The coming week used to be among the most exciting all year in TV, the industry's equivalent to Fashion Week. The process is almost the same. Each day starting Monday, one or two networks will parade their fall schedules for buyers, in this case, Madison Avenue.
The frantic few days are dubbed "the upfronts," because it's when TV networks get advertisers to commit billions of dollars up front to sponsor programs that won't appear until the fall. The networks wine and dine sponsors, and bring their biggest stars to New York to schmooze. Every new comedy is the next Friends, every new drama the next CSI or Law & Order.
Much of the excitement is gone, because the most highly touted of the fall hopefuls are the next Friends, CSI and Law & Order. The Practice also will live on, slightly reworked, under a new title. Even the old gothic soap Dark Shadows, which has already failed in one reincarnation, is being resuscitated. Combine the air of familiarity with the fact that networks no longer dominate viewership -- cable now has more than 50 percent of the audience in prime time -- and much of the thrill is gone.
Despite changed circumstances, the broadcast networks continue do things the way they always have, so upfront week endures. Except for the spinoffs, which have been given commitments, the decisions on which series will fill the holes left by previous mistakes won't be determined until the last minute. However, there are few secrets about what needs to be done.
The following is a look at each network's likely moves.
ABC: Disney dismals
The situation could not be more chaotic. Entertainment President Steve McPherson, who took over only a few weeks ago, steps into a mess of his own making: He comes from Touchstone TV, the Disney subsidiary that has been supplying nothing but marginal shows or worse to the Disney-owned network.
One of many dilemmas for him is the number of series, such as Less Than Perfect, Life With Bonnie, Hope & Faith and Alias, that aren't strong enough to lift the network out of the doldrums but can't be canceled because other shows are doing even worse. What's more, Disney is trying to keep them alive long enough to qualify for syndication.
The emergence of the Extreme Makeover spinoff EM: Home Edition and the launch of The Practice spinoff starring James Spader leaves no holes on Sunday, and football buys time until midseason on Monday.
I'm With Her and It's All Relative would be canceled on any other major network. On ABC, they're borderline calls. Another Tuesday staple, the star-crossed 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, will probably get another chance but it's no certainty.
Wednesday needs at least one new hour at the end of the night, where Karen Sisco was the first of several failures. Thursday needs one, too -- remember Threat Matrix? -- at either 8 or 9, depending upon the placement of Extreme Makeover.
Friday could return intact if spring tryout The Big House, another borderline performer, gets a pickup for a full season.
Wonderful World of Disney on Saturday is an untouchable and America's Funniest Home Videos has gotten an early pickup, although either could slide back to Sunday, if ABC decides to go back to movies and sports.
CBS: sitting pretty
CBS alone will have four returnees from last fall -- Navy: NCIS, Joan of Arcadia, Cold Case and Two and a Half Men. More importantly, Everybody Loves Raymond decided not to hang it up.
Network president Les Moonves boasted in January that things are going so well, his lineup is going to be tough to crack, especially with CSI: New York promised the first open hour. Four months later, nothing has changed. There is no need for change on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Thursday, where Survivor, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Without a Trace would have surpassed long-dominant NBC by now if not for The Apprentice.
However, if drama development is strong, The Guardian could be in trouble, with a shift from Tuesday to Saturday an alternative to cancellation -- slow death as opposed to instant death.
The King of Queens needs a companion half-hour on Wednesday, the night that also is a likely landing spot for the new CSI: New York, starring Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes.
Another hour is needed to close Friday, where Joe Pantoliano's The Handler was one of this season's few miscues. Joey Pants could bounce right back in Dr. Vegas, a CBS drama pilot starring Rob Lowe, whose Lyon's Den couldn't cut it on NBC.
Networks face upfront battle
An early peek at potential fall television lineups
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