Summer has never been television's hottest season.
For years, programmers and viewers took a vacation from the tube once the May Sweeps were over, subsisting primarily on reruns until the new fall series came along.
But with so many changes in television's competitive environment -- cable, VCRs, Fox Broadcasting -- network executives have slowly warmed to the idea of debuting new series in the summer.
And this summer, depending on your assessment of the shows, top-rated CBS appears to be taking the lead with seven original series, the first of which, "Grapevine," premieres tonight.
ABC and Fox, however, aren't far behind. Only NBC seems to be lagging in its commitment, with just one new series set for the summer months.
Many of the new series have six-episode orders. Some, clearly, have no future and never had and appear now in a final Hail Mary bit of programming play. Other shows shows, however could turn out to be something more than summer flings.
Here's a quick look at what's in store:
* "Grapevine": Begins tonight. An innovative, if overly yuppified, series that splices and dices its story lines with snatches of gossip from each of the characters about various relationships. Jonathan Penner, Lynn Clark and Steven Eckholdt star as three Miami friends.
* "Bodies of Evidence": Starts Thursday night and stars Lee Horsley, George Clooney and Kate McNeil in an irritating, clumsy show about L.A. homicide detectives.
* "Raven": Wednesday nights beginning June 24. This one is so laughably bad, it holds your interest. A kung fu fighter (star Jeffrey Meek) is on the run from ninja assassins. The show is set in Honolulu and features what must be considered career-ending performances by co-star Lee Majors, who plays a washed-up (and unsightly) private eye.
CBS summer series promised but still not scheduled are:
* "Cutters": A sitcom starring Robert Hays, Dakin Matthews and Margaret Whitton about a father-son haircutting team who have to merge with the beauty parlor next door.
* "Middle Ages": A comedy-drama ensemble show, starring Peter Riegert ("Crossing Delancey" and "Local Hero") among a disparate group of people living in Chicago, that will play heavily on its '60s and '70s sound track.
* "2000 Malibu Road": One of two shows -- the other is "Freshman Dorm" -- aimed at young viewers and slated for August. "Malibu Road" is from "L.A. Law" co-creator Terry Louise Fisher and stars Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Beals, Lisa Hartman, Brian Bloom and Tuesday Knight. The setup? A retired madam takes in three roommates so she can keep the house. And "Freshman Dorm" is, sight unseen, pretty much what it sounds like.
CBS, by the way, also has a new game show called "The Hollywood Game," which debuts June 19. The name of this game is movie and TV trivia.
* "On The Air": Starts June 20. The creation of "Twin Peaks" producers David Lynch and Mark Frost, this sitcom is the kind of all-out weird, experimental programming just made for summer. Slapstick, oddball and sometimes hysterically funny. Ian Buchanan plays the slimy, self-important star of a live 1957 variety series called "The Lester Guy Show."
* "Human Target": Premieres July 25. Singer-soap-star Rick Springfield is cast as a decoy-for-hire named Christopher Chance, who impersonates people in danger.
Two other shows, "Julie," starring Julie Andrews as a TV variety show hostess (in Iowa), and "Jack's Place," an hour starring Hal Linden as a musician turned restaurant owner, have already made their way to the air. Don't worry, if you've missed them, you haven't missed much.
* "Home Fires": Previews June 24 and 25 before moving to Saturdays June 27. "St. Elsewhere" team headed by Bruce Paltrow turns its attention to the modern, dysfunctional American family in this finely produced but annoying series.
* "Melrose Place": Previews July 8 before moving to Wednesdays July 15. Fox is giving this highly hyped "Beverly Hills, 90210" spinoff -- technically a fall series -- a jump on the competition. This time it's a pack of gorgeous twentysomethings living, loving and emoting in L.A.
* "Down the Shore": Premieres June 21 before moving to Sundays starting June 28. It's billed as a sitcom about three guys and three girls in their 20s sharing a beach house on the Jersey Shore.
* "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures": Premieres June 28. The not-so-excellent movie becomes a TV show.
* "Rachel Gunn, R.N.": Debuts June 28. Christine Ebersole gives it a go in this sitcom about an opinionated nurse.
An insult to our intelligence is already on. "Vinnie and Bobby" -- a remake of a spinoff of "Married . . . With Children" called "Top of the Heap" -- stars Matt LeBlanc and now Robert Torti as two working-class, and very thick, guys lumbering through life.
Still sketchy and unscheduled series that could end up on the Fox summer schedule are "Tribeca," an hourlong anthology series set in trendy New York with Robert De Niro as executive producer; "Circus," starring Roger Rees ("Cheers") and Charlie Schlatter in a sitcom about a circus; and "Shaky Ground," a sitcom starring Matt Frewer as a Ralph Kramden type.