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.
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.
CBS is to be commended for being the lone network to continue programming scripted series on Saturday. At the same time, you have to wonder why. The highest rated show of the night on any network, The District, ranks 64th on the Nielsen roster.
Fox: Idol worship The challenge in assessing Fox's schedule is it really doesn't have one until American Idol shows up in January.
Fox could score points with critics by bringing back Arrested Development, if not on Sunday (the network's most stable night other than Perp Walk Saturday), then somewhere else. Unfortunately, critics appear to be the only ones watching.
Monday, Thursday and Friday are the network's Swans. They require constant makeovers. Fox is hoping some of the trial balloons it floats this summer fly well enough to plug into the many holes left by the demise of Skin, Boston Public, Wonderfalls and possibly Tru Calling. If the summer flings fail to catch on, prepare yourself for the likes of My Anorexic Bipolar Fiance.
The opening hour of Tuesday, leading into 24, also is a sinkhole until the next Idol.
With That '70s Show and The O.C. coming back, only one new half-hour is needed on Wednesday and it's not an important one. No matter how Fox opens the season, the American Idol results show owns the second half of the season.
NBC: ace is trump Thanks to Donald Trump, a fourth Law & Order and the Friends spinoff Joey, there is little work to be done.
The Apprentice will be the first non-comedy since 1980 to start the season on Thursday night at 9. Trump's monument to himself resolidifies a night in jeopardy of going into eclipse with the loss of Friends. Matt LeBlanc's Joey is expected to inherit the leadoff slot, so only one other half-hour is needed. Either Will & Grace or Scrubs will get it, with the other a candidate to anchor Tuesday, which is likely to have three new sitcoms unless NBC finds some unfathomable reason to renew Whoopi and/or Happy Family.
The mystifying renewal of American Dreams and return to potency of Crossing Jordan solidify Sunday. Monday will look the same, too, through at least the first two hours. The 10 p.m. slot, a hangout for Average Joes this season, appears to be a potential landing zone for Law & Order 4, although there are reports it might not be ready until midseason. No sweat, there's always plenty of the likes of Average Joe to bide time.
It's to be hoped NBC won't go into a season with Apprentice reruns opening Wednesday, where Ed used to be, so an hour might be needed there.
Friday will change only if the network opts for scripted programs in place of another Dateline to go with Third Watch and L&O: Criminal Intent.
Saturday figures to continue to be a throwaway, with sports, movies and reruns.
UPN: re-model project How many editions of America's Next Top Model can be squeezed into a season? The answer will determine how much change there is. The 9 p.m. hour on Tuesday and Wednesday, where Jake 2.0 and bad sitcoms once filled space, will need to be addressed, and America's Next Top Model will be called upon to fill as much of that time as possible.
The Parkers have reached the end of the line so there will be at least one new half-hour on Monday.
If CBS's kid sister network want to be taken seriously, it's time to program Friday with series, not films that dollar movie houses wouldn't consider.
Wrestling continues its stranglehold on Thursday.
WB: The four-day week The WB should consider the fantasy of every working stiff: a four-day week. Sunday through Wednesday, it's in fine shape. Only one new hour is needed to go with Charmed on Sunday, where viewers didn't go ape over Tarzan, plus a replacement for Angel on Wednesday. Either slot could go to the new Dark Shadows.
Thursday and Friday demand almost total remakes. Only Reba is worth salvaging, although The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, Grounded for Life and What I Like About You could be invited back solely because they're not as hopeless as The Help and Like Family.
The home of youth-angst dramas has been unable to come up with even one hit comedy. Attempting to find five or six at once would make the frog look like a jackass.
Tom Jicha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.