On the bubble

Shows like NBC's 'Ed' wait to hear about renewal

— This is the week that Jon Beckerman and Rob Burnett, executive producers of NBC's "Ed," find out if their creation died with a kiss or whether the romance will continue.

It's the most nerve-racking week of the year for television producers, many of whom are waiting for phone calls that will change their lives.

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AP Photo

Tom Cavanagh as Ed Stevens and Julie Bowen as Carol Vessey appear in a scene from the NBC series "Ed," in this 2002 publicity photo. "Ed" is among several primetime entertainment shows awaiting word whether they will be renewed for the fall 2003 season.

Starting May 12, networks announce their schedules for the fall. Producers of hits like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Friends" or "American Idol" have nothing to worry about. They've already been renewed.

But for shows on the bubble like "Ed," "The Practice," "Becker," "Boomtown" and "Hack," there's genuine suspense.

"We're optimistic," Burnett said, "only because we think there's genuine enthusiasm for the show (among NBC executives). They've always been big fans of the show; they've praised the quality of the show, and the move to Friday night has been by all measures a success."

Beckerman and Burnett met last week to map out ideas for a fourth season, a job they had put off because, well, they still didn't know if it was a waste of time.

Their season ended in March with an episode that raised suspicions that they knew they were goners.

Ed and Carol, the central characters played by Tom Cavanagh and Julie Bowen, finally concluded their three-year flirtation with a sensuous kiss as fireworks exploded in the background. They stood in the same place where they shared an initial kiss in the show's first episode.

It seemed like an extremely neat ending, especially given that the previous two seasons finished with cliffhangers. Last year, for instance, Carol left on a trip with another man with the expectation they would be engaged.

"It had more to do with changing the paradigm of the show for the future than ending the series," Burnett said, though conceding it also worked well as a punctuation.

The producers had grown tired writing about the cat-and-mouse game between Carol and Ed, they said, and it had nearly reached the point of unbelievability. Real people in the characters' situation would either get together, already, or separate for good.

The risk is that the show's quirky nature -- sexual tension played out with skywriters and suits of armor -- will be lost once that tension is gone.

"As many people who have said to me, 'is the show over now that Carol and Ed are together?' I've had people say, 'Get them together and let them go on with their lives instead of freezing them in this particular period of their lives,"' Beckerman said.

To outsiders, other ominous signs about the show's future were the late-season move from Wednesday to Friday at 9, the April 11 season finale (most shows bow in May), and the decision not to rerun any episodes.

The latter two calls were made last summer, Beckerman said. Serial dramas with ongoing stories get poorer ratings in reruns than self-contained shows. NBC also wanted to run the season straight through without interruption, he said.

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