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Summer’s Gone Cold for Networks

Summer has cast a gray cloud on the major TV networks. Most are suffering double-digit drops from last year as top cable networks score with original dramas.

The three weeks ending July 5 were the major broadcast networks' lowest-rated in history. The combined four-network average was 20.2 million viewers for the week ending July 5.

But they're rearming for a late-summer push that includes a 10th-anniversary prime-time comeback of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and More to Love, a plus-size dating show.

TV did get a bounce from coverage of Michael Jackson's death over the past two weeks, and Fox's So You Think You Can Dance and ABC's Wipeout have scored among younger viewers.

NBC's America's Got Talent is again shaping up to be the summer's top draw. Averaging more than 11 million viewers, it's "a formidable player," says analyst Shari Anne Brill of media buyer Carat USA. "But beyond that, I can't think of anything that's been significant" on the major networks, and no new show has broken through. "It's been cable's time to bask in the sunlight."

TNT's The Closer and USA's Burn Notice and Royal Pains usually score more viewers than the handful of low-wattage dramas, including Merlin, The Listener, The Philanthropist and Mental, trotted out by the bigger networks.

Wednesdays offer a "reality-show smackdown" with Talent, Dance and Wipeout, says NBC reality chief Paul Telegdy, proving "TV is alive and kicking when America sees shows it wants to watch." But elsewhere, "it's tough to get noticed."

NBC got less-than-stellar results from I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and last week's Great American Road Trip. Talent expands to three hours a week, and a live format, on Aug. 4.

But there's hope for a handful of newcomers aimed at bridging the gap between summer and the Sept. 21 start of the new TV season. CBS' Big Brother began its 11th cycle Thursday with 6.8 million viewers, up from last year's opener. And ABC expects a decent turnout for Regis Philbin's return to Millionaire, which last aired in prime time in 2002.

"We'll use it to launch our next batch of summer series, and that will hopefully give us a promotional base going into the fall," says ABC executive vice president Jeff Bader.

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