Patricia Heaton and Kelsey Grammer in Back to You by Joe Viles/Fox
If you could just ignore those pesky months between September and December, Fox would be sitting pretty. The challenge each year for this network is how to schedule a fall start that will live up to the blockbuster spring finish provided by late-arriving shows like American Idol and (even a diminished) 24.

In the last of the week's Upfront presentations, Fox Entertainment president Peter Ligouri made the curious choice of putting himself in the middle of a 24 parody, trading exchanges on the phone with clips of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, not in attendance in New York this year) from 24, in which Jack addressed "the president." The ticking-clock (ticking bomb?) metaphor isn't the most natural fit for a sales presentation, you'd think. And given that the first thing anyone in Los Angeles (where I've been the last three weeks) wants to talk to me about is the steep decline in 24's quality this season, is this really putting your best foot forward? ( 24, incidentally, was renewed for two more seasons earlier this week. More reason than ever to reinvent the show from top to bottom next year.)

Ligouri promised his pitch would last exactly an hour (with the 24 digital clock keeping track), and he lived up to his word. Now we'll just have to see if his shows can live up to their hype.

Weirdly, several of the most promising shows on the lineup, including the elaborate Terminator-inspired The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox's attempt to recreate some X-Files magic on Sunday again), are being held back until January or spring. Once again, Fox presented a schedule scenario for the back half of the season that only a fool would believe the network will stick to. Two years in a row, Fox has threatened to move Bones to Fridays in the back stretch. Didn't happen this year. Let's hope it doesn't happen next year.

One more observation before breaking down the schedule: Kudos for rewarding House with next winter's post-Super Bowl slot. A great show, a quality show with mass appeal, perfect for coming down off the big game. (Unlike a certain unappetizing decision made by CBS last January that every time I bring it up prompts a flurry of vicious hate mail.)

Now to Fox's ambitious line-up, night by night:

Monday. While 24 goes back to the drawing board and plots out its January return (can't say I'll miss it this year), the increasingly silly Prison Break returns, to be paired with the gritty-looking K-Ville police drama, set in the lawless chaos of post-Katrina New Orleans. Anthony Anderson (so memorable on The Shield) and Cole Hauser star. Possibly a tough, downbeat sell, but I'm intrigued.

Monday game plan for 2008: K-Ville and Prison Break will share the 8/7c time period to play out the season, while 24 returns for another non-stop (and let's hope creatively refreshed) year.

Tuesday. The wildly popular House gets a new dramatic lead-in: the high-concept New Amsterdam, another dark and moody crime drama. This one stars new-to-me Danish actor Nikolaj Coster Waldau as a detective with a secret: He's immortal and has been since put under a spell in the 17th century, when Manhattan was still the wilderness colony of, yes, New Amsterdam. Part procedural, part fable, here's another leap of faith in a season bursting with unorthodox heroes. Looks risky to me, but again, I'm curious to see more.

Tuesday game plan for 2008: What else: American Idol and House. Don't fix what ain't broke.

Wednesday. As expected, 'Til Death was renewed and paired with a new and much-anticipated lead-in: the promising Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton TV-newsroom comedy Back to You. Clips shown from the pilot, directed by grand master James Burrows, had a classic feel (the show looks more CBS or old-school NBC than Fox, to be honest), with physical comedy, spirited banter and a strong supporting cast including Fred Willard as a sportscaster. If anything or anyone is going to launch a new comedy night without benefit of an Idol lead-in, it may well be this show and these stars. The comedies will lead into Bones, which Ligouri accurately pegged as a procedural with a rare and welcome sense of humor. All things considered, a generally appealing line-up.

Wednesday game plan for 2008: The sitcoms will share the night with American Idol and eventually the results shows. When Idol is in its half-hour format, the night for now is expected to look like this: Back to You and The Return of Jezebel James (a poignant half-hour comedy-drama about polar-opposite sisters, played by Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose, from Gilmore Girls' gifted Amy Sherman-Palladino), followed by Idol results and 'Til Death. Don't get too worked up just yet about Bones being bounced from the night. Let's see how the chips fall first.

Thursday. When all else fails (and on Fox on Thursday, it usually does), lean on reality. The surprise hit Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? returns, paired with Hell's Kitchen star Gordon Ramsay's American version of his Kitchen Nightmares franchise (a staple of the BBC America schedule).

Thursday game plan for 2008: 5th Grader leads into the Julianna Margulies star vehicle Canterbury's Law, which casts the former ER star as a confrontational, no-holds-barred defense lawyer who, in the clips, so aggravates a man in her cross-hairs he hauls off and punches her in the face. Right in court. Looks twisty and juicy, but is this really the sort of show you want to put up against Grey's Anatomy and CSI? I'm betting if or when one of the fall's new dramas fail (it's bound to happen), this will be called in elsewhere.

Friday. Another longtime graveyard for Fox, so who can blame them for going the reality route, this time with a soundtrack. Lots of promotion during these last episodes of American Idol may help boost the profile of the clunkily titled The Search for the Next Great American Band, from the same producers. It's being paired with the lush-looking reality docu-soap Nashville, from the producers of Laguna Beach, tracking the fortunes of aspiring musicians in the capital of country music.

Friday game plan for 2008: A crime combo of Bones and New Amsterdam. I'll believe that when I see it.

Saturday: Unchanged. Cops and America's Next Wanted: America Fights Back will do their duty as long as there are criminals on the streets and at large. Which means forever. Mad TV and the inexplicable Talk Show With Spike Feresten return in late night.

Sunday. The animation block returns intact. In the fall, after the football post-game, it's The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy and American Dad in that order.

Sunday game plan for 2008: A reshuffled cartoon lineup gets an hour-earlier start ( King of the Hill at 7/6p, followed by American Dad, The Simpsons and Family Guy), opening up the 9/8c hour for The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which is easily one of the most exciting concepts of the season. The fact that Fox is once again trying to go after that X-Files vibe on Sunday will make me more impatient than usual to see the football season come to a close.