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Article

TV networks cut short their summer vacation

New episodes and new shows like ”L.A. Firefighters” offer viewers fresh programming

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TV’s fall-premiere season is a strange beast. ”No other industry releases all its products at the same time,” says Doug Binzak, Fox senior VP of scheduling. ”You don’t have 12 blockbuster movies at the same time…it’s insane.”

Well, get ready to stop the insanity — or at least stanch it a bit.

Faced with increasing competition from cable, which programs year-round, and a glut of new shows in development, the networks are starting to sprinkle original programming throughout that rerun wasteland of summer. Back in 1990, CBS premiered Northern Exposure in July, thus proving the hotter months could be a launching pad. The next year, Fox boosted their struggling Beverly Hills, 90210 with vacation-themed episodes, then debuted Melrose Place in July of 1992. After last year’s dismally rated off-season, with nary a new show, the networks are once again enrolling in summer school.

The goal is both to get a jump on the fall-premiere orgy and to keep viewers from taking a TV-free vacation. ”My mandate? Keep the season going as long as you can,” says Preston Beckman, NBC’s senior VP of programming.

Just don’t expect 365 days of fresh TV anytime soon. Not only would overworked production companies revolt, but the networks save swimming poolsful of money with reruns, which they’ve already paid for. Here’s what you can expect this summer.

— FOX: L.A. Firefighters, an ensemble program that tries to bring the frenzy of ER to burning buildings, is the big dramatic offering. It debuts June 3, along with the sitcom The Last Frontier, about twentysomethings in Alaska. Then in August, Fox plans to bring back Party of Five. ”We didn’t have any breakout shows this fall,” says Binzak, ”because we weren’t able to get out in front of anything like we did with Melrose and 90210, which became hits before the other guys showed up.”

— NBC: The Peacock won’t need much more than the Olympics to keep viewers indoors, but it plans to sprinkle its summer lineup with fresh episodes of Boston Common, and possibly Caroline in the City. And look for a fashion-themed movie-of-the-week, On Seventh Avenue, to sashay on air June 10.

— CBS: In addition to airing new 60 Minutes episodes, CBS will try to salvage troubled Central Park West by reviving it after May sweeps (June 5, with new stars Gerald McRaney and Raquel Welch). And four unaired episodes of the now-canceled Picket Fences will begin June 5.

— ABC: New episodes of the DreamWorks cop drama High Incident, and the occasional special (as in Barbara Walters’ Sex, Drugs, and Consequences on June 6), are ABC’s only announced original programming so far. Let’s just hope they don’t revive Buddies.