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Fox Family picks up ‘Freaks’ but isn’t making new episodes

SHARE Fox Family picks up ‘Freaks’ but isn’t making new episodes

PASADENA, Calif. — The Fox Family Channel is opening its doors to "Freaks and Geeks," which is good news for a quality show that was abused at its previous home, NBC.

But not great news. Fox Family will air the 18 episodes of the show that have already been produced — including three that were never seen on NBC — but it won't be producing any new episodes. Given the show's history of bad time slots, frequent pre-emptions and sudden disappearances, however, that's enough for the team responsible for producing "Freaks and Geeks."

"We're just ecstatic that the show is going to be seen," said executive producer Judd Apatow. "We couldn't be more proud of the show and the work we've done, and we just want to get it out there."

"I know a lot of people didn't get to see it because of the erratic scheduling," said creator/supervising producer Paul Feig. "I mean, we were always hearing people say, 'Oh, we turned on your show but it wasn't on.' "

The show premieres on Fox Family Channel on Tuesday, Aug. 29, and two episodes will air back-to-back every Tuesday night.

"Freaks and Geeks" probably never had a realistic chance of success on NBC. It was a thoughtful, funny high school show — circa 1980 — populated by actors who weren't necessarily "90210" or "Dawson's Creek" gorgeous. And it was put in impossible time slots on Saturdays, Fridays and Mondays.

Not that the producers would have done things differently in order to make it more commercial.

"I don't think we would change anything," Feig said. "I like TV. I don't love TV enough to do anything to be on it just 'cause. I want to sleep at night."

And, in addition to what was, at best, an erratic broadcast schedule, the powers that be at NBC aired episodes out of order and eliminated some altogether.

"The networks, when they have a new show, they basically want the first six episodes to be exactly the same show," Apatow said. "They feel like people are finding the show for the first time and every episode, to them, is a pilot. That is their strategy, and it's actually kind of boring."

Thus NBC never aired what was supposed to have been the third episode, which was more about the character of Kim Kelly (Busy Philipps) and delved into her family's dysfunctional life — and also explained her character's behavior in subsequent episodes.

"They saw it and got scared because it wasn't exactly like the pilot, and they wanted to shuffle the order," Apatow said. "But what it does is, it confuses the audience because then Busy's character is mean one week and nice the next week. So it's kind of ridiculous. It's very shortsighted. I think that they are trying to get an audience so quick — their attention spans are so short that they do damage in ways they don't necessarily see."

Fox Family's executive vice president of programming and development, Rob Sorcher, is promising to air the shows in order — with one possible exception. The first two-hour block will probably include the pilot episode and one of the three never-before-seen installments.

"We went out and bought a bunch of big numbers — one through 18," Feig said. "We're stamping them on the tapes so that they never go out of order again."

There were reports that "Freaks and Geeks" might continue in production at another network, but, obviously, nothing came of that.

"It was a very complicated process," Apatow said. "We said, 'Who wants it?' And they said, 'None of us.' "

Well, that's not exactly true. Other networks — most notably the WB — seriously considered the show before backing off.

"We had a lot of interest from some of the networks," Feig said. "And then when push came to shove, it just didn't happen."

"They decided that they'd like to do 11 nights of magazine shows," Apatow said. "Or they could do 87 'Big Brothers' so they didn't need us."

Apatow said part of the problem was that "F&G" was produced by DreamWorks, which doesn't own a network. Whereas the majority of the other shows on the networks are produced by studios that are sister-companies to ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN or the WB.

"It's just a little bit more difficult because you can't put one of their other shows on your network to keep 'Freaks and Geeks' alive," he said.

And Fox Family had to compete with other cable outlets for the rights to "Freaks and Geeks."

"We're not the only ones out there who wanted this show," Sorcher said. "We were the first people in there calling and we were very persistent about it."

But the economics of cable television as opposed to network television make it impossible for Fox Family to finance more episodes of "Freaks and Geeks."

"First of all, I'll cut off my leg if we can make more shows," Sorcher said. "Whatever it takes, I would do it."

"To be frank, it's very hard. We would be unable, as a cable network, to produce a one-hour show of the quality of this hour, financially. It has nothing to do with the people here, it's just the nature of network production."

Despite the fact that 18 episodes is a rather abbreviated run for a network series, viewers won't really be left hanging when "Freaks and Geeks" gets through episode No. 18.

"We've always assumed that we would be a one-season show, just based on the way things were going over there — and since there were no rats being eaten or anything like that," Apatow said, referring to the current popularity of "Survivor" and other so-called "reality" series. "So we designed the show like it was an 18-hour miniseries, and we really feel like we have closure in the work and the way we told the stories."


E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com