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So, I finally finish up my rainy week in New York City at the Upfronts only to return to a rainy Los Angeles. It figures. Maybe the rain is a good indicator of what is to come in Primetime in the new TV season. I broke down the NBC and ABC schedules for you last week. Now, let’s move on to CBS, FOX and the new network, The CW, which merges The WB and UPN into one.

CBS will start off the new season with the most returning series, offering up only four new series. Sandwiched smack between “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and Half Men” is the new sitcom, “The Class.” From the creator of “Friends” comes this ensemble comedy about a group of former 3rd grade classmates who reunite twenty years later. The show would have to really be tremendously terrible not to succeed in its time slot. It’s actually a very smart, funny little show. It’s got a few too many characters right now, which, I?m sure, is to distance the show from being called a “Friends” knock-off but the actors are likeable and relatable. There was one hokey Ross and Rachel-style kiss, between two of the characters in the upfront presentation, that had advertisers rolling their eyes but the payoff joke made up for it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out in the Fall.

CBS is debuting three new dramas this season, each with very different stories. James Woods takes on his first TV series in “Shark” about a defense attorney who, after having a personal epiphany about his life, becomes a prosecutor in the Los Angeles DA’s office. James Woods is by far the best thing in this show. It’s worth watching just to see him in action, even though overall, the show wasn’t intensely compelling. With a lead out of “CSI” though, there should be enough eyeballs to at least give it the benefit of the doubt. My guess is you will be seeing a lot of Woods leading up to the shows premiere as he goes out and markets the show to the public. You can tell how passionate he is about this project. He told me he had cast approval for each and every person on the show. 

Ray Liotta will also be returning to television alongside Virginia Madsen, Simon Baker and Amy Smart. Ray stars as Bobby Stevens, an expert thief who appears to be a regular family man in “Smith”. The show is shot in a very slick, feature film style. When they showed the presentation to the advertisers, I felt like I was watching a movie trailer. The show is good, but I?m going to go out on a limb and say the cast egos may derail any good buzz the show gets. If body language tells you anything, when the press did their interviews with the cast, it’s clear no one here wants to share the spotlight. Ray Liotta and a cast of unknown stars may have been a better route to travel if CBS is looking for another hit.

The toughest sell for CBS, I think, will be “Jericho,” a drama about what happens when a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears in the horizon leaving a small Kansas town wondering if they are the last Americans left alive. I’d classify it as “Lost” meets “Independence Day” minus the aliens.

Over on FOX, look for two new comedies and three new dramas plus reality shows from Simon Cowell and Steven Spielberg. Cowell’s “Duets” will pair a celebrity outside the music industry with an established singing star. Can anyone say “Dancing with the Skating Celebrities?”

Spielberg teams up with reality guru, Mark Burnett for “On the Lot” which will reward an unknown filmmaker with a studio development deal. Film geeks everywhere are rejoicing over this show, but is this the reality route really where Spielberg wants to go? On Fox, nonetheless.

Brad Garrett’s deal for a CBS spin-off from “Everybody Loves Raymond” fell apart. So, he’s back on TV with his Fox sitcom, ?’ Til Death,? co-starring Joely Fisher.  With a very tough timeslot, Thursdays at 8 p.m. and paired with another new sitcom, “Happy Hour,” starring a virtually unknown comedian, I’d be surprised to be reading a headline that says “Everybody Loves Brad’s New Sitcom.”

Fox’s new crop of drama’s were so forgettable, I actually forgot what they were about. It’s hard to beat the non-stop, pulse-pounding action of “24” and “Prison Break.” Kiefer Sutherland told me he challenges anyone to be able to predict tonight’s season finale ending. I asked him how they plan to keep the show fresh going into its sixth season next year considering all the knock-off shows out there. He and the other producers and writers on “24” made a pact not to take any other work over the summer so they can brainstorm for season six.

The newly created CW network offers up just one new drama and one new comedy. Considering they merged two networks and cleaned house on both ends, it?s a wonder any new shows got the call. Shockingly, “7th Heaven” was picked up for a record 11th season. No one was more surprised than the stars of the show considering they had already cleaned out their trailers and the sets were being disassembled. The aging comedy “Girlfriends” survived the merge and spawned a spin-off sitcom from executive producer, Kelsey Grammer. “The Game” takes a look behind the scenes of the lives of the wives and girlfriends if NFL athletes. The show?s a good pairing with “Girlfriends,” but it remains to be seen whether UPN’s core audience will watch this newly created network or venture off to cable outlets.

Also making the cut were “Gilmore Girls,” “Veronica Mars,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “All of Us,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “One Tree Hill.” Of course, who needs “One Tree Hill” when the real life drama between co-stars Sophia Bush and Chad Michael Murray is so much juicier.

-- Laura Saltman

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The Upfronts are in full swing this week. That’s the time when all the Big TV Networks announce their fall primetime schedule to the advertising community. Basically, they over hype all the new shows and drag the stars of returning shows out to meet with advertising executives. The mission is to convince them that spending their ad dollars on their show is a good idea.  

NBC was the first out of the gate offering up six new dramas and four new comedies. Shows like “Access Hollywood” are treated to preview clips of the new shows.  Rarely does one make me laugh out loud but Tina Fey (of SNL fame) and Alec Baldwin have a show that looks to be a winner, “30 Rock”.  Alec is hysterical as an eccentric NBC executive overseeing Tina’s sketch comedy show.  The dialogue is sharp and witty and Alec’s playing the self-obsessed, over the top character he was in “Along Came Polly” and “Will & Grace” this season.  I  can’t wait to see the show on the air in the fall.  The rest of the show’s I’m on the fence about however.

Matthew Perry is back on primetime with a new show called “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”  The network has high hopes for this show but truthfully, I wasn’t impressed. OK, sure I work for NBC and should be a little nicer but the concept just didn’t seem to work. I did think that Matthew had great chemistry with his co-star, Bradley Whitford. Those two would be fun together in a buddy comedy instead. The show didn’t seem to get a positive reaction from the nearly 5000 advertisers watching the preview presentation at Radio City Music Hall.   There were a couple of shows that seemed to peak their interest though….“Heroes”, a drama about a group of ordinary people who learn they have superhero powers. The show is more of a character study than an action packed,  “X-Men” style movie. “The Black Donnelly’s” may be the answer to all those “Soprano’s” fans not looking forward to the end of watching Tony Soprano and his gang of misfits. It follows the lives of four working class Irish brothers and their involvement in organized crime in New York City. It’s from the director of this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, “Crash.” Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait unit mid-season to check it out.  The show will replace “ER” on Thursday nights beginning in January.

Since NBC’s not really known for their teen angst dramas, expect maybe in daytime TV, it will be interesting to see if “Friday Night Lights” can deliver an audience on Tuesday nights at 8pm. The show is based on the film starring, Billy Bob Thornton. I don’t recall that film being a blockbuster by any means.  However, I hail from Pennsylvania where Friday night high school football games were the most important event of the week in the fall. So, I’m rooting for the show to do well.  It’s followed by “Kidnapped.”  I’ll let you figure out what that show is about. 

Tuesday it was ABC’s turn to present their new shows. Considering the success of “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy” it was a little surprising to see they picked up 12 new shows -  six comedies and six dramas. We sat in the office and watched over an hours worth of clips and truthfully there wasn’t a single show that jumped out as a winner. It’s been 24 hours since I’ve seen them and I can barely remember which show is which. Calista Flockhart will make her return to TV four years after “Ally McBeal” in a new show, “Brothers & Sisters.” Calista actually passed on the role of Susan Meyer on “Desperate Housewives” two years ago. So, it’s ironic that this new show will be in the time slot vacated by “Grey’s Anatomy” which is moving to Thursday nights. Teri Hatcher told Billy Bush she thought moving “Grey’s” was a huge mistake because the show’s worked so well as a pair together. It will be interesting to see if Calista can draw an audience again. She told me, about a year ago, that she was done with acting and had no interest in going back. So, Billy asked her about this and she admitted saying it but told him things have changed in her life now that her son is going to be starting school.

My favorite show, “Dancing with The Stars”, will be moving to Tuesday and Wednesday nights this fall. Apparently, the ratings for the Friday nights results show were not as stellar as they hoped. I think the show will be a huge success again regardless of when it airs. A little birdie told me at the Upfronts that it looks like Lisa Rinna’s husband, Harry Hamlin, is 90 percent there in his deal to be part of season three. No celebrities have been confirmed but I hear that stars are clamoring to get on this season’s show.

ABC also rolled out their new “Bachelor.” The show will be filmed in Rome this season with 25 girls vying for Prince Lorenzo Borghese, the cosmetic heir. Rich he may be. Hot he is definitely not. OK, maybe he is just not my type but looks wise I was not impressed. I think the show works better when its a hard working, good looking man. Now it just becomes a bunch of catty girls cutting each other down to try and win someone’s money rather then their heart.

With “Lost” as their lead-out I’d say the show with the most potential to be a surprise hit is “The Nine.”  It’s a slick drama about a group of nine individuals who meet and form a friendship after they become hostages in a botched bank robbery. It stars Tim Daly,  Scott Wolf and Kim Raver - which I guess means Audrey Raines is going ?bye bye? on “24” during the season finale on Monday. Poor Jack Bauer will be lonely in love again. 

Speaking of “24”, ABC is hyping one of their new shows as “24” meets “Father of the Bride.”  I’d say its more like “who cares” and “dumb idea.”  It’s about the 24 hours leading up to a couple’s nuptials. The best thing about the show was it’s co-star Wendie Malick, who was hilarious on “Just Shoot Me.”  The show is paired with another not so compelling dramedy, “Notes from the Underbelly,” about a couple’s first experience having a baby. OK, here is my prediction.  People looking for comedy will tune into NBC on Thursdays at 8pm to watch “My Name is Earl” and “The Office” then flip the channel to ABC at 9pm for “Grey’s Anatomy.”

- Laura Saltman


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THE REMOTE PATROLLER:  Greedy much?

Anyone who knows me will attest to my unabashed love for, in no particular order, show tunes, sushi, my dog (gone, but not forgotten) and GAME SHOWS!  I can hearken back to such daytime delights as “What’s My Line?,” “Password” (and it’s progeny “Super Password” and “Password Plus”), “Hollywood Squares” (from Marshall through Bergeron), “Wheel,” “Jeop!,” “Concentration,” “$ale of the Century,” “Match Game,” “High Rollers?… you get the idea.  Especially fun for me was? and is, thanks to the godsend known as GSN, any denomination of “Pyramid.”  Going from zero to sixty (seconds) in the winner?s circle is a bigger rush than most rides at Magic Mountain. 

It seems like an eternity since there’s been a game show that has caught and kept my attention. I didn’t feel the need for “Greed” and had the strength to resist “The Weakest Link” after a few weeks. Buying vowels and feuding with the familia didn’t cut it either. I did have a passing flirtation with “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” a few years back, but Regis’ whole color-on-color wardrobe thing got on my last nerve. Enter Howie Mandel, of all people, to save the day (mercifully sporting un-annoying attire) with “Deal or No Deal.” If you’ve been living under a rock, or are one of those “I only watch PBS and The Discovery Channel” TV snobs, here’s the Evelyn Wood synopsis of DoND:  There are briefcases, babes, bucks and a banker. The contestant is hoping to pick the one with a cool million dollars and a mysterious man (most likely some producers out-of-work relative) tries bribing them to go bye-bye on the off chance that they actually do have the winning case. All the while, congenial host Mandel, who has the chrome of Chris Daughtry and the wit of Chris Rock (best “Chris” cross I could come up with, sorry), deftly presides over it all, imploring the hopeful to weigh the odds and the offers, ending each temptation with the country’s newest catch phrase, “Deal or No Deal!”

I found my new fix — and in the simplest of premises. There are no puzzles to solve, no answers to question, no obstacles to course… it’s basically random choices and dumb luck translating into big money or bigger heartache. And why is it my latest fave? For starters, it’s a well done program. Host Howie is funny, compassionate and kooky, adding just the right touches to keep things moving along. The editing and direction wring tons of suspense (will this be the case that has the penny or the million?)  Cue the moody music and watch the model as she “acts” surprised or dismayed upon displaying the dollar amount.) The contestants are usually ‘TV friendly’ and have an interesting back-story, milked for all it’s worth. Another reason is I don’t have to think. Sometimes you just need a mindless hour of entertainment once or twice a week.


Another nugget for me is what I call the greed factor. It amazes me how far some of them will go, the insane risks they take to get to the million, shunning offers in excess of 200K along the way. Sure I want to see someone beat the odds and score the big prize and so, I am sure, does NBC (If it could also happen during Sweeps, that would be super). Why do they do it? Is it the American way to go (too far) for the gold with such gusto? Or is it like Vegas, with all the bright lights and lovely ladies, catching one up in the moment, sending common sense out the window?


For all I know the models double as cocktail waitresses during commercial breaks! My advice:  If you get further than you ever thought you would, chances are that’s far enough. Take the moolah and run like the wind.  After all, it’s really not your million to win or lose. You came in with nothing, so leaving with anything, even a buck means you?re ahead of the game. Hollah for a dollah!

- Michael Lever

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AMERICAN IDOL: Will Sing For Food
 
Like many across the USA, I shrieked in horror, not unlike a 9-year-old girl, when Ryan Seacrest gave hottie Chris Daughtry the heave-ho on “American Idol.” As a matter of fact, everyone I was watching the show with let out similar cries of shock and dismay, not heard since — fill in your own analogy. The next day, the buzz at the water cooler was boiling hot, with shouts of “rigged!” and “what’s to be come of us all” heavy in the air. The speculation in the media has since turned to the future of the “Krooning Kojak’s” music career and if he will even have one. Here’s a thought… the guy can SING. Really well. He’s amazingly soulful, rough and tender all at the same time, personable, easy on they eyes and, so far, seems like a stand up guy. Fear not ‘Daughtry Gang’ members, our boy Chris will be just fine. Look back on other “Idol” cast-offs:  Kimberley Locke, Tamyra Gray, Clay Aiken… all seem to have made a strong, if not stronger, musical mark than their respective season’s champions. 
 
Let’s do some math, shall we? On average, “American Idol” pulls in 30 million viewers a week. If even 1%, yes, a poultry 1%, of the ‘Idol’ faithful would head on out to the local record store, or hop on to Amazon.com, when the newly anointed’s first effort is released, they should rack up sales of 300,000 albums, earning it Gold status. And for the sake of my argument, Kelly Clarkson is not in this equation, for too many reasons to mention here. With the exception of Carrie Underwood (who smartly went country), none of the other winners have had a real mainstream hit record (CD, disc… whatever!). So, my question is:  What’s wrong with you people? Why does America abandon its ‘Idols’ so quickly after their coronation? Is it just about the process, and the results don’t matter? Perhaps a secret government plot? Is it A.D.D.? We raise these kids up on a high pedestal, filling their heads with the promise of fame, fortune and a Wango Tango gig or two. Then we dash their dream on the jagged rocks of indifference, forcing them to write tell-all books and scrounging for work at county fairs and car shows. The only thing I’ve even heard about Reuben lately is the new, leaner sandwich now offered at Cantors. 
 
Bottom line:  I cry shenanigans on you all! Put your money where your mouth (and speed dial) is.  If you voted and voted and voted for your fave and they actually win, buy their music and give an ‘Idol’ a break! To Chris D — I think getting the boot could be the boost you deserve.  Rock on! 

- Michael Lever

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News flash! Everything is bad for you… EVERYTHING!

As we are knee-deep in the May ratings period, or “sweeps,” local and national newscasts work tirelessly to bring us “special reports” on such earth-shaking issues as Internet dating, doggie daycare, sunless tanning options and the cheapest place to buy corndogs.

But the real story is the endless stream of sobering news stories with frenzied warnings that most things in our lives are suddenly dangerous and many are downright deadly!

The air we breathe, the coffee we drink (it’s bad for you, no-it’s good for you, no-it’s bad for you, wait-it’s good for you…), the cars we drive, the cell phones we glue to our ears, the malls we frequent… all these and more could put us six feet under sooner than we ever wanted. Even the cheese we eat gets a three-part expose. Cheese… lethal? Say it ain’t so! The trouble is, this stuff seems to be detrimental to our health and well-being only during the months of November, February and May. Sure, all the “team coverage” and undercover investigations are mostly stunts to boost ratings (which translates into ad revenue), but there is one thing that troubles me. Why only three times a year? Are the other nine months immune? What do they know that they are NOT telling us? Can I surf the Web for a hookup, a cup of java in one hand, a grilled cheese in the other, safely on the off months?

If these things are truly lethal, or at least a health risk, where’s the outrage in October, the acrimony in August, the disapprobation in December? Do I give up Twinkies all together or just squirrel them away until the booming voice on the news promo stops yelling at me? It’s nothing if not incredibly confusing and often disheartening. How do we know for certain what’s really harmful or just over-hyped. It can drive one to drink. Pour me another glass of red wine (only if it still is good for me.)

This just in: My mattress is now a wanted criminal, something about deadly coils or contaminated stuffing. Good news, though, it looks to be acquitted June 1. Thank heavens! Wouldn’t want to lose sleep over it…unless THAT’s now bad for you too!

- Michael Lever

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I was going to get all flowery about one of my current favorite TV programs, how it’s the best show on television that NOBODY’s watching, how it’s funny, thought-provoking and moving all at once, blah blah blah.

Bottom line: “Scrubs” rocks! (Yes, I realize at my advanced age of 43, using the term “rocks” threatens my very credibility.)

It’s been ages since I can even remember a half-hour sitcom (comedy-drama…dramedy…whatever the current network-coined phrase de jour is for this type of programming) that has achieved such a high standard of humor and pathos, expertly blended into arguably the best 23 minutes of the TV week. Maybe “Weeds” and a few seasons of “Roseanne.”

Normally, I prefer sitcoms to make me laugh and dramas to make me angry, make me cry or make me ponder something meaningful. Zach Braff and company have that uncanny knack for evoking in me all of the above and sometimes more.

Great writing, smart direction and excellent acting (though that Sarah Chalke chic bugs me… maybe it’s the “Roseanne” thing…) meld together into a unique and wonderful evening spent in front of the Sony Flat Screen.

In case you have no clue what I am talking about, “Scrubs” draws its narrative from the experiences of JD (Braff), a medical resident, as he attempts to save lives and keep sane in a hospital populated by a cornucopia of crazies, both patients and staff.

Hearing JD’s thoughts, ala “The Wonder Years” and seeing his hysterical daydreams makes him one of the funniest and most accessible characters on the small screen.

So, having said all this, why isn’t it more popular? Is it too hip for the room? Surely people like shows about hospitals, right?

I would venture to guess that one reason could be the constant shuffling around from time slot to time slot, filling various holes in the network’s schedule. Hard to build an audience when no one knows when and where to watch it. Hello network suits? What gives?

It’s funny, really really funny. Isn’t that what you dream of in a sitcom? At least they’ve had enough faith in the show to a) keep it on the same night for awhile, b) double run it, which is fancy talk for a rerun and then an original, and c) postpone production and its season debut until Zach Braff was finished making a film, giving us a steady stream of fresh episodes and a new reason to live (at least on Tuesday nights).

Well, I’m no doctor (though my mom’s a nurse!) but if I were, here’s my prescription: Check into Sacred Heart Hospital for the healing power of a hearty laugh and a good cry. Then tell a few million of your closest friends.


PS: Yeah, I work for the same company, NBC Universal, that airs “Scrubs,” but my employment has no bearing on my enjoyment.

- Michael Lever

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Happy May sweeps, everyone.

Network television?s end of season holiday has begun.  Some of their gifts will thrill you; others might disappoint.  But from now until May 24, the networks will be doing everything they can to suck you in to their party.  The goal: to get the most possible number of viewers and to go out with a bang so that those viewers will return in September.

For four blissful weeks, you will not be asking yourself ?Is this a repeat??  No, when you tune in to your favorite show this month, it?s going to be a new one.  And in addition to new episodes, expect to see some big-time season finales from shows like ?Desperate Housewives,? ?Lost,? ?Grey?s Anatomy,? ?24,? ?House,? and ?CSI.?

Oh yeah, and there?s this little show called ?American Idol? that might pick up some steam as it reaches the conclusion of its 5th season.  Will Chris and Katherine be the last two standing or maybe it?ll be Chris and Taylor?  Regardless of which contestants end up competing for the title, this season of ?Idol? has been the most-watched so far, which means this season?s finale could easily be the highest-rated yet.

The end of the 2005-2006 TV season also marks the end of a number of series, most of which have lived past their prime and are now going to die a natural death.  Among these are ?The West Wing,? ?Will & Grace,? ?Malcolm in the Middle,? ?That ?70s Show? and ?Alias.?  Unfortunately for some, these shows will not get a ?Friends?-style send off.  If you find yourself unprepared to see these series come to an end, I recommend retail therapy: most of the best seasons of each of these series are available on DVD.

As the networks say goodbye to these staples, they hope to offer up the next big thing at the upfronts in New York during the week of May 15.  An ?upfront? is a network?s opportunity to show off their new fall schedule to advertisers.  NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and the new CW network (which will combine the best of UPN and the WB) will be announcing which pilots they?ve picked up; in other words, they?ll reveal what new shows you?ll be seeing this fall.

NBC has already decided on several dramas, one by ?The West Wing? creators Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme??Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,? which takes place behind-the-scenes of a fictional sketch-comedy series and stars Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet.  ABC could be picking up pilots with some serious female star-power including comedies with Patricia Heaton, Kim Cattrall and Alicia Silverstone and a drama starring Calista Flockhart.  Fox will put ?Raymond? alum Brad Garrett?s sitcom ??Til Death,? co-starring Joely Fisher as his wife, on the air.  And Nick Lachey?s comedy ?She Said/He Said? will help kick off the CW.

Stay tuned for news about next year?s line up.  In the meantime, mark your May calendar.

Mark your calendar:

NBC:
?The West Wing? series finale, May 14, 8-9pm
?Will & Grace? series finale, May 18, 9-10pm

ABC:
?Grey?s Anatomy? 2-part season finale, May 14, 10-11pm and May 15, 9-11pm
?Desperate Housewives? season finale, May 21, 9-11pm
?Alias? series finale, May 22, 9-11pm
?Lost? season finale, May 24, 9-11pm

FOX:
?Malcolm in the Middle? series finale, May 14, 8:30-9pm
?That ?70s Show? series finale, May 11, 8-10pm
?24? season finale, May 22, 8-10pm
?American Idol? 2-part season finale, May 23, 8-9pm and May 24, 8-10pm

CBS:
?Dynasty Reunion: Catfights & Caviar? May 2, 10-11pm
?CSI? season finale, May18, 9-10pm

- Celeste Kearsley

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