Makeovers, surgery dominate

Basic cable

WHAT WORKED: The Fab Five made over New York area’s helpless heteros and in doing so made Bravo the story of 2003. “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” nabbed front-page stories and magazine covers for the cabler previously known only for the James Lipton-hosted thesp fest “Inside the Actors Studio.”

Primetime sudsers were also in demand with FX’s plastic surgery drama “Nip/Tuck” scoring above-average 18-49 auds and MTV’s real-life marital soap “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica” being quoted in entertainment copy everywhere.

Long-standing home-makeover champ “Trading Spaces” continued to dominate Saturday nights and, two-hour spec “100 Grand” chalked up more than 9.1 million viewers for the Learning Channel.

Also, ESPN’s first scripted series, “Playmakers,” was a hit with fans but may not be back for a second season because of a dispute with the NFL.

Over at USA, “Monk” maintained its position as a legitimate contender to broadcast skeins as star Tony Shalhoub won the lead actor Emmy in a comedy.

Comedy Central ordered another batch of “Cops” spoof “Reno 911.” Sci Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Gallactica” ranked as the highest-rated mini on basic cable. And VH1 hit chords in its target demos with nostalgic list shows “I Love the ’70s” and both servings of “I Love the ’80s.”

WHAT DIDN’T: Viewers slept through frosh latenight talkers “The New Tom Green Show” on MTV and “The Orlando Jones Show” on FX.

Follow-the-celebrity skeins didn’t produce rocket ratings either. Comedy Central canned “I’m With Busey” and Game Show Network’s “Chuck Woolery: Naturally Stoned” didn’t make for entertainment highs.

Primetime adult animation hit a rut despite the celebrity factor. Robert Evans’ “Kid Notorious” lost about two-thirds of its premiere audience and Kelsey Grammer’s “Gary the Rat” never got out of the hole.

And despite a stellar debut, USA’s Old West forensics show, “Peacemakers,” didn’t wrangle an order for more episodes.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Cable is big on headline-making event programming for 2004. Promotable limited series and minis such as TNT’s six-part “The Grid” and Sci Fi’s “5 Days to Midnight” are being slated across most cable nets.

With the marketing expenses of 13-episode series proving too costly a risk for most channels, cablers are looking to hook-anchored multipart series to drive audiences.

The American version of the miniseries “Traffic” will bow on USA this month. General entertainment cabler also plans to sell its summer slate off the heat of “The 4400,” a series centered on the return of 4,400 alien abductees to Earth. Six-episode order may turn into more should the series take off.

There’s also more reality about everyday folk and less about camera-conscious celebs. Discovery Channel will launch the succeeding editions of the “American” series, about family-run businesses, with “American Casino,” “American Beauty Shop” and American Hot Rod.”

A&E will bow “Departed,” a real-life “Six Feet Under” following the day-to-day business operations of a mortuary. E! will explore even more facets of celebritydom with the plastic surgery skein “Face Value,” trailing a Beverly Hills-based doctor, and the straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth series “In Their Own Words: Celebrity Autobiographies,” in which a troupe of actors read and perform from actual star memoirs.

And TLC will send bigwigs back to the mailroom in “Now Who’s Boss,” a show that makes execs take on entry-level jobs at the companies they own.

Despite the dismal perfs of “Notorious” and “Rat,” cablers have ordered up more adult animation in hopes of unearthing the next “South Park.”

Spike TV is fast-tracking “This Just In,” a topical guy-centered toon, and will likely greenlight a second season of “Stripperella.” Comedy Central is housing the first animated reality skein “Drawn Together,” a melding of “Big Brother” and “Real World” using classic toon types. Producing celebs continue to line up as well, including John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.

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