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The TV choices for fall are generating little heat

Rick Kushman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

We're midway through the TV networks announcing their new fall schedules, and so far, the biggest news involves a couple cartoons, a spinoff of "Beverly Hills, 90210," and some guy named Jimmy Fallon

OK, yeah, I do know who Fallon is. Former "Saturday Night Live" player, starred in movies like, uh, something or other and that one with Drew Barrymore and the Red Sox.

Fallon was picked by NBC to take over the late, late night slot in 2009, when Conan O'Brien moves into the merely late night slot and inherits "The Tonight Show" from a kicking and screaming Jay Leno.

Leno would seriously prefer to stay, but that's a messy tale for another day. The point is, Jimmy Fallon is the biggest news in a week when broadcast television is trying to kick-start some excitement.

(One last thing abut Fallon. He appears to be a decent guy, and he's way, way - I mean, way - better known than when O'Brien got the 12:30 a.m. EDT slot in 1993. I'm just saying whatever thrills the nets want to create around the new season don't seem to be popping just yet.)

The problem for all the networks is a big one. Although they're hyping their shiny new season, the current one is banged up and tarnished, and network ratings are showing it.

There was, of course, that pesky writers' strike that stopped production for 100 days, and sent viewers elsewhere. It also cut down the number of shows the nets could develop for this coming fall.

But there's also a larger, over-arching sense of malfunction across the landscape.

None of the new shows last fall were instant hits, though a couple - like ABC's "Pushing Daisies" and NBC's "Life" - showed plenty of chops. And pretty much all the high-profile attempts, like NBC's "Bionic Woman," CBS' "Cane" and Fox's "Back to You," all turned out to be failures.

So for the coming season, the networks are in an uncomfortable spot. They're re-launching some of those younger shows like "Daisies" and "Life," and they're bringing back strike-sidelined veterans like NBC's "Heroes" and Fox's "24" (in January), which sounds a lot like last season again.

There are some new shows that could be promising - though at this stage, anything could be promising or a pending disaster since some of the new shows don't even have pilots yet.

Still, before we get to the new stuff, here's a partial update on current shows that were a coin toss for renewal. We'll get you a full list of what's been renewed and what's been canceled after all the announcements have been made, but here's some of the higher profile stuff that's certain.

ABC said on Tuesday that, as expected, it's picking up "Scrubs" from NBC and will show it midseason. ABC is also renewing the charming "Eli Stone" - can I get a hurrah? - and it's giving "Boston Legal" 13 more episodes in the fall to finish its run.

The network also confirmed that it did cancel the underrated "Women's Murder Club" and "Men in Trees," though "Trees" will get to play out its story starting May 28.

And here's one I cannot explain. ABC renewed "According to Jim." No one knows why.

CBS wasn't making it official until Wednesday, but word is it will renew "The Unit," "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "How I Met Your Mother" to go along with the returning stable of CBS procedurals.

It is not renewing "Shark," "Cane" or "Moonlight," although "Moonlight" producers had lobbied hard for another shot midseason if they dramatically cut production costs.

Fox doesn't get its turn until Thursday, but network brass have said they're canceling "Back to You" and "New Amsterdam." And, in the "According to Jim"-category of mystery renewals, Fox is picking up another season of "`Til Death." Also this is old news but people keep asking, so, yes, "Prison Break" will be back next season.

CW renewed "The Game," and in a very nice surprise, it's picking up the charmer "Reaper." Not many people saw that coming. It's also renewing its one real success story, "Gossip Girl." There's no certain word on "Aliens in America."

As for the new stuff, CW made it official that the "Beverly Hills, 90210" spinoff will be on its fall lineup, and Jennie Garth will be back as Kelly Taylor, but now she's a guidance counselor.

Fox has the most intriguing slate of new shows, starting with "The Cleveland Show." That's the "Family Guy" spinoff about Peter Griffin's neighbor, Cleveland Brown, and it does indeed seem weird to have an animated spinoff.

Fox's other animated new series is "Sit Down, Shut Up" from "Arrested Development" creator Mitchell Hurwitz, who's throwing some voice work to his boys from that comedy, Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Henry Winkler.

Fox also has said it will have a new drama from J.J. Abrams, one of "Lost's" creators, called "Fringe," and another from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" mastermind Joss Whedon called "Dollhouse."

The other major producer name behind a new series is Jerry Bruckheimer, the man connected to a pile of network shows, including CBS' "CSIs," "Cold Case" and "Without a Trace." Bruckheimer has a new series for, of course, CBS named "Elemental" that's based on a British miniseries about a science professor who helps capture bad guys.

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