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Next TV season, it’s not all Desperate Lost Housewives

By Bert Ehrmann
2005-05-16 — Spring is "do or die" time for new television shows. It's the time when cable channels and networks pick which new shows will air on television screens next fall and which will suffer a fate worse than death ­ availability only on bootleg Internet download sites frequented by television geeks.

Two big surprise breakout shows last year were ABC's Lost and Desperate Housewives. These shows have been a great ratings boom for ABC, reportedly bringing ratings up Sunday nights when Desperate Housewives airs nearly 180% while Wednesday night ratings for the network when Lost airs are up almost 130%.

Looking to capitalize on the rabid Lost fan base, ABC has Invasion in the works. Invasion follows the populous of a small Florida town trying to survive an alien attack after a severe hurricane strike on the town. (Signs the television series?!) Another show along the lines of Lost, NBC’s Fathom follows a team of military officers, scientists and average Joes attempting to thwart an aquatic attack of Venusians. Fox is betting on Darkside to steal some of the thunder from Lost, which tracks the fate of astronauts who disappear on the dark side of the Moon after finding a group of mysterious buildings. The show is set to focus on both the astronauts and NASA mission control trying to contain the disappearance from the general public.

After the success of Lost, ABC has a lot more confidence in show creator J.J. Abrams who, up until that point, had only mediocre success on the channel with the spy-drama Alias. Currently, Abrams has three shows in the works on ABC. The first show, which was originally set to air last year, is entitled The Catch and chronicles the lives of bounty hunters. Abrams is also developing two comedies for the channel, one called What about Brian? about a single guy in his thirties dealing with his married friends and an as yet untitled comedy about a woman working on a children's television show.

It seems as if every year different networks develop the same types of shows at the same time. Last year there was a spate of "cops posing as teens in high school" ala the 21 Jump Street mold, none of which made it to television screens. This year the "it" type show seems set in the exciting world of real estate. (I know, "exciting" and "real estate" don't usually go together.) NBC has Hot Property in the works, which focuses on real estate agents in Houston. Not wanting to be left out of the television land rush, ABC has two real estate themed shows in the works. The first is called Hot Properties (to distinguish it from Hot Property) about four women in a real estate office and Westside set in an agency specializing in the most expensive high-end homes in Los Angeles.

Another topic that seems to be generating a lot of interest on the small screen is the current war in Iraq and politics in general. FX has Over There set to air late this summer about a platoon stationed in Iraq facing the daily rigors of insurgent combat. Stories of the home front would also be interwoven with that of the soldiers on the frontlines. (Which to me sounds a bit like the recent We Were Soldiers movie.) HBO has an as yet untitled comedy in the works in the vein of M.A.S.H. about a group of Army Engineers stationed in Iraq set to look for weapons of mass destruction only to find them with nothing to do.

Also, both ABC and NBC are developing dramatic mini-series chronicling the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks. ABC is also working Commander in Chief about the first female President while NBC has a drama set inside the Pentagon entitled E-Ring.

Although CBS might be refraining from launching another CSI the next television season (thank God) that doesn't mean that other networks won't try to launch their own versions of the show. ABC is working on The Evidence, a procedural drama that starts with all the evidence of a crime and then works back to the actual crime. Over at Fox, Murder Book is in the works about L.A. cops who compile all the evidence of a crime in a large evidence book in their never-ending quest to solve the most baffling cases.

Also on Fox is a drama entitled Brennan. The show follows a forensic anthropologist who puts the pieces together of crimes that have taken place in the past, sometimes only having the skeletal remains of the victim to work with.

The two shows I am most excited about are CBS' The Unit and Fox's Prison Break. The Unit (not about baseball's Randy Johnson) is from writer/director David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Spartan) and Shawn Ryan (not the guy they were after in Saving Private Ryan) creator of FX's successful The Shield. The Unit follows a team of Special Forces soldiers dealing with their lives in the military as well as their lives at home. To me, The Unit sounds a lot like Spartan the television series, and last year I ranked Spartan as one of the top five movies of 2004.

Prison Break follows the exploits of an engineer who has himself thrown into the prison he's designed in attempt to help his brother on death row escape the final punishment. The series takes place over the course of one season in a sort of anti CSI/Law & Order fashion.

It's anyone’s guess as to if any of these shows will actually air on television. The nature of TV means that for many, many shows considered for air that only one or two makes it to a television screen.