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LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - Regular viewers of FOX's "24" know that even if you catch every episode, figuring out where the plot is going is often a challenge. One week Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer is in Mexico and the next week, Mexico doesn't matter anymore. One week Dennis Haysbert's President Palmer has a girlfriend whose husband is committing suicide and the next week she's gone, never to be mentioned again. Some weeks Jack's hooked on smack and a virus is about to take over the West Coast and then the next week, Jack's clean and sober and the virus is a secondary concern.
Throw in the programming interruptions that often preempt "24" for multiple weeks at a stretch and it's no wonder that the ratings for the award winning drama have been erratic this season.
FOX aims to bring stability back to "24" next year. The series won't return until January, when it moves into a new time period on Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET. The show will get a two-hour premiere and a two-hour finale. FOX Entertainment President Gail Berman also promises a two-hour special event episode in the middle of the season. The three instances of doubling down will allow "24" to reach its conclusion by the end of the May sweeps period.
The network's hope is that while the new time slot strips "24" of its protected post-"American Idol" hour, airing on Mondays will prevent the kind of schedule juggling that left the show on the shelf whenever "Idol" stretched to two hours. The plan is to air the entire season without a single repeat (long the "24" standard) and without a single week off (a miracle if it happens).
"'24' is appointment television and we believe that moving it to Monday, creating an event out of it with no breaks in the schedule, will enable the viewer to really get on the ride and have an event that takes you through to May with it," Berman says.
In its third season, "24" averaged 9.35 million viewers before the January premiere of "Idol." The boost from the popular talent show has only been moderate, lifting "24" to its season average of 10.18 million viewers, down by roughly a million from last season's numbers.
Except for random periods where the show has vanished from FOX's schedule for weeks at time, the network has been consistent in its support of the atypical series. In planning the new multi-tiered year-round schedule, though, executives determined that it was time to share the cushy "Idol" warmth.
"We need to make room on the schedule for new hits," Berman admits "We'd like 'American Idol' to be used as a launch pad for new opportunities for the network."
After it premieres in January 2005, "Idol" will provide a Tuesday lead-in for "House," a medical drama from "Quiz Show" screenwriter and "Homicide: Life on the Street" creator Paul Attanasio. The Wednesday results show, moved to 9 p.m., will reward veteran comedy "The Bernie Mac Show."
The move to Mondays isn't akin to being thrown to the Nielsen wolves for "24." FOX has placed the series behind one of its most anticipated new dramas of the season, "Athens." The new offering from Josh Schwartz ("The O.C.") takes a soapy look at a fictional New England college town and the unlikely friendship between a young English professor and an 18-year-old freshman (a relationship FOX is already likening to the bond between Seth and Ryan on "The O.C.").