'CSI: Miami' Is Year's Budding Hit
By DAVID BAUDER
.c The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - ``CSI: Miami,'' which premieres Monday night on CBS, is the new fall show with the best chance to become a hit.
That's the unanimous opinion of five experts asked about which of the 34 new programs on broadcast networks have the greatest and least chance at success, as well as which existing show will have a breakout season.
There is less consensus on the biggest failure, possibly because there are so many choices.
If history is any guide, two-thirds of the new shows won't be around next fall.
``CSI: Miami'' is the equivalent of finding someone with looks, brains and money. It's got everything going for it.
``You can never say never, but I would rate that as close to a can't-miss as you can get,'' said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of the advertising firm Horizon Media.
``CSI: Miami'' is spun from ``CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,'' which, based on its ratings this summer, is poised to become TV's favorite drama. The new show stars proven performers David Caruso and Kim Delaney, and was blessed with a time slot at the end of CBS' most popular night.
Setting it up even further, CBS has aired ``CSI'' reruns in the Monday slot for the past month and they've done as well, or better, as the show does on Thursdays.
CBS has also learned the value of brand extension from NBC's ``Law & Order'' franchise, said John Rash, a buyer for the Chicago ad agency Campbell Mithun.
These factors, more than artistic merit, will boost the spinoff, he said.
``It's by nature derivative,'' Rash said. ``It's a well-done show, but it's not the best artistic achievement of the new season.''
One cautionary note: CBS runs the risk of overestimating the public's interest in dead bodies.
Paula Barra, researcher for the ad firm OMD, said this might instead hurt a show like ``Law & Order: SVU'' - because it has a similar theme of gruesome crimes.
``The expectations are highest for this show,'' said Marc Berman, an analyst for Media Week Online. ``And that's dangerous, because not every show with high expectations makes it.''
There's no shortage of shows with low expectations. Our five experts had four different candidates for the least likely to succeed.
Only one, Fox's ``30 Seconds to Fame,'' got two votes. Viewers won't be able to reject this right away; its premiere is being delayed until after baseball season. Then it gets an unenviable Thursday time slot opposite ``Friends'' and ``Survivor.''
``30 Seconds'' is a talent show, which would seem in Fox's wheelhouse, given the summer hit, ``American Idol.''
``This is not the same, believe me,'' said Tom DeCabia of the ad buying firm PHD USA. Viewers were able to build a relationship with the ``American Idol'' contestants, but they won't have the time on this show, Rash said.
Barra is thumbs-down on the Fox drama, ``Firefly,'' a science fiction drama from ``Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' creator Joss Whedon. It's not so much the show being bad as its Friday time slot; Fox has virtually no record of success there, she said.
Poor Fox. Berman nominates another one of its shows, the Sunday family comedy, ``The Grubbs,'' as a big loser.
``It's horrible,'' he said. ``It's grubby and it's dirty and it's not funny.''
The CBS Sunday comedy, ``Bram and Alice,'' about a woman appearing on the doorstep of her lifelong bachelor father and announcing she's the daughter he never knew he had, gets Adgate's vote. He doesn't think comedy will work on CBS on Sundays.
Besides, he said, ``I dislike the premise. I don't see it as plausible.''
NBC's ``Scrubs'' earned three votes as the existing show likely to have a breakout season. NBC certainly hopes so, since it moved the sophomore comedy to the coveted Thursday time slot after ``Friends.''
That time slot alone will guarantee significantly more viewers, the experts said.
Is it deserving?
``Not to the degree that it will succeed,'' Rash said. ``But it's a significantly superior show than the rogue's gallery of `Caroline in the City,' `Veronica's Closet' and `The Single Guy.'''
DeCabia nominates ``The Bernie Mac Show'' on Fox, the caustic family comedy that's being moved to 8 p.m. Eastern on Wednesdays.
``It could really take off this year,'' he said. ``It's a very well-written comedy and people didn't catch on to it until the second half of last year. In that time period, it could be really well received.''
Adgate sees big things for ``Alias'' on ABC, which desperately needs a hit.
``I think Jennifer Garner is really the next big star,'' he said. ``This is on a good night (Sundays). It's against `The Sopranos,' which will hurt it initially, but once `The Sopranos' runs its course, I would expect `Alias' to kick it up a notch. TV is becoming very celebrity-oriented, and I think she's going to be a big celebrity. She already is.''