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‘Jericho’ takes a break

CBS drama to return in mid-February

CBS’ “Jericho” will take a 10-week winter hibernation.

Rather than air repeats of the post-apocalyptic drama, CBS plans to split “Jericho’s” frosh season into two, putting the show on hiatus after its Nov. 29 episode.

Drama then will return in mid-February and air originals straight through the rest of the season. Strategy mirrors ABC’s split-season plan for “Lost,” as well as how Fox slates “Prison Break” (and the two-cycle pattern for some reality shows).

“We decided the show was best served and viewers best served by taking it off for a little while, rather than keeping it on with repeats,” CBS senior exec VP Kelly Kahl said.

Kahl admitted the strategy posed some risk: “There’s a bit of a gamble. We’re betting on the fact that people will come back — but we’re confident they will. We’ll relaunch it like a new show.”

CBS will take advantage of the Super Bowl and the Grammy Awards to provide a promo push for the return of “Jericho.”

“Jericho” launches the second half of its season Feb. 14 with a recap seg; original “Jericho” segs then begin Feb. 21 with an episode that looks at the town leading up to the nuclear bomb explosion.

Eye will promote the Nov. 29 episode of “Jericho” as a “fall season” cliffhanger finale. After that, CBS will replace “Jericho” with back-to-back segs of “The King of Queens,” which returns Dec. 6.

The Eye also will air two segs of “Queens” on Dec. 13, followed by single half-hours of the laffer Dec. 20 and Dec. 27 (with a pairing to be announced later). “Queens” then will go on hiatus as well, with seven episodes still to be slotted in 2007.

That means the Eye will stunt with specials or a reality entry in the Wednesday 8 p.m. slot for the month of January, until “Jericho” is back.

To keep fans interested during the 10-week breather, CBS is developing an online “Jericho” destination that will include original content and interactive elements. Net also is streaming segs of “Jericho” on its Innertube broadband channel. CBS also hasn’t ruled out doing some “Jericho” stunting during the holidays, perhaps running a Saturday night marathon.

“Jericho” has averaged a 3.4 rating/10 share among adults 18-49 and 11.1 million viewers overall, boosting the Wednesday 8 p.m. time period by more than 40% in key demos.

CBS Paramount Network TV skein, from executive producers Jon Turteltaub, Stephen Chbosky and Carol Barbee, revolves around a small Kansas town that finds itself shut off from the rest of the world after nuclear explosions.

As for “King of Queens,” CBS had ordered 13 episodes this year of the long-running Kevin James comedy, which is entering its ninth season.

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