Fall TV Schedule to Highlight New Dramas

Networks have been presenting their new shows to critics. This season, viewers can look forward to less reality TV and more scripted drama.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Television critics have been gathered in Pasadena, California for the past couple of weeks to check out the network strategies and programming for the new fall season. NPR's entertainment correspondent Kim Masters has been on the scene.

Good morning.

KIM MASTERS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk with the talk among TV critics.

MASTERS: Well, there has been a lot of talk about serialized dramas. These are shows with plots that you have to follow from week to week like Lost or 24, and there are many of them on the fall schedule. So the critics just grilled the network executives relentlessly about whether audiences are either going to get sick of them and don't want it signed on in the first place or stop watching because they don't want to invest in a storyline when the show might get canceled, and then they're left hanging and they don't know what happened.

MONTAGNE: But weren't the critics complaining about too many reality shows?

MASTERS: Well, they were, and now they're concerned about too many scripted dramas. And NBC programming chief Kevin Reilly told the critics that he is very much aware that viewers get upset when these shows are dropped in the middle of the season, as you can hear.

Mr. KEVIN REILLY (Programming Chief, NBC): By the way, I get the e-mails, okay? I wake up in the morning and I get dear moron. We know that takes a toll, but the nature of television is when you're taking risks, you may end up with Heist or you may end up with Lost.

MASTERS: So Heist obviously is the loser in that equation, and all the network executives basically said the same thing. We'll just have to make such good shows that the viewers tune in.

MONTAGNE: And if the shows don't catch on and they do get canceled, what about the Internet? Aren't the networks pushing the Web?

MASTERS: Yes, the networks could and possibly will wrap up some of these shows online. And NBC's Kevin Reilly says he will also try to keep viewers engaged by giving recaps of plots online for all of its shows. So if you miss an episode or two of Lost, you can keep up. Certainly, all of the networks, as you say, have plans for all of these online gimmicks, and this is an area that they're really trying to test and figure out and learn what works.

There has been a lot of doubt about how people get paid for that and whether material will be pirated, but that really seems to have dissipated. CBS programming chief Nina Tassler says she has really seen a sea change in the attitude of talent. They used to be very leery of the Internet, and now they all want to embrace it. And I think the same can be said for the networks themselves.

MONTAGNE: Well, I gather the networks hoped to get a piece of advertising money, that money that's migrating over to the Internet.

MASTERS: Absolutely. And it's part of a broader effort to come up with ways to make advertising pay at a point when, you know, audiences are just fragmenting, and people have digital recorders, and they can fast forward through commercials.

MONTAGNE: Let's get back to the shows themselves. What are the programs that the critics there were really talking about?

MASTERS: The critics seemed to like a show called The Nine. That's going to be on ABC. It's about a group of people who are all at a bank robbery, and this is kind of - it sort of flashes back to the bank robbery and shows what happens in the aftermath. Of course, the fact that the critics like it doesn't necessarily mean that audiences will.

NBC has a show called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which is from Aaron Sorkin, and he was the guy who made The West Wing. So the fans might want to tune into that. ABC has one called Brothers and Sisters. Calista Flockhart from Ally McBeal is coming back. But they did not give it out to the critics, because apparently they've just added Sally Field to the cast and the show is still a work in progress.

NBC has generated a fair bit of interest in an online phenomenon. It's a show called Nobody's Watching. It was a pilot for the WB, which is no longer, which has now been merged into the CW. It didn't make it at all and wasn't picked up. But somehow it made its way on to the Internet, this pilot, and it sort of caught on. So NBC is now going to develop that for the Internet, with the idea that it could become a series that will eventually be on the NBC broadcast network. So that would really be a novel approach to generating a new show for a broadcast network.

MONTAGNE: NPR's entertainment correspondent Kim Masters speaking to us from Pasadena, California. Thanks very much, Kim.

MASTERS: Thank you, Renee.

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