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Published: Thursday, 1/15/2009

'Jay Leno' the words on everyone's lips in talk about new season

BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. No matter which network is presenting at the Television Critics Association winter press tour this week, all the chatter will be about NBC and its decision to program The Jay Leno Show at 10 p.m. weeknights, beginning in the fall.

Last week during a PBS press conference for George Carlin: The Mark Twain Prize (to be broadcast Feb. 4), Richard Belzer, one of the stars of NBC s Law & Order: SVU, slammed his employer.

It may be good for comedy in a limited way but it s a terrible, terrible trend for television, Belzer said of NBC executives decision. It s a network that s desperate. I m already signed so they can t really [do anything to me]. It s the last gasp of a dying network that could turn out to be brilliant in terms of finances, but in terms of actors, producers, all these people, it s a tragedy actually.

At Fox s presentation Tuesday, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, who held the same position at NBC almost two years ago before getting fired and replaced by the current team that installed Leno, was asked about NBC s move.

NBC, for me, is like the crazy ex-wife I can t get away from, Reilly said.

The move surprised Reilly, although he congratulated the network on keeping Leno in the NBC fold and said it might make financial sense for a network in a very, very troubled place. But Reilly noted a flaw in NBC s plan: The network historically has struggled in establishing scripted shows at 8 p.m. It s been a historical challenge for NBC, even at its height.

If 8 is a place of struggle and they don t program Friday, Saturday, and Sunday half the year [due to football], for a network that was a premiere brand for scripted television, that s a little bit of a sad statement.

Fox s midseason

wIn addition to Lie to Me (to premiere Wednesday) and Joss Whedon s Dollhouse (Feb. 13), Fox will premiere the animated comedy Sit Down, Shut Up onApril 19. It s about the dysfunctional faculty and staff at a Florida high school from Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz.

wThe network is also likely to debut Glee, a comedy-drama from writer Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) about a high school show choir, behind American Idol. The series stars largely unknowns, including Broadway stars Matthew Morrison (Hairspray, and a Tony nominee for The Light in the Piazza) as a well-meaning teacher and glee club sponsor, Lea Michele (Les Miserables, Spring Awakening) and Jenna Ushkowitz (Spring Awakening). The best known cast members are Jessalyn Gilsig (Nip/Tuck) and Jayma Mays (Heroes, Ugly Betty).

wViewers won t see Moment of Truth 24 episodes remain on the shelf, awaiting a time slot and animated Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show will hold until fall.

wPrison Break, starring Wentworth Miller, will end its run when the show s final episodes begin airing April 17.

Reviving Melrose

At The CW s press tour party at West Hollywood s Kokomo Cafe which plays the exterior of The Peach Pit on 90210 CW entertainment president Dawn Ostroff talked about the network s plan to develop an update of another 90s hit: Melrose Place.

Contrary to published reports, One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn will not write the revamp, she said. We can t announce yet who the writers are going to be but we re talking to a team we re very excited about.

Ostroff said the timing may be right for a new Melrose.

When you look back at the original Melrose Place, it s really fascinating because it took place at a time not unlike what we re going through now, she said. In the pilot of the original Melrose Place, they talked about the building being foreclosed on, people not having jobs. It took place in a very similar time, a time when the economy was in a downturn.

She said the new show will attempt to capture life in Los Angeles Melrose neighborhood, which the original did not, Ostroff said. As with 90210, the proposed Melrose 2.0 will feature a mix of new and returning characters. Which ones might return remains an open question.

We ve talked about everybody but we haven t spoken to anybody yet, she said. Heather Locklear is near the top of the list. Heather would be one of the people you talk about because when you think of Melrose, one of the first people you think of is Heather.

But will this be the earnest Melrose of season one or the nutty Kimberly-blowing-up-the-apartment-complex of later years?

We ve actually had that exact conversation, Ostroff said. In the beginning you ve got to get invested in the characters, but I also think it can t be so dramatic and sleepy that not enough is going on. Our fans really love that heightened drama as you can see when you watch One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl. So the job is to get them emotionally invested in the people and then do storytelling and have twists and turns and surprises you wouldn t have expected.

Of course, the new Melrose is a long way from reality. New writers have to be hired, a pilot shot, and a series commissioned.

Other CW shows

Ostroff said the network is pretty happy with the performance of underrated drama Privileged.

The testing has been really good, she said. It usually takes a year or two for us to launch something. The creative [aspects of the show] we ve been very happy with. The decision won t come down til May, but I think it s a real contender for next year otherwise we wouldn t have picked up [additional] episodes.

Ostroff said no decision has

been made about the future of One Tree Hill, although ratings have been strong so it seems like a shoo-in for renewal. One sticking point: The network has to renegotiate with the show s stars, whose contracts are up at the end of this season.

New roles

Fans of the late Veronica Mars, take note: Mars creator Rob Thomas new Starz series, Party Down (10:30 p.m. March 20), features many familiar faces.

Largely the people in the cast comprise people who I have worked with, Thomas acknowledged.

The comedy, about Los Angeles caterers who really want to work in the entertainment business, features Mars actors Ken Marino, Adam Scott, Jane Lynch, and Ryan Hansen in leading roles. A Party Down trailer, which was pretty amusing, also showed Mars stars Enrico Colantoni and Ed Begley, Jr., as guest stars.

Thomas said Ms. Mars herself, Kristen Bell, may make an appearance.

She has a gap free at the end [of our shooting schedule], so I think Kristen may appear in the show, which could be really great.

Channel surfing

Daniel Sunjata, who plays Franco on FX s Rescue Me, which returns in April, believes 9/11 was not necessarily the work of terrorists but possibly an inside job. The new season will explore these conspiracies.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles.

Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com



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