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‘Breakout year’ may be ahead for new network comedies

Sitcom lineup should appeal to more women

Judging by the new fall schedules, networks have decided that the way out of their troubles is to make women laugh.

Broadcasters unveiled their coming lineups to advertisers in a series of announcements this week, and the consensus among media buyers and journalists was that the new shows this year were better than last.

Which isn’t necessarily saying much, because last year was mostly a wasteland with virtually no hit premieres. Among the flops were male-skewing dramas such as Fox’s “Lone Star” (which lasted two episodes) and NBC’s “The Cape” (nine).

Probably for the first time in network TV history, most of the 10 new comedies coming this fall have female leads, including CBS’ “2 Broke Girls” with Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs; Fox’s “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” with Jaime Pressly, and “The New Girl” with Zooey Deschanel; and NBC’s “Whitney,” with Whitney Cummings, and “Up All Night,” with Christina Applegate.

“This could be a breakout year for new comedies,” said Brad Adgate of the advertising firm Horizon Media.

After naysayers spent much of the last decade writing off network sitcoms as a dead art form, ABC’s hit “Modern Family” has rekindled interest in the genre, just as “The Cosby Show” did in the mid-1980s, Adgate said.

In dramas, next season will also be the year of the woman – as long as the woman is a Playboy bunny or a Pan Am stewardess and the year is 1963.

NBC’s “The Playboy Club” spins a tale of mob intrigue around the iconic nightclubs during the Kennedy administration.

ABC’s soap “Pan Am” flies the pre-airline deregulation (and pre-feminist) skies around the same period. The network is even remaking “Charlie’s Angels,” the show about crime-fighting babes that drew complaints for exploiting women during its first run back in the 1970s.

Fox is banking heavily on Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur drama “Terra Nova” and Simon Cowell’s new singing contest, “The X Factor,” which the network hopes will match or exceed the ratings for “American Idol.”

It will duplicate “Idol’s” Wednesday-Thursday pattern, which means it could inflict maximum mischief on rivals’ lineups if it succeeds anywhere near expectations.

“Allen Gregory,” about a precocious 7-year-old being raised by two dads, joins the network’s Sunday night animated block.

CBS has finally erased the last remnants of its powerhouse Thursday from the last decade, pushing “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” to 10 p.m. Wednesday, where it’s virtually assured to help boost the night.

“The Good Wife” was transferred to Sundays to take on ABC’s aging “Desperate Housewives.” And CBS is taking a big gamble by trying to anchor Thursdays with the new crime drama “Person of Interest,” from “Lost” co-creator J.J. Abrams, starring Michael Emerson.

Other new CBS series are “Unforgettable,” following an NYPD detective (Poppy Montgomery) with a photographic memory; the buddy comedy “How to Be a Gentleman”; and the medical drama “A Gifted Man.”

ABC, meanwhile, is playing Extreme Makeover: Network Edition.

In addition to moving “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” to Friday nights, it has blown up the old schedule and rolled out seven new series for fall, including “Last Man Standing,” a comeback sitcom for Tim Allen; the dark, “Housewives”-like comedy “Suburgatory”; and “Revenge,” a strange soap set in the tony world of the Hamptons.

Other new ABC series are “Once Upon a Time,” a fantasy drama from the producers of “Lost,” and the gender-wars comedy “Man Up.”

NBC’s other new shows include “Free Agents,” an adaptation of a British comedy, starring Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn; “Prime Suspect,” a reboot of the groundbreaking Helen Mirren crime classic, with Maria Bello; and “Grimm,” a crime-fighting drama inspired by classic fairy tales.

Four new series are coming to the CW: “Ringer,” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as a recovering alcoholic on the run who assumes her twin sister’s identity; “Secret Circle,” from Kevin Williamson (“The Vampire Diaries”), about a young girl who moves to a new town and discovers she’s a witch; “Hart of Dixie,” co-produced by Josh Schwartz (“The O.C.,” “Gossip Girl”), with Rachel Bilson as a New York doctor who inherits a small medical practice in the South; and the reality series “H8R,” hosted by Mario Lopez, in which celebrities confront their detractors.

The 17th edition of “America’s Next Top Model” will be an all-star edition, with series chief Tyra Banks bringing back some past winners of the competition to go at it again.

And if the networks strike out again this fall? Well, there’s always midseason.

Traditionally, January and on has been a dumping ground for series not good enough to make the fall cut. But this time, programmers are saving some of their best material for the winter.

Case in point? NBC’s “Smash,” perhaps the best-received show among media buyers this week. The Steven Spielberg-produced drama stars Katharine McPhee (“American Idol”) as an ingenue trying to make it in Broadway musicals.

The show could have been ready for fall, but NBC wanted to pair it with “The Voice,” the hit singing contest, which it felt shouldn’t be rushed onto the September schedule since the first cycle will wrap in late June.

Other midseason arrivals include the ABC comedy “Apartment 23” and Fox’s supernatural crime drama “Alcatraz” and “Bones” spinoff “The Finder,” along with returning series such as ABC’s “Cougar Town,” NBC’s “30 Rock” and the CW’s “One Tree Hill.”

“The networks will probably have their strongest ‘second season’ ever,” Adgate said.