UPN appears to have the best development for next season.
I know, I can't believe it, either, what with this being the network that gave us "The Mullets" and "Shasta McNasty."
But it seems to be the case, judging by what advertisers were shown at the network's upfront presentation yesterday morning.
And I'm not just saying that because they have a new drama that stars Taye Diggs. Okay, maybe it's a little bit about Taye Diggs. And that the network has thoughtfully scheduled his new series so that we need never spend another Wednesday at 9 contemplating the horror that has become "The West Wing."
But I'm not the only one who seemed to like UPN's development, which also includes a second new drama that out-WB's the WB. Called "Veronica Mars," it's about an angst-ridden teenage private eye/high school chick, and it's from "The Matrix" and "Lethal Weapon" producer Joel Silver.
Advertisers seemed enthusiastic about UPN's presentation, too, and not just because the network trotted out all of the contestants from this season's edition of "Top Model," though that did go over in a big way. So, too, did "Top Model" creator Tyra Banks and her dress, what there was of it, which the suits got to enjoy twice, when UPN programming chief Dawn Ostroff was discussing Banks's Wednesday and Friday slates. UPN has scheduled the make-a-model series both nights; on Wednesdays at 8 to provide lots of young female viewers for Taye Diggs, and on Fridays at 8 p.m. to provide lots of young female viewers for -- "Star Trek: Enterprise"?
Yes, "Enterprise," which had been in danger of cancellation, was instead moved to Friday nights to make way for Taye Diggs on Wednesday. (When a reporter asked CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who also oversees UPN, if it moved "Enterprise" there because they figured anyone still watching "Star Trek" by now was not gonna have a date on Friday night, Moonves warned him not to dis "Star Trek" fans. But he also noted that "The X-Files" had done well in the time slot, which just proved the reporter's point.)
You can tell advertisers like what they're seeing when they respond with vim even while shivering in some skeevy theater in the bowels of Madison Square Garden at 10:30 in the morning. You know, it's really hard to imagine "upscale viewers" when you're stuck in the bowels of a building in which your primary objective is to not touch the walls. They really should not stage upfront presentations at Madison Square Garden.
UPN's presentation was the shortest of all, but then it had only three new shows to present, including one new sitcom taking up the slack for Monday's departed "The Parkers." The new show is called "Second Time Around," about a divorced couple who remarry, starring real-life couple Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Parker. The network also announced that a 10-episode "The Missy Elliott Project," another singing competition reality series, will fill the "America's Next Top Model" time slot between its two cycles next season.
But let's get back to Taye Diggs and his new drama series "Kevin Hill" (which will air opposite the WB's Jeff "You Know You're a Redneck When" Foxworthy and Drew Carey sketch comedy show, and what were the WB guys smoking when they decided that fit their brand.)
We're not just talking Taye Diggs here. We're talking single, lawyer Taye Diggs in gorgeous expensive suits, who takes in a heartbreakingly adorable orphaned baby girl. All this show needs is a hungry, sad-eyed puppy and it would hit the Chick-Magnet Trifecta.
If Fox is going to "revolutionize" the way it programs series, with original stuff 52 weeks a year, it needs to "revolutionize" the way it does its upfront presentation.
Fox unveiled 16 new series yesterday -- as many series as had been presented this week by CBS, NBC and UPN combined.
And yet, Fox felt compelled to open its presentation the old-fashioned way, with "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest blathering from the House of Blues in Hollywood, which was filled with ad execs, one of whose heinie Seacrest kissed. Seriously. He did.
Then "American Idol 2" loser Clay Aiken came out on the stage in New York and sang some song. And then, because Fox could take its time, since it had only 16 shows to present, "American Idol 2" winner Ruben Studdard came out and he sang, too. Then Seacrest, back at the House of Blues, interviewed "American Idol 3" finalists Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo. Then Fantasia, Diana, Ruben and Clay all sang a song together.
This could have gone on all night, but Fox had taped this great comedy bit in which one of the Fox sales suits, a fat, jolly middle-aged guy, dreams he puts on various wigs and costumes and auditions for "American Idol" -- three times.
And then, finally, when the network had run out of shameless "American Idol" promotion, Fox programming chief Gail Berman got around to talking about her new 52-week-a-year schedule and her 16 new shows.
Fox will debut new and returning series in June, in November and in January. Fox will not debut programming in September, which is the official start of the TV season, as do the other networks. That's because Fox has baseball, which consumes October. Out of this headache Fox's year-round model was born.
Here are the highlights:
* A new medical mystery drama called "House," starring the brilliant Hugh Laurie, is getting the best time slot in all of TV-dom, Tuesdays at 9 p.m., following the competition show of "American Idol 4" when that franchise returns in January.
Actually, "House" is getting the time slot starting in November, only "Idol" won't be its lead-in yet; its lead-in will be a new reality series starring billionaire Richard Branson, the guy who started Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Records, Virgin Everything Else.
Unfortunately, most Fox viewers will know Laurie only as the badly written dad in those Stuart Little flicks or as Vincente Minnelli in ABC's "Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows." Only Fox viewers who are serious students of P.G. Wodehouse -- all two of us -- will have seen Laurie in his career-defining role as Bertie Wooster to Stephen Fry's Jeeves in the Brit TV adaptations of Wodehouse's stories about the wealthy, lovable British dimwit and his brainy butler.
* "Arrested Development" has been brought back for a second season despite its anemic ratings, a move that advertisers applauded loud and long, and good for them.
* Once again, "Bernie Mac" is getting tossed all around the schedule, getting three different time slots; ditto "Malcolm in the Middle," although at least "Malcolm's" three are all on Sunday night. The good news is that "Bernie Mac's" third time slot, the one it gets in January, will be the cushy one right after the "Idol" results show on Wednesdays, only the "Idol" results show has been moved from 8:30 p.m. to 9.
* The free ride is over for "The O.C." and "24." No longer will these two dramas get the plum post-"Idol" time slots. Both series won't return to the lineup until January, so that they can run without repeats or preemptions -- we will believe it when we see it. "The O.C." will air on Thursday night and "24" on Monday.
* "The O.C." creator Josh Schwartz has a new series for Fox called "Athens" -- but not for long we're betting -- about rich people who attend or teach at a college in a New England town and the poor townsfolk who serve them. It's a January starter, on Monday nights, leading into "24."
* "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane will produce a new animated series for Fox's Sunday called "American Dad." And in the summer of '05, Fox will bring back "Family Guy," which it had canceled a couple of seasons ago. Didn't they feel silly when its DVD sales went through the roof.