`Upfronts': First peek at fall TV

May 17, 2004|By Tom Jicha | Tom Jicha,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

The coming week marks what used to be among the most exciting in television. Each day, 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 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, indeed, the next Friends, CSI and Law & Order. Not to mention that networks no longer dominate viewership - cable now has more than 50 percent of the audience in prime time.

Yet, the broadcast networks still do things the way they always have, so upfront week endures. Here's a look at some of each network's likely moves.

NBC

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 noncomedy since 1980 to start the season on Thursday night at 9. Trump's monument to himself resolidifies a night in jeopardy 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 mostly the same, too.

Friday will change only if NBC opts for scripted programs in place of another Dateline.

ABC

One of many dilemmas for ABC 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.

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, at 8 or 9, depending upon the placement of Extreme Makeover.

Friday could return intact if spring tryout The Big House gets a pickup for a full season.

CBS

CBS alone will have four returnees from last fall - Navy: NCIS, Joan of Arcadia, Cold Case and Two and a Half Men. More important, 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. Four months later, nothing has changed.

However, if drama development is strong, The Guardian could be in trouble, with a shift from Tuesday to Saturday vs. 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 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.

Fox

There's a challenge in assessing Fox's schedule: 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 all require makeovers. Fox is hoping some of this summer's trial balloons fly well enough to plug into the many holes left by the demise of Skin, Boston Public, Wonderfalls and possibly Tru Calling.

The opening hour of Tuesday, leading into 24, also is a sinkhole until the next Idol.

UPN

How many editions of America's Next Top Model can be squeezed into a season? The answer will determine how much change there is on this network. 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.

WB

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, 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.

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