Los Angeles -- The Fox TV network, which came under a barrage of criticism last fall when it announced plans to air a docudrama on the O. J. Simpson case, said yesterday that it will show the film now that a jury has been chosen.
Fox was the only network to rush into a docudrama following the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman last summer. But it reluctantly pulled the film from its fall line-up in the face of criticism that airing the movie might make it harder to find an impartial jury.
"Now that the jury is selected and sequestered . . . we will air the film," John A. Matoian, the new president of Fox Entertainment, said yesterday. He refused to say when the film will air, but it will likely be during February sweeps.
The decision to air the Simpson movie is an interesting one because it goes to the heart of the big question facing the network: Can Fox upgrade its image enough to attract older viewers and keep the edge that has made it popular with teens and twentysomethings?
Fox has regularly pushed the envelope in matters of taste, such as the sleazy docudramas it aired last fall on Madonna and Roseanne. In fact, Matoian was brought in three months ago with the mandate to upgrade the network's image.
He promptly cleaned house in the made-for-TV movie department, and yesterday was careful to distance himself from the Simpson film, despite his decision to air it. "The O.J. movie . . . was made before I got here," he said.
Most of the other new shows Fox touted for critics here yesterday were evidence of Matoian's quest for a classier image.
He announced, for instance, that Fox would show three Hallmark Hall of Fame films next fall, although he declined to name any of them. Asked why Hallmark would come to the Homer Simpson network, Matoian said, "Why wouldn't it be on Fox?"
Perhaps the most promising news from Fox yesterday was that Michael Moore was moving from NBC. Matoian said Fox will have new episodes of Moore's "TV Nation" on the air by late spring or early summer.
Moore will also develop both prime-time and late-night pilots for Fox. He could be the new best hope for Fox to finally win some of those big late-night bucks in the wake of the Chevy Chase debacle. Matoian said Moore could be on in late night by September.
"We plan to be back in the late-night business by the fall," Matoian said.
Other development deals announced yesterday -- again, aimed at upgrading the image -- included:
* Joshua Brand and David Falsey ("I'll Fly Away") producing a one-hour drama;
* Baltimore native Jay Tarses ("The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd") producing a sitcom;
* David Kelley ("Picket Fences") making a drama/comedy titled "The Pastor's Wife" about a minister and his free-spirited wife who writes horror novels; and
L * Chris Carter developing a spinoff of his "X-Files" series.