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On the prowl for new ways of fighting crime

TELEVISION

January 02, 2005|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

The new dramas also are confronting a programming landscape that's changed remarkably since September. Pilots for the new midseason shows were shot last spring, when it seemed as if crime procedurals were the only kinds of network dramas viewers wanted to watch. Since then, ABC's satiric soap "Desperate Housewives" and baroque tropical thriller "Lost" have become huge hits. So programmers are beginning to reassess their views of audience tastes, although whether that will translate into a spate of "Housewives" clones -- in the same way that "Knots Landing" and "Dynasty" chased "Dallas" in the early 1980s -- won't be apparent until the networks announce their fall schedules in May.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 05, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
"Numb3rs" premiere -- An article and chart in Sunday's Calendar section about new TV crime dramas listed the premiere date for the CBS series "Numb3rs" as Jan. 21. Although the series will normally air Fridays, it will debut Jan. 23, a Sunday.

In any case, said NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly, "now we're seeing possibilities opening up" beyond the crime genre.

A 'Blue' blood

The new series don't lack for impressive pedigrees. "Blind Justice" will replace Bochco's "NYPD Blue," which is winding down a 12-season run on ABC. The producer's work also includes "L.A. Law." ABC is confident Bochco's storytelling skills will set "Blind Justice" apart from rivals, and McPherson waved off any comparison to "Numb3rs" or "Medium."

" 'Blind Justice' is a character drama; those others are more 'high-concept,' " he said, using the industry term for premises that can be summed up in a single sentence.

Will procedural fans see "Blind Justice" as visionary or contrived? In the pilot, NYPD Det. Jim Dunbar (Eldard) works a routine auto-theft case. Near the climax, the sightless detective pokes his head inside a seemingly pristine recovered auto, catches a whiff of a familiar substance and announces to his astonished partner, "A gun was fired in here." The clue breaks open a stubborn murder case and proves Dunbar's worth to skeptical colleagues.

Then there's "Medium," in which Arquette sees dead people -- and they give her clues ordinary detectives can't turn up. The series is inspired by the story of the real-life Allison DuBois, who describes herself on her website as a "research medium and criminal profiler." In the pilot, DuBois (Arquette) helps a skeptical Texas Ranger (Arliss Howard) crack a murder case by unraveling the secret past of the perpetrator. Like "Blind Justice," it comes with some bold-faced names attached to the credit list: The executive producers include Kelsey Grammer, late of "Frasier," and Glenn Gordon Caron, best known for the '80s hit "Moonlighting."

NBC, which could use a little supernatural help itself, has high hopes for "Medium." The network has stumbled badly this season as its fall shows have failed to catch on. "Medium" is headed for the super-competitive slot of 10 p.m. Mondays, opposite CBS' smash crime hit "CSI: Miami." NBC's ill-fated airport drama "LAX" lasted just six episodes in that slot before being rebooked to Wednesdays. So the network is trying to be realistic about the prospects for "Medium."

"It's a very problematic time period for us," Reilly said. "I'm not expecting to beat 'CSI: Miami,' but I do believe we can generate an audience."

"Numb3rs" will occupy the 10 p.m. Friday slot that once belonged to Rob Lowe's canceled drama "Dr. Vegas." That's one of the few trouble spots on the schedule for CBS, whose numbers are holding up just fine. The network is ranked No. 1 in prime time this season among both total viewers and young adults, the category most important to advertisers.

In addition to Falacci and Heuton -- a veteran writing duo, though they've never had a series break through to network TV before -- the "Numb3rs" producing team includes director Ridley Scott ("Alien," "Gladiator") and his brother and business partner, director Tony Scott ("Top Gun," "Crimson Tide").

While neither Scott is directing any episodes, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler believes their input has helped make "Numb3rs" a "unique-looking show."

"It's taking us into Charlie's mind and looking at the world through his eyes," Tassler said.

The producers are hoping that devotees of the TV whodunit have grown weary enough of the format to welcome change but aren't so tired of crime that they've moved on to something else entirely. They hope, in other words, that viewers will do the math.

"What we've discovered," Falacci said, "is that mathematics has an application to almost everything."

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Networks' winter hopes

Notable in the lineups: more reality, more cops and a supernatural spin.

Show; Network: "Committed"; NBC

Slot; Premiere: Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m.; Tuesday

Prospects: Network hopes this quirky romantic comedy can get NBC back in comedy game on Tuesdays.

Show; Network: "Jonny Zero"; Fox

Slot; Premiere: Fridays, 9 p.m.; Jan. 14

Prospects: Dark crime drama from "ER's" John Wells will have to tough it out on a little-watched night.

Show; Network: "Medium"; NBC

Slot; Premiere: Mondays, 10 p.m.; Monday

Prospects: Patricia Arquette sees dead people, helps solve crime; NBC gets a replacement for airport bomb "LAX."

Show; Network: "Numb3rs"; CBS

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