The trees are changing, we're adjusting our clocks, and we're settling in for a season of new TV hits. October's great, isn't it? Except, wait—the calendar says April. As the networks inch closer to year-round programming (indeed the phrase ''TV season'' is becoming a quaint anachronism), they've begun saving some of their best ammo for the spring the season formerly known as ''just how many days are there left until May sweeps?'' Case in point: ABC's Grey's Anatomy, which did so well in the post-Desperate Housewives slot that it knocked former occupant Boston Legal off the schedule until next season. Just goes to show you can never underestimate the power of a well-done medical drama (or of Housewives). Here are some other lessons from this midseason:
BIG HITS AREN'T ENOUGH TO GUARANTEE BIG LAUNCHES. Not every show is as lucky as Anatomy, which averages 17.3 million viewers. After debuting in Housewives' Sunday slot, John Stamos' comedy Jake in Progress crumbled in its regular Thursday home. ''People just don't come to ABC Thursdays at 8,'' says ABC's exec VP of programming Jeff Bader. ''But it should be doing better.'' Ratings for ABC's critical fave Eyes have also been tepid, despite its Wednesday lead-ins Lost and Alias. And while viewers sampled NBC's The Office in its post-Apprentice debut, it hasn't gained traction in its Tuesday slot. ''It's a show that might take a little while for viewers to catch on to,'' says Mitch Metcalf, NBC's exec VP of programming.
HYPE DOESN'T ALWAYS HELP. NBC failed to score on Sunday nights at 8 with its newsmaking boxing reality show The Contender. And though the net's Law & Order: Trial by Jury has beaten CBS' Friday competition, Numb3rs, it hasn't dominated like other L&Os. The net did find an unlikely savior in the much-less-anticipated psychic-crime-solver drama Medium, a consistent top 20 hit since its January debut. (NBC has renewed it for a second season.) ''We don't have any runaway hits,'' Metcalf says. ''But we developed some nice building blocks for the future.''
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE FOR A COMEBACK. Fox pulled out from a fourth-place fall to dominate February sweeps with a big boost from the Super Bowl and the indomitable American Idol. The talent contest's return made a hit out of its Tuesday companion, the once-DOA doc drama House. ''That's a show that kept growing in quality,'' says Fox's exec VP of programming Preston Beckman. ''When Idol goes away, we don't think we'll go back to the numbers we saw last fall.'' And despite not appearing on the September schedule, CBS' Yes, Dear returned on Wednesday, Feb. 16, and against Idol-fueled competition it improved on fall flop Center of the Universe by about 500,000 viewers. ''We kept it around as an insurance policy and it paid off,'' says CBS' senior VP of programming Kelly Kahl. ''That show is Rasputin.''
MIDSEASON IS NO LONGER JANUARY THROUGH MARCH. The WB had a relatively strong debut with Living With Fran on April 8, and Fox is still rolling out shows (the Pam Anderson sitcom Stacked arrived April 13, and the animated American Dad is due May 1). ''Every time of the year is more important now,'' Metcalf says. ''There are no real dead zones anymore.''