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The latest news from the TV beat

John Wells, Aaron Sorkin, and Blair Underwood made news this week

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Jumping the gun
There’s no rest for the weary. The TV season has barely ended and already the networks are flogging next season’s shows — three months before they even hit the air.

With 37 new shows and more than 30 others changing time slots, you can’t blame the nets for getting the word out early on a few of the hotter, but harder to sell, prospects.

Take ABC: It’s high on Once and Again, a promising but cerebral drama about two divorces (Sela Ward, Bill Campbell) from thirtysomething creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick. Problem is, the show doesn’t have a permanent home in the fall lineup (it will air in NYPD Blue‘s slot for a few weeks, then return in January when Monday Night Football ends). And since the creators’ last two shows, Relativity and My So-Called Life, were critically acclaimed ratings flops, you can understand why ABC is turning the hype machine on full blast.

”In a world of so much clutter, we need to get name recognition and awareness for this show early,” says Mike Benson, ABC’s senior vice president of advertising and promotion. ”We want to build a core audience so when it moves, they go with it.”

Similarly, NBC’s massively pushing West Wing, the White House drama from John Wells (ER) and Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night); the Law & Order spin-off Special Victims Unit; and the paramedic drama Third Watch (also from Wells). All are in slots that have proved troublesome for the Peacock. But is there a downside to getting the promotional ball rolling so soon? ”If you show off too much of a show too early,” says John Miller, NBC’s exec VP of advertising and promotion, ”people think they’ve seen it before it ever gets on.” Of course, people feel that way about a lot of shows.

And son on
Blair Underwood is going back to work for his L.A. Law boss Steven Bochco as the lead in CBS’ City of Angels, an inner-city hospital drama set to premiere early next year.