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Nets Set Summer Plans

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Broadcasters' fall lineups still may be up in the air, but their summer schedules are pretty much set in stone. For the most part, a mix of new and returning reality shows makes up the bulk of summer offerings.

But nonscripted or otherwise, the sheer number of original series suggests the networks are trying to make good on their promise to program 52 weeks a year. For example, in addition to ABC returning The Bachelorette (May 19) and The Mole (May 26) to its schedule, the network will launch five new shows including stunt series Wipeout and I Survived a Japanese Game Show (both premiering June 24) and High School Musical: Summer Session (July 20).

"It's all part of the notion of year-round programming," said Jeff Bader, executive vp of ABC Entertainment. "We're trying to keep our audience all summer long."

Among other new series, CBS introduces Million Dollar Password (June 1) and hopes to draw viewers with contest shows The Greatest American Dog (July 10) and Jingles (July 27).

In advance of the Olympics, NBC launches Celebrity Circus (June 11), The Baby Borrowers (June 25) and Celebrity Family Feud (July 1).

Of course, success on TV often results from throwing a lot of stuff against the wall--a costly process some broadcasters are tiring of. This year, for example, Fox chose to fill its schedule only with returning series.

"We've developed a solid stable of unscripted programming that can keep the schedule fresh in the summer without requiring a lot of marketing," said Preston Beckman, executive vp, strategic program planning at Fox. What's more, Beckman added, those saved marketing dollars can be banked and then applied to next season's slate "to get the word out for the fall."

While the writers strike wreaked havoc on the season earlier in the year, its impact on the summer appears to be somewhat minor. In fact, it may have given a boost to both Fox and NBC. Hell's Kitchen's early premiere due to the strike has improved ratings for the Fox series, while the January launch of NBC's American Gladiators, which returns May 12, proved there was an audience for the show.

If any network might suffer from summer runs of strike-used programming, it may well be CBS, which just wrapped up its ninth cycle of Big Brother, and returns the series for a tenth cycle July 13. "I just think there's a point where viewer fatigue sets in," said Brad Adgate, senior vp, director of research at Horizon Media. "That could have an impact on [Big Brother's] ratings."

But CBS executives remain sanguine about the show's prospects. "Big Brother was a godsend for us during the strike and has had a stable track record over the summer, so we're not at all worried," said Kelly Kahl, executive vp, program planning and scheduling at CBS.

Among the many nonscripted shows are several scripted ones. NBC's horror anthology Fear Itself debuts May 29, doing battle Thursdays at 10 p.m., while CBS premieres Swingtown June 5. CBS also launches cop drama Flashpoint July 11.

But the majority of original scripted series clearly will come from cable this summer, with new-season launches planned for AMC's Mad Men (July), Lifetime's Army Wives (June 8), TBS' My Boys (June 12), TNT's The Closer and Saving Grace (both premiering July 14), and USA's Monk (July 18), Psych (July 18), Burn Notice (July 10) and new entry In Plain Sight (June 1).

Broadcasters are well aware the cable shows will continue to siphon off viewers. "We'd be fools to think we live in a four- or five-network environment," said Mitch Metcalf, executive vp, programming, planning and scheduling for NBC Entertainment.

"In my heart of hearts, do I wish it was 1975? Sure," he added. "But this is the world we live in. We have to be mindful that there is always something on somewhere for viewers to watch. There are no more free passes."