Upset is mirrored in fall lineups

Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK -- In the first day of this year's already unusual broadcast television upfront week, NBC tried to reinvent the process while word leaked out about its competitors' high-profile new shows.

CBS led the way Monday by announcing a flurry of pickups that included a quartet of new dramatic series and a pair of new comedies. The shows are:

* "The Mentalist," a drama about a man with psychic abilities who works as an independent contractor for the police.

* "The Ex List," a drama based on an Israeli show about a woman who tracks down her ex-boyfriends after a psychic tells her that she has already met the man she is going to marry.

* "Elemental," formerly titled "Eleventh Hour," a drama about a professor who works as an advisor to a government scientific agency.

* "Harper's Island," a drama about a group of friends who meet on an island off Seattle for a destination wedding.

* "Worst Week," a single-camera romantic comedy about a couple's nightmarish week before their wedding.

* "Project Gary," a comedy created by Ed Yeager of "Reba" about a recently divorced father coming to terms with his kids, ex-wife and new dating life.

NBC effectively ceded its usual time in the spotlight Monday since it had already laid out a 65-week schedule in advertiser presentations last month. Its competitors are expected to follow suit this week with their own year-round schedule announcements, hoping to get buyers on board early.

Rather than the usual high-kicking presentation at Radio City Music Hall, or a news conference featuring bullish executives touting the strength of their fall schedule, NBC instead opened by confirming a move still a year away: the appointment of comedian Jimmy Fallon as Conan O'Brien's successor on its "Late Night" show.

With rain-drenched Manhattan as a backdrop, the network officially delivered the news of Fallon's selection atop 30 Rockefeller Center by showing a "Saturday Night Live" montage of Fallon impersonations that featured Pat O'Brien, Larry King and Jerry Seinfeld.

"It's a comedian's dream to get this job, to work with writers and try to be funny every night," Fallon said. "I'm hoping to make it the best show -- a great show for everyone to choose me to fall asleep during."

The pick of the "Saturday Night Live" alum was hardly a surprise -- since last summer, the industry has buzzed with reports that Fallon would take over the 12:35 a.m. show in mid-2009, when O'Brien inherits "The Tonight Show" from Jay Leno.

The fact that NBC chose to kick off this week with the anticlimactic announcement speaks to the unusual nature of this year's upfronts, when the five major broadcast networks showcase their fall schedules for advertisers. Traditionally, the week has been packed with star-studded events in which the networks preview new series and try to build buzz for the coming season.

But this year, the 100-day writers strike truncated the amount of time the networks had to make pilots, the often-costly premiere episodes used to test concepts before series get the green light. Just 62 were made this spring, compared with 112 last year.

With fewer shows to unveil and wary of a possible walkout by actors later this spring, the networks opted for dressed-down affairs this year, rather than the extravagant bashes of the past.

NBC scrapped its usual Radio City presentation altogether. Instead, parent company NBC Universal put on a walk-through Monday spotlighting the range of programming on its various networks.

the 100-day writers strikeNBC said its early meetings spawned a deal with GM to be the exclusive automotive company featured in "My Own Worst Enemy," a fall drama starring Christian Slater. In the show, Slater's Jeckyll-and-Hyde character will drive two different GM cars, part of the network's aggressive pursuit of product integration.

On Monday, the network added another show to its roster: "Momma's Boys," a reality series from Ryan Seacrest Productions that pairs mothers and their grown bachelor sons in a house with several "brides to be."

Meanwhile, the CW, which is holding a short presentation and cocktail party today, confirmed that the spinoff of "Beverly Hills, 90210" will be on its fall lineup.

The contemporary version of the 1990s Fox hit will focus on a family that reflects today's celebrity culture: a grandmother (Jessica Walter) who was a huge star in the 1970s and now likes to hit the bottle a bit; her son, the new Beverly Hills High principal; his ex-Olympic athlete of a wife (Lori Loughlin); and their two teenagers. The daughter (Shenae Grimes) is -- What else? -- an aspiring actress. The son is a brainiac with behavioral issues.

"90210" original Jennie Garth will be reprising her role as Kelly Taylor, now a guidance counselor at her alma mater.

ABC, which also holds its upfront today (sans its usual party), renewed "Boston Legal" for fall, provided that executive producer David E. Kelley can close the deal with the actors.

Stars James Spader and William Shatner have won five Emmys between them for their portrayal of the morally ambiguous best friends, but the series was thought to be in trouble because it was becoming too expensive for ABC.

But Kelley drives a hard bargain. The trade magazine TV Week reported that ABC agreed to renew "Boston Legal" as part of a deal with the producer for his new show, "Life on Mars." Kelley owns the rights to the program, a much-anticipated U.S. adaptation of a BBC series about a modern-day detective who gets transported to the 1970s.

Over at Fox, the top-rated network green-lighted the comedy "The Inn," about a boutique hotel in New York where the manager and human resources executive are constantly at odds.

The network has also picked up two animated shows. "The Cleveland Show" is the buzzed-about "Family Guy" spinoff about Peter Griffin's accident-prone neighbor, Cleveland Brown. "Sit Down, Shut Up," from Mitch Hurwitz of "Arrested Development," is based on an Australian show about a group of mediocre high school teachers who work in a Northeastern fishing town.

Fox apparently views animation as a key part of its future. On Monday, the network announced that it is partnering with its sister studio, 20th Century Fox TV, in an initiative called "Fox Inkubation," aimed at finding the next "cartoon blockbuster." The program seeks to develop animated series by funding the creation of two-minute shorts.



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