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FSN Bulks Up on Bowls

9/01/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

College football comes first for Fox Sports Net as it rolls out new fall programming, with poker and martial arts also playing key roles.

To begin, the network, which said it supplies programming to 22 regional sports networks reaching 85 million homes (including a new deal with Comcast SportsNet in Chicago), has marked the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with Eye of the Storm, an hour-long documentary about the Louisiana State University Tigers and their inspirational 9-2 season in the aftermath of the storm. The show debuted Sunday (Sept. 3) and will air again Thursday, Sept. 14.

'BREAKDOWN' COMING

In October, FSN ramps up coverage of the Bowl Championship Series with two new shows. The first, The BCS Breakdown Show, is a 30-minute preview of the upcoming weekend's top college-football games, including analysis of rankings scenarios. It's slotted for Friday nights, beginning Oct. 6.

The second show, debuting Oct. 15 and airing Sunday nights, is called The Official BCS Ratings Show. The 30-minute live announcement will offer Bowl Championship Series standings, a breakdown of game results, and the rankings that determine which teams reach the four BCS-member games — the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta bowls — and BCS National Championship Game in January. The Fox broadcast network, FSN's sibling, takes over TV rights to the BCS games this year.

On the pro-gridiron front, FSN will make only slight alterations. The network is bringing back its first National Football League preview show, FSN Pro Football Preview, but now “NFL Insider” and former analyst Jay Glazer will host. Returning analysts Tim Brown and Jason Sehorn will also be joined by newcomer Eddie George. The show runs Friday nights, Saturday afternoons, and Sunday mornings, beginning Sept. 8.

As for the network's staples, The Best Damn Sports Show Period will soldier on with all-new episodes, including a week-long trip to New Orleans to parallel Eye of the Storm this September. Also continuing through fall with all new episodes is the Emmy-winning profile show The Chris Myers Interview, and profile series Beyond the Glory, which features new footage in episodes with Deion Sanders, Reggie White, Kobe Bryant, Alonzo Mourning, Reggie Miller and Jerome Bettis, among others.

As for the future, FSN is delving into reality programming. Still in production is a new series hosted by Michael Strahan, in which fans will be paired up with their favorite pros. “We might find out who the biggest Gary Payton fan is in Miami, then have them spend four to six hours with him doing whatever they want,” said FSN executive vice president of programming and production George Greenberg. “We've also shot episodes with Jerry Rice and Chad Johnson.”

Asked whether this signaled a shift toward more reality programming for the network, Greenberg said it did not, stressing that FSN would remain true to its core audience.

Said Greenberg: “The question is, how far can you go with reality programming to keep it relevant and entertaining? It's OK to use it as a spice rather than a staple.”

The network will dip into two other key areas where ratings have jumped. “The first one's poker — they blow your doors off,” said Greenberg.

While the typical demographic split for FSN's sports programming is 70% male to 30% female, poker's demographic split is about 50-50, he said. “That has been very interesting as far as a demographic pop.”

Last May, FSN rolled out its fifth poker show, Mansion Poker.net's Pokerdome Challenge, a 43-week series boasting its own venue in Las Vegas, computer chips in the playing cards and a $60 million winner-take-all purse. Purses for the 2007 and 2008 seasons are $75 million and 100$ million, respectively.

A live show will also air on Thanksgiving this November.

MARTIAL ARTS 'POP'

“The other demographic pop has been with mixed martial arts — 18-to-34-year-olds,” Greenberg said. While the older sports demographic might be entrenched in boxing, mixed-martial arts competition has exploded in popularity with the younger crowd. Besides its new focus on the International Fight League, FSN also just premiered in August Pride Fighting's Bushido Survival, a 16-man tournament.

Every time slot given to mixed martial arts has done better — “sometimes 30 to 50%,” according to Greenberg.

September