Six weeks into TV season, few new shows make the grade




It's report card time for the new TV season. Yep, six weeks have flown by, and four newcomers already have flunked out.

You've probably heard that Fox's Head Cases, NBC's Inconceivable, WB's Just Legal and UPN's Sex, Love & Lies have received failing grades and will not be darkening our TV schedules anymore.

It's always embarrassing to be the first to fail, and Head Cases, starring Chris O'Donnell and Adam Goldberg, was yanked after two episodes. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Sometime after the World Series and before the November sweeps -- which is just about now -- more new shows will be canceled. The networks aren't going to keep a low-rated series on the air during the first important rating period if a rerun of a hit will score better.

The only newcomer to be cautiously embraced by viewers is ABC's Commander in Chief, starring Geena Davis as the first female president and Donald Sutherland as an evil-incarnate Republican. The show is ranked seventh in the season-to-date Nielsens, the only new series to break into the Top 20.

Even though there are no big-buzz hits this fall, such as last season's Desperate Housewives and Lost, several new series have been given full-season orders, thus pushing them to the top of a lackluster freshman class:

ABC's aforementioned presidential melodrama, Commander in Chief, and the fabulous new sci-fi drama Invasion.

CBS' dramas Criminal Minds and Ghost Whisperer and the sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

NBC's oceanic sci-fi drama Surface and the off-kilter sitcom My Name Is Earl.

Fox's riveting drama Prison Break and forensic saga Bones and (despite an avalanche of scathing reviews) the totally unfunny comedy The War at Home.

WB's campy creep-out Supernatural.

UPN's edgy and warm-hearted (an amazing feat) comedy Everybody Hates Chris.

More than a few newcomers are awaiting bad news. Low or falling ratings and negative or zero buzz are usually the cause of first-semester cancellation. That unhappy group includes:

ABC's wheezing sci-fi drama Night Stalker.

NBC's two reality series, the weepy Three Wishes and the bland Apprentice: Martha Stewart.

Fox's excessively gruesome crime drama Killer Instinct and the under-appreciated sitcom Kitchen Confidential.

UPN's super-stupid comedy Love, Inc.

A bigger batch of newcomers is somewhere in between passing and failing. They're not failing badly enough to be canceled but not doing well enough to receive full orders for the season.

The networks aren't likely to be undecided about them for long. This middling group includes:

ABC's weak-kneed sitcoms Hot Properties and Freddie.

CBS' legal drama Close to Home is technically in this category, but it debuted late, so it's too soon to tell. The sci-fi drama Threshold and the awful sitcom Out of Practice got a damning-with-faint-praise pickup of three more scripts each.

NBC's Pentagon drama E-Ring has stopped its free-fall since switching to an earlier time period, but it's still not performing as the network hoped.

Fox's fine but difficult to follow serial drama Reunion will have a hard time picking up viewers because of its complexity.

WB's late-arriving sister drama Related and the groaningly bad sitcom Twins might benefit from low expectations by the network.

Generally speaking, viewers are sticking with old favorites this season. CSI is still the No. 1 series, with Desperate Housewives (despite some critical backlash), Without a Trace and Lost not far behind.

NBC's faith in the Friends spinoff Joey is bound to be fading. In spite of story reconfigurations and tons of promotion, the show ranks 58th in season-to-date ratings. The show had a two-season commitment when it debuted last fall, which might be the only reason it came back.

Fox is seeing a slump for some of its sitcoms. As much as the critics love Arrested Development, mainstream America just doesn't get it. The Emmy winner, which moved from Sundays to Mondays this season, now ranks 97th.

Also tumbling in the ratings are Fox's Bernie Mac Show and Malcolm in the Middle. Both shows are likely to be gone by early 2006.

If you've been meaning to check out any of the low-rated new or returning shows this fall, you'd better do it soon.

Diane Holloway writes for the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman.

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