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Networks Aim for the Familiar in New Batch of Shows

Just as what people eat can be divided into basic food groups, so, too, can television programming. Among the staples of the schedule are shows about police officers, lawyers, doctors and spies, along with series about friends, couples and friendly couples.

"Blue Bloods" is a new police drama planned for CBS.
Source: Heather Wines/CBS
"Blue Bloods" is a new police drama planned for CBS.

As Madison Avenue agencies look over the menus, er, lineups for the new season, which the big networks showcased last week during the upfront presentations, they see a steady diet of series in mainstream genres offered for 2010-11.

“Right now, they’re all blending together, like when different flavors of ice cream melt,” said Shari Anne Brill, a longtime media industry analyst. “Maybe once I see the pilots I’ll be able to distinguish them.”

But familiarity may just be the right approach, executives say, because during a time of economic uncertainty consumers and advertisers seem to crave the entertainment equivalent of comfort food.

“It kind of feels we’re back to 1998 again,” said Bill Koenigsberg, president and chief executive at Horizon Media in New York. “Are we going to be overcopped and overlawyered?”

Among the new crime and police series are “Detroit 1-8-7” on ABC, part of the Walt Disney Company ; “Blue Bloods” and “Hawaii Five-O” on CBS, a unit of the CBS Corporation ; “The Good Guys” and “Ride-Along” on Fox Broadcasting, owned by the News Corporation ; and “The Cape,” “Chase” and “Law & Order: Los Angeles” on NBC, part of the NBC Universal division of General Electric .

The new legal eagles will include “The Whole Truth” on ABC, “The Defenders” on CBS, and “Harry’s Law” and “Outlaw” on NBC. The actors who are not doctors but will play them on TV will appear on new series like “Body of Proof” and “Off the Map” on ABC.

Among the new shows about spies and espionage are “Nikita” on CW, owned by CBS and Time Warner; and “The Event” and “Undercovers” on NBC. And the list of new comedies centered on relationships includes “Better Together” and “Happy Endings” on ABC; “Mike & Molly” on CBS; “Mixed Signals” and “Running Wilde” on Fox; and “Friends With Benefits,” “Love Bites” and “Perfect Couples” on NBC.

“Programming tends to run in cycles,” said Steve Sternberg, a media analyst who writes a blog, The Sternberg Report.

“The networks and studios see the success of ‘The Good Wife’ on CBS, which is kind of a lawyer show, and ‘Castle’ on ABC, which is kind of a cop show, and they say, ‘Let’s go back to cops and lawyers,’ ” he wrote in an e-mail message, referring to two current series that will return next season.

On some nights, Mr. Sternberg said, shows in the same or similar veins are scheduled to duel for attention. He pointed to 10 p.m. on Monday, when “Castle,” “Chase” and “Hawaii Five-O” will compete, and 10 p.m. on Wednesday, when “The Defenders,” “The Whole Truth” and “Law & Order: L.A.” will face off.

The most competitive time slot of the new season, Mr. Sternberg predicted, would be 8 to 9 p.m. on Thursday. The battle is being ratcheted up substantially because CBS is moving “The Big Bang Theory” — the highest-rated sitcom among adults ages 18 to 49, which is the audience advertisers consider the most desirable — to 8 p.m. on Thursday from 9:30 p.m. on Monday.

“Big Bang” will be teamed up with a new sitcom featuring the TV mainstay William Shatner, “$#*! My Dad Says.” It is the first time CBS will offer sitcoms in that hour since 1965-66, said Marc Berman, television analyst for the trade publication Mediaweek, when “Gilligan’s Island” was followed by “My Three Sons.”

The two CBS comedies will confront a new series on ABC, “My Generation,” about friends who reunite a decade after high school, and returning shows: “The Vampire Diaries” on CW, “Bones” on Fox and a pair of sitcoms, “Community” and “30 Rock,” on NBC.

“CBS is making a big move,” said Maureen Bosetti, executive vice president and national broadcast director at Optimedia U.S. in New York, part of the ZenithOptimedia unit of the Publicis Groupe.

“Thursday is always competitive,” she added, because the networks tend to present prominent shows that night to woo advertisers like movie studios, retailers and automakers seeking to reach consumers who are planning their weekend.

"Hawaii 5-0" remake coming soon to CBS.
Source: Mario Perez/CBS
"Hawaii 5-0" remake coming soon to CBS.

“There was a lot of strong content” in the upfront presentations, Ms. Bosetti said, on nights like Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as Thursday. She described herself as “encouraged” about Friday—when newcomers like “Blue Bloods,” “Body of Proof” and “Outlaw” are scheduled—because there had been fears the networks would cut back on original programs that night in response to a recent decline in Friday ratings.

Peter Gardiner, partner and chief media officer at Deutsch in New York, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, said that “resurgence in investing behind programming” is significant.

“It shows confidence from the networks, which realize that great shows are watched by lots of people,” he added.

“NBC set the tone” last Monday, the first day of upfront week, Mr. Gardiner said, by introducing a slate of series produced by “every big name in the business,” including J. J. Abrams, with “Undercovers”; Jerry Bruckheimer, with “Chase”; and David E. Kelley, with “Harry’s Law.”

“It was 180 degrees from last year,” he added, when NBC replaced all its 10 p.m. programs Monday through Friday with “The Jay Leno Show.”

Like Ms. Brill, the other executives said they preferred to watch initial episodes of the new series before passing judgment on which might be hits or flops.

“I wish I had a crystal ball,” Mr. Koenigsberg said. That said, he added that the CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly,” at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, “looks like a breakout hit” because it is from Chuck Lorre, the creator of “Big Bang” and “Two and a Half Men,” which it will follow on the schedule.

Ms. Bosetti said she looked forward to some “high-action” shows with “movie quality,” like “The Event,” at 9 p.m. Monday on NBC, and “Nikita,” at 9 p.m. Thursday on CW. Ms. Brill echoed her mention of “Nikita,” adding, “I like to see things explode.”

Several executives said it was an ominous sign for “The Good Guys,” which Fox has scheduled for 9 p.m. on Friday, that the first episode in its spring and summer run finished fourth in its time period in its debut on Wednesday.