The 2004/2005 season won't officially start until mid-September, but both NBC and Fox are already off the starting blocks, prompting buyers and researchers to make some early predictions about what's going to make the grade.
The new shows from the "CSI" and "Law & Order" franchises earned a split decision from early handicappers, while UPN's "Kevin Hill" could deliver a knockout punch.
"I think that the new drama with the best chance of success is `CSI: New York,' despite its challenging time period," said John Rash, senior VP director of broadcast negotiations at Campbell-Mithun, part of Interpublic Group of Cos.
Media agencies are coming down on both sides of a closely contested battle for viewers being orchestrated by CBS. The network is rolling out the second "CSI" spinoff, "CSI: New York," at 10 p.m. Wednesdays against NBC's older but stable property "Law & Order."
"I don't know if `CSI: New York' will do as well as `CSI: Miami,"' said Brad Adgate, senior VP-corporate research with independent Horizon Media.
"Between `CSI: New York' and `Law & Order,' I'd have to go with `Law & Order.' I'd go with the tried-and-tested, though `CSI: New York' could make a run at it," said Seth Zakin, director of national broadcast for independent Wieden & Kennedy.
Ask agencies to mention a couple of shows they think will do well this season, and UPN's "Kevin Hill" will be among them. The show stars Taye Diggs as a hotshot bachelor and entertainment lawyer.
"I like `Kevin Hill' and, together with `America's Next Top Model,' they'll be stronger," said Mr. Adgate. Mr. Zakin agreed. "We think `Kevin Hill' on UPN is going to do well, its young and urban and it is well done."
There is no doubt that "Joey" is the most anticipated show on the schedule this season. The general consensus among agencies is that the "Friends" spinoff was better than expected, although the premise of hanging an entire sitcom on the character's lack of intelligence was a little thin. Agencies executives however say they've been told the show has been beefed up significantly since the networks' upfront marketplace.
"It has the built-in concept and the commercial appeal. It should perform," predicted Mr. Rash.
He added the season surprise could be CBS's baseball drama, "Clubhouse."
"This is an uncynical narrative in an era of cynical reality shows. I think it may have a resonance with the general public," said Mr. Rash.
In the reality arena, when pressed to choose in the face-off between "The Next Great Champ" and "The Contender," Mr. Zakin said he'd go for the latter, given that reality producer Mark Burnett is behind it.
ABC is also going to be under close scrutiny. The network's ratings woes have been dragging down parent Walt Disney Co. for the last two years. ABC has potential in "Desperate Housewives," which has gained some traction among agencies, as has the drama "Lost," from J.J. Abrams, creator of "Alias," one of the few ABC hits.