Wednesday getting dramatic

Big comedy season ahead, but drama rules midweek

This may indeed emerge as the season comedy began its comeback — for the first time in years, there are as many watchable new half-hours as hours on the broadcast lineups — but Wednesday is pretty much all about drama.

Six of the whopping eight new programs on the night are dramas (including three on ABC alone), while there also figures to be plenty of drama surrounding Wednesday’s other new hour, controversial CBS reality entry “Kid Nation.”

The lone Wednesday comedy newbie, Fox’s “Back to You,” is a promising multi-camera entry with Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as bickering anchors of a local newscast. But is it on the wrong network?

As it has been in recent years, Wednesdays this fall will see more turnover than any other night — primarily because every net is looking to establish a foothold before Fox’s “American Idol” makes life miserable for its rivals come January.

And opening things up even more is the absence of “Lost,” a fall fixture for ABC the past three years that won’t kick off its fourth season until February.

But there are numerous questions to be answered prior to the return of “Idol” and “Lost.”

Is NBC headed for disaster with a totally revamped night of shows in which Howie Mandel is the biggest name on the marquee? Will CBS be able to transition viewers from its 8 o’clock show about kids to its 9 o’clock show about serial killers? And will the third time be the charm for the trifecta of Tim Daly, ABC and Wednesday night?

The veteran actor is part of the ensemble cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice” — after the heralded “Eyes” and “The Nine” flopped the previous two years, both on ABC and both on Wednesday.

In the first of a series on the nightly battles this fall, here’s a look at Wednesday:

8-9 p.m.

No new series this fall has garnered more early critical acclaim than “Pushing Daisies,” a forensic fairly tale that looks like nothing else on television. In a perfect world for ABC, this would become the procedural hit it’s been seeking while also generating the kind of buzz that also accompanies its biggest hits.

Its long-term viability, though, hinges on whether viewers buy into the romance and crime-solving aspects of the show. Oh, and whether, auds tire of the cloying narrator.

It’s a fairly wide open hour, and ABC should be able to kick off the night as the hour’s winner in adults 18-49 and most key female demos.

Strongest competish for “Daisies” figures to come in the opening half-hour from Fox’s “Back to You,” the kind of traditional laffer that would really percolate in CBS’ Monday lineup, but is asked to pull off yeoman’s duty here for Fox. “Til Death,” while not a great show, is a good choice for the 8:30 slot, and should be able to hold onto much of its lead-in.

At CBS, “Kid Nation” will garner some press for its premise of letting kids aged 8-15 take over a New Mexico town without adult supervision.

It’s tough watching 10-year-olds on television doing anything but enjoying themselves (see Fox’s fun “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”), so this may prove uncomfortable for auds. It’s also not your typical elimination-style reality contest, so it’s tough to imagine that the show’s best numbers won’t come in week 1.

CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” should remain the hour’s leader in adults 18-34 as it kicks off its ninth cycle, while the available remaining aud will go to Mandel’s gamer “Deal or No Deal.” Latter, which seemed to lose some steam as last season wore on, moves over from Monday night and could be formidable if the timeslot’s new shows fail to catch on.

9-10 p.m.

This is one of fall’s most interesting hours, with femme-fronted drama entries bowing on ABC (“Private Practice”), NBC (“Bionic Woman”) and CW (“Gossip Girl”). Each also has name recognition with auds, but clearly all three can’t work in the same hour.

Much like the “CSI” spinoffs, “Private Practice” would seem to be a pretty safe bet, even if its backdoor pilot as a “Grey’s Anatomy” episode last May left plenty to be desired. It would have been nice to see more fresh faces in the cast, but Kate Walsh is a great choice to lead the skein.

It’s hard to gauge what kind of numbers “Private” will put up, but it should have enough to win the hour in key demos (perhaps a 13 share in adults 18-49).

The other two lady-led dramas are more narrow in focus, with “Bionic Woman” much darker than the ’70s Lindsay Wagner drama of the same name and likely to appeal to young women and some young men. Don’t be surprised if NBC bounces “Bionic” to 10 o’clock if it gets knocked around by “Private.”

And “Gossip Girl,” based on the popular book series, is a good choice for the young net in this hour, although the hedonistic depiction of the sudser’s teens may be an instant turnoff to many. It’s in the right slot on the sked, though, behind CW’s urbane “Top Model,” and the net may want to be patient with a show that figures to score primarily with the 12-20 crowd at the outset.

CBS’ mainstream “Criminal Minds,” which does decently among men, could benefit in such a femme-focused hour. Same could hold true for Fox’s unscripted “Kitchen Night-mares” (not available for review), a spinoff of its summer smash “Hell’s Kitchen.”

10-11 p.m.

“CSI: NY” is the last and least of the Eye’s “CSI” franchise, but it should have enough to hold off a pair of shaky rookies in ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” and NBC’s “Life.”

Greg Berlanti (“Everwood,” “Brothers & Sisters”) has penned some of television’s best family drama in recent years — and “Dirty Sexy Money” is not without its intriguing plots — but the world of the absurdly wealthy Darlings of New York City is just too unrelatable here. (Hopes are higher in this corner for Berlanti’s upcoming “Eli Stone,” also for ABC).

And “Life” is about as gripping as its title. The idea of a cop returning to his beat after serving years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit is interesting, but the execution is very pedestrian. Not to wish any particular show a quick exit, but this one has “season’s first cancellation” written all over it.

Bottom line

ABC and CBS should be in a tight battle for the night’s 18-49 lead for fall, while NBC looks to be in for a rough ride.

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