Networks turn attention to "bubble" series

By Michael Schneider (Variety)
Monday, April 10

HOLLYWOOD (Variety)- For those network series "on the bubble," April
can be the cruelest month.

The broadcast networks already have renewed most of their strongest
series--obvious entries like ABC's "The Practice" and NBC's "Will &
Grace"-- for next season. On the flip side, this season's DOA offerings
("Mike O'Malley," "Wasteland") have been buried six feet under--with
others, like underperformer "Falcone," about to push daisies as well.

That leaves a whole class of series that are neither hits nor misses. In
industryspeak, they reside "on the bubble"--that is, nobody (not even
the decision makers at the networks) knows whether those shows will

Of course, the networks will make those final judgments by mid-May,
when they announce their fall schedules at the upfront presentations in
New York. In the meantime, producers and talent on "bubble" shows
such as "Sports Night," "Family Law," "Jesse," "Grown Ups" and "Jack &
Jill" can do little but chew fingernails as they await word of their fate.

In the coming weeks, studio chiefs and series producers will bombard
the network entertainment presidents in last-ditch efforts to squeeze
another year out of their series. Depending on the show, a full-fledged
campaign might be waged if its return looks promising. Those full-blown
presentations usually include a compilation tape of a show's best
scenes, eight to ten potential storylines for next season and a
recommendation for new staffing.

Producers may encourage viewers to get into the act as well. The WB,
for example, has received hundreds of bottles of Tabasco sauce sent
by fans in support of "Roswell" after a Web site suggested the gesture.
To help keep "Jack & Jill" on the air, Warner Bros. Television has
conducted viewing parties and shot video of viewer reaction to show
WB network execs, who must soon decide whether to bring the show

"We try to be as proactive as we can," Warner Bros. TV president Peter
Roth said. "Our goal is to try to make our series so attractive that the
networks can't help but pick the series up for another year by
presenting as compelling an argument as we can."

As for what it's like to be stuck in series purgatory, "Felicity" co-creator
J.J. Abrams said he's too focused on producing the show's final
segments of the season to sit and worry. "We can call the network and
bombard them with phone calls, but I don't think that the cassette
tapes or a bottle of Tabasco sauce will get a show picked up," he said.
"We're confident in the show and proceeding as if the show is coming

Abrams said he's resigned to accept the WB's eventual decision. "It's a
business decision that won't get answered until the very last minute,"
he said. For now, "they're being incredibly supportive of the show."

At ABC, the jury's still out on "Sports Night," "Norm," "Making the Band,"
"Then Came You" and "The Hughleys" (possibly homeless with the
demise of TGIF).

CBS has a larger roster of series still waiting by the phone: "Chicago
Hope," "City of Angels," "Diagnosis Murder," "Early Edition," "Family Law,"
"Kids Say the Darndest Things," "Ladies Man," "Martial Law" and "Now
and Again." Don't rule out longtime standby "Diagnosis," and keep an
eye on the NAACP's last-minute effort to try and save "Angels."

At Fox, "Family Guy," "Get Real," "Time of Your Life" and reality players
"Greed," "World's Funniest" and "World's Wildest Police Chases" could
still go either way.

The list's also long at NBC, where "Jesse," "Stark Raving Mad" and the
network's entire Saturday night Thrillogy lineup are among shows on the
fence. It doesn't look good for "Battery Park," "Suddenly Susan" or
"Veronica's Closet," while "Twenty One" will probably return.

At the smaller networks, "The Beat," "Grown Ups" and "Malcolm & Eddie"
are iffy at UPN, while "For Your Love" and "Zoe" are additional question
marks at the WB, where the word is good that "Jamie Foxx" may return.