If “Heroes” was the surprise hit of the 2006-07 television season, “Men in Trees” might be the surprise survivor.
Cast into the Friday primetime wilderness, the hourlong “Trees” faced extinction before its pilot even aired after ABC officials moved its hot lead-in, “Ugly Betty,” to Thursdays.
But like its heroine, Marin Frist (Anne Heche), “Trees” proved too plucky not to thrive.
“You know, I was a big fan of our Friday timeslot,” says showrunner Jenny Bicks, “because I believed there was kind of a captive audience to be had that was waiting to watch something on Friday night.”
“Trees” showed initial strength by building upon its new lead-in: “Grey’s Anatomy” reruns. As the season progressed and more-ballyhooed ABC projects collapsed, ABC decided to move “Trees” behind the real deal — the powerhouse firstrun episodes of “Grey’s.”
“I went into this knowing it all becomes about retention,” Bicks recalls. “It became more about numbers than the creative. To ABC’s huge, vast credit, they were less inclined to make a snap judgment about the numbers and more liked what we did creatively with the show.”
What Bicks and her crew did creatively was craft an amiable petri dish for examining life and love in the unlikely spot of Elmo, Alaska, led by Heche’s chatty, self-examining relationship coach.
“(Marin) is such a seeker,” Bicks says. “She’s been through a lot in her life that she’s very open about. She has such a desire to make herself the finest person she can be. And that’s what the series is about … to use a ’90s term, self-actualizing herself — and that’s what she brings in spades.”
Marin quickly found a love interest, but rather than lock the show into a season’s worth of will-they-or-won’t-they tension between her and Jack (James Tupper), Bicks brought in new paramours and expanded the cast to feed other relationships.
“It has created for me a huge embarrassment of riches,” Bicks says.
In the end, once ABC felt assured they had a good thing going in “Trees,” the network decided to move the show back to Fridays, making it the key to re-launching the night. Pulled off the air five episodes before the 2006-07 season ended, “Trees” will enter 2007-08 with 27 episodes to show — plenty to survive upon in the wild.
Funniest episode: According to Bicks, it’s “The Indecent Proposal,” the season finale. “A surprise intervention and some vintage Mai (Lauren Tom),” she explains.
Funniest character: “They’re all funny, in their own way, but Mai and Celia (Cynthia Stevenson) deliver some of my best comedy,” Bicks says.
Funniest line: ” ‘Call me from rehab,’ ” Jane says to Annie’s drunk brother when she realizes he won’t seek help unless she leads him into thinking they’ll eventually hook up.