Highs and lows of this season’s shows

If you surveyed the TV landscape this time last year, two things were easily ascertainable:

1) Forgettable comedies and dramas that played quick games of premiere-then-cancelled peek-a-boo made ABC the All But Comatose Network.

2) With the holy-ratings trinity of CSI, Survivor: All-Stars, and Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS seemed ready to pronounce itself God.

What a difference a year makes. But fans of continuity shouldn’t fret; fresh television sitcoms not named Arrested Development remain hidden from sight.

ABC:

Struggling just to keep above Fox last season, ABC’s front office was noticeably pillaged last summer in a power shakeup. Now, ABC will be coming off its best season since the Million Man collapse of Regis Philbin. Lost, Desperate Housewives and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition brought much-needed critical buzz to the network and, as an added bonus, are actually fun to watch. With an overload of smart drama (Alias and Boston Legal included), it’s time for ABC to shore up its still-dreadful comedy slate. Nonetheless, it’s ABC that’s the lone bright spot for Disney as they deal with their own rocky power shakeup.

Noticeable Departure: We’ll see Sipowicz’s bare bottom no more on NYPD: Blue.

Biggest Surprise: Fans flock to the intricate, ongoing storylines of Lost and Housewives.

Biggest Disappointment: After last season, everything’s a pleasant surprise.

CBS:

CBS came into the season content to coast on the success of the previous couple of years: Mission Accomplished. With the top-10 rated shows of the season featuring two episodes of CSI, two episodes of Survivor and one episode of Without a Trace, the Tiffany network’s ratings dominance is an open-and-shut case any prime-time sleuth could solve.

Noticeable Departure: Following the lead of Friends, America’s top comedy Everybody Loves Raymond takes the long walk down Last Season Lane with their shortened ninth season.

Biggest Surprise: Despite the potent Seinfeld curse, Jason Alexander’s mediocre Listen Up remains on the air.

Biggest Disappointment: see above.

Fox:

American Idol made a huge splash in January, once again becoming television’s most-watched show. But aside from Idol, even Simon would have to admit this season has been dreadful. Point Pleasant, Method & Red, Quintuplets and Johnny Zero are only a handful of the Fox shows you know nothing about. Lucky for Fox, there have been upsides. The Tuesday night Idol halo effect and Hugh Laurie’s arrogant anti-hero Gregory House has made the freshman medical whodunit House a 17-million-viewer hit. All eyes now focus on the endlessly hyped May 1 return of Family Guy.

Noticeable Departure: Departing Shows is Fox’s middle name.

Biggest Surprise: House and the second season of Arrested Development.

Biggest Disappointment: No campy Man vs. Beast specials.

NBC:

Another year, another commotion over the adaptation of a British comic hit. Except, unlike last year’s Coupling, the Americanized Office hasn’t been too terrible — perfectly encapsulating the network’s season. Not too terrible. Still lagging behind CBS and ABC in buzz and ratings, Joey has nonetheless stabilized as a Thursday anchor (nowhere near the level of Friends though), and NBC has a new hit in Patricia Arquette’s mystifying Medium.

Noticeable Departure: The combined sex appeal of Locklear, Underwood and airport terminals couldn’t stop an early season grounding of LAX.

Biggest Surprise: Medium becoming a solid top-20 entry for NBC.

Biggest Disappointment: The Apprentice. Just. Let. Go.

WB:

After a promising 2003-2004 campaign, the WB hasn’t been able to build on its success with any new hits. Current shows, however, have solidified themselves this season. Introductions to The Flash, Lois Lane and comic-favorite Mxyzptlk have heightened interest in Smallville and a resurgent Gilmore Girls (the Rory-Logan-Marty love triangle has reenergized her Yale storyline and Kelly Bishop’s performance as the formerly-separated Mama Gilmore has Emmy written all over it) has reconsolidated the WB as the one stop shop for young teen angst.

Noticeable Departure: The WB sure as Hell misses the consistent ratings of the demonic Angel.

Biggest Surprise: Blue Collar TV.

Biggest Disappointment: The votes for the intelligent, time-shifting, presidential drama Jack and Bobby are low enough to make Ralph Nader blush.

UPN:

Two words. Veronica Mars. Already renewed by UPN despite gaining less than 5 million viewers in a highly competitive Tuesday prime-time slot, Kristen Bell makes this quirky 21st-century Nancy Drew the best new show (and character) on television.

Noticeable Departure: The finale of Star Trek Enterprise will make next year the first with no new Star Trek showing in more than 20 years. Trekkies everywhere weep.

Biggest Surprise: Veronica Mars.

Biggest Disappointment: Low ratings of Veronica Mars.

Cable:

The absence of HBO’s triple threat of retired Sex and the City, vacationing Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos has made this season’s cable offerings an interesting one. F/X has become Dean of Drama with the voyeuristic Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me. On the comedy side, the second season of Chapelle’s Show and the Peabody Award-winning Daily Show with Jon Stewart solidifies Comedy Central’s lock on channel chuckles. Other cable channels have made more of an effort to challenge HBO and F/X with their own original shows. Some have worked: USA’s The 4400 and Sci-Fi’s Battlestar Galactica. Other’s have not: USA’s Kojak, MTV’s Trippin’.

Noticeable Departure: Half of the HBO lineup.

Biggest Surprise: Angels in America.

Biggest Disappointment: Ving Rhames solving mysteries with a lollipop in his mouth.

Chenel Josaphat,Georgetown University,The Hoya

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