Fox is retooling its strategy as it heads into the Thursday-night fray this fall.

Instead of sending its 9 p.m. staple, The O.C., into battle against CSI and Grey's Anatomy every week, the network announced Wednesday that it has ordered up a mere 16 episodes of the rich-kid drama for 2006-07.

Considering that 22 episodes of a show constitute your typical season and The O.C. has averaged 25 a season during its three-year run, this doesn't bode well for the prime-time soap, although a Fox spokesperson said that since it doesn't premiere until Nov. 2 (allowing for baseball's World Series) this fall, there's no technical reason to have a full schedule of episodes.

But with Mischa Barton not returning for a fourth go-round and the surviving O.C. denizens "growing up" and heading off to college in the fall, it looks as if Fox is packing up its beachfront property.

If the network airs all 16 new episodes in a row, it will be out of O.C. by February, giving Fox the opportunity to take a midseason replacement for a test drive, Variety reported Wednesday.

ABC announced last month that Grey's Anatomy would be

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