The Guessing Game

Start the guessing game now that the upfront programming presentations are over -- what is the next great out-of-the-box original network hit?

Can't think of anything? Perhaps we are getting a little too greedy, since there is already one show that this year fit the bill. After years of having no honest-to-goodness scripted rookie hits, ABC's "Desperate Housewives" seemingly arrived from outer space last September.

To compete with the "Housewives" breeding, here are the credentials next year's shows will need. Like "Housewives," it'll have to be a show launched with no lead-in programming on a night the network, like ABC on Sunday, would do better to be running infomercials. It can't be a spin-off and it can't be exactly a drama or a sitcom.

Oh, and one other thing: By its second or third episode, it needs to rocket to the second highest rated network show.

Who are the contenders? Some agency prognosticators say NBC's "My Name Is Earl" or UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris" could be up to the task. "Earl" is a single-camera comedy with an "Ed" feel. "Chris" is about Chris Rock's life growing up in Brooklyn, narrated by always feisty and funny Rock.



It's a harder call for other new, but mostly safe, network fare. These are alien-invasion, "X Files" type shows with names like "Ghost Whisperer," "Supernatural," "Threshold," and "Invasion" - all with the intent of rubbing close to ABC's mystery-like success with "Lost."

NBC is also playing it safe - perhaps too much so. Shockingly, to some executives, it is doing nothing to lift its ailing, and once formidable, Thursday night schedule. "Commander in Chief," starring Geena Davis as the first woman U.S. president, is its most highly touted new show. "Chief" has virtually the exact same familiar look and feel as "The West Wing," the network's outgoing mainstay drama.

Interestingly, no network wants to take on "Desperate Housewives" directly. No dramedy, no spoof, on say, another aspect of suburban life is in the works by any network as of yet. Don't expect spin-offs from ABC either, according to ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson.

Still, we wonder about the desperate husbands, desperate plumbers, and desperate pharmacists.

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