News

New series already getting the nod or the ax

Virginia Rohan
The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

Leaving so soon? Here we are, barely four weeks after the official start of the new television season, and one heavily promoted new series has already gotten the ax. Inevitably, other executions will follow.

This year, there have been no real breakout hits, nothing that has bolted out of the starting gate the way "Desperate Housewives" did two autumns ago. A handful of bright, shiny contenders are either living up to -- or defying -- expectations, but far more already look terribly tarnished. The jury's still out on what their fates will be.

Here's a little scorecard on what's hot and what's not.

HOTTEST NEWCOMER

"Ugly Betty": Its Sept. 28 debut reeled in 16.3 million viewers, and though it has since lost a couple of million, it's still considered a hit. "Betty," which has been finishing second in its time slot (behind CBS' "Survivor: Cook Islands") is helping to make ABC a competitive force on Thursday nights.

Lesson learned: Watching a sweet, earnest and slightly overweight girl outwitting lots of scheming, pencil-thin fashionistas holds great appeal for the average (and maybe average-looking) viewer.

MORE TO COME

"Heroes": In its third outing this past Monday, the superhero drama drew 13.3 million viewers, and finished in first place among adults 18 to 49. NBC has already picked up the "back nine" episodes, making "Heroes" the first of this year's new series to get a full-season order of 22 episodes.

Lesson learned: Ordinary people discovering they have extraordinary powers also holds great appeal for viewers.

THE BLEAKEST HOUR

"Jericho": Despite the predictions, Skeet Ulrich's new CBS venture has been staving off annihilation, at 8 p.m. Wednesdays. And, as expected, CBS announced on Thursday that it was giving the show a full-season order.

Lesson learned: There is an audience, after all, for a depressing, dreary-looking drama about nuclear disaster.

OUTTA HERE

"Smith": CBS has pulled Ray Liotta's series from the schedule, and media observers are calling it cancellation -- the first, in fact, of the new season. (Reruns of the "CSI" franchise and "Criminal Minds" will be aired in the time period for the rest of this month, and CBS will debut the medical drama "3 Lbs" at 10 p.m. Tuesday on Nov. 14.)

Lesson learned: Series about thieves are not stealing viewers' hearts. Hollywood should have realized this after the failures last spring of NBC's "Heist" and FX's "Thief."

"Happy Hour": Fox says it's on hiatus, but there are grave doubts about any happy return for the dreadful series.

Lesson learned: To succeed, a comedy has to be at least a little bit funny.

ALMOST A COLD CASE

"Kidnapped": After its first two episodes averaged seven million viewers, and ratings dipped even lower its third time out, NBC decided to wrap up production on the serialized drama after the filming of Episode 13. Series creator Jason Smilovic reportedly also will wrap up the abduction story line. The network is committed to showing all 13 episodes, but will burn the remaining ones off at 8 p.m. Saturdays, starting this week. ("Dateline" will temporarily move into the show's 10 p.m. Wednesday slot, and NBC is bringing "Medium" back in that time period on Nov. 15.)

Lesson learned: The networks should have listened this summer when TV critics questioned the ridiculously high number of new serialized dramas, which require greater commitment on the part of viewers. In addition to "Smith" and "Kidnapped," Fox's "Vanished" and CW's "Runaway" have been moved (to Fridays and Sundays, respectively), and the critically acclaimed but literally underrated "Friday Night Lights," "The Nine," and "Six Degrees" all are struggling. How long before the serial killings start?

FADING FAST

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip": As ratings sink, week by week, for this Aaron Sorkin series set behind the scenes of a "Saturday Night Live"-like comedy program, you have to wonder how long NBC will stick with this slick, expensive, and -- given the subject matter -- surprisingly humorless drama.

Lesson learned: Perhaps playwright and "West Wing" creator Sorkin, who also struck out with his TV-studio-workplace dramedy "Sports Night," should stick to theater or politics.

FIERCEST FACE-OFF

The fall's boldest move was ABC's relocation of Sunday-night powerhouse, "Grey's Anatomy," to 9 p.m. Thursdays, where CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" has long reigned supreme. Would the hospital drama vanquish the forensics champ or vice versa? So far, the two have been neck and neck. In the last full week for which Nielsen ratings were available, "Grey's Anatomy" was that week's top-rated show, with 22.8 million viewers, and first in the prized 18-to-49 demographic. (ABC also took the second and third slots in that demo for the week, thanks to "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost.") But "CSI" is no slouch. With 21.5 million viewers, it was that week's second-most-watched show.

COMEDY IS NOT KING

There weren't that many new half-hour comedies to begin with this fall, and now, the ones that did make the schedule are struggling. They include: Ted Danson's "Help Me Help You" and Jason Ritter's "The Class," as well as the two comedies NBC introduced last week -- the promising "30 Rock" and the schtick-filled "Twenty Good Years." The CW network's Sunday comedy lineup was doing so poorly that the new network decided to have it change places with its Monday shows. Last week, CW reran the season premieres of "Everybody Hates Chris," "All of Us," "Girlfriends" and the new spinoff "The Game" on Monday. Original episodes of those comedies will bow this week. (Meanwhile, former Monday-night dramas "7th Heaven," and "Runaway" have moved to Sundays. Sunday night, an encore of the reality show "America's Next Top Model" aired, followed by original episodes of the two dramas.)

STILL TO DEBUT

Three of ABC's new fall series have yet to premiere: "Day Break" (9 p.m. Nov. 15); "Big Day," (9 p.m. Nov. 28), and "Knights of Prosperity" (which ABC was originally to have debuted on Tuesday, but which has pushed back to January).

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