Midseason: a time for edgier fare

Last season, Fox got off to an exceedingly rocky start but righted itself significantly with two midseason successes: “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Titus.” The last several years, in fact, have seen the launch of a number of such midyear hits across TV land: from comedy “Dawson’s Creek” to drama “Providence.”

“For me, it’s not as much a strategic issue of when to premiere something as when to push on with a show that’s ready,” says NBC prexy Garth Ancier about planning what shows should go midseason. “I think a good show can succeed almost anytime.”

There are multiple reasons why a show might need some extra time, from casting or other creative changes to logistics concerning star schedules to technical issues to a show that simply developed late. This year, all these considerations are coming into play, with the added bonus of a potential strike in 2001.

There are a particularly high number of star vehicles in the works for midseason this year:

  • NBC has stage actress Kristin Chenoweth’s comedy on which she plays an Oklahoma girl who goes to work for a real estate tycoon.

  • ABC has “The Joan Cusack Show,” from James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films, and Denis Leary teaming with Peter Tolan (“The Larry Sanders Show”) for a dark-edged comedy about a cynical cop he Alphabet web also has Damon Wayans’ planned return to network TV with “My Wife and Kids,” in which he plays a man whose family is a lot more modern than he is.

  • CBS is setting up Ellen DeGeneres’ return, in a secretive project, and “Kiss Me Guido,” a Justin Bateman-Danny Nucci starrer based on a gay-themed feature film.

    There are also some star producers with shows looking for a primetime date:

  • Chris Carter is busy working on “The X-Files,” so his spinoff “The Lone Gunmen” was always planned for midseason.

  • NBC has the Steven Spielberg-produced “Semper Fi,” which will follow a group of young Marines, and “Go Fish,” a single-camera comedy from “American Pie” writer Adam Herz told from the point of view of suburban high schooler Kieran Culkin.

    The Peacock also has ensemble comedy “Three Sisters,” from vet producers Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline.

  • Over at UPN, there’s the curious pairing of Aaron Spelling and “Twin Peaks” collaborator Mark Frost for “All Souls,” a show about a haunted hospital.

  • And at the WB, “High Fidelity” writers Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis are working on another ghost show, “Dead Last,” about a rock band that communicates with the dead.

There’s more to appeal to fans of the supernatural at UPN, who have “Special Unit 2,” about a secret high-tech police division dealing with an evil half-human species. Plus, NBC has “News From the Edge,” about a journalist who goes to work for a tabloid and discovers all the alien stories are true.

In addition to unearthly subject matter, there are some stylistically offbeat projects that will await an on-air chance.

“Shows that are a little different have a better shot when they’re not put on in the middle of the fall launches,” says Ancier, “although it’s often a tough call. There’s not a pure form of show where you can say that.”

Fox prexy Gail Berman agrees, noting, “You do want distinctiveness (in) midseason, something that will stand out.”

Fox has the very offbeat comic book-based live-action show “The Tick,” starring “Seinfeld’s” Patrick Warburton and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.

There’s also “Grounded for Life,” a family show with what Berman calls “a unique take on family life, something we like to do here at Fox.” The show, from Carsey-Werner and producers Bill Martin and Mike Schiff, is about what happens when young people have kids before they’ve grown up. It was originally shot as a single-camera show but is being re-worked to be multiformat.

The Frog net has an animated project, “The Oblongs,” a show inspired by the work of underground cartoonist Angus Oblong that focusing on a family of mildly mutated misfits living in a toxic valley, and UPN has “Gary & Mike,” a stop-motion animated show about two friends on an endlessly problematic road trip.

And, speaking of offbeat, NBC has “Dog Days,” which will take advantage of new technologies and tell the story of a dog, voiced by Andy Richter, who breaks the canine code of silence and speaks to his female master. David Alan Grier voices a high-strung Chihuahua. According to Ancier, “If you looked up high concept in the dictionary, you’d see ‘Dog Days.’”

Sketch shows look to make a comeback midseason, with Steve Martin and Joan Stein producing an as yet untitled recently announced show for NBC. At UPN, a half-hour sketch comedy series “Out of Bounds” is planned.

But the story of midseason may well be the story of summer, with almost every network getting ready with reality shows. Part of this has to do with the phenomenal success of “Survivor,” which CBS will bring back in January in an Australian-set version, and part of it involves the nets’ need for flexibility should the expected strikes here materialize.

Ancier is negotiating for rights to an unnamed gameshow, and NBC has just announced two reality shows that could be ready by midseason if needed: “Chains of Love,” a hit in Holland on which contestant selects four potential dates who then get handcuffed together, and “Sweet Revenge,” on which someone gets to use a hidden camera crew to seek justice for a slight.

Under Berman’s tenure, Fox has added two reality shows to its plans: “Love Cruise,” which will launch Jan. 4 and will follow a group of 18 singles as they sail through the Antilles engaging in a series of romantic challenges, and most recently, Berman has sent “The Blair Witch Project” producers at Haxan Films to work on a new version of “In Search of… .”

The WB is borrowing a format that’s been hugely successful in New Zealand and Australia with “Popstars,” which follows the creation of an all-girl band.

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