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Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo star in the hit Grey’s Anatomy.

HEDGING YOUR BETS: The fall TV season is barely a month old, but it’s already possible to make a few educated guesses about just what will and won’t be on the prime-time schedule by Christmas, never mind next fall.

The handful of reports I’ve gotten from readers have judged most of the new shows as disappointing, and the only unexpected surprise I’ve gotten so far has been from NBC’s Heroes — about which more in a few column inches.

Alan Sepinwall, the TV critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, did the heavy lifting for me this week with a quick analysis of the ratings news so far. It’s a decent piece with a major qualification up around the third paragraph, where he reminds us to remember “that The Office was on the verge of cancellation at this time last year while Commander In Chief looked like it would be around for years.”

The biggest news from the front was that CSI got beaten soundly by Grey’s Anatomy when the two shows went head-to-head on Thursday at 9 p.m. Even a Grey’s Anatomy clip show aired an hour earlier beat out NBC’s comedy one-two punch of My Name Is Earl and The Office at 8 p.m. ABC’s rise from the network dead seems undeniable at this point, but like Sepinwall said, it’s still only September.

On the basis of two episodes, NBC’s Studio 60 On Sunset Strip has been found wanting, despite the money and effort the network has put into promoting it and cushioning its Monday night time slot. It lost to CSI: Miami, shedding four million pairs of eyes in its first half-hour, and losing another two million between its first and second episodes.

Other underperformers include Fox’s slick, heavily-hyped, digital effects-laden legal procedural Justice, and Cheers-wannabe Happy Hour, both of which have been pulled from the network’s primetime schedule to make way for baseball playoffs, with an awkward promise that they’ll return in November — the Fox equivalent of “I’ll call you, really.”

The good news is that Monday’s premiere of Heroes has done better than expected. Reader Isaac Mills e-mailed me after I gave the debut episode a thumbs up, and said that “it sounds like exactly the kind of show I would love, but where was the marketing? I had heard of the show but only by (a Toronto subway ad) where it’s got a bunch of heads and the word ‘Heroes’ on it. I figured it would be firefighters/cops dealing with family/relationships in a post-9/11 world. You know, boring.

“I’m not going to watch a show because the poster has good-looking (generic) people on it — every show has that. Don’t these guys know what they’re doing, or do they want it to get cancelled?”

According to Sepinwall, Heroes started strong with 14 million viewers, added more during its hour run, and took the crucial 18-49 demographic for the time slot. Obviously Global’s advertising campaign for Heroes didn’t work, but it’s not too late for U.S. ratings to give the show a fighting chance, keeping in mind that TV is part of the entertainment business, where logic often never gets a seat at the table. Always remember: Joey lasted two (2) whole seasons.


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