At the end of last year, all TV executives were excited that network television was back with higher-than-expected ratings for adults 18 to 49-years-old. ABC's two sudden sledgehammers, "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," had bullied their way onto schedules from no strong lead-ins, on nights where the network seemingly didn't have a chance, succeeding without a hint of reality show in them. (OK, maybe the idea of "Lost" came from "Survivor.")
Two weeks into this season, and nothing has popped through like it did a year ago. Is that any surprise? It had been a decade since a drama like "Housewives" came out of nowhere to jump up as one of the top three shows on network television. The last show to hit that big, and so quickly, was NBC's "ER" in 1994. Expectations -- unrealistically -- were that networks could do it magically again, the very next year.
But all that signaled to the networks was that they should give us the same dishes on the menu -- copycat stuff, looking to ride in the slipstream of big, successful shows. ABC has looked to do that itself with "Invasion," imitating "Lost." CBS is trying with "Threshold," another copy of "Lost." CBS has "The Ghost Whisperer" from NBC's success with "Medium." ABC has gone to "Commander In Chief" to spin off of NBC's slow fadeout of "The West Wing."
Yes, there have been some risking rumblings on the comedy front. UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris" -- a one-camera comedy featuring the voiceover of Chris Rock -- has been the critics' favorite. NBC's "My Name is Earl" went for the same trick with Jason Lee. "Earl" has turned out to be the strongest newcomer so far -- but not quite an eye-opening cultural icon yet. The New York Times quotes Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS: "There are no home runs this season." Yeah, maybe some singles, and with "Earl," a nice triple. For NBC all that means is that it has a runner in scoring position at the moment.
But for the rest of networks, it's still... Batter up!