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NBC, ABC release shows that developed huge followings

Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

The major movie studios employ a marketing research process call "tracking," in which the first-weekend box office of any movie can be fairly reliably predicted, at least to the point a film heads into the $60- or $70-million stratosphere. After that, it's a game of how-high-can-we-go. The broadcast television networks, by contrast, have to rely on the reactions of preseason advertising analysts and professional TV critics. An ad agency's hit can be a TV critic's whipping boy.

Of the 2006-07's season's notable successes, only one was hailed by both camps: "Ugly Betty," about an unfashionable girl (America Ferrara), who lands an assistant's job at a high fashion magazine. It is based on a Colombian telenovela - a term for Spanish-speaking countries' nighttime soap operas - that had spawned successful spinoffs in other countries and languages.

The U.S. adaptation was perched somewhere between high-end sitcom and "Desperate Housewives"-style plot whoduits. The initial 23 episodes are collected in "The Complete First Season" (3 stars, Touchstone, $59.98, look for discounts in the $38 range). The show takes an unexpected turn, romantically and dramatically midseason, but rights itself with the cliffhanger that sets up Season 2.

Though last season was thick with adult serials influenced by "24" and "The Shield," and nearly all lost viewership with each episode before being relegated to "hiatus," "Heroes," an "X-Men" inspired comic-book drama about ordinary people gifted with extraordinary powers, did the opposite; it attracted new, devoted fans each week. "Heroes - Season One" (3 stars, Universal, $59.98, look for discounts in the $38 range) contains all 23 episodes of the ensemble drama, and the original pilot that was re-shot. That should ensure sales to newbies looking to catch up before Season 2 and collectors and TiVo users who will want to compare the aired introduction to the longer one on DVD.

The added length was a result of the introduction of Los Angeles police officer Matt Parkman's story thread, which was altered considerably in the second episode. It had Parkman (Greg Grunberg ) infiltrating a terrorist cell out to obtain plutonium, and featured a cell member known as the Engineer. That character's powers were given over to another character.

It's an interesting look at the tweaking and decision-making that goes on before a show gets on the air.

The set contains dozens of brief deleted and alternate scenes, making-of featurettes and a game called "Mind Reader" that employs some of the tricks "psychics " use.

Of course, nearly every TV season produces a quality show that develops a loyal but small following that persuades a network to give it a second shot. Last season's lucky show was "Friday Night Lights. " In "The First Season" (3 stars, Universal, $29.98), the 22 episodes introduce new coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), his family, and the extended and often troubled families of his players, and take us through a season fraught with injuries and triumphs. The price reflects the lack of add-ons and supplements.

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Also new this week:

Will Farrell is a renegade championship ice skater, banned for life, but looking for a comeback. That's really about all you need to know about "Blades of Glory" to decide whether or not to see the comedy on DVD (3 stars, Paramount, $29.99), although the scale may be tipped slightly by knowing that Jon Heder of "Napoleon Dynamite" plays a former archrival, with whom he must reconcile in order to compete in pairs.

While audiences were flocking to "Blades," they were ignoring "Year of the Dog" (3 stars, Paramount, $29.99) from writer-director Mike White ("The Good Girl"). Molly Shannon gives one of the year's best performances as a woman who loses her companion.

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TV on DVD:

The TV version of Neil Simon's play-then-movie, "The Odd Couple," teaming the late Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, may be one of the most underrated of all 1970s sitcoms. "The Complete Second Season" (Paramount, $39.99) serves as reminder of how consistently good they were. Also out: "Gideon's Trumpet" (Acorn Media, $19.99) an Emmy-nominated TV movie from 1980 starring Henry Fonda as the drifter whose criminal case inspired the "right to counsel" law; "Dane Cook - The Lost Pilots" (Sony, $14.94); and the animated "Legion of Super-Heroes Volume 1" (Warner, $14.98).

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Family pick of the week:

"The Last Day of Summer" (3 stars, Columbia-TriStar) may be an obvious kid's version of "Groundhog Day," but that should only endear this made-for-Nickelodeon comedy to its target audience while giving parents a laugh or two as well. Jansen Panettiere, younger brother of "Heroes" star Hayden, is Luke Malloy. The boy's reluctance to embark on the adventure that is middle school is delayed when the final day of summer vacation - a day he's spending with his grade school pals at the Labor Day carnival - starts to go bad and he gets a series of do-overs. What it lacks in originality it makes up in wholesome, instructional fun.



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