Arts & Life

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Fans of TV shows "Without a Trace," "Lie to Me" and "Numbers" take note of this next item: Your show might not be back this fall. Or, as they say in the business, it's one of many shows on the bubble. The Hollywood Reporter's Andrew Wallenstein gives us this lesson in Hollywood jargon.

Mr. ANDREW WALLENSTEIN (Editor, Hollywood Reporter): Think of the bubble as a kind of purgatory occupied by series that are neither monster hits nor outright duds. This time of year, TV execs sit in judgment of their shows, which exist in a state of limbo, uncertain whether they will live to see another season.

Now, shows on the bubble aren't just ranked by their ratings and cut accordingly. There's actually a whole host of other factors that could end up sealing their fate. Here's one reason: A network may have developed something better to replace it with.

(Soundbite of TV show, "According to Jim")

Unidentified Woman: (As character) Oh, I was just wondering how many men it takes to change a light bulb.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Here's a show like the long-running ABC comedy, "According to Jim."

(Soundbite of TV show, "According to Jim")

Mr. JIM BELUSHI (Actor): (As Jim) Oh, my God, I just (unintelligible) a light bulb.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Somehow, Jim managed to survive for eight years despite the fact it hasn't gotten a decent rating in ages. That's because ABC has had little luck in recent years developing new sitcoms, particularly fluffy family fare like Jim.

Mr. BELUSHI: (As Jim) Guys, I can't find the light bulb.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: You better believe if the network develops something in that mold with real potential, Jim is as good as gone. Which brings me to my second reason: "Jim" is produced by ABC Studios, which may have extended its life on the bubble. A network is likelier to stick with a project when its parent company doesn't pay someone else to produce the show.

A third factor for bubble shows? The older a show is, the more expensive it gets. Take the popular CBS procedural "Without A Trace."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Without a Trace")

Ms. MARIANNE JEAN-BAPTISTE (Actress): (As Vivian Johnson) (Unintelligible), I'm Special Agent Johnson with the FBI. Okay, take it easy. We're going to airlift you out of here.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: Now, for a show in its seventh season, "Trace" actually has pretty respectable audience levels. But the cost of a show typically rises over the duration of its run. You got to give stars raises if you want to keep them around for one thing.

NBC was doing its own penny-pinching with its controversial decision to put Jay Leno in primetime five nights a week. He may not get the kind of ratings a scripted show gets, but his show is going to be much cheaper to produce.

Which brings me to a fourth factor creating trouble for the bubble shows, at least on NBC. The addition of Leno means there's almost a third less room for existing shows. That can mean curtains for a middling performer, like that quirky spy romp "Chuck."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Chuck")

Mr. CHEVY CHASE (Actor): (As Ted Roark) Put him on a helicopter. Kill the CIA agent.

Mr. SCOTT BAKULA (Actor): (As Steve Bartowski) He's my son.

Mr. CHASE: (As Ted Roark) He's your son? Congratulations, that's great. I had no idea. Kill the son.

Mr. WALLENSTEIN: "Chuck" would have probably stood a better chance if Jay Leno weren't taking up so much real estate. But like it or not, TV is a zero-sum game. New shows come in only when the old ones are moved out.

NORRIS: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at the Hollywood Reporter.

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