By Joal Ryan
The doctors of Seattle Grace are about to face their toughest challenge: the crime scene investigators of Las Vegas P.D.
Barring an unlikely announcement by CBS on Wednesday, Grey's Anatomy and CSI will go head-to-head next fall on Thursday nights. This, after an unexpected announcement by ABC on Tuesday.
In what ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson called the biggest decision in setting his network's new fall schedule, Grey's Anatomy will be discharged from its secure 10 p.m. Sunday residence, and asked to do its quirky/romantic/M.D. thing in the key 9 p.m., Thursday battleground.
In other moves, ABC announced a whopping 12 new comedies and dramas, starring the likes of Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart, Cheers' Ted Danson, and Courteney Cox Arquette's David Arquette, and issued renewals to borderline shows such as What About Brian, According to Jim and George Lopez.
Issued pink slips were: Kelly Ripa and her three-year-old sitcom Hope & Faith; Rodney somebody and his two-year-old sitcom Rodney; and, every single star of every single new show premiered by ABC last fall, including Geena Davis (Commander in Chief), Stuart Townsend (Night Stalker), Freddie Prinze Jr. (Freddie), and various space aliens (Invasion).
Of the casualties, McPherson noted in a press conference that Commander in Chief might return as a two-hour made-for-TV movie, and paid tribute to Invasion, calling it a "great" show: "We wish we could have made it work."
The CW may be next in line to try to make Invasion work; the Hollywood Reporter said the new network was considering picking up the sci-fi thriller. (The CW will announce its first-ever fall lineup on Friday.)
Elsewhere, ABC said Lost, back for a third season, would air without repeats in two blocks--one seven-week run starting in September, followed by a four-month run starting in February. In between, the network will try out a new Taye Diggs police detective drama, Day Break, in Lost's 9 p.m., Wednesday slot.
The network teased no Lost cast additions, and pledged no subtractions, "except the people we've shot," McPherson joked. The same was said of Desperate Housewives, minus the shooting quip--McPherson said the soapy comedy's cast would be intact for its upcoming third season.
Before Tuesday, it was suspected that Desperate Housewives might be on the move. But it was Grey's Anatomy, the lower-rated show with the bigger buzz, that got the call.
"We feel that it's a show that deserves a 9 o'clock time period," McPherson told reporters. "[It's] a fantastic time for it...[and] there's plenty of room for both."
By both, McPherson meant Grey's Anatomy and CSI. The former is TV's third-most watched scripted series, averaging 19.9 million viewers; the latter is TV's most-watched scripted series, averaging 25.2 million viewers. (Desperate Housewives is the second most popular scripted show, with 22.1 million viewers.)
By relocating Grey's Anatomy to Thursday, ABC will try to establish a beachhead on what is traditionally TV's most-watched night, and what is traditionally one of its least-watched nights. Dating back to the 1980s, Thursday has been owned by either NBC or CBS. ABC, meanwhile, hasn't had a steady performer at 9 p.m. since Abe Vigoda was on the network payroll.
Since cop comedy Barney Miller went off the air in 1982, ABC has detonated bomb (The Night Stalker) after bomb (Push, Nevada) after bomb (Wasteland) in the slot. Even Dynasty was sent there to die.
Given that Dr. McDreamy and residents are in much better shape than the winded Carrington crew was in the late 1980s, it seems plausible that Grey's Anatomy fans have nothing to worry about, and that Matthew Perry fans do. As of Monday, Perry's new NBC show, Studio City on the Sunset Strip, was slated to run opposite CSI. Now, it's slated to run opposite CSI and Grey's Anatomy.
In Grey's Anatomy place at 10 p.m., Sunday, ABC will slide in Brothers & Sisters, a new hourlong drama about, well, brothers and sisters, the far-flung, grown-up kind. Flockhart stars; Six Feet Under's Rachel Griffiths plays one of her siblings.
In addition to the pressure of being selected for a prime-time slot, Brothers & Sisters, along with its fellow ABC Sunday shows, will have to contend with the expected pass rush from Sunday night football action on NBC.
Bereft of Monday Night Football for the first time since before the 1970 NFL season, ABC will feed its pigskin fix with college football, and, in the process, try to brighten TV's Saturday night black hole with prime-time NCAA games.
A brief look at the other new series:
* Men in Trees (fall): An hourlong romantic drama about a relationship expert who, due to a snowstorm, becomes "stuck in a small town full of the one thing she really doesn't need--available men." Starring Anne Heche.
* The Nine (fall): Lost with hostages. This hourlong drama looks at a botched bank robbery and its impact on nine under-the-gun people, including Party of Five's Scott Wolf.
* Six Degrees (fall): Lost/Alias creator J.J. Abrams offers this hourlong drama about six New Yorkers who don't know each other...or do they? Erika Christensen and indie film vets Campbell Scott and Hope Davis star.
* Betty the Ugly (fall): Presumably to fill the void left by the canceled Less Than Perfect, executive producer Salma Hayek delivers this hourlong comedy about a "slightly plump plain-Jane from Queens" who lands a job at a Manhattan fashion magazine.
* Big Day (fall): 24 meets Father of the Bride--it says so right there in the network press release. Every episode of this half-hour comedy will revolve around the events leading up to the wedding of The Practice's Marla Sokoloff and one of the Four Kings.
* Help Me Help You (fall): Looking to recapture that Becker magic, Ted Danson stars in this half-hour sitcom as a group-therapy leader who, in a wholly unexpected twist, is "probably the craziest and most self-obsessed of all."
* Let's Rob... (fall): Mick Jagger "had a tremendous sense of humor," McPherson said, about this half-hour comedy which tells the story of inept crooks who try to burgle the Rolling Stone's posh Manhattan pad. Jagger will cameo, but won't be a series regular, the network said.
* Notes from the Underbelly (fall): A half-hour comedy about a couple expecting their first child.
* Traveler (midseason): When two grad-school grads lose their buddy and get tagged as suspects in a terrorist bombing, "the boys [become] pawns in a conspiracy that will take years to unravel," an optimistic ABC of this hourlong drama.
* In Case of Emergency (midseason): David Arquette and Jonathan Silverman are part of a high-school clique that reunite, and learn that, after all, "they've got each other in case of emergency." Hugs will be dispensed in half-hour comedy installments.
* Set for the Rest of Your Life (midseason): A "high-tension game show" about amortizations or something. A concept that needs no explanation: The "sound-proof isolation booth."
And here's a night-by-night look at NBC's fall lineup:
SUNDAY: America's Funniest Home Videos; Extreme Makeover: Home Edition; Desperate Housewives; Brothers & Sisters
MONDAY: Wife Swap; The Bachelor (fall)/Supernanny (midseason); What About Brian
TUESDAY: Dancing with the Stars (fall)/Set for the Rest of Your Life (midseason); Let's Rob...; Help Me Help You; Boston Legal
WEDNESDAY: Dancing with the Stars (fall)/George Lopez and According to Jim (midseason); Lost (fall)/Day Break (midseason); The Nine
THURSDAY: Big Day; Notes from the Underbelly; Grey's Anatomy; Six Degrees
FRIDAY: Betty the Ugly; Men in Trees; 20/20
SATURDAY: ABC Saturday Night College Football
Other ABC shows renewed, but not currently on the 2006-07 schedule: modest reality hit American Inventor; and, struggling newsmagazine Primetime Live.