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Fox's Upfront: Playing to Strengths, Hoping for Dino Might

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There’s a difference between an upfront presentation by the first-place network and one by an, um, less-than-first-place network. Where NBC kicked off its presentation to advertisers with apologies, Fox kicked off its own with stars. Beginning with the cast of Glee, the network trotted out the stars of its various hits (or would-be hits), including Randy and Kara from American Idol and Hugh Laurie of House; later, Jane Lynch introduced Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly in character as Sue Sylvester.

There are also fewer new shows to preview. Unlike NBC, which promised roughly a dozen shows to plug the holes that The Jay Leno Show blasted in its schedule, Fox announced a few new dramas and comedies to roll out over the next year. (See here for trailers of all Fox’s new shows.) And yet Fox seems willing to roll the dice on shows that have the potential to be very good or very bad–suggesting that, as with Glee, it succeeds best with series that take risks.

[Update: Same caveat as usual, by the way—I’ve only seen trailers, not whole shows, so any opinions below are just gut reactions based on those. The actual pilots may be better, worse, or unchanged.]

Among the comedies Fox promoted were Raising Hope and Running Wilde, which will debut after Glee in what I hope Fox will brand as its “Gerund Block.” Raising Hope, about a single dad suddenly surprised with a baby, comes from Greg Garcia of My Name Is Earl and shares its sensibility; I liked the trailer (above), though other critics in the room seemed unmoved. Running Wilde comes with high hopes because it reuinites Mitch Hurwitz and Will Arnett of Arrested Development. I wasn’t wowed by the trailer (below), but I’m still eager to see how the whole pilot holds together. (A third sitcom, Mixed Signals, is another in this year’s network quest to create the next big relationship sitcom. The trailer gave me mixed signals itself, so we’ll see.)

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In midseason, Fox debuts Bob’s Burgers, an animated comedy from Loren Bouchard (Dr. Katz, Home Movies, Lucy Daughter of the Devil), whom Reilly praised to the sky as potentially the next Matt Groening or Seth MacFarlane. And rightly so, in a perfect world, though I worry Bouchard’s sensibility is too low-key and dry for the Family Guy audience.

Fox’s news season starts off fast this week, with tomorrow’s preview of The Good Guys, a winning cop-show spoof starring Colin Hanks, Bradley Whitford, and Bradley Whitford’s mustache. Next fall, Fox debuts Lonestar, an ambitious-looking soap about a con man leading a double life, juggling a girlfriend and a wife, whose father’s oil business he’s secretly running a long con on. Midseason brings Shawn Ryan’s cop series Ride-Along, which looks to bring The Shield’s dark vision to Chicago.

But Fox’s biggest swing, and its biggest question mark, is Terra Nova, an effects-heavy sci-fi series from Steven Spielberg. The premise: in an overpopulated, polluted future Earth, a group of people is selected to time-travel back to the age of the dinosaurs, live in a fortified colony, and start humanity over. There are dinosaurs, giant centipedes and a serial plot involving the colony’s bosses, who are not everything they seem.

Yeah, I know. It sounds ridiculous and a half, and Steven Spielberg does not necessarily have a golden touch when it comes to TV. This could be absolutely amazing or absolutely awful—and it may or may not actually materialize by spring when Fox promises it, since it hasn’t even begun production yet. (I’m reminded of another vaporware Fox show involving a big-time director—Dark Angel—which took its time getting to air.)

But damned if I don’t want to see it now either way, which is really the main job of an upfront pitch. After a brief reel from Terra Nova’s producers, Fox wrapped up with the Glee kids (whose Joss Whedon-directed episode you should catch, or record, tonight) singing “Like a Prayer.” Terra Nova may go the way of the T. Rex, but as Glee showed, sometimes TV works best when it walks the line between awesome and awful. Sometimes you’ve just gotta risk jumping the ichthyosaur.