UPFRONT DOWN AND DIRTY: The future of television — at least as far ahead as next fall — is being written right now at the May upfronts in New York City, where the networks are announcing their lineups and debuting previews of their new shows for the media and media buyers. Despite the common use of a word, the two groups couldn’t be more different; the former are blithe fulminators like yours truly, who spend our days babbling in order to make a dent on your viewing habits, while the latter are the people who will decide where the money goes to buy commercial time on the networks and their cable cousins. One guess as to whose good opinion matters more just at the moment to the executives whose career hangs on the outcome of this week.


The fate of Law & Order and it’s Criminal Intent spinoff were hanging in the air when I left the country a week ago; a deal has apparently been made between creator Dick Wolf and NBC to renew both shows, subject to cuts in production costs and the shift of Criminal Intent to the USA Network, NBC’s cable junior sibling. Wolf is calling the cutbacks “belt-tightening,” but hasn’t said if his own belt — and paycheque — is being tightened, though it looks like he might realize his ambition to see Law & Order beat Gunsmoke as TV’s longest-running drama.


Once the reigning home of the sitcom, NBC has apparently ordered no new comedies to debut in the fall, relying instead on renewals of The Office and My Name Is Earl. According to the Hollywood Reporter, it’s the first time in three decades the network has launched a fall season without a new comedy, and the only new sitcom on its schedule so far is The IT Crowd, set for a mid-season debut with a six-episode order that doesn’t suggest a lot of confidence from the network’s head office.


The Apprentice is also conspicuously missing from the network’s schedule, though Kevin Reilly, captain’s of NBC’s network programming ship, insists that the network is still in business with Donald Trump, the show’s self-promoting svengali. “The guy has a certain magic,” Reilly told the Orlando Sentinel. “We love him and want to stay in business with him.”


Reilly and NBC aren’t dropping the ball on one of the past season’s rare hits, and announced that Origins, a prequel spinoff of Heroes, will probably start airing a six-episode run during the break between the current season’s finale and the debut of the next. Origins will focus on a half-dozen new characters, and viewers will vote on which one will be promoted to join the original show next season.

If only we’d been able to do the same thing with Joey.