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Why Fox’s Decision to Bench New Girl Until November Is a Good Thing

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl.

Last night we told you that Fox's fall hit New Girl would be off the air until November, prompting some head-scratching among those in the I Heart Zooey Club. "Just when the show was finding its footing, Fox gives the audience the chance to forget all about it? This is how good shows die," fumed Jess lover PDX in the comments of the post. Well, simmah down, people: Fox isn't trying to kill its adorkable golden goose. Indeed, the fact that the show won't be on the air for a spell is actually the clearest evidence yet that Fox feels it's found a new long-term comedy player.

First, a bit of background: Things were always going to be bumpy for New Girl in October. That's because Fox is blessed/cursed with having the rights to the baseball playoffs, which can be a boon when there's a seven game World Series featuring the Yankees or Red Sox, but usually just serves to completely muck up the network's autumnal schedule. Just weeks after much-hyped premieres, the network forever finds itself preempting and juggling new and existing hits in order to make room for bats and balls, which makes building momentum for shows tough. Last year, for example, the network only aired one episode of Glee between October 13 and November 9. Headed into this season, New Girl faced a similar struggle. Tonight's episode, for example, was always going to be preempted because of baseball. Ditto the Tuesday, October 25 episode: Fox said months ago that it would air a two-and-a-half-hour episode of The X Factor on this night, since the show's usual slots that week could be displaced by possible Games 6 and 7 of the World Series.

But here's where things got confused. Headed into the fall, Fox programmers fretted that their fragile New Girl might suffer from an extended baseball-induced hiatus, and so they hatched a scheme to air the show outside of its normal 9 p.m. Tuesday slot. This week was to have seen an episode run Wednesday at 9:30 p.m., right behind X Factor. And next Tuesday, Fox was going to bump Girl from its usual spot at 9 p.m. to 9:30, displacing Raising Hope and allowing a baseball-bumped X to air from 8 to 9:30 p.m. that night. Would this have been a little confusing to viewers just starting to make New Girl a post-Glee habit? Possibly. But since most preseason prognosticators had X being a much bigger Nielsen performer than New Girl, the thinking was that these out-of-pattern episodes would have exposed millions of X viewers to the fledgling comedy, while also keeping the show in viewers' minds.

Things changed once it became clear that New Girl was an out-of-the-box hit (and, indeed, a bigger draw with young viewers than X Factor). Suddenly, the show didn't need any boost from Simon & Co. What's more, because viewers clearly knew where to find New Girl, having it pop up on other nights and in other slots risked confusing fans about its whereabouts. Plus, from a PR point of view, nothing good would have come from pop-up broadcasts of New Girl: With X an arguably less compatible lead-in than Glee, there's a good chance New Girl would've ended up earning lower ratings with its special broadcasts. "Why do you want to give reporters a chance to write about New Girl declining in the ratings?" one executive from a rival network told Vulture. Plus, as the wag points out, Fox will now have two more original episodes of New Girl to air in the show's normal 9 p.m. slot, which means fewer repeats later in the season.

But what about the argument that simply not airing New Girl for three weeks might slow down its momentum? Well, it's worth looking at what happened two years ago, when Fox preempted the red hot and new Glee for three weeks in the fall for baseball: After averaging 7.1 million viewers on October 21, it attracted 7.5 million gleeks upon its November 11 return. Is it too late to book Gwyneth Paltrow for New Girl's next new episode on November 1?

Photo: Greg Gayne/FOX