Nellie Andreeva

Note: This story was originally posted late last night.
It is deja vu all over again. Exactly three years ago, Fox pulled a shocker by canceling an OK-rated, promising freshman workplace comedy with a big star, leaving its producers and just about everyone else shocked. That series was the Kelsey Grammer starrer Back to You. Tonight, the network did it again with Breaking In, headlined by Christian Slater. It was a rare solid live-action comedy on a network that hasn’t had much success in the genre since, well, the promising start of Back To Me in 2007. I hear the explanation Fox is giving tonight is similar to the one the network used three years ago, essentially the classic “it’s not you, it’s me.”

In the case of Breaking In, word is that Fox has decided to go with all-female-skewing comedies, thus the pickups for The New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel, and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, starring Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran, and the cancellation of the Slater-Bret Harrison Breaking In. (For both Slater and Harrison, this marks the third consecutive series they have toplined to go bust, following Slater’s My Own Worst Enemy and The Forgotten, which ran for one season each, and Harrison’s The Loop and Reaper, which lasted for two short seasons each.)

Indeed, rumor is that Fox may add New Girl and Teenage Daughter to its female-skewing Tuesday and Wednesday lineups anchored by Glee and The X Factor. (The assumption is that the network would keep the airing pattern of X Factor the same as American Idol for continuity between fall and midseason, presumably on Wednesdays and Thursdays.) Since it’s the only multi-camera comedy on the fall schedule, Teenage Daughter may be put on Wednesday behind X Factor, which technically is also a multi-camera show. And New Girl could land behind Glee, possibly leading into Raising Hope. For years, Fox has been saying that they want four-quadrant scripted shows able to hold the broad audience that American Idol draws. By most accounts, dinosaur extravaganza Terra Nova is such a show, so it is possible for Fox to try to launch it behind X Factor on Thursdays, which would mean that perennial utility player Bones may be on the move again.

Fox may try some inventive scheduling with Bones and newly picked up spinoff Finder, with the spinoff possibly pitching in during Bones star Emily Deschanel’s pregnancy leave. Or the network could take a page out of CBS’ and ABC’s playbooks, launching the spinoff behind an original series, like CBS’ NCIS: LA and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior as well as ABC’s Private Practice, which started off on Wednesdays but found its groove after moving after Grey’s Anatomy on Thursdays. The question is where Bones and Finder can be paired as Fox may only have Mondays and Fridays in play, and niche player Fringe will probably stay on Fridays. If the two Bones series go to Monday, that would mean a move of House to Friday, which defies logic given the fact that the network just shelled out a little over $5 million an episode for the medical drama. And then there is the J.J. Abrams-produced Alcatraz, a procedural with a sci-fi twist. Will Fox try to launch it after House, make a J.J. block with Alcatraz and Fringe or hold it for miseason when it could be paired with another series that has a sci-fi bent, Tim Kring’s Touch starring Kiefer Sutherland? Conventional wisdom would have Fox keep 24 alum Sutherland in 24‘s trademark Monday 9 PM slot, so launching Alcatraz in the fall and Touch in midseason behind House would probably make the most sense. Sunday will remain animation comedy night.

But back to some of the surprising decisions by Fox tonight that infuriated a lot of producers. The network played it safe with Finder, opting to expand a successful franchise rather than launch a brand new one. And then it ordered a second series from Abrams, Alcatraz. There had been concern that the procedural element in it would be overshadowed by a mythology that would only get more dense over time and would put the show on track for Fringe’s 1.5-2 demo rating range. But I hear the network’s brass concerns were eased after a very good meeting with the producers yesterday that helped clinch the pickup. Abrams and Alcatraz co-creator/showrunner Liz Sarnoff have the credentials — they pulled off a popular sci-fi series with Lost.

While Abrams was celebrating, it wasn’t a good night for his Fringe co-creators/exec producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who are behind two other high-profile Fox drama pilots: Locke & Key, which is now dead, and Exit Strategy, which is still in contention for midseason. (It will probably be retooled, with Fox said to be looking to infuse more character into the action). Both projects took a lot of effort to put together, and Locke & Key, based on the graphic novel, had a series commitment behind it. On Exit Strategy, Kurtzman and Orci spent months wooing Ethan Hawke for his first series role. In both cases there were multiple networks interested, but Fox snatched the projects preemptively because of its association with 20th TV, eventually pitting the pilots against each other in a crowded field that was vying for only two available drama spots. Speaking of Fox burning bridges, the network also left without a pickup Sony TV, which saw its freshman comedy Breaking In getting axed, along with comedy pilots Council of Dads and Iceland.

The only two half-hour pilots left in play at Fox, Little In Common and Family Album, are both single-camera family comedies, just like the only live-action half-hour series Fox is bringing back next season, Raising Hope, so the network may be considering building a block of family sitcoms in the future.

There was absolutely no mercy on the renewal front, with Fox killing all five of its bubble shows: Breaking In, The Chicago Code, Lie To Me, Human Target and Traffic Light. That is as many live-action shows Fox is bring back next season: House, Bones, Glee, Raising Hope and Fringe. This is a radical overhaul, a far cry from last year, when Fox ended up renewing all three of its drams on the fence, Fringe, Human Target and Lie To Me. Chicago Code‘s death sentence was issued shortly after the show’s premiere and sealed by creator’s Shawn Ryan’s move from 20th TV to Sony. While modestly rated, the show has showed some growth recently. But then Breaking In didn’t do poorly in the ratings and still got the axe.

Something good came out of the cancellation of Back To You: it led to runaway ABC hit and Emmy winner Modern Family, which Back To You creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd conceived while still fuming over the untimely demise of their Fox sitcom. So now Breaking In co-creators Adam Goldberg and Seth Gordon could go on to do an even bigger and better comedy series. And like Levitan and Lloyd, who deliberately kept Modern Family away from Fox, they may take their pitches elsewhere.

TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.