who strips to her underwear in the coed locker room.
Ryan is teamed with a veteran, Susser (Michael Rispoli), who doesn't like his taste in music. And vice versa. Ryan's best friend is a genius who works in a gas station, and he has another friend who is a plumber in his family business who is insecure about being bald. Gee, just the summary of the series bores me to death. Forgetaboutit.
"Harsh Realm," 9 p.m. Friday: A baffling Chris Carter series that may make you long for the serenity of "Millennium." It starts in Sarajevo, moves to California and ends up in a violent world you've never seen before unless you're into computer simulation games.
Scott Bairstow plays Lt. Thomas Hobbes, who loses his beautiful fiancee, Sophie (Samantha Mathis), and then forms an uneasy partnership with Mike Pinocchio (D.B. Sweeney) in an attempt to get out of the realm by beating the high-scoring player, Omar Santiago (Terry O'Quinn). Phewww.
In an interview in Los Angeles, Sweeney said he likes the series because you know 87 percent of what is going on and have to figure out the other 13 percent. In my world, I knew about 13 percent of what was going on and had to figure out the other 87 percent.
Then I figured out that Carter got this violent, confusing mess on the air only because the success of "The X-Files" makes him harder to say no to than Santiago. Harsh or not, this show is way out of my realm.
"Malcolm in the Middle," 7 p.m. Sundays (after football season ends): If you can get past the idea that Mom (Jane Kaczmarek) runs around the house topless and Dad (Bryan Cranston) is a furry creature who stands naked in the kitchen while his wife shaves him, this is a winner.
The real star is Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), a middle child with a 165 IQ who is embarrassed to be taken out of his regular class and put in with the other smarter, geekier kids.
Malcolm's older brother, Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson), has been sent off to military camp as punishment, leaving Malcolm sandwiched in between brothers Reese (Justin Berfield) and youngest Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan).
Nudity aside, this is a sweet series with a good message. But any producer with an IQ over 120 would let Malcolm get all the attention and eliminate the topless scenes as an, eh, over-the-top unnecessary joke.