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CONTINUING CONCERN MAKERS OF NEW SERIALIZED SHOWS HOPE YOU'LL TUNE IN WEEK AFTER WEEK AFTER...

Byline: David Kronke Television Critic

`To be continued ...''

They're words that will define the 2006-07 prime-time season for the broadcast networks, as no fewer than a dozen new shows serialized to varying degrees -- inspired by the success of such series as ``Lost'' and ``24'' -- join the schedule. ABC is even adding four serialized comedies.

Ask network executives and those working on these shows whether the glut in serialized programs could be problematic, and you get a range of answers, most trying to put a happy face on the coincidence.

``Obviously, with the success of certain serialized shows, there is a willingness on our part to embrace it,'' admits CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler. But, she suggests, ``I don't think audiences make a decision to commit to a show, one way or the other, based on it being serialized or not. It's purely about the quality. If they like it and the show is good, they'll continue to watch.''

Sprague Grayden, one of the stars of CBS' ``Jericho,'' which follows the fallout of a series of nuclear attacks on America from the perspective of a small, isolated Midwestern town, adds, ``There's a different theme to every season. There's a lot of (a certain kind of show) every season. It really is about the quality of the show at the end of the day. I don't think people will tune in or tune out because of the genre.''

Stephen McPherson, ABC Entertainment president, echoes the notion.

``We went with the best shows we had,'' he says, conceding, ``It certainly presents challenges -- serialized drama.''

At a July press conference for ABC's ``Day Break,'' about a cop framed for murder reliving the same day over and over until he clears his name, star Taye Diggs became indignant over repeated questions about the logistics involved in keeping serialized programs coherent for audiences who don't have the time to watch every episode.

``You'll have to forgive us if we come off as a little sarcastic or maybe defensive,'' Diggs said. ``We knew we would be dealing with these questions. I just need to remind you that this is something very special to us. We think it's very different; it's unique.

`Everybody here, we all know what we're doing,'' he continued. ``So when you ask us a question like, `How do we get somebody to tune in who hasn't been watching regularly?' ... It's a TV show, and we know what we're doing. Do you know what I'm saying? ... We're not dumb. I'm Taye Diggs. I wouldn't sign up for that.''

But Fox Entertainment president Peter Liguori admits that knowing what you're doing and quality assurances are no guarantee for a marketplace filled with shows dependent upon extremely loyal audiences.

``It's a question ... the whole industry is going to be facing this year,'' Liguori says. ``Given the proliferation of serialized shows, all of us have to ask the question, `What do we do if these shows don't work?' It's not an idea that we like to think about, but, frankly, we do have to have some plans.''

Last year, several serialized dramas -- Fox's ``Reunion,'' ABC's ``Invasion,'' and NBC's ``Surface'' and ``Heist'' -- plunged viewers into mysteries and conspiracies, only to deny them resolution when they were prematurely canceled.

``If some of these serialized shows are canceled and there's no satisfaction, I'd fear for next year when a bunch of serialized shows come out,'' Liguori says. ``Will audiences be gun-shy about committing to these shows?''

Chuck Bachrach, director of Media Resources and Programming for the West Coast ad agency Rubin, Postaer and Associates, recently issued a report to advertisers assessing the fall season, pointing to the glut of serialized shows as a concern.

``There's no way all of these new programs are going to survive,'' Bachrach warned. And this from a man who predicted last year's glut of sci-fi shows spelled trouble; no new serialized paranormal-themed series saw a second season.

``How much commitment can the average viewer make in one week? Not as much as the networks think,'' Bachrach says. ``You can't have that many serialized shows -- the viewer, for the most part, likes to see a beginning, a middle and an end. Viewers need a general resolution. People don't have the time to commit to a lot of these shows.''

And so, as the new season approaches, those working on such shows seek different ways of selling them.

Jason Smilovic, creator of NBC's ``Kidnapped,'' which this season charts the investigation into the abduction of the son of New York socialites, says, ``The episodes have to exist as stand-alone episodes. And then, that episode, upon being resolved, then feeds into the larger story.''

Stuart Zicherman, co-creator of ABC's ``Six Degrees,'' which charts the lives of six New York strangers and how they unknowingly affect one another, says, ``This show is about the web of people that fill our lives. It's not just about friends. It's about friends, enemies, lovers, rivals, mentors. And we all have a network of people that ... effectively change our lives. By the end of the first season, we expect all the characters will have had an effect on each other.

``In some regards, we've created what we like to call six shows,'' he adds. ``We've created six very distinct characters ... and the connectivity is part of the show. But it's more about the characters and their lives.''

Hank Steinberg, executive producer of ABC's ``The Nine,'' about a group of survivors of a hostage situation who become close due to the secrets shared during their ordeal, explains, ``We'll unravel (the clandestine incidents) over the course of the first season.

``It's a character drama with a backdrop of what happened (during the crisis), which will be revealed through flashbacks. (In) the season finale, you'll have a lot of your questions answered.''

The challenges inherent in making serialized shows make sense over the course of a season are also part of their appeal, writers say.

``It's fun when you give yourself a puzzle to write like this,'' says Josh Goldsmith, co-creator (with wife Cathy Yuspa) of ABC's ``Big Day,'' a ``24'' parody set amid the chaos of a young couple's wedding day.

``You're mindful of what has happened and what will happen. You're sort of boxed in, but that also gives you some freedom, because so many things are already decided for you, so you can focus on different funny things. The joy is in fitting the puzzle into that structure.''

Careful preparation is necessary, most say, despite the fact that ``24's'' creators famously concoct story lines on the fly.

``It was very important that we not just make it up as we go along; I think you smell, when you're watching a show, that they're just sort of making it up,'' says ``Jericho'' executive producer Carol Barbee. ``We haven't done that. We've mapped out our premise, the mythology. We know what happened. We know who did it. We know what's coming to us.''

``If you make it up as you go along, it makes your job more difficult,'' ``Kidnapped's'' Smilovic says. ``If you come up with a different idea, you need to go back and make sure this new thing jibes with everything you did for the past few months. If you try to retrofit things, it wouldn't necessarily hold up to that scrutiny.''

So, which of these series will be around at this time next year?

As they say: ``To be continued ...''

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke(at)dailynews.com

DEPARTMENT OF SERIALIZED-TV SECURITY

Which new serialized series will demand the fullness of viewers' attentions? Which won't be so daunting?

Numerous series will feature ongoing story lines -- think ``Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip'' or ``Brothers & Sisters'' -- yet they look to feature largely

self-contained story lines as well. Others -- well, you'll just have to pay a whole lot more attention.

We've borrowed an idea from the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded alert system to help fans figure out where their allegiances should lie:

Red: Highest attention required. More awareness need be applied, perhaps, than that with which the government monitors al-Qaida.

Yellow: Moderate attention required. Plots may be convoluted but not so

strangulated as to require obsessive coverage.

Green: Minimal attention required. Story lines will be ongoing, but not so

stringently as to require frequent attention.

Hence, our serialized-story-line detection-center report:

``HEROES'': NBC, 9 p.m. Mondays (debuting Sept. 25): Ordinary citizens find themselves imbued with special powers that will thwart an assault on global peace.

Threat level: Red. How did these individuals achieve their powers? How are the evildoers plotting to conquer them? Many, many questions; equally myriad answers.

``VANISHED'': Fox, 9 p.m. Mondays (already airing): A senator's wife's abduction sets off a ``Da Vinci Code''-esque conspiracy.

Threat level: Red. Who's behind this? Why? Why should we care?

``JERICHO'': CBS, 8 p.m. Wednesdays (Sept. 20): Small-town residents react to a full-fledged nuclear attack on the country.

Threat level: Yellow. While revelations may come out each week, the drama will likely lie within the townspeople's more general response to the tragedy.

``KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY'': ABC, 9 p.m. Tuesdays (Oct. 17): Losers plot to rip off Mick Jagger's luxurious condo.

Threat level: Green. They'll fail a lot, in a lot of different ways, which will have little to do with their overall goal.

``KIDNAPPED'': NBC, 10 p.m. Wednesdays (Sept. 20): The scion of a celebrated New York family is abducted; the investigation unearths dirt everywhere.

Threat level: Yellow. The family's bad, the bad guys worse, but particulars will be revealed at length.

``THE NINE'': ABC, 10 p.m. Wednesdays (Oct. 11): Survivors from a hostage situation cope with the fact that they survived.

Threat level: Red. Viewers must patiently wait to sit through the particulars of the crime, which the survivors already know.

``DAY BREAK'': ABC, 9 p.m. Wednesdays (Nov. 15): Framed for murder, a cop must clear his name as he relives his challenging case in a ``Groundhog Day''-style fashion.

Threat level: Red. Viewers must remember the particulars of each day as they're replicated again, again and again, as our hero must undo them.

``SIX DEGREES'': ABC, 10 p.m. Thursdays (Sept. 21): Disparate souls intersect in surprising ways.

Threat level: Red. There's no essential plot -- unless these characters interact in surprising ways. Besides, this is from J.J. Abrams (``Lost''), who made ``Alias'' -- which was about a pretty girl running around in lingerie -- far more complicated than it needed to be. Will this be any simpler?

``BIG DAY'': ABC, midseason: An extravagant family wedding inspires disastrous outcomes on all fronts.

Threat level: Green. Bizarre behavior is a natural under such circumstances.

``NOTES FROM THE UNDERBELLY'': ABC, midseason: A couple opts for the ultimate commitment -- parenthood -- regardless of the woes of their peers.

Threat level: Green. Bizarre behavior is a given under such circumstances.

-- D.K.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) LOST?

If you feel adrift with so many new serialized TV shows, hold on. Help is here.

(2) ``STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP''

(3) ``VANISHED''

(4) no caption (TV shows)

(5) ``THE NINE''

Box:

DEPARTMENT OF SERIALIZED-TV SECURITY (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 10, 2006
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