4 Hottest Things on Fall TV

Big names, a new network and lots of stories to tell. PEOPLE TV critic Tom Gliatto reports on the new developments in fall television from the Television Critics Association conference.

1. Big-name casts
This fall, some of the most promising shows feature high-wattage ensembles. Brothers and Sisters marks the return of Calista Flockhart, who’s been absent from the small screen for the past five years, along with Six Feet Under’s Rachel Griffiths and Oscar winner Sally Field. The CBS heist drama Smith stars Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Simon Baker and Jonny Lee Miller (Angelina Jolie‘s ex). And NBC’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a comeback vehicle for Friends’ Matthew Perry, as well as a showcase for Amanda Peet, an actress so gorgeous I always find myself falling back on Pee-wee Herman’s accolade for Miss Yvonne: She’s the prettiest woman in Puppetland!

2. Neverending stories
The cyclical model of FOX’s groundbreaking 24, where Jack Bauer and the nation come through a national security threat by the skin of his (our) teeth only to have a new one start up the next season, is the blueprint for several new series. On ABC’s midseason drama Day Break, Taye Diggs will be trapped in 13-week stories that have him reliving and trying to correct one whoppingly hellacious day. And even sitcoms are more like repetitive serials now: The network’s Knights of Prosperity, about a group of lowlifes planning to break into Mick Jagger‘s apartment, is designed to pick up in its second season with the same gang mucking around in a different caper.

3. Networking networks

Say goodbye to UPN and The WB: Both networks will be laid to rest in the broadcast crypt on Sept. 5, when the new CW formally launches with America’s Next Top Model. The CW, on paper at least, makes perfect sense. I mean, I’m certainly not going to complain about any network that puts Veronica Mars and Supernatural on the same channel.

The new My Network TV sounds like an odder proposition: Backed in part by FOX, it will be nothing but Americanized adaptations of Spanish telenovelas, the primetime soaps that air five new episodes a week. I’ve enjoyed clips from a series called Fashion House, but I’m not sure how large a demographic is out there for Bo Derek and Morgan Fairchild smacking and hissing at each other like geese.

4. Cyber TV
All the networks are feverishly putting together plans to build extensions of their series into cyberspace. The CW is tinkering with elaborate product-placement commercials called content wraps, little self-contained dramas that would rely on an interactive component for viewers. The question is, how appealing will they be? The clip shown to the press looked like an instructional film crossed with a reality show.

And NBC has just announced a strange deal that may be a wave of the future: The failed sitcom pilot called Nobody’s Watching, which found a new home being downloaded on YouTube.com, has now been picked up by the network to be developed into a series later in the season. So somebody is watching, after all, only online.

Stay tuned …

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