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Why this summer's TV schedule will be the best ever

To battle cable, the broadcast networks are stepping up their original programming

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Goodbye reruns. In what should be the most competitive summer ever, the six broadcast networks will all have original series to roll out this June, July, and August. From the Robinson Crusoe-type game show ”Survivor” to the latest wave of prime-time animated comedies, including ”Clerks,” viewers may finally have a reason to forgo cable for broadcast TV. ”It certainly will help stop some of the viewer erosion that usually occurs [during the summer] because of a diet of repeats,” said media buyer Paul Schulman. ”Not everybody comes back in the fall.”

Indeed, each summer homes using TV (HUT) drop significantly once the regular TV season ends with May Sweeps. Last year, HUT levels for the six nets fell to 53.8 million — down from nearly 61 million for the September-May TV season. Such drops allow cable television to make inroads. Last summer, for example, the Emmy-nominated ”Sex in the City” wrapped a successful second season on HBO, while original segments of the World Wrestling Federation kept USA a prime destination for young men.

This summer, the nets will finally have some ammunition to keep viewers away from cable.

CBS is best prepared for battle with ”Survivor” (contestants race to see who can last the longest on a deserted isle) and the hidden camera saga ”Big Brother.” The eye also has the original game show ”What’s My Line.”

Fox plans to follow teenagers around Illinois in the new reality show ”American High.” There’s also the new comedy dubbed ”The Opposite Sex,” and fresh episodes of ”The PJs,” ”Family Guy,” ”COPS,” and ”America’s Most Wanted.” Fox may even debut the new seasons of ”The Simpsons,” ”That ’70s Show,” ”Malcolm in the Middle,” and ”King of the Hill” in August.

ABC, which proved that it can launch a successful show during the summer with ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” is looking to roll out another game show called ”Mastermind.” Expect more of ”Millionaire” and Regis Philbin come June, as well as the debut of ”Clerks,” an animated version of the indie film from Kevin Smith.

UPN — god bless ’em — will still have original segments of ”Smackdown,” as well as fresh episodes of ”Shasta,” ”Dilbert,” ”Secret Agent Man,” and a series of specials for teens.

The WB has another drama for the pimple pack called ”Young Americans,” along with the animated comedies ”Mission Hill” and ”Baby Blues.”

Trailing its competitors, NBC will help control costs by limiting its new programming to more original segments of the ubiquitous ”Dateline.” The network’s entertainment president Garth Ancier earlier told EW: ”We’re all paying increasingly high program license fees. To run episodes only once seems plainly naive. You need those summer reruns.” Yeah, just like we need that really bad sunburn.