The O.C. feels squeeze

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LOS ANGELES--Soak up the sun while you can.

Fox president Peter Ligouri has a message for trembling fans of beleaguered teen drama The O.C.. Loyal viewers became alarmed when, after a mediocre ratings season, Fox ordered only 16 episodes of the show instead of 22, the normal full-season order.

"I wouldn't read too much into it," he assured. "A couple of things: One, we ordered 16 because we're going to start the show November 1st...after baseball."

Liguori, speaking yesterday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, said the net wanted to run all-new O.C. episodes together in a block, rather than have repeats scattered throughout the season. This tactic is also being used by ABC in an effort to shore up ratings for its serialized dramas, which don't fare well in repeats.

Liguori credited The O.C. with helping Fox on Thursdays, and said there are some good surprises planned this season.

"The O.C.'s ratings have been a bit challenged recently. I think the audience is loyal. Frankly, Thursday night has been a weak spot for us, and The O.C. has done well," he said. "I mean last year we were up 30 percent in that 9 p.m. time slot with The O.C.. Having heard [the planned] stories this year--[there are] a lot of stories to tell, and they're juicy, and they're good. Our bet is that The O.C. loyalists are going to be back."

The Fox network president echoed statements made by ABC president Stephen McPherson and NBC president Kevin Reilly when he said Thursdays this fall would be a big battleground.

"I'll be the third person to talk about the difficulties of Thursday night and the challenges of Thursday night," he said. "There's no doubt about it. Thursday night is going to be one monster, competitive night of television."

While admitting that the outlook for The O.C. isn't rosy, Liguori sounded a hopeful note about the future of the show and compared it to the network's own trajectory.

"It is a challenge, make no bones about it. But shows need to grow, you know, especially young shows. But the fact that they are leaving high school should be able to open it up to more of an 18-24 audience. In a microcosm, what's going on with The O.C. is somewhat analagous to what is going on with Fox--here we are consistently winning teens, consistently winning young adults, now we are starting to win 18-49."

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