By all appearances, the broadcast television networks finally got the message that audiences are hungry for original programming even during summer months. What's more, they've learned to do it with relatively inexpensive programming.
Just look at the success that reality/competition shows "American Idol" and "Dog Eat Dog" both enjoyed.
But summer fun is over, and now it's time for the networks to return to what they do best, or at least what they're more accustomed to doing: unleashing a fall stampede of 35 new comedies and dramas, episodics and anthologies, shows focusing on cops and kids, doctors and degenerates. A few new shows have dribbled out already, with the stream picking up this week in advance of TV's official premiere week the seven days following the Emmy Awards on Sept. 22.
It's difficult for even the most dedicated TV watcher to keep track of it all--made no easier this year by the presence of two medical shows set in San Francisco airing opposite one another, one show offering a welcome to Tucson and another sending out greetings to Miami, and three new cop series set on the gritty streets of Los Angeles--but maybe we can help.
What follows are capsule summaries of the new series offerings from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB. You'll find some pertinent information and some extras too. Let the watching begin.
Title: "Oliver Beene"
Time slot: 7:30 p.m. Premieres in early 2003, after fall sports season ends
Key cast: Grant Rosenmeyer, Grant Shaud ("Murphy Brown"), Wendy Makkena ("Sister Act"), Andrew Lawrence
Behind the camera: Executive producer Steven Levitan ("Just Shoot Me")
The gist: The Cold War fears of 1962 are nothing compared to the everyday dangers of being 11-year-old Oliver Beene (Rosenmeyer). He copes with on-edge parents (Shaud, Makkena), a tuned-out brother (Lawrence) and daily humiliations of being class clown at school.
Target audience: Baby boomers
Most like: "The Wonder Years"
Major competition: ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney," CBS' "60 Minutes"
What it has: A nostalgic pull for anyone who grew up with the Kennedys, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the early Johnny Carson years
What it needs: To lose the attitude
Title: "American Dreams"
Time slot: 8 p.m. Premieres Sept. 29
Key cast: Brittany Snow ("Guiding Light"), Gail O'Grady ("NYPD Blue"), Tom Verica ("Providence")
Behind the camera: Dick Clark is executive producer, along with creator Jonathan Prince ("Blossom")
The gist: In 1960s Philadelphia, a 15-year-old girl gets to dance on "American Bandstand," but the turbulent times spur her and the rest of the family to think about more important dreams.
Target audience: Families
Most like: "The Wonder Years"
Major competition: Its family-hour foes include "The Wonderful World of Disney" and "The Simpsons."
What it has: Exhilarating tunes and choice "Bandstand" clips
What it needs: Drama with the oomph to match the soundtrack. For a nostalgic family drama, this is one forgettable family.
Title: "Bram and Alice"
Time slot: 8:30 p.m. Premieres Oct. 6
Key cast: Alfred Molina ("Chocolat," upcoming "Frida"), Traylor Howard ("Two Guys and a Girl")
Behind the camera: Created by writer-producers Joe Keenan and Christopher Lloyd ("Frasier").
The gist: A washed-up, womanizing barfly of a novelist and a struggling writer, who is among his many fans, discover they are father and daughter. She moves into his Manhattan flat, launching an awkward new chapter in their lives.
Target audience: Connoisseurs of witty sitcoms
Most like: "Cheers" meets "Frasier," with a flawed hero who is a cross between Sam Malone and Frasier Crane.
Major competition: "The Simpsons"
What it has: Snappy writing, a hammy delight in Molina as the incorrigible schemer, a co-star who holds her own in Howard and a droll supporting cast
What it needs: Some have questioned the creepy father-daughter reunion in the pilot. Otherwise, not much, if that first episode is any guide.
Title: "The Grubbs"
Time slot: 9:30 p.m. Premieres Nov. 3
Key cast: Michael Cera, Randy Quaid ("Kingpin," "Independence Day"), Carol Kane ("Taxi," "Man on the Moon"), Lori Rom
Behind the camera: Writer-producers Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia ("That '70s Show")
The gist: Geeky 14-year-old Mitch Grubb (Cera) lives in a houseful of slackers--including a dad who fell off a forklift on purpose to collect disability--but when his alluring, motivated teacher (Rom) moves in next door, his so-called life will never be the same.
Target audience: Teenagers
Most like: "Growing Pains" meets "Married ... With Children."
Major competition: "Alias"
What it has: Crude, cheesy humor, and a lead-in from the classier "Malcolm in the Middle."
What it needs: Better jokes. On the other hand, crude and cheesy have drawn big ratings before.
Time slot: 10 p.m. Premieres Sept. 29