Forget season finales TV execs are already focusing on next fall. On May 14, the networks began unveiling their new series to the advertising community in New York, in the annual rite of spring known as upfronts.
NBC went first, revealing a slate of eight new series, including the well-received spy comedy Chuck, courtesy of O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, and a Bionic Woman update. But it was the returning shows that stole most of the spotlight. First, entertainment president Kevin Reilly announced that My Name Is Earl and The Office will ''bulk up'' next season by producing as many as 30 original episodes instead of the usual 22 in an effort to cut down on reruns. Heroes creator Tim Kring will also do some heavy lifting: He'll launch a six-episode spin-off, Heroes: Origins, featuring new characters one of whom could join the cast in season 3. ''It's a stand-alone series with new heroes and viewers will vote [online for] which hero returns,'' explained Reilly. As for those down-to-the-wire Law & Order negotiations? The result was a draw: The mothership was renewed for an 18th season and will run Sundays at 8 p.m. once football season wraps, but new episodes of Criminal Intent will now air on sister cable network USA. (SVU will return on NBC Tuesday nights.)
Not to be outdone, the next day ABC announced a whopping 12 new shows, such as the Dylan McDermott drama Big Shots (which landed the plum post-Grey's Anatomy time slot); Sex and the City creator Darren Star's similarly stylish femme drama Cashmere Mafia, starring Lucy Liu; the Peter Krause-led soap Dirty Sexy Money; and believe it! Cavemen, a half-hour comedy based on the adventures of those Geico Neanderthals. To no one's surprise, the much-touted Grey's spin-off Private Practice which lured 21 million viewers to its May 3 ''pilot''�also got the go-ahead. Given the episode's lukewarm critical response, ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson said Practice will need fine-tuning. ''We spent a lot of time introducing the characters and not enough on the stories.'' Hey, provided Taye Diggs is shirtless by episode 2, we're sold. Additional reporting by Lynette Rice and Tanner Stransky