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Mr. TV: Upfront Mania

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Fasten your seatbelts, folks, as we head into frantic network upfront week. Sadly, the traditional over-indulgent pitchapalooza is a thing of the past.  

We won’t likely be seeing any big-name talent perform. Nor will we be feasting on anything extravagant (peanuts, get your peanuts here!). But this week marks the unveiling of the fall 2009 lineups for the broadcast nets, plus Turner Entertainment, Univision and Telemundo.
And Mediaweek will be on-hand with camera crew in tow, for a first look at what’s hot and what’s not for next season.

Fox, which normally closes the week on Thursday, will kick it off at the New York City Center this afternoon. As always, the big gun is American Idol, which still stands well above anything else on air. But I imagine the network will place a lot of emphasis on new Fame-like drama Glee, which previews tomorrow at 9 p.m. out of Idol, then takes a break until the fall.

Also confirmed for next season are single-camera sitcom Sons of Tucson, about three teenage guys who hire a stranger to be their father after theirs is sent to prison; dramas Human Target, which is based on a DC Comics property, and Past Life, which focuses on reincarnation; and Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show, which has a whopping 35-episode order.

NBC, which normally presents first, gave us a sneak peak at its “infront” several weeks ago. Tuesday will be the actual unveiling of its schedule. I’ve already addressed its slate of 10 new series through the upcoming season (dramas Parenthood, Trauma, Mercy and Day One; comedies 100 Questions and Community; non-scripted The Marriage Ref, Breakthrough with Tony Robbins, Who Do You Think You Are? and stripped talker The Jay Leno Show).

It will be interesting to see how NBC builds the schedule around Leno. The more I think of it, the more I like the idea of the lantern-jawed late night master heading into prime time. It offers an alternative to viewers tired of all the 10 p.m. crime dramas.

ABC informed me there will be no current or new show talent at its Lincoln Center event or after-party. While I understand everyone is under the financial gun these days, it pays to try to impress the people in the audience (the buyers and the advertisers) who may, or may not, be investing in your programming. Chances are, however, that late night host Jimmy Kimmel will be there. If so, I hope he keeps the shtick short. I’m not a fan.

Mirroring Fox, ABC is also in desperate need of a new hit comedy, and one show that will likely be showcased is the just-announced Modern Family, which follows the lives of three very different families. In addition, the network has ordered 13 episodes of new sci-fi drama Flash Forward, whose characters get a glimpse of the future. Unlike last fall’s half-baked, post-writer’s-strike schedule, ABC will clearly be more aggressive.

CBS has the easiest job because it has the best schedule. But there’s a problem all of a sudden with the decline of CSI, which could hurt the whole franchise. Although on the fence, The New Adventures of Old Christine will move to ABC as CBS drops it. Even so, I doubt CBS will eliminate its Wednesday 8-9 p.m. comedy block. And I have a feeling that bona fide hit The Mentalist will end up on Thursday. Upcoming NCIS spinoff (called NCIS: Legend for now) could fill in for The Mentalist on Tuesday, but two hours of NCIS-themed programming may be too much.

As for anything else new on CBS, keep an eye on dramas The Good Wife, which features Julianna Margulies as a Chicago district attorney’s wife who suddenly becomes the breadwinner, and Back, the story of a man presumed dead on 9/11 who returns home after eight years. As always, CBS will announce its slate at famed Carnegie Hall. But the traditional after-party at expensive Tavern on the Green is now a thing of the past.

The CW will be back at Madison Square Garden on Thursday for its announcement, which could potentially include the Melrose Place remake, Gossip Girl spin-off Lily and Vampire Diaries, the story of a young mortal female who has caught the eye of two vampire brothers—one good, the other evil. While The CW is always good at generating buzz at its upfront presentation, now it must turn the spin into reality. I’ll be back with the real scoop next week. Stay Tuned.   

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