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What's New at the Network Upfronts? So Far, Less than Usual...
May 14, 2008  | By David Bianculli
In past years, the network upfront presentations have been all about unveiling not only the fall schedules, but the long roster of brand new series. This year, at least at ABC and CW's Tuesday upfronts, not so much. As Jimmy Kimmel joked, "Here at ABC, we are very excited about BOTH our new shows!"

Those new fall shows, as it turns out, seem pretty familiar anyway. Based on the short teaser clips, Opportunity Knocks is a game show that goes on location to neighborhoods and tests families about their knowledge of each other -- a kind of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition meets Amne$ia. And David E. Kelley's Life on Mars is an Americanized version of the familiar British import about a modern cop transplanted, somehow, into the early 1970s.

The clips didn't make this new Mars seem all that exciting, but there are two exciting prospects buried among the show's credits. One is the return of actor-turned-director Richard Benjamin in a supporting acting role. Also, one of the show's many executive producers is super-gifted TV director Tommy Schlamme, and the combination of Schlamme and Kelley could prove very potent. (Other Kelley news: Boston Legal was renewed, but for what was announced as its final season. Sigh.)


ABC had so little new fall stuff to promote that it spent a chunk of time showing samples from its imminent summer schedule. Be afraid. Be very afraid. It includes such unscripted competition series as Wipeout (a sort of combination water park, life-size video game and humiliation factory) and I Survived a Japanese Game Show, in which contestants are flown to the Far East to compete in such challenges as "Duck Before Komodo Dragon Eats Your Face."

We should all think about preparing t-shirts proclaiming: "I Survived an ABC Post-Strike Summer Season."

Now the good news. Midseason at ABC includes the return of Scrubs -- which, though I'm pleased my that prospect, prompted Kimmel to joke, "It's always a good idea to borrow shows from the people in last place." Other good news: The return of Lost in January for an unbroken weekly run, and the renewal of Pushing Daisies, last year's best new broadcast network series.

This year's best new broadcast network series, though, doesn't seem to have made an appearance just yet. It certainly doesn't seem to be at the CW, where virtually all the buzz is coming from its remake of that generational TV touchstone, Beverly Hills, 90210.


"You wanna live in the zip," intoned the announcer during the 90210 preview clip, "you gotta live by the code." Yes, he actually said that. Original cast member Jennie Garth will have a recurring role, but the 2.0 version of 90210 is all about the young and gorgeous. In this regard, it has made at least one very smart casting choice. AnnaLynne McCord, who played the devilish teen temptress Eden on Nip/Tuck this season, is one of the regulars on CW's high-profile companion to its East Coast equivalent, Gossip Girl.

Other new CW shows seem similarly status- and fashion-obsessed. Surviving the Fllthy Rich stars Joanna Garcia from Reba as a young woman given the responsibility of tutoring, and mentoring, two pampered teen girls. And Stylista, from the clips, looks like a reality-show version of The Devil Wears Prada. And looks, at first glance, every bit as bad as that sounds.

Midseason news includes the return of Reaper, and of CW's two best shows, Smallville and Everybody Hates Chris, will be back in the fall -- but last year's best new comedy, Aliens in America, wasn't renewed. As everyone at CW seems to be saying these days, OMG.

Next stop in this pared-down upfront tour? CBS, which starts today with the traditional, and always informative, CBS press breakfast. I'll report highlights shortly after that, then update following the upfront presentation once I've seen the clips of the new shows.

I'm searching for the potential gotta-watch gems... and so far, I haven't found any.

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