[05/25/04 - 12:00 AM]
2004 Broadcast Upfront Presentations Wrap-Up, Part 1
By The Futon Critic Staff (TFC)

LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- While the broadcast upfront presentations have concluded, there's still a bit of news that wasn't covered in the various press releases issued by the networks.

Here's a breakdown of what else occurred during last week's news bonanza as well as clarification of several news items:

-- "Everwood" may be held until November. In order to avoid its troublesome repeat ratings, the WB is said to be considering a plan in which it holds back the drama series' third season until November. "Everwood" would then run for 10 weeks after which it would be replaced by one of the network's potential midseason offerings ("Global Frequency," "Rocky Point" or a second season of "Summerland" should ratings merit) and return in the spring for its remaining 12 installments.

-- It's a no-go on "Transylvania." Despite a hefty put pilot commitment when it was originally announced, NBC has opted not to go forward with the small screen spin-off of the current Universal feature "Van Helsing." The Peacock reportedly put the project on the back burner well before its disappointing turn at the box office due to its potentially high production cost (a pilot was never shot). NBC Universal Television Studios topper Jeff Zucker told Daily Variety: "The box office has no bearing whatsoever on our plans to move forward or not. It's a creative decision based on content and concept. We just want to make sure it has the right network home." Nevertheless, NUTS is said to be talking with other networks about the series however with said box office performance, a revival seems extremely unlikely.

-- UPN will look to expand to six nights starting next year. After several years of sticking with its current five-night-a-week schedule, CBS topper Leslie Moonves confirmed he's hoping to expand the netlet to a six-night schedule saying it's a "good possibility." He wasn't specific on whether the new night will be Saturdays or Sundays.

-- "60 Minutes II" will drop the "II." In order to raise the profile of the "60 Minutes" spin-off, CBS will drop the "II" in the name beginning this fall. "The Roman numeral II created some confusion on the part of the viewers and suggested a watered-down version," CBS News president Andrew Heyward told Daily Variety. At the same time however the two shows will remain editorially independent and "cordially competitive." More importantly now with the official "60 Minutes" stamp, CBS' sales force could potentially sell the show at a higher ad rate. The news coincides with the exit of Don Hewitt as executive producer of the franchise early next month after 36 years at the helm. Current "II" chief Jeff Fager will take over for Hewitt on the parent series with Josh Howard replacing Fager on the Wednesday edition. In addition, fellow newsmagazine "48 Hours Investigates" will now run under the title "48 Hours Mystery." Current host Lesley Stahl is not expected to resume duties on the series with the network opting to go without one. Heyward was clear however that "Mystery" would meet all news standards, with no actors or reenactments.

-- Several changes are in store for ABC's newsmagazines. "World News Tonight" substitute anchor Elizabeth Vargas will succeed Barbara Walters as co-host of "20/20," while Chris Cuomo, the son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo, and British journalist Martin Bashir, best known for the documentary "Living With Michael Jackson," have signed on to "Primetime Live" and "20/20" respectively. Cuomo joins Cynthia McFadden, John Quinones, Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson as a co-anchor on the Thursday series beginning in September. As for Vargas, she'll co-host alongside John Stossel while Bashir, in a deal valued at $1 million, will serve as a correspondent for the Friday night show. Walters isn't completely leaving ABC however: she'll host at least five prime-time specials a year, including special editions of "20/20," and continue to executive produce and co-host daytime talk show "The View."

-- "The Simpsons" will once again earn a post-Super Bowl berth. The veteran FOX comedy will get another post-Super Bowl airing - the last being in 1999 - after the game ends on February 6, 2005. It's not clear what will follow "The Simpsons" on the night.

-- "The Mountain" may move to Wednesdays. Various industry insiders are saying the WB is mulling shifting its freshman drama "The Mountain" from Thursdays to Wednesdays after "Smallville" upon learning of FOX's plans to relocate "The O.C." to the night. Distributor Warner Bros. Television produces both series, not to mention fellow Thursday newcomer "Joey" on NBC, and is apparently very unhappy with having three of its new entries facing off against each other. Under said scenario, "Blue Collar TV" and "Drew Carey's Green Screen" would be bumped to Thursday nights in place of "The Mountain."

-- The TV series "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" may be dead, but the franchise is looking to continue. Kennedy is closing in on a deal with Paramount to produce a movie based on the recently canceled series. No other details were given. In the meantime, "JKX" won't exactly disappear from the public consciousness: repeats of all three seasons will begin airing next month on ABC Family and a DVD release of the show's second season is due later this year. Kennedy himself also won't be idling: he's executive producing the WB's midseason comedy "Shacking Up" and is also behind the Frog's upcoming reality entry "Wannabes."

-- "Alias" is set to run repeat-free beginning in January. Aside from pre-emptions due to the Super Bowl and the Oscars, the fourth-year drama is set to run for 20 weeks on the network beginning in January. "Alias" will take over its old Sunday, 9:00/8:00c slot from freshman entry "Desperate Housewives." It's not clear where ABC plans to relocate "Housewives" should it become successful.

-- Tom Spezialy ("The District") has been named the executive producer/showrunner of ABC's "Desperate Housewives." He'll serve alongside current executive producers Mark Cherry, Chuck Pratt and Michael Edelstein. Spezialy's other credits include "Dead Like Me," "Ed" and "Jack & Jill." It's also understood he'll receive a premium script commitment from Touchstone Television for a potential new drama series.

-- The WB has pacted with Mark Burnett for a new midseason reality series. While details were not released, the Frog has given a blind series commitment for a new reality project from the prolific producer, who's also behind the network's only new scripted comedy this fall ("Commando Nanny"). WB chief Jordan Levin told Daily Variety, "We're going to work together to find a franchise idea for a reality show that could become a permanent fixture on our schedule. It's a strong play for us to be in business with Mark Burnett as we play catch-up in a genre we ignored too long."

-- UPN's "America's Next Top Model" and NBC's "The Apprentice" are both set to air two cycles next season. Both reality hits are slated to run for two cycles with "Model" running 26 installments and "Apprentice" a whopping 34 episodes over the course of the 2004-05 season. "Model's" two editions will be sandwiched around the netlet's "Untitled Missy Elliott Project," with encores of the series - including additional original footage - airing on Fridays at 8:00/7:00c. Meanwhile, both cycles of the Donald Trump-hosted series are expected to run back-to-back with encores in the Saturday, 8:00/7:00c slot. The move puts "The Apprentice's" third season finale in mid-April at which point the Peacock is considering restoring its four-comedy block on Thursday nights with the debut of "The Men's Room" and "Crazy for You" alongside "Joey" and "Will & Grace."

-- "24" will open and close with two-hour installments as well as feature a two-hour special event episode in the middle of the season. Said moves are designed so that "24" will be able to run for 21 consecutive weeks beginning in January and close by the end of May sweeps. In addition, several cast changes are in store for the drama. Both Reiko Aylesworth and James Badge Dale have been informed their options for the show's fourth season have not been picked up while Carlos Bernard, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Zachary Quinto and Daniel Dae Kim's futures remain up in the air (Kim is currently attached to the ABC drama "Lost"). As for regulars Kiefer Sutherland, Dennis Haysbert and Elisha Cuthbert, all three are expected to return with Cuthbert more than likely being demoted to recurring status due to her feature commitments. Nevertheless, fans of the series should take note that in previous seasons Sarah Clarke and Penny Johnson Jerald's options weren't picked up however each went on to play critical roles in both this season and last season.

-- While her sitcom may not be going forward, Jessica Simpson and ABC will remain in business. The Alphabet has reportedly committed to eight specials featuring the actress/singer to be run over the next two years.

-- Warner Bros. Television is the studio to beat for the second year in a row. At least 25 shows (10 new, 15 returning) comprising 20.5 hours of programming next season will come from Warner Bros. Television with 20th Century Fox Television being the second most prolific (18 shows - eight new, 10 returning). Splitting third place are Touchstone Television (10.5 hours) and CBS Productions (9.5 hours), with 13 shows each.

-- Don't look for a resolution to "Playing it Straight" or "Forever Eden," not to mention midseason holdovers "Still Life" and "The Ortegas." FOX executives made it clear at its upfront presentation that all four series will be scrapped despite previous indications at least the two reality series would return this summer. As for who actually won each competition, FOX topper Gail Berman told reporters: "We will certainly provide any viewer that needs the information with the information of the conclusion."

-- "Yes, Dear" will return in 2005 with 13 new episodes. After knocking at death's door in the days leading up to CBS' upfront presentation, the veteran comedy will indeed return for an abbreviated fifth season thanks to some last-minute financial concessions by the show's co-producer, 20th Century Fox Television. While exact details weren't discussed, it's understood 20th cut its license fee to snag the renewal. The studio's co-production deal with CBS Productions called for the Eye to take over the entire full-cost license fee for the series should it reach its fifth season. CBS faced a similar situation with "Becker" this past season, ordering 13 episodes of what would be the series' final season. Meanwhile, "Yes, Dear" co-creator Alan Kirschenbaum is also said to be in talks to join the freshman comedy "Center of the Universe" as showrunner/executive producer alongside "Center" co-creators/executive producers Mitchel Katlin and Nat Bernstein. Should the deal go through, Kirschenbaum will serve as a consultant on "Yes, Dear's" fifth season.

-- While not mentioned in its press release, CBS also has midseason commitments out to reality series "Fire Me, Please" and "Search for a Domestic Diva." Both series are said to be targeted for the Saturday, 9:00/8:00c slot once "The Amazing Race" wraps. Each comes from LMNO Productions with the former being a co-production with the BBC. "Fire," based on the British series "The Sack Race," tracks two contestants as they attempt to get fired on purpose from an unspecified corporate job at a specified time (3:00 p.m. in the U.K. original). Contestants however cannot do anything illegal, swear or ask to be fired. The winner is determined by who is "sacked" the closest to said time. "Diva," which was created by Eric Schotz and Bill Paolantonio, as you might guess deals with a primetime search to find the next diva of domesticity. CBS is hoping both series, along with "Race," will help increase the Eye's current fourth place finish in adults 18-49 on Saturday nights. In addition to the trio, the game show "Liar" and possible summer holdover "The Will" are being considered for the night.

-- "Two and a Half Men's" Chuck Lorre is expected to sign a new overall deal with Warner Bros. Television. With Warner Bros.' "Men" being the most-watched new comedy this season and Lorre also behind a new Jenna Elfman project at the studio targeted for midseason on CBS, Warner Bros. will more than likely re-sign the prolific writer/producer to a new overall deal. Lorre's previous $30 million, multi-year pact with Warner Bros. expires this year. It's understood Lorre will co-write the pilot for Elfman's show and oversee its production however he won't showrun the new project, instead opting to stick with his showrunner duties on "Men."

  [may 2004]  

· 20/20 (ABC)
· 24 (FOX)
· 48 HOURS (CBS)
· ED (NBC)

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