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Stunts to fuel TV preem machine

Nets return to standard sked for this year's skein bows

Network premiere week is back.

A year after everything seemed to conspire against the webs’ fall launches — a later-than-usual Summer Olympics, a tight presidential campaign and the usual round of baseball playoff disruptions on NBC and Fox — the networks are mostly sticking to a standard rollout strategy in 2001.

“It’s like the swallows coming back to Capistrano,” said Preston Beckman, Fox exec VP of strategic program planning, whose net will spread its premieres due to baseball. “People still know that by mid-September the networks are coming out of repeats. (Premiere week) only went away because of the Olympics.”

NBC, in particular, heads into fall without any baseball playoff or World Series distractions for the first time in recent memory now that Fox carries the full Major League Baseball package. As a result, the Peacock will premiere virtually all of its new and returning shows during “premiere week” (the first week of the new fall season as decided by Nielsen Media Research) — something it hasn’t done in years.

The Peacock also has a trick up its sleeve: NBC brass is in talks with the White House to produce a one-hour news special tentatively titled “The Bush White House.” The special would air Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m., right before the nation’s fictional president, Martin Sheen, returns for the third season of “The West Wing.”

They’re also stunting at the Alphabet web. ABC will employ a two-prong strategy this fall: Established series will return the first week of the season, while most new skeins will debut during week two.

In order to delay its series premieres, ABC will kick the season off with one-hour special editions of “Dharma & Greg,” “Spin City,” “The Drew Carey Show” and “My Wife and Kids,” as well as a two-hour “The Practice” movie.

“The premieres for returning shows will serve as a promo base for our new shows,” said ABC Entertainment exec VP Jeff Bader. “On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, from 8-10 p.m., we’re trying to come up with a comedy audience to see the promos for the comedies that premiere the following week.”

The strategy also keeps ABC’s new shows away from the high-profile returns of series such as “The West Wing” and “Frasier.”

NBC, ABC and the WB officially announced their rollout plans Wednesday (CBS, Fox and UPN had previously unveiled their premiere dates). Here’s a network-by-network glimpse:

NBC

The net’s Monday night lineup, including “Weakest Link,” “Third Watch” and frosh drama “Crossing Jordan,” premieres Sept. 17. Tuesday, Sept. 18, entries include frosh sitcom “Emeril,” returning laffer “Three Sisters,” an hour-long “Frasier” and “Dateline NBC” premiere. New comedy “Scrubs” premieres the following Tuesday, Sept. 25.

On Wednesday, Sept. 19, either “The Bush White House” or reality gamer “Lost” (which premieres Sept. 5) kicks off the night. “The West Wing” and “Law & Order” follow with their season premieres. As previously announced, “Ed” takes over for “Lost” on Oct. 17.

Thursday, the premieres of “Friends,” “Will & Grace,” “Just Shoot Me” and “ER,” as well as newcomer “Inside Schwartz” are intact Sept. 20. Friday entries “Providence,” “Dateline” and “Law & Order: SVU” follow on Sept. 21, then the Saturday movie returns with “Back to the Future” on Sept. 22.

Sunday kicks off Sept. 23 with “Dateline,” “Weakest Link” and a “50 Years of NBC Late Night” special. Freshman dramas “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “UC: Undercover” show up the following Sunday, Sept. 30.

ABC

ABC’s sked launches Sept. 5 with “20/20’s” move to Wednesdays at 10 p.m. The following night, Thursday, Sept. 6, sees the return of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and “Primetime Thursday.”

“Monday Night Football” premieres Sept. 10 as the New York Giants take on the Denver Broncos. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” bows at 8 p.m. the following Monday, Sept. 17, to kick off premiere week. (“Millionaire” also returns that Thursday, Sept. 20.)

Tuesday, Sept. 18, has the hour-long season premieres of “Dharma,” “Spin” and the series debut of “Philly.” The night’s other comedies — “What About Joan” and newcomer “Bob Patterson” — show up the following week, Sept. 25.

Then on Wednesday, Sept. 19, “My Wife and Kids” returns, followed by a special “Drew Carey’s Back-to-School Rock ‘n’ Roll Comedy Hour.” Frosh laffer “According to Jim” and soph sitcom “The Job” clock in the next Wednesday, Sept. 26.

“The Mole II: The Next Betrayal,” the series premiere of “Thieves” and the time-period premiere of “Once and Again” follow on Friday, Sept. 21.

Then there’s Sunday: “The Wonderful World of Disney” kicks off Sept. 23 with the theatrical “A Bug’s Life,” followed by the two-hour “Practice.” New drama “Alias” has its commercial-free premiere on Sept. 30.

WB

The Frog weblet gets a jump on Fridays by premiering its all-comedy lineup — including “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and newcomers “Maybe It’s Me,” “Reba” and “Raising Dad” — on Sept. 14.

Monday dramas “7th Heaven” and “Angel” return Sept. 24. Thursdays bow Sept. 27 with a two-hour “Charmed,” while the night’s “Popstars 2” debuts Oct. 4 with its own one-hour special. “Elimidate Deluxe” rounds out the night on Oct. 11.

New Sunday reality gamer “Lost in the USA” starts on Sept. 30, while the rest of the night’s entries (returning laffers “Steve Harvey” and “Nikki,” as well as newbies “Men, Women and Dogs” and “Off Centre”) debut Oct. 7.

Wednesday dramas “Dawson’s Creek” and “Felicity” are back on Oct. 3, while “Gilmore Girls” returns on its new night, Tuesday, with a two-hour premiere on Oct. 9.

The net is saving its heaviest ammo for last: Newcomer “Smallville” debuts Tuesday, Oct. 16. Show will go up against former WB stalwart “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” which has its UPN debut on Oct. 2.

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