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Networks Focus on Fall

The time is near to decide if late-season shows get second act 4/14/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Might there be new life for Old Christine? With the broadcast networks announcing their fall schedules next month, it's almost time to decide if late-season additions such as the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy and Conviction have earned spots in the lineup. With many pilots still being shot, the networks are surveying their existing shows before they review the new product that will compete for slots on the fall schedule.

“We'll be looking at rough cuts soon, but this is the quiet time before the storm hits,” says NBC Executive VP of Program Planning and Scheduling Mitch Metcalf.

While there are a few sure bets among the late arrivals, such as CBS' The Unit, the fate of many shows is still unclear; it remains to be seen whether they will be beaten out by shows in development.

Here is a look at the late-season programs' prospects at the major networks.

ABC

ABC may have discovered a new unscripted franchise in American Inventor, but the network is disappointed that the heavily hyped Sons & Daughters has become this season's Arrested Development. Inventor continued ABC's Dancing With the Stars-inspired rebirth on Thursdays, getting a strong sampling in its first two weeks, with CSI on the bench during CBS' airing of NCAA basketball. After averaging a 5.3 rating/14 share in the adult 18-49 demo those two weeks, Inventor dropped off to a 3.7/9 average in the next two airings, but ABC is still pleased with that performance.

As for Sons & Daughters, the comedy drew critical acclaim but never found an audience. “It's not that the show was rejected,” says Jeff Bader, executive VP of program planning and scheduling for ABC Entertainment. “Like Arrested,it just was never exposed to many people to begin with.” Its premiere earned just a 3.5/8 in the 18-49 demo and averaged just over a 2 rating for its first 10 episodes.

Still, Bader won't rule out a return for next season, saying the network may look for a more appropriate time slot. If Sons does come back, look for ABC to try to build viral buzz online, as NBC did with The Office, which grew after a similarly slow start.

As for other late-season additions, Miracle Workers probably won't be back as a series, although Miracle specials are a possibility. Dramas The Evidence and In Justice are long shots to return.

ABC also has single-guy drama What About Brian, which was scheduled to debut Sunday, April 16, and will be closely monitoring the return of Commander in Chief to see whether the Geena Davis drama gets a second term. Putting it on the schedule this month at 10 p.m. Thursday, up against CBS' Without a Trace and NBC's ER, seriously hurts Commander's chances.

CBS

CBS will apparently come away from the late season with two solid additions, in red-hot Army Rangers drama The Unit and Louis-Dreyfus sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine.

The Unit has been a great fit coming out of NCIS on Tuesdays, and it seems a sure bet to return next season. It has found its own fan base, as evidenced by the 23% jump the April 4 episode had over an NCIS repeat lead-in.

Old Christine feels like a CBS comedy, say industry insiders, and has held up where others (Out of Practice, Courting Alex) have failed coming out of tentpole Two and a Half Men. Whether CBS keeps Christine on Mondays or moves it elsewhere come fall, it at least appears that the Seinfeld curse has finally been lifted. “It got off to a nice start, and if things keep up, we'd love to see it back on the schedule,” says CBS/UPN Executive VP of Scheduling and Program Planning Kelly Kahl.

FOX

The best news for Fox this spring was the strong return of Prison Break after a long layoff. The show worked well with 24 to give Fox a potent Monday-night lineup. The jailhouse drama has already been picked up for a second season, and Fox has told producers to be ready to come back in mid August.

As it did this season, Break will run before and after the baseball playoffs, but the network is looking at other ways to use the series, even considering a third season that could run from June to December.

How Break is used will depend on whether Fox is successful in finding companion pieces for both it and 24, or if they will be paired again next spring.

Fox Executive VP of Strategic Program Planning and Research Preston Beckman says there is a “good possibility” the network will order another iteration of rookie reality series Unan1mous, but how it would return is still undecided. “We have to figure out, is it a series or is it these one-shots we bring on periodically?” he says.

The prospects are not as good for comedies The Loop and Free Ride. “They are players for next season,” Beckman says. “But I would be lying to you if I said that either of them broke out in terms of ratings.”

NBC

Led by the Aaron Sorkin-penned Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, NBC's development slate has great early buzz. And the network may need it, because the network's late-season additions have yet to produce a hit.

The brightest of the bunch is the Dick Wolf drama Conviction, a slickly produced show that NBC's Metcalf says has a “very good shot” of coming back in the fall, despite its inability to find a big audience on Friday nights.

“Admittedly, it is off to a slow start,” says Metcalf. “I wish ratings were higher, but because the quality is there and the later episodes in the first 13 will be even better, we think people will continue to find it.”

NBC has already pulled crime drama Heist off the schedule, and it will have to decide if Teachers can be the next adaptation of a British show to bounce back from modest early numbers, à la The Office. Metcalf notes that, while the show has not done a significant number, retention out of Scrubs has been in the 90% range.

Who will survive?

So four weeks before the fall lineups are announced, for every network chief hoping a late-season addition displays signs of life, there is a producer with a pilot in development who's pulling for it to tank and free up some prime time real estate.

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