Originally created 06/16/04

Year-round season floods TV with new shows

NEW YORK -- Life, say some philosophers, is a cycle with no beginning or end. Sort of like the scheduling philosophy nowadays at the broadcast networks, blurring the time-honored lines between one season and another.

Granted, CBS rejects the cosmic oneness of a never-ending TV season.

But check out Fox, now embarked on what it calls "a trailblazing year-round programming initiative" with a slate of new summer shows, then more in November, more yet next January, and on, presumably ad infinitum.

Fox - like ABC, NBC, UPN and the WB - has evidently seen the light: TV series are born, TV series die, and round and round it goes. Which leaves viewers to live each day blissfully accepting this cosmic truth: What's on TV tonight may bear little resemblance to the program lineup next month, or even to what's on next week.

For viewers, the journey through prime time surpasseth understanding. But just because the schedules seem to run riot doesn't mean there isn't a higher plan: Keep viewers occupied by keeping them befuddled. Then they'll forget to look elsewhere. Like on cable.

More than ever, the broadcast networks are trying to dazzle the audience with routine-shattering specials, minis and limited-run series.

Also, promotional sleight of hand. NBC has made a grand show of bulking up episodes of hits like "Friends" with added commercials, then hyping the experience as "supersized."

But NBC, as well as others, is also offering viewers more of something truly worthwhile, in fact downright revolutionary: First-run series with no mandatory repeats. NBC's "The West Wing," ABC's "NYPD Blue" and the WB's "One Tree Hill" are among the series that will air just once. Then no reruns. Say again? No reruns!

Of course, that doesn't mean episodes of other series won't still be repeated, and even repeated again, within the same week.

Besides, even a series that only airs brand-new episodes often feels a lot like a retread of some other show. On television, as elsewhere in the physical world, nothing is created or destroyed. Just made to look like something else.

In April, Fox announced "The Next Great Champ," an upcoming reality series about boxing, not long after NBC announced "The Contender," an upcoming reality series about boxing.

Meanwhile, networks have made a science of breeding spinoffs from their hit shows. Call it "TV series husbandry."

NBC will spawn "Law & Order" No. 4 - the third "L&O" offspring since 1999 - early next year.

And CBS will premiere the third in what is less like a bloodline than a product line, "Crime Scene Investigation."

With "CSI: New York," look for a new shade of tell-tale "CSI" color coding: The chosen filmic look is Urban Blue. "CSI: Miami" will surely stick with Tawny Citrus, while the original series, set in Las Vegas, favors Midnight Chrome. Thus will "CSI" be available in three decorator colors!

That's only part of what's to come, though it's too soon to say exactly what. Right now, TV critics have gotten a look at some of the new shows but are prohibited from writing about them.

"We're providing these tapes for background only and UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THEY BE USED FOR REVIEW PURPOSES," declares CBS in an advisory similar to those from the other networks.

The early, rough-cut versions aren't (in industry lingo) "reviewable," a fact all too obvious with certain new sitcoms, where canned laughter hasn't yet been added to the actual responses from the studio audience: Each hilarious punch line is received with a few hollow chuckles. Before the final, reviewable versions can be sent out, the laughs will have to be added.

A note with the ABC tapes cautioned that "the role of Mary Alice in 'Desperate Housewives' is being recast, which will result in some reshooting."

Likewise for NBC's new Matt LeBlanc sitcom, "Joey," where a secondary character - a sexy neighbor - is being revamped, calling for a new actress (not yet chosen) to play her.

For these and other series premiering in August and thereafter, the next few weeks will be a frenzy of minor tweaking and major surgery.

Even the titles of some series are subject to change. NBC's new Heather Locklear-Blair Underwood hour (a comic drama about the workings of a big-city airport) has been alternately called "LAX" and "Hub." So what's it gonna be? "LAX" is the title, says NBC.

But in the cosmic oneness of the new TV universe, what do names matter anyway?


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