Monday, May 30, 2005

The Summer Season: Part 1

Long ago in a galaxy not unlike our own, there were three American broadcast networks, and two stations in Canadian cities ... if you were lucky. In those days (which I vaguely remember) many series ran for 39 weeks and to bridge the gap between the end of one season and the beginning of the next there were 13 week summer series. Most of them weren't all that good but they were scripted comedies or dramas. Later, when the number of episodes of a series decreased to 26 episodes, simply repeated series during the summer months. This was the trend through much of the period between the 1960s and 1980s. There were few summer replacements, and sometimes all you could count on was that the networks would air pilots for series that were picked up for the new season. The advent of sweeps weeks and the reduction of the number of episodes for most series to 22 meant that the networks were showing reruns of that season's shows through much of the years. Networks had to run new episodes during sweeps weeks and because the season usually starts in the second or third week of September it means that many series have used up almost half their new episodes by Christmas, and have at most only five or six of their 22 episode order available for January March and April. Those months and December tend to see a lot of reruns, or miniseries for the increasing number of shows that "don't repeat well". Suddenly new summer programming becomes attractive - if it can be had cheap.

I would like to suggest that the first modern summer season was the summer of 2000, when CBS premiered a couple of new shows for the summer. One had been a big hit internationally called Big Brother. The other was a little show about a group of disparate people dropped off on an island in the Pacific. CBS had big hopes for Big Brother based on all of the publicity, including attacks saying that the show was "degrading" and "junk TV" but it was a mild success, while that other show, something called Survivor, caught the attention of the nation and graduated into the big time by being shown during the regular season. The next year there was more summer programming from all six of the networks. This summer, the networks will be showing 17 hours of new programming (mostly reality shows) as well as burning off previously unseen episodes of two series. Every night except Saturday and Sunday will see new shows. Here's the list which will serve either as a reminder or a warning. (I was going to do this as one post but the list is just too long.

The Scholar (ABC, starting June 6): Ten high school seniors from across the United States compete for a full ride scholarship to the university of their choice, a prize valued at $250,000. They must demonstrate skills in the areas of academics, creativity, leadership and community service as well as coping with "sudden death oral exams" and defending themselves before an Ivy League admissions committee.

Hell's Kitchen (Fox, starting May 30): British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, probably best known for his British series Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares comes to Los Angeles to open a new restaurant and find America's newest culinary star from the group of hopefuls that Fox has selected. If you know anything about Ramsay you will expect the series to have a lot of bleeping, because Ramsay knows all the best cuss words, and uses them on his hapless staff.

Rock Star: INXS (CBS, starting July 11): Also seen on Tuesday and Wednesday, this is another Mark Burnett series. A group of aspiring singers will compete to become the new lead singer for the band INXS and will be part of their new album and concert series.

Empire (ABC, starting June 28): This six hour drama is a fictional account of the life of Octavian, the adopted son and designated successor of Julius Caesar, and the disgraced gladiator who is assigned to protect him during his time in exile.

Fire Me Please (CBS starting June 7): A four episode reality series in which contestant try to get fired from their new job as close to, but no later than, 3 p.m. on the day they're hired as possible. Hidden cameras follow their efforts at getting canned.

Big Brother 6 (CBS starting July 7): Also seen Thursdays and Saturdays, the Big Brother house is again filled with 16 exhibitionists from diverse backgrounds who have to live with each other 24/7 for three months under the constant gaze of cameras and people who shell out to watch online, all for a $500,000 prize.

Meet Mister Mom (NBC starting August 2): In which we follow the comedy that ensues when Mom is whisked away to a spa for the week leaving Dad to cope with the kids. There are two families each week with the Dads in direct competition to see who can cope best and being watched on closed circuit TV by the Moms.

Tommy Lee Goes To College (NBC starting August 16): The University of Nebraska Lincoln welcomes new student, Motley Crue founder Tommy Lee in this series which lasts six half hours.

I Want To Be A Hilton (CBS starting June 21): Kathy Hilton, mother of Paris and Nicky, attempts to instruct 14 young contestants on etiquette, haute couture and how to deal with the press. The winner gets a year of living the Hilton style high life.

Britney & Kevin: Chaotic (UPN started May 17): Britney Spears and her husband whatzisface. Ends June 14.

The Bad Girl's Guide (UPN started May 24): A scripted comedy starring Jenny McCarthy, Marcelle Larice, and Christina Moore as three modern "bad girls" (as defined by the Cameron Tuttle book of the same name as a woman who is "sassy, provocative, questions authority and knows what she wants from life and how to get it with style, confidence and humor". I suppose it's like Sex and the City but this time the city is Chicago.

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