The Bloom of Youth Fades From Fox

THE heyday of the blood is tame," Hamlet once pointed out to his mother in describing what happens when youth is gone. In the case of this season's schedule on the Fox TV network, the blood may not be tame - especially in contrast to the three major networks - but compared with last year, it is certainly tamer.

Historically, Fox has fancied itself the network for the young, offering a menu of sassy, outspoken, sometimes bizarre formats designed to attract anyone tired of the fare on ABC, CBS, and NBC - and that often meant young people.

Ratings have shown that the strategy was working fairly well for a while. I found our own sons turning to the local Fox station more often than I would have, when we watched TV together. Even ABC, NBC, and CBS got the message and tried to jump onto the same bandwagon with youth programming of their own last season.

Those three networks were casting about - searching for security in today's unpredictable and rather frightening new video world. But their tactic signified little, and as the new fall season gets under way, they seem to have dropped it. It's really not so surprising to see the three biggest networks abandoning their largely ill-fated bid for the youth market, since many of the youth shows bombed in the November ratings ("sweeps") last fall.

What is a jolt is to discover that the bloom of youth is also fading from Fox's schedule.

This fall it is offering a lineup that strives to widen its age base - although only a bit. Yet a quick look at last year should remove any surprise. The advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, for instance, reports "mixed results...and very limited new-series success," even with some youth-oriented series.

That last point is the more disturbing one to a network keyed to uninhibited shows and conspicuously young casts. The response by Fox has been to scramble its lineup - 60 percent of it, in fact, if you count new shows and the rescheduling of existing ones. Comedy is the byword this year, along with a bit more "breadth." The tone of many of its new shows is young, but not that young - crazy, but not that crazy.

Here are the new Fox shows, with their premiere dates in parentheses (check local listings), along with a few words indicating how some advertising agencies and other TV professionals assess the shows' chances in the ratings - and consequently their prospects for renewal. The conclusions are not ones to be counted on, since TV seasons do hold their surprises, pleasant and otherwise:

Sunday: "Townsend Television" (Sept. 12). A variety show produced and hosted by Robert Townsend, who appears in sketches. A long shot.

"Living Single" (premiered Aug. 22.): A sitcom about four "upwardly mobile" African-American women living in New York City. Good to excellent chances.

"Daddy Dearest" (Sept. 5): A sitcom about a father and son who love and insult each other. (Clue: Don Rickles plays the father.) Pretty good prospects.

Tuesday: "Bakersfield, P.D." (Sept. 14). Sitcom features police officers in a small California city. Little chance.

Thursday: "The Sinbad Show" (Sept. 16). A comedy about a swinging bachelor who takes in two foster kids. Future looks fairly good.

Friday: "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." (previews Aug. 27). An hour-long action-adventure series set in the Old West about a bounty hunter - the title character - with a Harvard law degree. Mixed prognosis.

"The X Files" (Sept. 10): An hour-long drama about an "unconventional" FBI agent who takes to investigating cases on his own. His partner is a skeptical young agent with a scientific mind. Long shot.

Many industry observers see more stable ratings for Fox this season, partly because of the somewhat broader age net it is now casting. The network may not like the reason for this prediction, since it means that youth appeal has its limits. But like most networks these days, Fox will probably take any good news it can get.

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