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Wake up! The fall TV lineup is being announced

Rick Kushman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Starting next week, the broadcast networks will announce their fall season lineups, and can't you just feel the excitement? Me, I'm all tingly.

Office pools are everywhere, Chris Berman has nicknames for every new show, and, wait, never mind, that was the NFL draft.

The truth is, there isn't much buzz over the 2008-09 season, at least not yet, in part because there's not much buzz about network television.

That's one big reason the networks can't get this muddled, strikus-interruptus 2007-08 season in their rearview mirrors fast enough. NBC is so keen to move on, it announced its new lineup a month ago (instead of waiting for the usual week in mid-May).

The nets are all hurting in ratings. So far in the May sweeps, which began in late April - don't get me started on that - ratings for total viewers are down 10 percent to 20 percent, depending on the network. And for viewers ages 18-49, the people advertisers want most, the numbers are down 15 percent to 25 percent.

The writers' strike is certainly one major reason for the drop. The 100-day halt to TV production threw lots of series into repeats or pushed them off the air entirely, effectively breaking the connection viewers had with their shows.

TV is a habit. Some people - not me, I'm just saying - call it an addiction. Once viewers have moved away from shows, particularly the soapy, serialized ones, it's hard to remember why you cared so much.

It didn't help that the nets mostly fell back on reality shows, which was all they could produce during the strike.

This isn't a blanket screed against reality series. Some are good, some reek. I'm a huge fan of "Top Chef," for instance. Others, like Fox's "The Moment of Truth," are ghastly on purpose. And some, like anything with Donald Trump, are simply tiresome.

For the nets, reality shows come with a cost. They wear thin quickly. NBC scored big - for a couple weeks - when it brought back "American Gladiators." Then the ratings dropped pretty much every time it aired.

Reality also blurs the line between the supposedly higher-caliber major broadcasters like CBS or NBC and the cable folks. My pet show, "Top Chef," is on Bravo. Reality shows encourage viewers to wander the dial - either because they're searching for more reality, or because they hate reality and are looking for something else.

Still, ratings weren't so great before the strike, and lots of the new shows last fall were doing only OK. That's why some of the better rookie shows, like ABC's "Pushing Daisies," and NBC's "Chuck" and "Life," got put in limbo this spring.

Their networks didn't want to bring the young, vulnerable series back for short runs, then have them disappear again over the summer. So "Daisies," "Chuck" and "Life," plus a couple others, will get re-launched in September in the hope that this time they'll get better ratings.

All in all, it doesn't seem like these new lineups will suddenly rekindle the magic. But that's the thing about TV. No one saw "Lost" or "Heroes" coming until the pilots showed up. No one in the industry saw the hit potential for "CSI" until after it had aired.

So me, I'm staying optimistic, because I want to. I like thinking that the next great hit is coming, that the next blast of originality or coolness or big-time funny is about to climb up on the stage.

Of course, I also think this could be the year, come late October, that we are finally going to see the rise of the Great Pumpkin.

___

See, all you have to do is ask a question. And thanks to all the friends out there who, apparently, know more about TV than I do.

On Monday I wondered what had happened to Colby Donaldson, the guy from "Survivor" Season Two who was so honorable he basically gave away his $1 million - and for the record, you won't see that kind of thing on "Survivor" again. I think they screen those people out.

Anyway, turns out, he's acted in a handful of episodes on shows like "Bones," "Las Vegas" and "Joey," and serves as an occasional reporter for the daytime show "Rachael Ray."

Way to go, folks. I'll keep you posted if there's anyone else I'm wondering about.

___

Now, in today's What'd They Do to My Show, there's some bad news. ABC is not going to renew one of TV's most endearing shows, "Men in Trees."

Official word is not likely to come until next week when ABC takes its turn hyping its fall lineup, but creator Jenny Bicks is telling anyone who asks that the show is done.

On the plus side, such as it is, "Men in Trees" is still scheduled to return starting May 28, and Bicks says she'll wrap up the stories with a satisfying finale.

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