More laughs, some chills slated for this fall

It's always entertaining to hear the U.S. Big Four execs talk about their year's performance.

It’s always entertaining to hear the U.S. Big Four execs talk about their year’s performance.

NBC apathetically admitted their fall from grace to the number-four position among the benchmark adult18-49 demographic. ABC, although ranked number three, touted itself as the ‘most improved network.’ CBS and FOX both claimed the number-one spot, depending on whether the base was all, or regularly scheduled programming.

The one point of agreement was that last year had been a great one driven by powerhouse hits like Desperate Housewives, Lost, and House. Fueled by this success, the nets’ new offerings indicate renewed commitment to continuing where they left off, with 24 new prime-time titles set to air this fall.

NBC: The comeback year? Not likely

Of three dramas – E-Ring (political action thriller), Fathom (fantasy/sci-fi genre), and Inconceivable (medical setting) – the best by far was the first. E-Ring, of Jerry Bruckheimer lineage, depicts the challenges of life in the Pentagon and stars Benjamin Bratt and Dennis Hopper.

But it will have to combat Lost (ABC), and two fairly good new offerings from CBS and FOX (see below). Fathom, about sea monsters, looked silly, while Inconceivable, a fertility-clinic medical, didn’t please.

NBC also introduced two reality products: Three Wishes and The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. Starring Amy Grant, Three Wishes was successful in achieving tearjerker status and should find its female audience. As far as Martha is concerned, it’s not a reasonable bet in the long run.

The sole comedy to make the NBC fall lineup is My Name is Earl. Jason Lee plays Earl, a small-time crook who decides to atone for his past by helping those he had mistreated. Lee is disarming and funny, and NBC’s claim that this pilot was the highest-scoring comedy in 15 years is believable.

ABC: Staying strong

In an attempt to play in the upper echelons of audience rankers, this network introduced 14 new products, of which five are currently scheduled for this fall. Three were dramas, and all showed some promise.

Commander-in-Chief, starring Geena Davis as the first female president, elicited a warm audience reaction. Of note, competition will be intense from the likes of Amazing Race (CBS), My Name is Earl (NBC), and House (FOX).

ABC also showcased two fantasy/sci-fi products – Invasion and Night Stalker. Invasion, about the alien takeover of a small town, was effective in the suspense category, and may very well find its audience on Wednesday at 10 p.m. among those who aren’t drawn to the crime genre on CBS and NBC. Night Stalker, from The X-Files’ Frank Spotnitz, is a remake that didn’t quite live up to expectations. Given its current Thursday night home up against CSI, The Apprentice, and a strong new FOX entry, Reunion, this is not a good bet.

ABC also introduced two comedies – Freddie and Hot Properties. Freddie, starring Freddie Prinze Jr., is about a successful young Hispanic guy who has four female family members move into his home. The grandmother character speaks only Spanish (with English subtitles), giving this property dual English and Hispanic-American appeal.

Hot Properties, about four single female real estate agents looking for Mr. Right, deserved the non-reaction that it received.

CBS: Selling quality

CBS claimed that they are the ‘Tiffany’ network – the one that brings quality to the television screen – and their six new titles definitely did not disappoint.

Four dramas were split evenly between the fantasy/sci-fi and criminal investigation genres. CBS has created a spooky Friday night viewing experience by teaming up Ghost Whisperer (starring Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Threshold (about an alien invasion.) Both received great reactions in New York.

CBS’s two criminal investigation products – Close to Home and Criminal Minds – also fared well. Close to Home, another Bruckheimer production, casts Jennifer Finnigan in the role of a young prosecutor. However, competition will be stiff in its Tuesday

10 p.m. position, up against Boston Legal and Law & Order: SVU. Criminal Minds, starring Mandy Patinkin, is about a special FBI team that solves crimes by profiling the most twisted criminal minds. Again, this promising product will have to compete hard for viewing share with ABC’s Lost and NBC’s E-Ring.

Monday night, CBS will run four comedies prior to CSI: Miami

at 10 p.m., including two new series, How I Met Your Mother

and Out of Practice. How I Met Your Mother is an ensemble

comedy, starring Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) and Alyson Hannigan (Buffy). Competitively, the current schedule reflects

Wife Swap and Fathom, and a mediocre new FOX product

(Kitchen Confidential).

The net’s other comedy entry, Out of Practice (about a family of doctors), is from the executive producers of Frasier, directed by Kelsey Grammer, and stars Stockard Channing and Henry Winkler. These comedies are well pedigreed, enjoy strong lead-ins, and aren’t currently subject to

huge competition.

FOX: Vying for #1

This was the only network to claim a balanced, consistent delivery across younger and older viewer segments alike.

Of five new dramas, three look promising – Prison Break, Bones, and Reunion. Prison Break offers an exciting high-action alternative to FOX’s heavy comedy lineup.

Bones stars Emily Deschanel as a forensic anthropologist. Also ready to roll is a murder mystery called Reunion. With The O.C. as lead-in and good audience reaction, it should do well.

Meanwhile, the only thing that Head Cases has going for it is Chris O’Donnell in the lead role as an ex-superstar attorney. The fact that FOX has placed this entry up against Lost, E-Ring, and Criminal Minds doesn’t say much for it either.

The last drama presented, The Gate, focuses on San Francisco’s Deviant Crime Unit. Poor audience reaction, coupled with questionable scheduling on Friday night suggests no bright

future here.

FOX’s fall comedy introductions are War at Home and Kitchen Confidential. War at Home, fittingly placed between The Simpsons and Family Guy on Sunday night, deals with the challenges of raising teenagers. Unfortunately, Kitchen Confidential probably won’t last, in spite of the talents of Bradley Cooper (Alias) as the main character.

Overall, with this much good television, a check-up of your PVRs and VCRs will be in order.

Theresa’s Picks

ABC’s Commander-in-Chief with Geena Davis as the first female president should appeal to the West Wing viewing crowd.

NBC’s My Name is Earl comedy stands out both in terms of concept and delivery. Its political drama E-Ring should also fare well.

CBS’s spooky Friday block of Ghost Whisperer and Threshold is expected to find its niche. Criminal investigation series Close to Home is likely to add more awards to the Bruckheimer display case. And the net’s two Monday night comedy entries – How I Met Your Mother and Out of Practice – have an excellent shot at success.

From the FOX drama roster, Reunion has all the markings of a hit.

Theresa Treutler is SVP media director at Doner Canada in Toronto.