5 Big Changes in Store for Summer TV

Lessons broadcast learned from cable; franchise, franchise, franchise; and, yes, “Jersey Shore” … for as long as we can stand it

If you’re already dreading the idea of crowded, zit-filled multiplexes and $18 3D tickets — all for the privilege of seeing Hollywood’s latest overhyped summer tentpole — there is an alternative.

TV programmers have canceled their vacations and are planning one of the most crowded warm-weather seasons ever.

In addition to the usual array of reality favorites — "Big Brother!" "Wipeout!" "So You Think You Can Dance"! — there’ll be a record number of first-run scripted shows, both on the broadcast nets and cable.

Repeats will remain a fact of life, but there’s already evidence the broadcast nets are getting clever about how they’re packaging them: The CW Thursday said it would pair "The Vampire Diaries" encores with the cult CBS drama "Moonlight."

Before the whole TV universe starts focusing on upfronts and the new fall seasons, TheWrap presents the 5 Things You Need to Know About Summer TV:

1. Spurred by cable’s success, the broadcast networks are once again making a big push for first-run scripted series.

Reality still rules the warm-weather months on the nets. But as ratings for repeats continue to fade — and cable scores more and more summer successes — the idea of producing first-run dramas in the summer has become more appealing.

This summer, the big guys each are expected to roll out at least two original hours of drama between late May and August.

ABC and Fox are being most aggressive, launching multiple shows designed just for the summer. NBC also is trying some first-run fare, but its focus seems to be on reality, while CBS hasn’t made any firm announcements yet about its plans.

"We’ve done a good job with unscripted shows in summer, but (the networks) have ceded the scripted world to basic and pay cable," said Preston Beckman, Fox’s longtime guru of program planning. "At some point you have to stand up and try to reclaim some of that real estate."

In Fox’s case, there’s even more of an impetus to keep trying to add scripted shows to the summer: The network needs the shelf space.

With reality franchises "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" taking up a big chunk of real estate, and "The X Factor" set to eat up even more space come fall 2011, "We have to continue to find slots for shows," Beckman said.

2. Everybody wants to be USA Network.

OK, so not every new scripted show being trotted out this summer could work on cable’s top-rated network. But clearly, plenty of rivals — both broadcast and cable — are envious of the success USA has had with blue skies, character-driven programming such as "Burn Notice" and "White Collar."

Fox was so impressed it recruited "Burn" creator Matt Nix to come up with "The Good Guys," a breezy cop show throwback that could’ve worked on one of the Big Three 25 years ago (including Bradley Whitford’s Selleck-esque ‘stache). ABC has "Scoundrels," a dramedy with David James Elliott, Virginia Madsen and Carlos Bernard as members of a family of quirky cons.

Over at A&E, there’s the character-driven procedural "The Glades," with a quirky cop (Matt Passmore) trying to adjust to life in a somewhat odd Florida town. A&E even used the term "blue sky" in a press release announcing the show.

TNT, meanwhile, has Jason Lee in the George Clooney-produced "Memphis Beat," with the former "My Name Is Earl" star playing a Southern cop who lives with his mom and is a musical impersonator at night. Quirky much?

And, of course, USA will be launching its own USA-esque new series this summer, "Covert Affairs," which will air Tuesdays at 10 starting in July.

Is the network flattered — or worried about others stealing its script?

"It’s wonderful to see a lot people embracing our sensibility," USA original programming president Jeff Wachtel said. "It just puts the onus on us to find the next great thing. You’ll see us starting to expand our sensibility."

3. Reality programming is all about franchising.

The new rule in unscripted is: If a show is working, get thee a spinoff.

Copycatting is nothing new in reality. "The Bachelor," for example, spawned a million rip-offs, while there’ve been plenty of shows pitched as, "It’s ‘Survivor,’ but with …. "

What’s more recent is the trend toward taking existing franchises — or breakout stars from said franchises — and putting them in new projects. A virus that started with VH1’s "…of Love" series has now infected most of network TV (not to mention all of cable).

Like "The Biggest Loser"? NBC is betting you’ll love "Losing It" with trainer Jillian Michaels. Dig "The Bachelor"? ABC thinks you’ll check out "Bachelor Pad" this summer (not to mention the well-established "Bachelorette").

And Fox apparently has cloned Gordon Ramsay, putting the "Hell’s Kitchen" star in both the in-season series "Kitchen Nightmares" and the new summer show "Master Chef."

We’re still waiting for CBS to announce "Big Brother: Bunky and Marcellas Move In."

4. The biggest scheduling smackdowns will come on Sunday and Tuesday nights.

While just about every night of the week will feature a significant dose of first-run fare this summer, some of the biggest shows will end up duking it out on two nights.

Sundays, for example, has HBO’s powerhouse "True Blood"  (along with "Entourage") back in business, along with Lifetime’s returning hit "Drop Dead Diva," History’s red-hot "Ice Road Truckers," AMC’s signature series "Mad Men" (plus newcomer "Rubicon"), TNT’s "Leverage" and E!’s "Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami."

Added to that mix two first-run scripted dramas from ABC, "The Gates" and "Scoundrels."

While Sunday has lots of big shows, the toughest single timeslot this summer could be Tuesdays at 10.

USA just announced plans to launch newcomer "Covert Affairs" in the slot, which also boasts FX’s "Rescue Me," A&E’s new drama "The Glades," TNT’s Jason Lee project "Memphis Beat" and Bravo’s big new reality show "Double Exposure."

Plus, plenty of viewers will no doubt use their DVRs during the 10 p.m. hour — as they do in-season — to catch up on other big shows airing earlier on Tuesday nights this summer, such as ABC’s "Wipeout," NBC’s "America’s Got Talent" (which could expand into the 10 p.m. hour if the Peacock’s feeling frisky) and Fox’s "Master Chef."

"That’s gonna be a crowded night," Wachtel said.

5. "Jersey Shore" will be huge — but beware the backlash.

Here’s the situation about the Situation and his pals: It’s hard to imagine MTV’s reality from last winter not returning on July 29 with numbers as big as Snooki’s pouf. In addition to the large crowds who watched season one when it first aired, millions more have been exposed to the series since then, thanks to repeats and downloads.

But innocence has been lost. The once-humble guidos and guidettes have become reality royalty in recent months. The cast even tried to hold MTV hostage with salary demands before returning for a second cycle, if online reports are to be believed.

While there’s no doubt the Shore folk have been playing to the cameras since they stepped foot in the beach house, the fear now is that they’ll be too caught up in their own hype to be satisfied with the everyday GTL of it all.

What’s more, while the cast of "The Hills" were basically wannabe actors/models who had no problem acting out producer-suggested storylines, it remains to be seen if Pauly D has the same reality acting chops as, say, "The Hills’" Spencer P.

Viewers may also tire of the same old schtick, one industry insider predicts.

"The first time it’s unique and different and fun," the expert said. "But then these shows often become parodies of themselves. MTV should have found themselves new guidos."

Don’t be shocked if late July stories documenting record premiere numbers for "Jersey Shore 2" are soon followed by snarky blog posts predicting it’s all over for the gang by the beach.

No wonder MTV is already looking for new blood to add to the "Shore" — and developing several new series inspired by the original.