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Patience in short supply at TV networks

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published November 13, 2006


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photo
[AP Photo]
Actor Taye Diggs works on the set of the new ABC television show "Day Break."

It's beginning to feel like the TV season that won't stop premiering.

Once upon a time, the rhythm of network TV was simple: a flood of new shows in the fall, followed by a smattering of reality series and reruns to replace canceled shows until a new batch of programs arrived in January for the midseason.

No more. After stretching the fall premiere season from late August to mid October, TV networks now are plugging holes in their prime time schedule with new shows. They're replacing series you've never seen with fresh programs you've never heard of.

"I told somebody I knew that Kidnapped was canceled, and they said, 'What's Kidnapped?' " said Steve Sternberg, an analyst for media buyer Magna Global. Kidnapped is NBC's heavily promoted hostage drama that was yanked from the schedule last week after a handful of low-rated airings. "It takes people so long to become aware of a new show, they're gone before people even know they're on."

Classic series such as 24, Seinfeld, Cheers and All in the Family took at least a year to find their footing and become some of TV's best shows. But given today's financial pressures, networks can only afford to nurse one or two promising series each year. Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 at NBC, the faltering comedy The Class at CBS and the serialized post-hostage drama The Nine at ABC seem to be the chosen ones this season.

Still, how will the networks find the new classics if ambitious programs get just two or three airings to find an audience?

"The upside is, things are a little quieter," said Nina Tassler, president of entertainment for CBS, noting that fewer new shows means less competition. "You can focus almost exclusively on your new show and make sure viewers hear about it. It gives us a new advantage."

For example, on Tuesday CBS debuts 3 LBS., a drama about brain surgeons that feels like House meets Grey's Anatomy. And while NBC has no new shows, on Wednesday it brings back Medium, its psychic-as-a-housewife drama with a middling but powerful following.

This month, ABC will unveil three new series: a new game show with William Shatner previewing Tuesday called Show Me the Money; a serialized comedy starting Nov. 28 dubbed Big Day; and Day Break, a drama about a cop constantly reliving the worst day of his life, which launches Wednesday.

Even the hits aren't immune from shuffling: CBS's most promising new show, Jericho, is taking a three-month break starting Nov. 29 to return in February. That strategy apes ABC's moves with its fading hit Lost, which aired its last new episode Wednesday and will return in 13 weeks.

Strangest of all, this movement comes during November's "sweeps" ratings period - a time when TV programmers used to try and keep things stable, so they could get the big ratings that help raise advertising rates.

Call it the new midseason perhaps the mid midseason?; new and returning series coming our way because they're the best options TV programmers can come up with.

Eric Deggans can be reached at deggans@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

Big Day

Debuts: 9 p.m. Nov. 28 on WFTS.

The setup: Marla Sokoloff (The Practice) is a tightly wound bride-to-be sweating every detail in the day before her mega-wedding. Viewers will sweat too, as the preparations are stretched over an entire season. From arguments over salad to an ill-fated affair between the best man and the maid of honor, it's like Martha Stewart meets 24.

The odds: When the most successful new shows are focused on nuclear war and superheroes, will audiences respond to a not so funny comedy treating a deleted seating chart like a high-stakes kidnapping? Probably not. 10 to 1 against.

3 LBS.

Debuts: 10 p.m. Tuesday on WTSP-Ch. 10.

The setup: Stanley Tucci (Big Night) is a brilliant but insensitive brain surgeon who disdains his empathetic intern, Mark Feuerstein (Good Morning Miami), while hiding a serious medical secret.

The odds: Stylish and unpredictably predictable - you know where it's going, but not how it's getting there - this show offers a magnetic cast covering quirky medical stories House handles much better. Even money.

Day Break

Debuts: 9 p.m. Wednesday on WFTS-Ch. 28.

The setup: Taye Diggs (How Stella Got Her Groove Back) is a headstrong cop inexplicably forced to relive a day in which he is framed for a murder and betrayed by those closest to him. Kind of like Training Day meets Groundhog Day.

The odds: Diggs has always been a magnetic TV presence looking for a good series. But the complexity of this premise - every day, Diggs' character does something different to affect how events turn out - may demand too much from viewers already upset that Lost has been benched to make way for this. 3 to 1 against.

[Last modified November 12, 2006, 20:40:36]


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