Flailing Fox Family Eyes Ally

By John Dempsey and Cynthia Littleton

NEW YORK (Variety) - Cable's Fox Family Channel, battered in recent months by declining ratings, is negotiating to buy the rerun rights to ``Ally McBeal.''

If a deal is reached, ``Ally'' would represent the most expensive programming purchase ever made by Fox Family, and a major overhaul of the network's original strategy of competing with Nickelodeon for the kid and family audience.

The price tag for ``Ally'' reruns could easily shoot beyond $100 million, depending on the number of episodes creator David E. Kelley ends up producing for Fox Family sister company 20th Century Fox Television.

A Twentieth spokesman declined to comment on the matter, but sources said Fox Family also is interested in acquiring the rerun rights to another successful Kelley/20th series, ABC's ''The Practice.''

Fox Family, acquired by News Corp. and Saban Entertainment in 1997, has seen its Nielsen numbers plunge by 50% (in the total-day measure) since the former Family Channel was revamped into a children's outlet last August. In primetime, Fox Family's ratings dropped by 36% between the first quarter of 1998 and first quarter '99.