Sunday, May 11, 2003

Favorite shows may be axed this week

'Angel,' 'Practice' teetering on edge

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The end is near.

For The Practice, Third Watch, American Dreams or maybe Angel, I don't know for sure.

By Friday, after the six broadcast networks have announced their fall lineups, we'll know which of your prime-time favorites have been axed.

Sorry about your show.

Shows already renewed by the networks for fall include:

ABC: NYPD Blue, Drew Carey Show, The Bachelor, Life with Bonnie, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, Less Than Perfect, My Wife and Kids, According to Jim, George Lopez, America's Funniest Home Videos.

NBC: The West Wing, ER, Law & Order, Friends.

WB: Everwood, Smallville, Gilmore Girls, 7th Heaven, Charmed, Reba, Grounded for Life, The Surreal Life.

CBS: Everybody Loves Raymond, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Fox: The Simpsons, American Idol.

We've come to expect it, the second week of May every year - a week before the end of May sweeps and the TV season.

Once and Again, The Education of Max Bickford, Dark Angel, The Hughleys and Philly took a bullet last year. Who will get it this week: Ed? John Doe? Frasier? Cedric the Entertainer?

When NBC starts the announcements Monday, will Third Watch, Crossing Jordan, American Dreams and Boomtown still be must see TV?

Crazy things happen when so much money is stake. A network renews Baby Bob and Watching Ellie, but dumps Dharma & Greg.

This year, industry analysts project that the six broadcast networks will rake in $8.6 billion - yes, billion with a B - in prime-time advertising commitments for this season, up 5 percent from last year.

My guess is that viewers' frustration will increase at least by 5 percent, too. Here's why:

• Expect the networks to move some of your favorite shows to Thursday night against NBC's vulnerable Friends - TV's top comedy - as it enters its final season.

The other networks have seen CBS' success on Thursdays with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - TV's No. 1 show this year - Survivor and Without a Trace. They want to be ready to win your allegiance when Friends says goodbye.

• How many of your favorite shows will be slotted against another favorite show, as TV networks cannibalize the audience?

We see it every year: My Wife and Kids vs. Bernie Mac; Drew Carey vs. King of Queens; 20/20 vs. Law & Order; The Bachelor vs. The West Wing; Becker vs. King of the Hill.

In January, ABC moved The Practice from its safe Sunday slot to 9 p.m. Monday, where it failed to lure viewers from Everybody Loves Raymond, Joe Millionaire, Third Watch and Everwood.

By the end of the week, we'll see which shows will be sent on new suicide missions in the networks' idiotic chess games.

• Will the networks rediscover that elusive formula for making a successful drama? Or will they continue to waste our time with weak attempts like MDs, Girls Club, That Was Then, Dinotopia, Haunted or Push, Nevada?

CBS has the only two new dramas in the top 20 this season: CSI Miami (No. 14) and Without a Trace (No. 16). NBC's freshmen Boomtown (No. 58) and American Dreams (No. 60) deserve chances.

Most surprising about The Practice (No. 67) being on the bubble is that the ABC hasn't had a hit drama since the Emmy-winning legal drama premiered seven years ago.

American Idol, Survivor and The Bachelor will continue to take a bite out of prime-time schedules, although exactly how big is unclear.

Network programmers had predicted in February that reality would eat up more fall time slots, based on strong ratings for Idol, The Bachelorette and Joe Millionaire. But that might not happen since most of the spring low-budget reality series bombed: Mr. Personality, Married by America (both Fox); Are You Hot? All American Girl, The Family and I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here! (all ABC).

In fact, the biggest question marks this fall are at ABC, which has invested the heaviest in reality.

The Disney-owned network's top-rated series are Monday Night Football (No. 11), followed by The Bachelorette (No. 11), The Bachelor (No. 18) and Extreme Makeover (No. 36). ABC's most popular scripted series are NYPD Blue (No. 38), completing its 10th season, My Wife and Kids (No. 40) and 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (No. 41).

ABC's balance between reality, comedy and drama this fall will be interesting to see.

But the genre won't go away. A tidal wave of reality will fill the airwaves this summer in place of sitcom and drama reruns.

And you can bet that the most popular summer reality shows will return at mid-season, following the pattern of Survivor, American Idol and Fear Factor.

For reality, the end isn't near.


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