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New network TV shows compete with controversy for attention

NEW YORK (AP) — When broadcasters staged their annual, extravagant showcases for next season's shows, they were after media-buyers' hearts and wallets and headlines about, say, wooing award-winner Edie Falco for a police series or Jimmy Smits of "L.A. Law" fame back to a new legal drama. Then unwelcome plot twists smacked several networks.

Consider Fox's predicament with "Empire" and Jussie Smollett. The network made the surprise announcement that next season would be the show's last, enthusiastically trumpeting a plan to make it "a large television event," as Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier described it during a news conference this week.

But would the embattled Smollett be welcome at the party? There's an option to include Smollett "but at this point we have no plans for that," Collier said, carefully. Terry Bradshaw fumbled at Fox's presentation. The former football star and Fox Sports analyst, attempting a joke about being bounced from "The Masked Singer," dissed panelist Ken Jeong as "the little short guy from Japan." Bradshaw later apologized for what he called an insensitive remark about the U.S.-born actor-comedian, who is of Korean ancestry.

CBS faced controversy involving "Bull" star Michael Weatherly . The show was renewed for a fourth season despite claims by actress Eliza Dusku that she was let go after complaining that Weatherly made jokes and crude comments about her in front of cast and crew in 2017. She got a hefty settlement under then-CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, himself later fired for alleged misconduct.

When CBS executives were asked how the renewal matched a company vow of zero-tolerance for misconduct, they said they were unaware of what occurred until the newspaper report. The decision was made after considering what they called Weatherly's remorseful apology and otherwise spotless record after years with CBS, including on "NCIS," they said.

ABC had a less weighty situation to address: An online meltdown by "Fresh Off the Boat" star Constance Wu, who greeted news of the sitcom's renewal with a meme-inspiring outburst of anguish. Did the network consider recasting her role?

No, said ABC entertainment president Karey Burke , diplomatically adding that she choose to believe Wu's subsequent assertion of being happy to return to the show. But Burke's inner comedian emerged at the presentation: "Fresh Off the Boat" will air Friday nights, she said, "still starring Constance Wu."

LET US ENTERTAIN YOU Monologues delivered by Jimmy Kimmel and his CBS late-night counterpart, Stephen Colbert, are reliable highlights of the presentations that are heavy on statistics and boasts about why THIS network is the best place to advertise. The comedians generously targeted their own companies, the competition and, of course, got in a few topical jokes.

Among Kimmel's highlights: — "I've been doing this so long, I remember when we previewed 'Lost' and 'Alias' and 'Desperate Housewives.' Those were back in the days when Felicity Huffman only played a scheming suburban mom."

— "NBC has 'This is Us,' which is so popular they renewed it for three years. Or as Constance Wu would call it, a death sentence." — "The good news is, here at ABC we've been running a lot of focus groups ... and we know exactly what Gen Z-ers want. The bad news is, it's Netflix."

And Colbert's: — "As you can see, despite Lindsey Graham's advice I honored my subpoena to be here today." — "Before I came here today, I received a massive document from the network, full of details about how well CBS performed this year. Now, I did not have the time to get through it all, so I just read Bill Barr's four-page summary. Turns out, Les Moonves, totally exonerated. I did not see that coming."

— "CBS has very successful crime dramas. For some reason, Americans these days just really want to watch people who have obviously committed crimes go to jail for them." YOU LIKED THEM BEFORE Remember how great Falco was in "The Sopranos" and "Nurse Jackie"? CBS hopes that you'll want to see her portray Los Angeles' first (fictional) female police chief in "Tommy." The network also has former "NCIS" star Pauley Perrette switching gears in the sitcom "Broke"; Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond") as a middle-aged medical intern in the comedy "Carol's Second Act," and Marg Helgenberger ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") in the courthouse drama "All Rise."

Billy Gardell, formerly of "Mike & Molly," gets a plum assignment starring in "Bob Hearts Abishola," producer Chuck Lorre's follow-up to CBS' just-ended hit "The Big Bang Theory." His co-star is Folake Olowofoyeku

Smits stars in NBC's "Bluff City Law" as a celebrated Memphis, Tennessee, lawyer with family issues. Bradley Whitford, his one-time castmate in "The West Wing," tops the comedy "Perfect Harmony," about a small-town church choir, while Fran Drescher ("The Nanny") and Steven Weber ("Mom," ''Wings") are paired in the network's boomer-offspring sitcom "Indebted."

Cobie Smulders counts as a TV fave for "How I Met Your Mother," but her "Avengers" credits are more to the point for ABC's "Stumptown," based on the graphic novel series about a tough private eye. Fox has a full roster of veterans, including Rob Lowe in a new iteration of drama series "9-1-1" set in Texas ; Kim Cattrall ("Sex and the City") in the soapy Southern drama "Filthy Rich"; John Slattery ("Mad Men") in the cautionary AI tale "neXt," and Tom Payne ("The Walking Dead") and Michael Sheen ("Masters of Sex") in the serial killer drama "Prodigal Son."

Fox's beefed-up animation slate is a boon for TV stars, if not so much for voice actors. Listen for Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Mary Steenburgen in "Bless the Harts," husband-and-wife Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally in "The Great North," and Amy Poehler, Ty Burrell and Rashida Jones in "Duncanville."

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLED Here's the roll call of the dearly departed — as in canceled — by network. ABC: "Whiskey Cavalier," ''For the People," ''Dancing with the Stars: Juniors," ''Child Support," ''The Alec Baldwin Show," ''The Kids Are Alright" and "Splitting Up Together" and "Speechless."

CBS: "Murphy Brown," ''Happy Together," ''Fam" and "Life in Pieces." Fox: "Star," ''Lethal Weapon," ''Proven Innocent, "The Cool Kids," ''The Gifted," ''Love Connection," ''The Passage" and "Rel." NBC: "I Feel Bad" is the sole victim, for now. On the bubble: "Abby's," ''A.P. Bio," ''The Village" and "The Enemy Within."

Lynn Elber can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber .

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