You ain’t see nothin’ yet on TV!

Biz faces a year of living dangerously

Between disappearing demos, fall shows that “suck” — thanks, Jeff! — and something as seemingly untelevisible as poker upping the ante on a number of channels, there’s never been a more tumultuous time in TV history.

So what are the wildcards for 2004? Here are our predictions:

“Joey” won’t be the complete commercial and creative disaster most industry insiders and TV critics are expecting …

The scribes who helped lead “Friends” through its dream season in 2001 are set to serve as showrunners for the sequel. Scott Silveri and Shana Goldberg-Meehan know their lead character as well as any writers can.

One caveat: There’s a chance that all of the hype surrounding May’s “Friends” finale could result in a backlash against the whole show, leaving auds ready to move on.

… but it won’t be enough to stop CBS from emerging as the new king of Thursday nights.

Eye has already made a habit of beating the Peacock in total viewers. But with “Friends” gone and “Will & Grace” fading, NBC will be vulnerable among adults 18-49. CBS’ “Survivor” and “CSI” show no signs of slowing and its “Without a Trace” has impressed in its sophomore season.

All of this could put an end to the Must-See TV era.

Get ready for a fair and balanced spinoff.

Fox News chair-CEO Roger Ailes and parent News Corp. are pondering a spin-off cable news net, possibly one focusing on finance. Such a net could make life complicated for the Peacock-owned CNBC, which is revamping its underperforming primetime line-up.

The sitcom will rise from the dead.

The success of Fox’s “The Simple Life” shows that the audience is there for half-hour laffers.

NBC’s Jeff Zucker may have a point when he says the next “Friends” won’t “come along until ‘Friends’ is gone.” After all, “Seinfeld” didn’t come into its own until “Cheers” ankled, and “Will & Grace” exploded after “Seinfeld.”

Nets have realized that patience pays off when it comes to comedy. ABC’s sitcoms aren’t smashes, but they’re mostly winning their timeslots — something few would have predicted a year ago. A year from now, the Bluths of Fox’s “Arrested Development” may be as recognizable as Paris and Nicole.

Advertiser involvement in primetime programming will make more creative types nervous in 2004.

There’s pressure on Madison Avenue and in every sector of the TV biz to nurture alternative business models as audiences tune out ad-supported TV and start watching with ad-zapping personal video recorders in hand. Expect more production deals in the vein of the ABC-MindShare pact and attempts to produce sponsor-friendly but ad-free fare like the WB’s attempted summer series “Live from Tomorrow.”

Fox will find a solution to its Thursday woes with reality sudser “Forever Eden.”

The unscripted skein is designed to be the first reality show with no apparent endgame, and if Fox sticks to its guns, the net could be on to something.

The success of “Big Brother” and Fox’s own “Paradise Hotel” proves viewers want to get invested in characters and not just silly competitions. Assuming the show’s cast well, Fox doesn’t need a big audience to financially justify a never-ending drama on a night where it has nothing to lose.

The news biz will bid farewell to heavyweights — opening the door to competitors.

Longtime “60 Minutes” exec producer/creator Don Hewitt will retire this spring, turning over the gig to “60 Minutes II” exec producer Jeff Fager. Competing newsmags see Hewitt’s retirement as a chance to gain ground and raises the question of whether CBS needs a second edition of “60 Minutes.”

News Corp.’s acquisition of DirecTV will have immediate impact.

Besides a Fox News Channel spinoff, other new Fox-branded channels — such as a reality outlet — appear likely. News Corp. will make a splash when it officially relaunches DirecTV, perhaps making consumers an offer too good to refuse.

Local people meters in the top three markets may change the way sweeps is handled.

Los Angeles is set to adopt a new local people meter system in early 2004, followed by New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

With people meters — which have been used for national network numbers since 1987 — Nielsen will be able to publish full demo data for all of the stations in a given market within 24 hours. Now, passive meters allow only a raw household rating 24 hours later. That will make sweeps technically obsolete in those top markets.

On a national level, however, with most markets still reliant on passive meters and diaries, the curse of sweeps-related stunting isn’t over yet.

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