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Networks Books Unprecedented Amount of Scripted Series for Summer

It wasn’t that long ago that the Big Four networks put out the Gone Fishin’ sign at season’s end, filling summer with reruns of their comedies and dramas.

But in the DVR era, people have largely stopped watching repeats — of both current network shows and off-net syndicated series on cable — and networks of all stripes have stepped up their output of originals to keep ratings from tumbling.

If 40 is the new 30, and orange can be the new black, why can’t summer be the new September? It certainly feels like it, because there will be a smorgasbord of scripted series rolling out the next couple of months.

A Variety analysis of summer schedules found that in the two-month period from May 20 to July 20, an unprecedented 29 scripted series are premiering across a total of 14 broadcast and cable networks — comparable to the 27 scripted series that bowed (mostly on the broadcast nets) in a similar window last fall (Sept. 15-Nov. 15).

But the new comedies and dramas aren’t even half of the scripted options for viewers, as 30 returning shows (across 17 networks) will also air. Add in three Netflix series, and a whopping 62 new and returning scripted skeins will premiere between the night of “The Voice” finale and Major League Baseball’s All-Star game.

“Six Feet Under,” “Monk” and “The Closer” all broke out in part because of a dearth of competition during summer. Those bowing this summer won’t have that luxury.

TNT alone will be airing nine original dramas in the summer — the most ever for any network — including projects from Steven Bochco, Michael Bay and the “Homeland” producers.

“It is exponentially more competitive every year,” says Michael Wright, president, head of programming for TNT. “When we launched ‘Closer’ in 2005, it was one of the only originals.”

But now with so many networks in the summer scripted pool, simply getting on viewers’ radars is a challenge.

“Awareness is everything,” he says. “Letting the audience know something is on is our top priority.”

TNT will have the NBA Playoffs as a promotional platform to launch Bochco’s “Murder in the First” on June 9 and Bay’s “The Last Ship” on June 22. And toward the end of summer, on Aug. 13, it will premiere “Legends,” from “Homeland’s” Howard Gordon and Alexander Cary and “Fringe” co-executive producer David Wilcox.

ABC planned on premiering “The Astronaut Wives Club” this summer, but has pushed it to midseason. That still leaves it with “Black Box,” which bowed in late April and will continue into summer, and returnee “Mistresses” (season 2 bowed June 2). The Alphabet will also again air Canadian imports “Motive” (season 2 bowed May 21) and “Rookie Blue” (season 5 premieres June 19).

Fox dramas “24: Live Another Day” (premiered May 5) and “Gang Related” (May 22) will continue into summer, as will NBC’s medical series “The Night Shift” (May 27) and “Crossbones” (May 30), with John Malkovich as Blackbeard.

CBS, which was very light on scripted summer fare up until a couple of years ago, will air four firstrun dramas — including another season of last year’s breakout “Under the Dome.” The series returns June 30, and event series “Extant,” starring Halle Berry, bows July 9.

The Eye also has crimer “Unforgettable” and new legal soap “Reckless,” which kick off the net’s summer scripted splurge as a two-hour Sunday block on June 29.

As it is during the traditional TV season, Sunday will be the summer’s most crowded night of the week for dramas — home to a dozen originals. The list includes returning series “Falling Skies” on TNT (June 22), “True Blood” on HBO (June 22), “Masters of Sex” and “Ray Donovan” on Showtime (both July 13) and “Unforgettable” on CBS.

Among the Sunday newbies: AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” (premiered June 1), BBC America’s “The Musketeers” (June 22), TNT’s “The Last Ship” (June 22) and HBO’s “The Leftovers” (June 29).

USA, a network long associated with summer dramas, has the very different duo of “Rush” (about a bad-boy medical fixer) and “Satisfaction” (a look at modern marriage); perhaps because they are unlike anything else on USA, the newbies will air back-to-back on Thursdays, starting July 17.

ABC Family is adding drama “Chasing Life” (June 10) and comedies “Young and Happy” and Jenni Garth-Tori Spelling entry “Mystery Girls” (both on June 25).

On the broadcast comedy front, CW has the new “Backpackers” and “Seed” (both bowing July 14), with the former originally created as a digital series for the CW’s digital studio, CW Seed. NBC served up “Undateable” (May 29) and then tees up “Welcome to Sweden” and “Working the Engels” (July 10).

It won’t be a laughing matter, though, if the networks cannibalize each other in their quest to be original.

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