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Night by Night Fall Programming Roundup

A quick, candid look at plans for the big 6 8/22/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern

SUNDAY

Desperate Housewives

ABC, 9, premieres Sept. 26

Don't be surprised if this sudsy prime time soap is a rookie hit. The
pilot breezily establishes the lives of women living on an upscale suburban
street. One of them kills herself, leaving behind a big mystery for her friends
to unravel—if they have the time after dealing with their own webs of love,
lust and loneliness (not to mention their kids). A strong cast includes Marcia
Cross (Melrose Place), Nicollette Sheridan
(Knots Landing), Teri Hatcher (Lois &
Clark
) and Felicity Huffman (Sports Night).
Shocking development in pilot: One of the housewives is having an affair with a
teenage gardener.

The Partner

Fox, 9, premieres Nov. 7

Reality TV already has us watching people eat dung beatles, but this Fox
reality series goes too far. Viewers are expected to care about, sympathize
with and root for lawyers! Fox intends to spike its November sweeps with this
show about Ivy League law graduates competing in mock trials with "street
smart" lawyers from less formidable schools. A jury determines which lawyer
won; the loser gets a shot at convincing the judge otherwise. The judge then
tosses one of them out. By the end, the last lawyer standing gets a job at a
major law firm.

Jack & Bobby

The WB, 9, premieres Sept. 12

This is the fall's most intelligent and most thoughtfully scripted new
series, but the title might confuse viewers into thinking it's the umpteenth
Kennedy saga. In fact, the drama is about the fictional young McCallister
brothers, one of whom will grow up to become president, circa 2040. Executive
producers Greg Berlanti, Mickey Liddell and Vanessa Taylor (all of
Everwood) and Thomas Schlamme (The West
Wing
) mesh present-day tales of the brothers with sequences flashing
forward to the White House. Newcomers Matthew Long (Jack) and Logan Lerman
(Bobby) are appealing, and Christine Lahti gives a complex, passionate
performance as the boys' mother.

Boston Legal

ABC, 10, premieres Sept. 24

Emmy-nominee James Spader recharged the downsized David E. Kelley drama
The Practice when he joined its cast last year. The entire
season became a set up for this spinoff featuring Spader's wonderfully
exasperating Alan Shore. As the season progressed, characters were added
including an eccentric lawyer played by William Shatner. But Boston
Legal
is iffy, with a distinct lack of buzz. Also, there are
questions about the extent of Kelley's involvement in the show. After decades
of work on compelling legal dramas, from L.A. Law to
The Practice to Ally McBeal, what's
new?

MONDAY

The Benefactor

ABC, 8, premieres Sept. 13

Billionaire Mark Cuban doesn't want this reality series, in which people
strive to impress him, to be lumped in with other reality shows where
contestants strive to impress powerful men. Get lost, Donald Trump. "On every
other reality show, everybody does the same thing," Cuban says. "Everybody
sells lemonade. Everybody eats bugs." He'll assign "open-ended" tasks and then
judge on character and execution. "Everybody has to come up with their own
solutions to the challenges," he says. (Here's one: Beat
Fear Factor on NBC in the same time period.)
The winner gets a million bucks.

Listen Up

CBS, 8:30, premieres Sept. 20

Will the new Jason Alexander comedy fall victim to the
"Seinfeld curse?" Listen Up has a
pulse—whereas his previous effort, ABC's Bob Patterson,
was D.O.A.—but it's a long way from funny. (In one sight gag from a CBS
promotion, Alexander is shown spitting milk into a glass. Yuck.) Alexander
plays newspaper columnist, sports talk show host and family man Tony Kleinman,
based on Tony Kornheiser of The Washington Post and ESPN.
Kornheiser himself is wise and witty, but Alexander's comes off as clueless and
smug. Still, airing right before Everybody Loves Raymond,
it has a chance.

The Complex: Malibu

Fox, 9, premieres Aug. 30

Fox's home makeover reality show is actually based on a dynamic
Australian hit series titled The Block. On paper, though, it sounds like
something from The Learning Channel. Couples move into a beachfront apartment
building in Malibu, where they compete for the opportunity to restore one of
four units. Judges monitor their progress, tossing those who can't muster the
appropriate flair or stay within budgets. Check out the Craftsman tools; Sears
is using this as part of a multi-faceted marketing program. With so much
product placement on hand, The Complex will surely strive
for the feel-good vibe of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home
Edition
rather than cutthroat competition.

Second Time Around

UPN, 9:30, premieres Sept. 20

UPN rarely gets credit for its successful Monday night comedy lineup,
but it produces a winner almost every year. This time around it's
Second Time Around, the unabashedly romantic comedy that
works well following Girlfriends. It doesn't hurt that the
show stars the sexy real-life couple Nicole Parker and Boris Kodjoe, who play
lovers who married, divorced and then married again. Co-creator Ralph Farquhar
was co-creator and executive producer of two of UPNs longest running hits,
Moesha and its spinoff, The
Parkers
.

LAX

NBC, 10, premieres Sept. 6

Here's a grand idea for a series in the post-9/11 world: A drama about
behind-the-scenes crises at a major airport—and one that has been a known
target of al-Qaeda. It's timely, but not in a good way. Indeed, storylines in
the LAX pilot include concerns about a bag that might
contain a bomb, the violent suicide of an airport executive and a merry group
of drunken pilots from Serbia determined to fly a commercial airliner. Starring
the effervescent, but tough Heather Locklear and the simmering, yet buff, Blair
Underwood as the airport's runway chief and airport director, respectively.

TUESDAY

The Contender

NBC, 8, premieres in November

Never mind the thievery spat between NBC's The
Contender
and Fox's The Next Great Champ. Let's
move on. Contender showcases 16 aspiring boxers at a
training camp as they move through a series of challenges with the goal of
turning pro. Each episode will end with a bout between two of them. The
ultimate winner will receive $250,000 a year for four years to train to become
a pro. Heavy-hitter folks involved with this show include Jeffrey Katzenberg,
Mark Burnett, Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone. Expect a minimum of
boxing scenes, with more emphasis on character development.

The Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the
Best

Fox, 8, Premieres Nov. 9

Virgin Records self-made billionaire and wacky risk-taker Sir Richard
Branson flies 16 young entrepreneurs to various locales around the world to
face some of the same challenges he has undertaken during his life. Losers are
jettisoned every week like excess baggage. Fox could have a success here,
because The Billionaire is produced by the hitmakers at
Bunim-Murray Productions, but it's opposite Mark Burnett's The
Contender
on the schedule.

Clubhouse

CBS, 9, premieres Sept. 28; preview on Sept. 26 at 8

There is much to admire about Clubhouse. It's a
warm, family-friendly drama about a 16-year-old boy who lands a job as batboy
for a fictional New York City baseball team. The drama reinforces all the right
values—family, loyalty, honesty, hard work and friendship. It boasts three of
the new season's most appealing performers in stars Dean Cain, Jeremy Sumpter
and Kirsten Storms. Most impressively, there isn't a doctor, lawyer, detective
or crime-scene investigator in sight. But producers shouldn't have tried to
make the New York Empires so Yankee-like. It's a distraction.

Father of the Pride

NBC, 9, premieres Aug. 31

With all respect to Roy Horn, the Las Vegas entertainer who was mauled
by one of his beloved white tigers, perhaps this project should have been
called off. It's hard not to think about him while watching this program, based
on Horn and partner Siegfried Fishbacher's famed Las Vegas animal act. Other
problems exist, too. Father of the Pride contains much
humor that is sexual in nature and clearly intended for adults, yet the
animated tigers will undoubtedly attract very young children. John Goodman
provides the voice of the title character.

Renovate My Family

Fox, Tuesday and Thursday, premieres in September

Until baseball playoffs begin, Fox will fill two hours of its schedule,
on two nights with a single series. This new reality effort stars best-selling
author Jay McGraw, best known as the son of author and television personality
Dr. Phil McGraw. Jay and a group of "makeover professionals" work to "restore
and redecorate" entire families on every level, from weight loss to home
improvement. There's no mention yet of any plastic surgeons, but don't put it
past Fox's reality guru Mike Darnell.

House

Fox, 9, premieres Nov. 16

Fox's lone new scripted entry is a drama about medical experts who seek
to diagnose and treat cases that mystify other doctors, similar to NBC's new
Medical Investigation. Judging from the pilot, in which a feisty parasite
invades a woman's leg tissue, House's stories veer toward the unpleasant and
eccentric. The camerawork and special effects go the CSI
route, taking viewers deep inside the human body. This unusual show, starring
British TV actor Hugh Laurie will premiere far into the season.
House might own its time slot, if left
unclaimed by other shows.

Veronica Mars

UPN, 9, premieres Sept. 28; preview on Sept. 22

This new UPN drama, like the new ABC series Lost,
has a lot going on. The overriding mystery is the unsolved murder of the title
character's best friend in a small, wealthy California seaside town. Veronica's
dad, the sheriff, suspects the dead girl's rich dad, but he is cleared of the
charges. Disgraced and dethroned, the ex-sheriff sets up a small detective
agency, with hard-working Veronica as his assistant. Young actress Kristen Bell
makes the almost too-resilient Veronica as believable and compelling as the
colorful stories boiling around her. This could click with young viewers.

Rodney

ABC, 9:30, premieres Sept. 21

In its glory days, ABC ruled with Roseanne,
Home Improvement and Grace Under
Fire
, in which stand-up comedians ably portrayed working stiffs. ABC
seeks to revive this winning formula with Rodney, starring
blue-collar stand up comedian Rodney Carrington. In character, Rodney is
married, has two young boys, works a dead-end job and can barely make ends
meet. Unlike most men in similar situations, Rodney is also pursuing a comedy
career. Still, Carrington's everyman appeal could work.

WEDNESDAY

Hawaii

NBC, preview on Aug. 30 at 9, premieres Sept. 1 at 8

NBC will obliterate any lingering traces of the once-sacred 8 p.m.
family hour with Hawaii, a violent
action-adventure about detectives in the title island paradise. A hunky cast
(Michael Biehn, Sharif Atkins, Ivan Sergei, Eric Balfour) should interest
women. The violence might not. The pilot features various decapitated heads and
plenty of gunplay. As for the performances, Biehn and Atkins are two cool
customers who might be able to carry the show by themselves, but Sergei and
Balfour could quickly wear out their welcome if their characters' smart-ass
riffing is left unchecked.

Lost

ABC, 8, premieres Sept. 22

Easily the most ambitious new series of the season,
Lost, from J.J. Abrams (Alias), tells the story of 48 survivors of a
commercial airliner that crashes on a seemingly uncharted tropical island.
Everything about this series strains credulity: How could a plane veer 1,000
miles off course? And what about radar? The multi-cultural cast is unusually
large (there are 14 primary roles so far), with Matthew Fox (Party of Five) and Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings) the most familiar faces. Though
it's terrific, Lost is a tad intense for an
8 p.m. time period. It's up against Hawaiion
NBC.

Kevin Hill

UPN, 9, premieres Sept. 29

Here's a line you thought you would never read: UPN has delivered one of
the best new dramas of the upcoming season. And another oddity: The only other
new drama that could challenge Kevin Hill
for kudos as the season's best frosh is Jack &
Bobby
on The WB. Are the Big Four networks paying attention? Taye
Diggs is thoroughly likeable as the title character, a successful corporate
lawyer who enjoys chasing skirts and hanging with buddies, until he is forced
to assume custody of his late cousin's baby girl. Diggs is surrounded by a
top-notch, multi-cultural supporting cast.

The Mountain

The WB, 9, premieres Sept. 22

These are tough times for scripted serialized dramas on broadcast
networks. Viewers—especially young ones advertisers crave—continue to
embrace them, but networks dismiss them because they do not repeat well. Some
don't even start well. The Mountainmight
have a tough climb. This lifeless drama about personal and professional power
struggles at an internationally famous ski resort may go downhill fast, despite
a terrific supporting cast, including Barbara Hershey, Mitch Peleggi and
newcomer Johann Urb as a handsome young villain. (Executives at The WB, who
invent young stars, have their eyes on Urb.)

Center of the Universe

CBS, 9:30, premieres Sept. 22

This new series has problems. Sitting through the pilot is like watching
a horrible accident made worse by the recognition of the casualties—sturdy
actors like John Goodman, Ed Asner, Jean Smart and Olympia Dukakis. Goodman
plays John Barnett, a security company owner whose family includes a loving
wife (Smart), a sex-crazed father (Asner), a daffy mother (Dukakis), a
dim-witted brother (Diedrich Bader) and an equally dim 12-year-old son (Spencer
Breslin).

Wife Swap

ABC, 10, premieres Sept. 29

ABC's Wife Swap had all the makings
of the freshest, most original new reality series of the fall—until Fox went
ahead and plunked its variation on the same premise, Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy, onto its summer
schedule. But maybe there's room for two. Swaps in future episodes of the ABC
show have some fun twists. In one, a lesbian mom switches places with a woman
from a family that does not support gay marriage. In another, a woman who
obsesses over the cleanliness of her home switches with a woman who has 25 pets
that are allowed to roam (and mess) freely.

CSI: NY

CBS, 10, premieres Sept. 22

CSI: NY is the slam-dunk of the
2004-05 season. It is also the current weapon of choice in CBS's ongoing
assault against the best NBC has to offer. First the network successfully
pitted CSI against Will & Grace. Then it moved
Survivor opposite Friends. Now, CSI:
NY
will go up against the long-unbeatable Law & Order. How will this show be different from
the others in the CSI franchise?
CSI: NY co-creator and executive producer
Anthony Zuiker has said that its execution "will be slightly more character
driven" than the other two. The striking cast features Gary Sinise and Melina
Kanakaredes (Providence).

THURSDAY

Joey

NBC, 8, premieres Sept. 9

In the most talked-about new series of the season,
Friends' charmingly dim Joey Tribiani joins
his older sister and her son in Los Angeles. Matt LeBlanc doesn't miss a beat.
Upon arrival in Hollywood, his life is suddenly full of exciting TV auditions,
from talk shows to dramas—even an edgy cop series. "It's for cable, so
there's a combination of nudity and swearing that I find intriguing," he tells
his sister, played by Drea de Matteo of The
Sopranos
, in the best casting move of the season.
Friends fans will be there for
Joey at the start, but will they stick
around?

Blue Collar TV

The WB, 8, premiered in July

Blue Collar TV has been a ratings
winner for The WB this summer, but whether this sometimes-crude sketch comedy
can last through the fall (against NBC's Joey, CBS's Survivor and Fox's The
O.C.)
is a good question. This comedy is a fish out of water on the
usually hip WB. Stars Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy are
anything but young or cool. "This program contains reenactments of real
blue-collar people engaging in lifestyles and behaviors that may be disturbing
to some upscale viewers," reads an onscreen disclaimer shown during the show.
Good.

Drew Carey's Green Screen

The WB, 8:30, premieres Sept. 16

Drew Carey deserves continued television success. But first, he should
give the television audience a break. This summer, ABC is still burning off
fresh episodes of his long-dead series sitcom. It's overkill; nobody wants to
see that much of anybody. (Just ask Ryan Seacrest.) Drew Carey's Green Screen is really just another
improv show, all tricked out with the latest visual technology. Carey and his
comedy troupe film prolonged improv sketches in front of a green screen; the
footage is then turned over to animators who fill in the backgrounds with
whatever wild imagery they choose. Interesting idea, but are viewers ready for
a Carey comeback?

Life As We Know It

ABC, 9, premieres Sept. 23

The scripted Lifecenters on three
horny teenage boys who are endlessly driven by raging hormones. "How are we
supposed to go to school when all we can think about is sex?" one of the boys
asks. It may be the most insightful line of dialogue in any new show this
season. The pilot makes clear that this series has been custom-designed for the
MTV generation. The teen boys periodically stop the action to talk to the
camera, just as the casts of MTV's The Real
World
have always done. Sean Faris, Jonathan Fields and Kelly
Osbourne stand out. But is this show more The WB than ABC?

FRIDAY

Complete Savages

ABC, 8:30, premieres Sept. 24

Complete Savages is no television
rarity—it's a situation comedy about a single parent raising a bunch of kids.
It could have been a formulaic retread of at least 100 other shows, but it
turns out instead to have wit, edge and a sharp point of view. At times,
watching the Savage family is actually laugh-out-loud funny. Keith Carradine
stars as Nick, the firefighter father of five sons. Mel Gibson, who's moving
into series television in a big way this fall, is one of the show's executive
producers. (Gibson is also an executive producer of CBS's
Clubhouse and UPN's Kevin Hill.)

Commando Nanny

The WB, 8:30, premieres Sept. 17

The knowledge that Commando Nanny is
the first scripted effort from savvy reality-television producer Mark Burnett
makes this unfunny comedy inexplicable. That Burnett based the series on his
own experiences as a young ex-commando from the British Special Forces who once
worked as a Beverly Hills nanny makes it downright unbearable. (Was there
really a palpable sexual tension between Burnett and the teenage daughter of
one of his clients, as there is in this show? That should be classified under
"Too Much Information.") Gerald McRaney gets a few good lines as Ben, the
grouchy tycoon who hires the commando to watch his kids.

The Next Great Champ

Fox, 9, premieres Sept. 10

The Next Great Champ will probably
make it to air before the November debut of NBC's The
Contender
. Mark Burnett and DreamWorks are in court with Fox and
Champ's producers; they claim Fox and its
producers violated California boxing regulations in their rush to be first.
Assuming Champ airs, it will likely generate
interest in Burnett's Contender. If it
fails, the reality guru's show will get sampled anyway. In
Champ,12 aspiring boxers (as opposed to 16
on The Contender) train and compete to win a
contract with eight-time world champion Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy
Promotions. Fox says several "legendary" fighters and trainers will also appear
on the show.

Dr. Vegas

CBS, 10, premieres Sept. 24

Industry insiders are suggesting that Dr.
Vegas
could be the first new drama to crash, if NBC's
LAX isn't grounded first. This show more
closely resembles Fox's The Casino than
NBC's flashy scripted sensation Las Vegas,
which the CBS series hopes to duplicate. Don't bet on it. Rob Lowe is Dr. Billy
Grant, a Harvard Medical School graduate who becomes the in-house doctor at a
Vegas casino. His boss is prime time mainstay Joe Pantoliano. Sarah Lancaster
(Everwood) shines in a co-starring role.

Medical Investigation

NBC, 10, preview on Sept. 9, premieres Sept. 10

The premiere of Boomtown on NBC two
years ago had critics raving especially for Neal McDonough. The show failed,
but McDonough is back for Medical
Investigation
, which focuses on a mobile medical team from the
National Institute of Health that plunges headlong into outbreaks of
inexplicable diseases. (In reality, the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention does that.) In the grim pilot, investigators discover a salt shaker
from a Manhattan diner is responsible for almost killing a number of people.
Frightening, but the show's popularity hangs on McDonough's shoulders.

SATURDAY

The networks say they haven't abandoned Saturday, but they don't pay
much attention to it, either. This season, there are a few tweaks but nothing
that is exactly new. Exactly is the operative word. CBS News took its
48 Hours, renamed it and refocused it into
48 Hours Mysteries, which is the route it's
taken for a while anyway. It keeps The Amazing
Race
revved up at 9 p.m. And at 10, it has created
Crime Time Saturday, which will consist of a
repeat from one of its crime shows elsewhere on the schedule. Similarly, NBC
will replay The Apprentice from earlier in
the week at 8 p.m.

 

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