TV Shows That Broke Out

Plus Signs the Upfront Is Dead and 10 Shows That Let Us Down

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Ask five people about their favorite episode of NBC's dysfunctional-workplace classic and you'll get five different answers. That's part of the magic of this comedy series, which is fast becoming a sort of viral "Seinfeld."
While the premise of this ABC sitcom is razor-thin (a horrible single woman gets amnesia and is much the better for it), it found a home in viewers' hearts. ABC could have stuck half an hour of ants crawling over a picnic table between "Dancing With The Stars" and "The Bachelor" and done well this fall, but Christina Applegate is far more interesting, and her show has more potential than most of this season's entries.
Day-Glo backdrops, oddball characters and wry writing populate this clever ABC drama about a pie maker who has the power to bring back the dead. By most rights, "Daisies" shouldn't be on TV. It's smarter than most of the dreck the networks shovel our way. Chi McBride's wisecracking detective Emerson Cod and Kristin Chenoweth's lovelorn Olive Snook are just two standouts in a program filled with them.
Who knew so much imagery could be found in several seconds of blank screen? David Chase's decision to not tie up "The Sopranos" in a neat little package -- like Larry David's unsentimental closing of "Seinfeld" before it -- shows how defying convention, not satisfying the masses, makes for better TV.
This clever nerd-meets-James-Bond drama barely got noticed in the upfront, but it's perhaps the most winning thing NBC has among its freshmen programs. It's got everything "Bionic Woman" lacked -- a hero who revels in his new adventures plus lots of workplace humor (the drama is set in a would-be Best Buy). So you get a winning, if strange, mix of "Alias" and "Dilbert."
When CBS canceled this apocalyptic drama earlier this year, the network heard from a groundswell of fans -- many of whom watched the show online or with a DVR. While CBS said it would bring back the show, its executives insisted viewers watch the show on TV as scheduled. The Tiffany Network would do well to drop the attitude and figure out a way to measure new audiences.
"Gossip Girl" isn't the highest-rated show on TV, but it plays so strongly to the valuable young-consumer niche that CW decided to pick it up very early in this season. The antics of Dan and Serena and Blair are the talk of the town among the teens Madison Avenue wants most to impress, and the integration of Verizon Wireless into the show is also ringing along the grapevine. XOXO.
'30 ROCK'
Any show that features one of its stars singing a spoof 1980s rock song called "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" is worth a try. Though usually uneven, "30 Rock" is still worth watching because when it's funny, it's really funny. And you just never know when the moment of hilarity will strike. Plus: Alec Baldwin as the GE executive navigating entertainment's shifting terrain is always smile-inducing.
No one's a saint in this study of personal and professional treachery. FX scored a coup by getting Glenn Close and Ted Danson to star in the story of a class-action lawsuit specialist (Ms. Close) who will do anything she can to win her case, even if it means corrupting a young associate (who isn't so helpless, after all). Ratings for "Damages" limped along, but FX is bringing it back for another shot.
We're tired of dramas about cops, doctors and lawyers. So how about one about admen when the industry was at its unfettered heights? No ROI here, just chain-smoking, martini-swilling misogynists who sell their clients' stuff on three channels of network TV and a handful of big-circ magazines. AMC's drama offers enough entertainment for the masses, but also serves up nostalgia for the insiders.

Signs the Upfront Is Dead

The biggest shows -- "Lost," "American Idol" and "24" -- all were slated to make their debuts nearly three-quarters of a year after the last upfront deal was done.
Mike Pilot arrives in late 2006 from NBC Universal parent General Electric to take over ad sales; within weeks, starts calling for clients to talk to the network during development season or earlier to learn how they might tie ads to individual themes of programs the network is considering.
Writers strike threatens to cripple network TV by drying up supply of comedies and dramas. Big networks respond with reality-based swill such as "American Gladiators." This is what Procter & Gamble wants to advertise on?
Measurement of audiences watching TV in new ways -- such as through iTunes -- is shaky at best. The upfront works best when marketers know what it is they are paying for, not when they throw dollars at digital add-ons that can't be quantified.
Cable launches a barrage of dramas in summer 2007 featuring big names including Glenn Close, Holly Hunter and Kim Delaney. Lifetime's "Army Wives," TNT's "Saving Grace" and FX's "Damages" were all picked up for more episodes. TNT shows a holiday-themed episode of "Closer" in December, a sign that rival cable networks can still program more flexibly.
NBC says it will pick up "Quarterlife," a show from noted Hollywood producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, that starts out as a web-only program. NBC also indicated it could launch "E," a show about advertising, by first creating a community for the program online.
During upfront, CBS touts "Viva Laughlin," a show in which characters sing songs, and talks about its need to try programs other than procedural dramas featuring David Caruso taking off sunglasses. CBS yanks show after one episode, replaces it with "Amazing Race."
Scatter ad inventory is at its most scarce in years, forcing more advertisers to earmark more ad dollars for upfront buying at a time when they are looking for more flexibility to spend as their business demands it. Another scatter problem: Owing to declines in live viewing, networks have to give out more make-goods than ever.
For each of its two upfront presentations, fledgling network CW announces the availability of a radical ad format: first, long-form "content wraps," and then seconds-long "cwickies." But both concepts would be better served if the network unveiled them publicly earlier in the season.
AllState runs an ad at the end of an episode of "Friday Night Lights" on NBC tied to the show's specific plotline. Starcom began negotiating the idea well before upfront season.


A weak plot made plain the inanity of Jack Bauer's world. Fox needs to fix it or stop the clock.
The vapid Lauren Jones repelled us. Fox said "'Anchor,' away!" after just one episode.
CBS should never have tried to make this offbeat casino musical drama mainstream.
Lethargic Britney. No host. If I wanted to watch rave parties on YouTube, I'd do that.
Season 6 no-talent Sanjaya seemed like a publicity stunt -- something "Idol" doesn't need.
Writers focused too much on a convoluted plot and not enough on characters and their powers.
In this sci-fi drama, the Bionic Woman's powers were a burden. So was watching the first episode.e.
No one logged on to CW's "Online Nation," and it became the first casualty of the 2007-08 season.
What works in a 30-second TV ad can bomb when stretched to a program-length concept.
Curse you, Hollywood! You made us read books, talk to our families and find better things to do.
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