Johnny Depp (front) starred in 21 Jump Street

Ryan Seacrest hosts tonight’s two hour Fox 25th Anniversary Special (8 p.m. ET). Stars from older hits like In Living Color, Married…with Children, Beverly Hills 90210, Ally McBeal and That ‘70s Show will join current Fox headliners Hugh Laurie (House), Kiefer Sutherland (Touch and 24), Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler (American Idol) in saluting the network.

The celebration comes as Fox reigns as America’s most watched broadcaster. That hardly seemed possible way back in 1987. The network lurched on the air a couple of nights at a time and never did expand to a full, 23-hour prime time grid like ABC, CBS and NBC, leaving the 10 to 11 p.m. hour to affiliates. They changed the network calendar by making January as important as September, saving their big guns until the start of the New Year.
Fox was not exactly welcomed by the old “Big Three.” I remember NBC programming boss Brandon Tartikoff grumbling back in the late ‘80s that he would yank all his network advertising out of Rupert Murdoch’s TV Guide if he saw 21 Jump Street’s breakout star Johnny Depp on two covers in one year.
One place the network always stood out was at those TCA press tour sessions. At a time when established network press corps seem to have a no fun clause in their presentations (veterans still wince at the memory of CBS’s “hostility suite”), the Fox kids threw a party every six months. Daytime sessions were “themed” with elaborate staging and graphics. Back in ‘93 Fox had an elaborate beach house constructed in the hotel banquet room. This worked okay until the cast for something called Key West tried to take the stage. One of Jennifer Tilly’s heels got stuck in the wooden boardwalk, causing her chest to bounced up and down for the next 15 seconds. While it woke up the press hounds, this special effect still didn’t help her series last more than a few months.
Jason Priestley, a Canadian who got
his break on Fox’s Beverly Hills 90120
Fox always had a strong sports presence and this got played up during evening events. I recall one outdoor deal where critics and reporters were invited to toss footballs, swing bats, even take shots into hockey nets to win network hats and T-shirts. (Canadians—we decided amongst ourselves–couldn’t just shoot a puck into a net, we had to hit all four corners “Shootout” style.)
Those Fox parties were energized by a young, cool posse of publicists, including Cindy Ronzoni, Sharan Magnuson, Antonia Coffman…good times.
Too bad tonight’s special did not feature publicists spilling about having to put up with bad behaviour from top stars. Instead, there’ll be clips from some of Fox’s biggest faux pas, including clips from When Good Pets Gone Bad, The Swan, The Littlest Bachelor, Temptation Island, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire, Married by America, Celebrity Boxing, Mr. Personality, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé and my personal favourite Fox disaster, The Chevy Chase Show

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