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MAKEOVERS

Not the same old story line

September 14, 2008|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

DO NOT adjust your TV sets. Some returning shows may seem a bit unrecognizable this fall--but it's deliberate.

"Desperate Housewives" is spinning five years ahead; the wives of "The Unit" are undercover; " 'Til Death" is divorcing the Woodcocks; Clark Kent (finally!) is working at the Daily Planet on "Smallville"; and Christine and Barb are getting married on "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

Most of the changes were brought on by the long break forced by the writers strike that afforded producers extra time to get creative. In other cases, the changes have been a long time coming.

"We were one of many shows that didn't come back for additional episodes," said Shawn Ryan, executive producer of "The Unit" on CBS. "So, as we were out there waiting for a pickup, I thought that I wanted to find a way to put the women at the center of an ongoing story line rather than just dealing with what it's like to be an Army spouse."

Enter creator David Mamet, with an idea to uproot everyone by kicking off the fourth season with a "24"-style national crisis, requiring the families to move into the suburbs with new identities and agendas.

"This is an ongoing show and you want the show to seem familiar, but you also want each season to feel there's something new, something worth tuning into," Ryan said.

"Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry also wanted to stir things up by fast-forwarding life on Wisteria Lane. But his intent was to make the fifth-season show look more like it did in the first.

"The soap tends to build up, and I wanted to go back to where we were the first season, where it's just the problems of some ordinary women and they were small and relatable," Cherry said at a July news conference.

On the set of " 'Til Death," the change was prompted by a guest star, comic J.B. Smoove, whose big brother/little brother pairing with Eddie Stark (Brad Garrett) amounted to some of the Fox comedy's best moments.

The producers wound up ditching the third-season show's founding premise -- old marriage versus new -- in favor of a comedy about a mature marriage, with Smoove reprising the character of Kenny as a series regular. Kym Whitley will guest star as Kenny's ex-wife, but the Woodcocks (Kat Foster and Eddie Kaye Thomas) are no longer part of the show.(Though they will be seen in episodes that never aired last year).

"There's always people who obviously will want the show the way they had it," said executive producer Ted Hobert. "I think there's a little bit of a risk, but I can't stress enough that it's a relatable show about marriage. That's our bread and butter. What J.B. and Kym bring is a new kind of energy to the other part of the show."

"Smallville" fans who have followed the CW series for seven years will get what they've been waiting for: The Man of Steel working side by side at the Daily Planet with Lois Lane. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Clark (Tom Welling) and Lois (Erica Durance) will hook up. Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) returns for five episodes.

"He's taken on the mantle of a superhero, and we're in Metropolis a lot more," said executive producer Brian Peterson. "We'll still have the grounded heart back in Smallville with the young, sexy, urban stories in the Metropolis. This is the year Clark accepts his destiny."

It's also the year that Christine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) takes a wife. Best pals Christine and Barb (Wanda Sykes) on CBS' "Old Christine" take advantage of the California same-sex marriage law to skirt green card problems.

The CW's "Reaper" is scheduled to return in mid-season and, for the first time, Sam (Bret Harrison) is not able to capture a soul who has a secret that is key in Sam figuring out his predicament with the devil.

"Don't worry, this is still first and foremost a comedy," said executive producer Michelle Fazekas. "Sam and the guys are still not going to be that good at anything they do."

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maria.elena.fernandez@latimes.com

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