Big 6 usher in return of preem week

Sept. 23 to begin spotlight on most nets' new lineup

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the networks will roll out their fall schedules in a more traditional manner this September.

Other than a few stunts — particularly at ABC, which needs the biggest boost — and Fox’s need to debut around the baseball playoffs, the nets will bow most of their lineups during “premiere week,” which kicks off Sept. 23.

That’s a reversal from much of the late 1990s, when the webs spaced their premieres out a little bit more in order to avoid the noise of throwing out their schedules all at once.

The nets never had it worse than fall 2000, when a late Summer Olympics and tense presidential election campaign all but drowned out that season’s launch.

A return to the concept of “premiere week” — when most of the webs’ new shows hit the airwaves during a seven-day span — was actually in the works last year until the Sept. 11 attacks threw the early fall season in disarray.

“By and large the audience knows when new shows are premiering,” said CBS exec VP of program planning and scheduling Kelly Kahl. “It’s easier for all of us to promote a single week than five to nine new shows.”

Even the weblets are getting into the premiere week biz this year. The WB and UPN have generally stayed away from the week, opting to bow their shows as early as August or as late as October.

UPN will instead preem every night except Wednesday this premiere week, while the WB will return some of its skeins, including “Gilmore Girls,” “Smallville” and “Charmed,” during the week as well. Other entries, such as WB frosh drama “Everwood,” will come just a week early.

Kahl, who now also oversees UPN scheduling, said the move will allow the netlet to air more original episodes later. Early premieres, after all, stretch the show thin by spring, he said.

“Premiering early in the past was good for getting early notice, but it has come at a cost later in the season,” Kahl said.

Early bows at ABC

As for ABC, the net hopes to protect the launch of new skeins “8 Simple Rules,” “Life With Bonnie” and “Push, Nevada” by giving all three entries early and stunted bows.

“In a perfect world, everything would premiere in premiere week,” said ABC sked guru Jeff Bader. “But we’re trying to do a few things for shows that are going into difficult time periods to give them a slightly better chance.”

“Push, Nevada,” in particular, due to its tough regular slot opposite “CSI” and “Will & Grace,” will get multiple exposure in the season’s early weeks.

“8 Simple Rules” bows Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m. (its normal slot), followed by the launch of “Life With Bonnie” at 8:30 p.m. (half an hour earlier than normal) and a special premiere of “Push” at 9 p.m.

That following Tuesday, during premiere week, “Bonnie” stays in that temporary 8:30 p.m. slot, keeping it away from the premiere of “Frasier.” “Bonnie” moves to 9 p.m. on Oct. 1, when “Less Than Perfect” premieres at 9:30 p.m. and “According to Jim” returns at 8:30 p.m.

‘Dinotopia’ delay

“Push,” meanwhile, repeats its premiere seg that Thursday, Sept. 19, at 8 p.m., followed by episode two in its normal slot at 9 p.m. ABC will continue with that formula — repeat at 8 p.m., original at 9 p.m. — through Oct. 3, until “Dinotopia” premieres on Oct. 10 at 8 p.m.

“Dinotopia” won’t be available until then due to production issues, Bader said. Also, as previously announced, “Monday Night Football,” “Drew Carey” and “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” are back Sept. 9.

As for Wednesday, most of the sked (save “George Lopez”) bows on Sept. 25; “Lopez” is back the next week. ABC’s Friday (including new drama “That Was Then”), Saturday and Sunday skeds are back on premiere week.

“People used to get excited for premiere week,” Bader said. “It could be good for everyone to get excited again.”

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