Superpowers in, serials out for NBC, ABC lineups

by Rick Kushman

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

16 May 2007


Although just two networks, NBC and ABC, have announced their fall lineups so far this week, we can already say a couple of clear things about the coming season.

Superpowers are in. Serials are out. Almost all the serials from last season failed (with one influential exception, NBC’s “Heroes”), and NBC and ABC are not about to launch any more shows that require viewers to watch every week to not get left behind. See, TV execs can learn.

Both networks, and NBC in particular, also tried to solve their annual problem caused by making 22 episodes of a series, then stretching them through a nearly 40-week season. It’s a problem because - here’s a surprise - viewers don’t like repeats.

So the networks are concocting other ways to deal. Example two of: TV execs can learn. (Don’t get too excited on this front, however. We’ll get to that.)

NBC took the expensive route and ordered 25 new episodes of “My Name Is Earl” and 30 half hours of “The Office.” (Some of those will run together as full hours.)

ABC, which has tried a couple different approaches with “Lost,” intends to run that show straight through without repeats, then it will start the new “Lost” season sometime in early 2008, like the way Fox handles “24.”

And in the category of trying new tricks, NBC gets the big points for its attempt to keep “Heroes” feeling fresh. Besides 24 new episodes of the hit series, NBC will produce “Heroes: Origins,” a semi-spin-off of the show that will have six stand-alone episodes.

Each “Origins” hour will introduce a new character who exists in the “Heroes” universe but who won’t be part of the main show’s story arc. And viewers will be able to vote for their favorite “Origins” character, who will become part of the mother show the following season. It’s “Heroes” meets “American Idol.”

It’s looking like “Heroes” will have a pretty big impact on the whole fall season, and here is where the TV-execs-can-learn story ends. Last season’s serial frenzy started because execs tried to copy the earlier successes of Fox’s “24” and ABC’s “Lost.” Although the reason those shows were hits were that they were, a) good, and, b) unique, execs figured viewers wanted serials.

That kind of copy-the-last-hit thinking happens every season, and for the fall, it seems now execs and producers have decided viewers want superpowers.

So NBC has “Journeyman,” about a guy who can travel into the past (and where have we heard that before?), and “Chuck,” about a guy who somehow has a computer’s worth of spy info downloaded into his brain.

NBC is also picking up one of the two highest-profile new series, a remake of “Bionic Woman.” ABC has the other instantly noticeable new show, “Cavemen.” That’s the comedy based on the clever Geico commercials, and though it sounds like a bad idea, we are nothing if not open-minded, so we’ll wait to see the show before we make fun of it.

ABC picked up the “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off, “Private Practice,” but the network was not immune to the let’s-copy-“Heroes” rush, because it also will have a new series called “Pushing Daisies,” which ABC describes as a blend of romance, crime procedural and fantasy. It’s about a man who can bring the dead back to life and who uses that power to solve murders.

The other streak running through the first of the lineup announcements is both expected and a good thing. Everyone in the TV business is looking at new ways to do things.

So besides the “Heroes: Origins” twist, both nets are making some original moves. The attempt with “Cavemen,” which may or may not work out, at least shows that ABC is willing to take a series from an unconventional source - in this case an ad agency writer.

And NBC is trying something with the “Law & Order” gang. In the fall, “L&O: Special Victims Unit” will be back in its regular Tuesday time slot; “Law & Order,” the original, will move to Sunday, but not until after the football season ends, and “L&O: Criminal Intent” will get a full 22-episode season on cable’s USA Network, then NBC will run those episodes, too (probably on Saturday nights, or to fill gaps).


Because of the lineup announcements, we have all kinds of fodder for What’d They Do to My Show?

Starting with NBC, in case you didn’t know, “Friday Night Lights” will be back in the fall. Other at-risk shows returning include “Scrubs” and “Medium.”

Not returning are “Crossing Jordan,” “The Black Donnellys,” “Raines,” and - please pause for a respectful moment of silence - “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

Among the shows NBC had already renewed before this week was “Las Vegas,” although it said James Caan would not return. Here’s the other shoe: Caan will be back for the season-opener (which won’t air until sometime mid-season), then be replaced by the ever-durable Tom Selleck.

And finally for NBC, the network has not decided whether “The Apprentice” will live or die. Either way, expect Donald Trump to find another excuse to brag.

As for ABC, it’s also bringing back “October Road” and “Notes From the Underbelly” at some point midseason. ABC execs could not explain why.

And ABC has canceled “George Lopez,” “Help Me Help You,” “Knights of Prosperity” and “What About Brian.” ABC is still deciding whether to cancel “According to Jim” or bring it back midseason.

Fox announced it will air the remaining episodes of the car-race drama “Drive,” though it will by just two more hours, it will be on one night, and that night will be July 4. Fox, clearly, is not big on this show.

“Drive” premiered and was then canceled within a couple weeks in April, and only six hours were produced. After July 4, that will be it.

If anyone was missing this - and if so, are you serious? - “The Real Wedding Crashers” was yanked off the air by NBC and canceled a week ago.

That was the show where couples allowed their own weddings to be punked, and you have to think the marital bliss of those couples is likely to last about as long as the show did. Or is that just me?

//Mixed media