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Anne Heche, Men In Trees
Credit: Sergei Bachlakov
type
  • TV Show
network
  • ABC
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10-11 PM · ABC · Returns Oct. 12

”What happened to the show?” It’s a constant refrain from fans, says Abraham Benrubi, who plays bar owner Ben. ””Are you coming back? Are you still on? Are you canceled?” Nobody knows, because it was really never made clear.” Before ABC yanked the show last season with five episodes left, Men in Trees was averaging 9.2 million viewers. Modest by network standards, but the numbers tell only half the tale, because Trees huggers are a fiercely loyal bunch. They followed Anne Heche’s author/relationship coach Marin as she moved from New York to rural Alaska, just as they followed the show when it packed up and moved from Friday, where it was faring pretty well, to a higher-profile slot on Thursday (it’s back to Friday this fall). And then they flocked to message boards to pass the time till next week. Only, then there was no next week, as Trees was forced to step aside. But why? Was it the much-publicized relationship between costars Heche and James Tupper, who both left their spouses and are now dating?

”That had nothing to do with it,” says ABC programming chief Jeff Bader, literally laughing off any suggestion that the network was cowed by the tabloids. The truth, as it turns out, is far less juicy. ”It was all about the fact that we were able to launch an additional show [October Road] off of Grey’s Anatomy.” Thursday at 10 p.m. is the prime in prime time, and ”Men in Trees was losing a huge portion of the Grey’s audience” — let’s call it half — plus, ”we didn’t see any harm in not returning the show because it was already picked up for the next year.” Besides, ”if you want to be really cynical about it,” says Trees creator Jenny Bicks, ”I think it would have made more sense for them to keep [airing] it, because [the gossip] was getting attention.”

The timing of the hiatus was one thing. The fact that it was so excruciatingly long (eight months by the time Trees returns in October) left Bicks with a conundrum: How to relaunch the show with five episodes already in the can? In a word: prequel. ”The prequel exists because the first episode back wasn’t really an episode I would choose to introduce the season,” she says. ”It doesn’t necessarily tell an audience member who has been gone for eight months — or who was never around to begin with — who everybody is.” The new season opener, an episode chronologically wedged between the one where fans left off and the five they have yet to see, serves as a new jumping-in point. In it, Elmo gets battered by a storm in a candy-coated catch-up episode that ”takes us back into the understanding that Men in Trees is like a fairy tale,” says Heche.

As the series gears up for its 27-episode season, Marin and Tupper’s Jack are just part of the ever-expanding population of Elmo. Annie Potts (Designing Women) signs on as Annie’s mom, and Kelli Williams (The Practice) joins in as a confidante of Jack’s. (Chill, fans. ”They have a purely platonic relationship,” swears Bicks, even if they do ”become very emotionally tied to each other.”) As for the series regulars? Annie and fiancé Patrick (Derek Richardson) face a crisis. ”We’ll see a Patrick that’s a bit more rebellious and fearless in exploring parts of his life that he should’ve explored a long time ago,” reveals Richardson. Buzz (John Amos) and Mai play love doctors. And in spite of a nasty breakup last season, Marin’s editor Jane (Seana Kofoed) and Plow Guy (Ty Olsson) ”have not seen the last of each other,” according to Kofoed. As for Marin and Jack, Marin’s latest book puts her back at the top of the Amazon rankings, and Jack gets a plum research assignment — which means some alone time for both of them. ”There’s going to be some boat-rocking this year,” Bicks warns, sounding as if she could be talking about the impending drama on her show — or surrounding it. ”I like to see this year as kind of ”be careful what you wish for.”” — Alynda Wheat

This is an online-only excerpt from the EW Fall TV Preview issue.

Men In Trees
type
  • TV Show
rating
genre
network
  • ABC

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