By Leah Hochbaum

It’s nearly three months in to the U.S. TV season, and already, several shows that began with the drone of industry buzz have been unceremoniously yanked from the schedule. Among the promising freshman series that will never make it to their sophomore slumps are: CBS’ Smith and NBC’s Kidnapped. But many insiders are speculating that for once, the demise of this crop of series can actually be attributed not to the shows’ own failings, but to a market oversaturated with good product.

“With so many great shows on U.S. television these days, viewers have a lot on their plates,” said Dawn Ostroff, president, Entertainment, for The CW, the new U.S. network that blended programming from The WB and UPN. “Runaway [produced and distributed internationally by Sony Pictures Television International] was a well-done show,” she said, referring to the network’s first creation — a series about a family on the run — as well as its first casualty. “We took a chance with a concept that blended the family drama genre with an action-thriller, and this time, it didn’t pay off. But as the network for young adults, we will continue to take creative risks because that’s what our audience wants. They want something different, something they can’t find anywhere else, and we want to be the network that delivers it to them.”

Yet while she acknowledges that the net’s first production might’ve been a bust, she’s also well aware that all it takes is quality programming to grab and retain viewers. “The fact is, if you love a show, you’re going to tune in each week — whether it’s serialized or not. If a great show grabs the viewers’ attention, they’ll make the effort to keep coming back.”

Keith LeGoy, executive vice president, Distribution for Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI), concurred that it’s actually the sheer power of older series that are keeping viewers away from some of the newer shows.

“The interesting factor has been the strength of many of the returning shows, and frankly the overall unbelievably high level of quality for new TV series,” said LeGoy. “Shows like Kidnapped, Smith or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip are outstanding creative television, but so are returning shows like Grey’s Anatomy and ER. So the competition is intense and the quality level you need to win has been cranked way up.”

LeGoy continued: “The beauty of our business is its unpredictability. No one really knows why X or Y shows didn’t catch fire with the audience. So much of this business is the stars aligning for a great show which catches the zeitgeist, connects with its marketing campaign and is on at a time, and with a lead-in, that prompts people to try it and come back the next week.”

LeGoy is confident that SPTI’s own ’Til Death, which has “performed really strongly for Fox” will be one of those shows that keeps people coming back for more. The comedy, about newlyweds who move in next door to a long-married pair and learn some ugly truths about couplehood everlasting, stars Everybody Loves Raymond’s Brad Garrett.

’Til Death has been one of Fox’s strongest shows this season,” said LeGoy. “Garrett is a comic genius and he has an incredibly strong connection with the TV audience. Viewers are responding because the show is fantastically written, brilliantly acted, is smart, funny, and deals with universal themes and issues which people around the world can relate to.”

Yet while things are looking promising for ’Til Death, other on-the-bubble series are still waiting to learn their fates. The casts of Fox’s Standoff and Vanished, as well as ABC’s much-hyped The Nine (which is produced and internationally distributed by Warner Bros. International Television) and Six Degrees (distributed by Buena Vista International Television) still don’t know whether they’ll be employed or looking for work by the end of the year.

But no show bowed with more buzz than NBC’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, also produced and distributed internationally by Warner Bros. International Television, which, though hemorrhaging viewers, has been granted a full season order by the peacock net — which, surprisingly, seems more than willing to wait to let a worthy show find an audience. After all, it worked for CBS’ Criminal Minds, which started slow, but in its second year, has become a Nielsen hit. The same could happen for this Aaron Sorkin-helmed sketch comedy drama. But with trigger-happy network execs eager to quickly pull the plug on even quality dramas that cannot immediately find a following, the show may not last past its less-than-stellar first season.

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