After summer drama, competitors are ready

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It's showtime! Like Olympians who spend years training for the chance to compete in the two-week games against the best in the world for the Olympic gold, broadcast networks labor on their new shows for a year to have them face off with the best from the other nets during the first couple of weeks of the season in pursuit of ratings gold.

The stakes are higher than ever this year as the nets are coming off a steep ratings decline in the spring, a ho-hum summer overshadowed by sizzling new series on basic cable and OK but unspectacular early fall premieres.

With so much on the line and just a short window of opportunity to impress viewers in today's rapidly expanding TV and digital universe, it was a turbulent summer for the crop of new scripted series, with more than the average share of behind-the-scenes shake-ups and dramas.

-- After weeks of rumblings, "Viva Laughlin" executive producer/showrunner Bob Lowry took a back seat on the CBS musical drama in late August. The show's Tyler Bensinger and Steven DeKnight stepped up as showrunners.

-- NBC's midseason dramedy "Lipstick Jungle" is going through a fourth creative overhaul as showrunners DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler were let go in July. Oliver Goldstick was brought in, and its production start date was pushed to November.

-- A change in the creative direction also led to a showrunner switch on ABC's midseason comedy "Miss/Guided," as Rob Thomas was replaced by Mark Hudis.

-- CBS' vampire drama "Moonlight" landed David Greenwalt as showrunner in late May only to see him leave two months later because of health reasons. Chip Johannessen replaced him at the helm of the show, which was retooled and all principal actors from the pilot presentation were recast except the lead, Alex O'Loughlin.

-- Talk about a drastic shake-up: Midseason comedy "The IT Crowd" was shelved by the new NBC regime.

-- ABC's comedy "Cavemen," which has been under particular scrutiny, scrapped its original pilot. The network went down to the wire, locking the episode that will launch the series only hours before the deadline.

-- ABC's ensemble soap "Dirty Sexy Money" shut down for a week of "fine-tuning," a practice used in years' past on "Grey's Anatomy" and "Ugly Betty."

There also was some bad luck involved this year. Torrential rains in New York in August flooded the stages of ABC's "Cashmere Mafia," forcing a weeklong hiatus.

Then there are ABC's "Pushing Daisies" and NBC's "Bionic Woman" -- two of the most anticipated new fall series.

"Daisies" was a favorite topic of conversation around Hollywood this summer, with the attention focused as much on its stunning visual look created by the pilot's director Barry Sonnenfeld as on production issues associated with maintaining that look. Sonnenfeld, who was scheduled to direct Episodes 2, 3 and 5 of the paranormal series, ended up helming only the first of the three, after it ran over schedule and over budget. The overage was rumored to be upward of $1.5 million, though creator Bryan Fuller in an interview called that number "violently exaggerated."

During the summer, "Bionic" shed two exec producers, the pilot's director Michael Dinner and one of the showrunners, Glen Morgan. (Jason Katims has since come on board to land a hand as a consultant.) "Bionic's" first three episodes after the pilot have been retooled, and observers peg the pricetag for some of them at more than $4 million.

Regardless of how smooth or bumpy their road to the screen was, all new shows have about equal chance of success as they are taking start positions for this year's TV Olympics. And when the start gun goes off today, the first day of the 2007-08 season, it will be the viewers who decide which shows will make it a short three-episode-and-out dash and which ones will stay on the track for a marathon run.
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