Networks’ mascot would be a copycat

Hollywood lives and dies on trends, and the slate of new television shows rolled out the past two weeks at the TV Critics Association press tour only bears out that theory.

After a year punctuated by some of the most innovative new shows in recent years, television could be headed for life support.

The networks wined and dined the nation’s TV critics for the past couple of weeks in Beverly Hills, Calif., with each network more excited than the last about all the new and wonderful shows they’ll offer in the fall.

While the slate of new comedies has some appeal, too many new dramas feel like they’ve been done before – and probably done better.

Network executives were reaching for alien-inspired science-fiction dramas and prime-time soap operas faster than I was reaching for free martinis and whiskey sours at the annual summer gathering of television critics.

But no matter how much I thought I was seeing double, my eyes were not deceiving me. There really were as many clones of “Lost,” “Medium” and “Desperate Housewives” as I thought.

That isn’t to say the shows aren’t good, but rather that viewers will have to decide which ones to cling to in a pool that’s multiplying almost exponentially.

With names like “Invasion,” “Threshold,” “Ghost Whisperer” and “Supernatural,” the ripples of the paranormal are still splashing from last season’s “Lost” and “Medium.”

Others, such as “Sex, Love and Secrets,” “Close to Home” and “Hot Properties,” have that trouble-in-the-suburbs and let’s-see-what-happens-when-four-women-get-together vibe of “Desperate Housewives.”

And a few others, such as “Bones,” “E-Ring” and “Commander in Chief,” have the look and feel of things we’ve seen before from “CSI” and “The West Wing.”

Fox throws a couple of new dramas our way that actually stray from the trend. It’s a good thing, and perhaps more important, that we might be able to laugh again soon. The comedic side of the equation in the fall could experience the sort of uptick that dramas felt last year, with exciting new sitcoms including “Everybody Hates Chris” and “My Name is Earl” offering the fresh look that sitcoms desperately need.

These will generate plenty of press over the next couple of months, so I’ll point out that a couple of others, including “How I Met Your Mother” and “Out of Practice” on CBS, could surprise some viewers. They aren’t great, but they’re bigger, bolder and better than the standard, overdone comedies CBS has trotted out over the years.

Cream of the crop

It’s always unfair to judge a new show strictly on the pilot, but that doesn’t stop TV critics from doing it. Over the past couple of weeks, as pilot after pilot was thrown in my face by the six major networks, I’ve tried to keep in mind that classic shows and personal favorites, including “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” weren’t great – or were downright bad – their first time out of the gate.

But here are my choices for the best dramas and sitcoms of the coming season:

UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris” and NBC’s “My Name is Earl” tie in the comedy department. “Chris” is inspired by comedian Chris Rock’s childhood in a rough New York City neighborhood, and “Earl” stars Jason Lee of “Chasing Amy” as a lovable small-time criminal who is inspired to right every wrong he’s done over the years.

I have to give the nod to Fox and The WB for the dramas I’m most anticipating. Fox’s “Prison Break” and “Reunion” take on new territory. The WB’s “Supernatural” is expected to offer a weekly movielike vibe as two brothers travel around the country week to week hunting some of the classic American urban legends.

Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or

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