Fox, Disney Talk Entertainment, Rely on Sports

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The Fox Network unveiled its new dramas, comedies and "unscripted" (re: reality) shows for the fall and winter at Manhattan's Beacon Theatre this week, giving a packed house of advertising executives a glimpse of the new programming which its parent, News Corp. ( NWSA), has spent many millions to produce.

Fox is coming off a rough 12 months in which advertising and ratings dropped, and Kevin Reilly, head of its entertainment division, acknowledged that bit of reality by telling ad-buyers that this year will be different. Count on it, he said.

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The network's new shows include Sleepy Hollow, a drama based on Washington Irving's famous short stories that's part horror, part sci-fi, lighter fare such as Dads starring Seth Green and a wacky police comedy called Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Who knows what will work? Fox needs to find a cash-cow that can even approximate American Idol, a program that remains integral to News Corp. profits even as it has lost about 25% of its viewers this season.

Kevin Reilly said Fox doesn't just throw a lot of stuff against a wall to see what sticks but picking TV winners is at best an educated guess. Audiences are fickle. Finding hits among this latest jumble of drama and comedies requires spending a lot of money and a willingness to lose some of its absorbing duds.

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"We're making the biggest investment in original programming in our history," Reilly told the crowd. In short, Fox is making some big bets to find something that really works.

So what does work? After all, in this age of media fragmentation, even AOL ( AOL) is producing its own scripted content.

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Crosstown at the Best Buy Theatre in Times Square, ESPN, the sports colossus of Walt Disney ( DIS), gathered to trumpet its stable of contracts featuring Major League Baseball, professional and college basketball, college football, world soccer's FIFA, the X-Games and Monday Night Football. That's quite a list.

ESPN also unveiled a new show called NFL Insiders, which will run for an hour during the week as part of the network's effort to sell more advertising Monday through Friday. Using that buzziest of buzzwords, ESPN said it was ramping up its "social media" strategy with plans to send a steady stream of highlights over Twitter.

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