Is Earth Alone?
Hiroshima, El Niño Returns?
Archeopteryx, Ireland Atlantis?
2004 Fall TV Schedule & More!
Solar News!
Is Earth Alone? Our Planetary System Unique?
By Jacqueline Ali 
BBC News

August 6, 2004 (BBC) - The Solar System could be unique amongst planetary systems in the Universe, astronomers have announced.
New analysis by UK astronomers suggests our own planetary system may have formed in a very different way to those spotted orbiting other stars. 

The findings suggest that one formation mechanism may not fit all planetary systems, as other astronomers have previously suggested.

The study appears in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 

In the past 10 years, over 100 extrasolar systems (planetary systems orbiting stars other than the Sun) have been discovered from the wobble in their host stars, caused by the motion of the planets themselves.
But none of them seem to resemble our Solar System very much.

In fact, these exoplanets have several important attributes that are entirely at odds with the Solar System as we know it. 

Lead researcher Dr Martin Beer of the University of Leicester's theoretical astrophysics group, pointed out that much of the modeling done on the formation of planetary systems is based on our own one. 

"But existing data suggests that the planets in the Solar System are truly different from other planets," he told BBC News Online. 

If this is the case, Beer and his colleagues argue in their research paper, it is unreasonable to base our understanding of all planetary systems on the one around the Sun. They go on to speculate that if the Solar System is unique, then the search for Earth-like planets around other stars may be in vain. 

When compared to all known planetary systems, say the authors, our own is something of an anomaly. This appears to suggest that there might be two entirely separate mechanisms of planetary formation at work, or - at the very least - that there are two extremes of a single formation process. 

Planetary size is one puzzle; most exoplanets are gargantuan, gaseous masses like Jupiter.

Smaller planets similar to the Earth's relatively humble proportions - and rocky composition - are noticeably absent, although the researchers admit that this may be because smaller planets are more difficult to spot. Also, the large exoplanets are significantly closer to their stars than those in our own system are to the Sun. 

They follow highly eccentric, or elliptical, orbits, which are more elongated than the largely circular orbits of the planets in the Solar System. 

Planets are thought to form from the aggregation of dust particles between stars into a rocky core. This core either forms a solid planet, or develops a gaseous layer to become a gas giant like Jupiter or Saturn. Most theories of the formation of planetary systems are variations on this. But they do not account for the super hot and gaseous exoplanets that astronomers have been seeing around other stars.

However there is an alternative, more dynamic scenario. 

Some researchers have proposed that giant planets can form directly through sudden gravitational collapse of the gaseous discs around stars. At present, it is impossible to determine which of the theories is correct. Much more observational work is needed before solid judgments about whether the Solar System is truly different can be made. 

The current observational techniques rely on the gravitational pull that the planets exert on their parent stars. Since large, "hot Jupiters" as they are called, exert strong pulls on their stars, these planetary systems may simply be the ones that readily draw the attention of astronomers. 

"It's like a fisherman deciding that all fish are larger than 5cm because that is the size of the holes in his net," Dr Beer commented. "It will be another five years or so before we will be able to see systems like our own. At that point we will know whether the Solar System is truly different, or in fact very average." 

"Nevertheless, the existing data leaves open the possibility that [our own planetary system] is quite unique compared to [others]. If this turns out to be true, then our current understanding of planet formation is unduly colored by our intimate knowledge of the Solar System."

Our Sun and Global Climate
Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research News Release

August 2, 2004 - Since the middle of the last century, the Sun is in a phase of unusually high activity, as indicated by frequent occurrences of sunspots, gas eruptions, and radiation storms.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Katlenburg-Lindau (Germany) and at the University of Oulu (Finland) have come to this conclusion after they have succeeded in reconstructing the solar activity based on the sunspot frequency since 850 AD.

To this end, they have combined historical sunspot records with measurements of the frequency of radioactive isotopes in ice cores from Greenland and the Antarctic. As the scientists have reported in the renowned scientific journal, Physical Review Letters, since 1940 the mean sunspot number is higher than it has ever been in the last thousand years and two and a half times higher than the long term average.

The temporal variation in the solar activity displays a similarity to that of the mean temperature of the Earth. These scientific results therefore bring the influence of the Sun on the terrestrial climate, and in particular its contribution to the global warming of the 20th century, into the forefront of current interest.

However, researchers at the MPS have shown that the Sun can be responsible for, at most, only a small part of the warming over the last 20-30 years. They took the measured and calculated variations in the solar brightness over the last 150 years and compared them to the temperature of the Earth.

Although the changes in the two values tend to follow each other for roughly the first 120 years, the Earth’s temperature has risen dramatically in the last 30 years while the solar brightness has not appreciably increased in this time.

Astronomers have regularly observed sunspots since the invention of the telescope in the early 17th century. These are areas on the surface of the Sun where energy flow from the interior is reduced due to the strong magnetic fields that they exhibit. As a result, these regions cool by about 1500° and thus appear relatively darker than their surroundings at 5800°.

The number of sunspots varies over an 11-year activity period, which in turn is subject to longer term variations.

For example, in the second half of the 17th century, there were hardly any sunspots at all.

The German-Finnish research team has now applied a new method to obtain insight into the development of the sunspot number from before the beginning of direct records. In addition, these experts have analyzed measured abundances of beryllium-10 in ice cores from Greenland and the Antarctic.

This radioactive isotope is created when energetic particles in cosmic rays enter the Earth’s atmosphere and split atomic nuclei of nitrogen and oxygen. Beryllium-10 (half-life 1.6 million years) is a product of this decay process, which is then washed out of the atmosphere by precipitation and then deposited in layers in the polar ice fields.

Since the cosmic rays are partially deflected by the solar magnetic field filling interplanetary space, the production rate of Beryllium-10 in the atmosphere varies with the strength of this magnetic field, which in turn is associated with the number of sunspots.

A comparison of the Beryllium-10 data with the historical records of sunspot numbers reveals a high degree of correlation. Thus it was possible for the researchers to test and calibrate this new reconstruction method. The solar research team has managed, for the first time, to substantiate with consistent physical models every link in the complex chain, from the isotope abundance in the ice back to the sunspot number.

This includes the creation of Beryllium-10 by cosmic rays, the modulation of the cosmic rays by the interplanetary magnetic field, and finally the relationship between the solar magnetic field and the number of sunspots. In this way it was possible for the scientists to obtain, for the first time, a reliable, quantitative determination of the sunspot numbers even for times before direct measurements were made.

These data show clearly that the Sun is in a state of unusually high activity, for about the last 60 years. The time interval for which this statement can be made has been tripled by these new investigations, for now the reconstructed sunspot numbers extend back to 850 AD. Another period of enhanced solar activity, but with substantially fewer sunspots than now, occurred in the Middle Ages from 1100 to 1250. At that time, a warm period reigned over the Earth, as the Vikings established flourishing settlements in Greenland.

The Sun affects the climate through several physical processes: For one thing, the total radiation, particularly that in the ultraviolet range, varies with solar activity. When many sunspots are visible, the Sun is somewhat brighter than in "quiet" times and radiates considerably more in the ultraviolet.

On the other hand, the cosmic ray intensity entering the Earth’s atmosphere varies opposite to the solar activity, since the cosmic ray particles are deflected by the Sun’s magnetic field to a greater or lesser degree. According to a much discussed model proposed by Danish researchers, the ions produced by cosmic rays act as condensation nuclei for larger suspension particles and thus contribute to cloud formation.

With increased solar activity (and stronger magnetic fields), the cosmic ray intensity decreases, and with it the amount of cloud coverage, resulting in a rise of temperatures on the Earth. Conversely, a reduction in solar activity produces lower temperatures.

Two scientists from the MPI for Solar System Research have calculated for the last 150 years the Sun’s main parameters affecting climate, using current measurements and the newest models: the total radiation, the ultraviolet output, and the Sun’s magnetic field (which modulates the cosmic ray intensity).

They come to the conclusion that the variations on the Sun run parallel to climate changes for most of that time, indicating that the Sun has indeed influenced the climate in the past. Just how large this influence is, is subject to further investigation. However, it is also clear that since about 1980, while the total solar radiation, its ultraviolet component, and the cosmic ray intensity all exhibit the 11-year solar periodicity, there has otherwise been no significant increase in their values.

In contrast, the Earth has warmed up considerably within this time period. This means that the Sun is not the cause of the present global warming.

These findings bring the question as to what is the connection between variations in solar activity and the terrestrial climate into the focal point of current research. The influence of the Sun on the Earth is seen increasingly as one cause of the observed global warming since 1900, along with the emission of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, from the combustion of coal, gas, and oil.

"Just how large this role is, must still be investigated, since, according to our latest knowledge on the variations of the solar magnetic field, the significant increase in the Earth’s temperature since 1980 is indeed to be ascribed to the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide," says Prof. Sami K. Solanki, solar physicist and director at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research - http://www.maxplanck.de/english

Hiroshima
By Eriko Sugita
Reuters

HIROSHIMA August 6, 2004 (Reuters) — The mayor of Hiroshima rebuked Washington on Friday — the 59th anniversary of his city's atomic bombing by the United States — for wanting to develop small nuclear weapons that he feared would be easier to use.

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba made the remarks at a ceremony attended by about 40,000 people, including Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi plus survivors and relatives of victims of the world's first atomic attack.

"The egocentric world view of the U.S. government is reaching extremes," Akiba told the annual memorial ceremony at the city's Peace Park, near where the bomb was dropped. "Ignoring the United Nations and its foundation of international law, the U.S. has resumed research to make nuclear weapons smaller and more 'usable'."

The Peace Bell was tolled at 8:15 a.m. — the moment a U.S. warplane dropped the bomb on August 6, 1945 and destroyed the city — and there was a minute of silence.

"The morning of August 6, 59 years ago, was just another summer morning, but a single atomic bomb changed it into a morning that humankind will never forget," 11-year-old Koya Yurino told the assembly.

Paper cranes symbolizing peace were draped around the park and incense burned on prayer altars as Akiba placed three books containing the names of the bomb's victims under the park's arch-shaped cenotaph.

The names of 5,142 people who died recently were added to the list of victims, bringing the total number recognized by the city to 237,062.

A few thousand names are added each year.

The bomb had killed some 140,000 people by the end of 1945, out of Hiroshima's estimated population of 350,000. Thousands more succumbed to illness and injuries later.

The southwestern city of Nagasaki was bombed three days after Hiroshima, leading to Japan's surrender and the end of World War II.

Japan, where people are raised on stories of the suffering in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has been staunchly pacifist and anti-nuclear since its defeat, and its postwar constitution renounces the right to go to war.

But with the average age of Hiroshima's survivors now well over 70, there are signs that support for the country to assume a greater global military role is growing.

Even talk of becoming a nuclear power is no longer taboo.

However, Koizumi repeated a pledge that Japan — the only nation to suffer an atomic attack — would work for nuclear disarmament.

"We will maintain the pacifist constitution under our strong resolve to never again repeat the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," he said at the ceremony.

Under Koizumi, Japan has passed a law allowing its military to participate in the rebuilding of Iraq and has sent 550 soldiers to Iraq in its largest post-war dispatch of troops.

Koizumi's ruling party and the largest opposition party are both working on drafts to revise the constitution, whose Article Nine renounces war as a means of settling international disputes.

Time Flies!
University of Alberta News Release

August 6, 2004 - Every mom and dad can tell you that keeping children busy helps stave off cries of boredom--and now there is scientific backing to prove it.

Dr. Anthony Chaston and his research colleague, Dr. Alan Kingstone, have proven, once and for all, that time really does fly when you're having fun.

Or, at least, it flies when your attention is engaged. 

Working in the University of Alberta Department of Psychology, Chaston and Kingstone devised a test that required subjects to find specific items in various images--a sort of "Where's Waldo" activity. However, before the subjects started the test they were told that once they had completed it they would be asked to estimate how much time had passed during their test. 

There were seven levels of difficulty among the tests. In some cases, the items were easy to find because they were different colors from everything else, or the items were set among just one or two others. In the more difficult tests, the items were placed among many similar looking items, or they didn't even exist in the image, at all. 

"The harder and harder the search tasks were, the smaller and smaller the estimates became," said Chaston, whose study is published in the latest edition of Brain and Cognition. "The results were super clean--we have created a new and powerful paradigm to get at the link between time and attention." 

There are two kinds of time estimations, Chaston added. There's prospective time estimation, which means the estimator knows in advance that he or she will be asked to make an estimate after a task is completed, and then there's retrospective, which means someone has been asked to provide a time estimate after the task has been completed. 

"There's generally a big difference between prospective and retrospective time estimations," Chaston said. "In our society, we're pretty good with prospective estimates. Most of us wear watches, and we're pretty good at keeping track of the time because we have to for most of our regular, daily lives." 

For this reason, Chaston is pleased that the results of his study demonstrated such a powerful effect of attention on prospective time estimates. 

"This really shows that even if you know in advance that you're going to have to estimate the time of a task, the more attention the task requires, the faster time flies." 

University of Alberta - http://www.ualberta.ca

El Niño Returns?
By Rene Pastor 

NEW YORK August 6, 2004 (Reuters) - El Niño, the dreaded weather anomaly which has killed hundreds and spawned disasters across the Asia-Pacific region over the years, could possibly develop by late 2004, the Climate Prediction Center of the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said. 

In a monthly report devoted to monitoring El Niño which was issued late Thursday, the Center said sea surface temperatures have risen in the central Pacific Ocean and may "indicate the possible early stages of a warm episode." 

The Center added on its web site "El Niño conditions are expected to develop during the next three months," 

There is about "a 50 percent chance that the NOAA operational definition for El Niño will be satisfied for the period June-August 2004," the Center predicted. 

"Approximately half of the statistical and coupled model forecasts indicate near neutral conditions in the tropical Pacific through the end of 2004. The remaining forecasts indicate El Niño conditions will develop within the next 3-6 months," it added. 

A Kelvin wave which is pushing the warm waters eastward has been observed, contributing to "an increase in the subsurface temperature anomalies in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (Ocean). This Kelvin wave is expected to reach the South American coast during August," the Center said. 

El Niño is a weather phenomenon which leads to an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, recurring roughly once every three years. 

The anomaly was first noticed by Latin American anchovy fishermen in the 19th century and was named in honor of the Christ child because it would take place around the year-end Christmas holiday season. 

Severe El Niños, as happened in 1997/98, would cause searing drought in Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia while spawning rampant flooding in Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia. Another Niño in 2002/03 caused the worst drought in Australia in a century. 

The warming of Pacific Ocean waters can cause floods and drought as far as South Africa and trigger severe winter storms in California. 

El Niño killed hundreds of people in 1997/98 and caused billions of dollars in damages. Before that, another El Niño in 1977/78 likewise killed hundreds and caused several hundred million dollars in damages.

NOAA El Niño site - http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina
Two Inca Observatories Discovered in Peru
LIMA August 1, 2004 (AFP) - US and Peruvian archaeologists have discovered two Inca observatories in central Peru, which they said are the most imposing of the stone structures found to date.

The discovery of the observatories, announced Friday, is the result of five years of searching in Huanuco province. 

One of the two, known as Ushnu, is larger than the observatory of Cuzco, the largest previously found, archaeologist Juan Luis Pino told the local media. It measured 48m long, 32m wide and 4mhigh. 

The observatory's principal function was to help the Incas decide where to build according to the positions of the sun and the moon, he said. 

Pino said the site continues to be venerated by the local population, although it is no longer used as an observatory.
Archeopteryx Flies!
University of Texas at Austin News Release

AUSTIN Texas August 4, 2004 – Using computer imaging to model a fossil of an Archeopteryx animal, a scientific team led by a University of Texas at Austin geologist has provided strong evidence that the forerunner to birds had a brain equipped to handle delicate flight maneuvers. 

"This animal had huge eyes and a huge vision region in its brain to go along with that, and a great sense of balance," said Dr. Timothy Rowe. "Its inner ear also looks very much like the ear of a modern bird." 

Rowe co-directs the university's High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography (UTCT) facility, where he was able to help determine the bird-brain features of Archeopteryx from a fossil fragment brought to him by Angela Milner. The paleontologist at London's Natural History Museum is a co-author of the Nature paper that will be published Aug. 5, about the findings. 

Rowe and other scientists revere the 147-million-year-old specimen that was originally discovered in German limestone in 1861 because it was found a year after Charles Darwin published "On The Origin of Species," and supports the theory of evolution. The new findings suggest it will also help define when bird flight began. 

Dinosaurs found in China and elsewhere during the past decade have caused scientists to speculate that some had feathers, but couldn't fly. This research, Rowe said, disproves the theory that Archeopteryx was among those dinosaurs.

Rowe and Dr. Richard Ketcham, who manages the UTCT facility, took 1,300 images of the skull fragment that once held the creature's brain, eyes and ears using the university's sophisticated CT scanner. Ketcham then spent months removing artifacts that marred the images so the scientists could reconstruct the size and the features of the brain using 3-D modeling software. 

The upper bones that covered the creature's braincase were overlapped in the squashed fossil. Computer modeling allowed the scientists to reposition the skull bones next to each other as they likely occurred in life. The repositioning suggested that the creature had a brain about three times larger than crocodiles and other modern reptiles, and of a similar size to many modern birds.

"There are living birds that have brains that are relatively smaller than Archeopteryx," Rowe said.

Birds are thought to need significant brain power because of the specialized visual and other requirements of flight. High flyers, for example, need to coordinate information coming from their eyes and ears, while relying less on smell. Because of the markings the Archeopteryx brain left inside its skull, the scientists could tell that it had a large midbrain region, where this ear/eye crosstalk would occur, and complex inner ear structures just like birds.

However, it had little nervous system hardware to process smells. 

Its brain also had a large outer region, or cortex, required to process other complex information during flight, such as the wind pressure detected by nerve cells attached to individual feathers.

The bird predecessor would have used that sensory information from wing feathers to make body adjustments during flight. 

"The wing of a bird is really much more sophisticated than the wing of an airplane," said Rowe, who has extensive experience imaging modern birds and other modern and ancient animals. 

The scientists' future studies will focus on how Archeopteryx flew and determining its evolutionary ancestors. 

There are just six Archaeopteryx fossils in existence, and one feather sample.

University of Texas at Austin - http://www.utexas.edu

Humans Can Speed Evolution
Georgia Institute of Technology News Release

Atlanta (August 4,2004) — It’s no secret that life in the 21st century moves at a rapid pace. Human inventions such as the Internet, mobile phones and fiber optic cable have increased the speed of communication, making it possible for someone to be virtually in two places at once. But can humans speed up the rate of one of nature’s most basic and slowest processes, evolution? A study by J. Todd Streelman, new assistant professor of biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that humans may have sped up the evolutionary clock for one species of fish.

Cichlid fish are well known to biologists for their rapid rate of evolution. While it takes many animals thousands of years to form new species, the cichlids of Africa’s Lake Malawi are estimated to have formed 1,000 new species in only 500,000 years, lightning speed in evolutionary terms. In the 1960s a fish exporter may have unwittingly set the stage for an evolutionary explosion when he introduced individuals of the species Cynotilapia afra to Mitande Point on the lake’s Thumbi West Island. As of 1983, the species hadn’t budged from Mitande Point. But when Streelman, then at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and colleagues went to the island in 2001, they found the fish had evolved into two genetically distinct varieties in less than 20 years. The study appears in the August 13 edition of Molecular Ecology. 

"This is a great example of human-induced evolution in action," said Streelman. "It adds to a growing list of cases, including introduced salmon, flies and plants, where human disturbance has set the stage for contemporary evolution on scales we’ve not witnessed before." 

The fish have evolved into two genetically distinct and differently colored populations, one on the north side of the island, the other on the south, said Streelman. Cichlid color patterns are important in mate selection, so these distinct markings may promote the evolution of new species. 

Whether or not that happens and how long it will take is a question to which Streelman is eager to find the answer.

"It could be that we'll have new species in another 20 years, although this depends on a number of factors. Either way, we have a wonderful opportunity to follow the evolutionary trajectory of these populations over time. We plan to return to the island next July to do further study," he said. "Thumbi West will be a valuable place to work for years to come."

Georgia Institute of Technology - http://www.gatech.edu
Chinese Sex Toys
SHANGHAI August 6, 2004 (AFP) - China's eastern metropolis of Shanghai opened its 2004 Adult Expo, further stripping away notions that the communist party-ruled country remains prudish in matters of sex.

For citizens, buyers and the simply curious, the adult sex toy exhibition promises a vibrant display of "Muscular Dragon" vibrators, "Healthy Horse" condoms, "Plump Lady" blow-up sex dolls and even an American porn star. 

The platinum blond actress, Cindy Crawford, 23, -- no relation to the supermodel of the same namesake -- has taken a break from her usual film duties to promote her new line in China's hot sex toy market. 

"Given my line of work, getting into the sex toy (business) was pretty closely related," the Las Vegas native said as she was mobbed by Chinese men seeking her autograph. 

Turnover of sex products in China, including condoms, exceeded 100 billion yuan (12 billion dollars) in 2003 and is expanding at around 30 percent a year, organisers say. 

"At first, five years ago, Chinese people were not very receptive and didn't like the idea of vibrators and sex toys", said the president of China-based High Tech Novelties Martin Tucker. 

"The industry is growing daily if not hourly," said Tucker. 

Since China opened up the industry in 1993, it has seen an explosion of sex shops, now estimated to number around 20,000. 

In many ways China is still a conservative country where sex is not openly discussed, said Durex condom brand manager Zhang Bing. 

"For many Chinese some of the pictures and toys here might be too much, but things have changed tremendously since I was a child, especially because of the explosion in AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases," she said.
Ireland Is Atlantis?
By Kevin Smith 

DUBLIN August 6, 2004 (Reuters) - Atlantis, the legendary island nation over whose existence controversy has raged for thousands of years, was actually Ireland, according to a new theory by a Swedish scientist.

Atlantis, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in 360 BC, was an island in the Atlantic Ocean where an advanced civilization developed some 11,500 years ago until it was hit by a cataclysmic natural disaster and sank beneath the waves. 

Geographer Ulf Erlingsson, whose book explaining his theory will be published next month, says the measurements, geography, and landscape of Atlantis as described by Plato match Ireland almost exactly. 

"I am amazed no one has come up with this before, it's incredible," he told Reuters. 

"Just like Atlantis, Ireland is 300 miles long, 200 miles wide, and widest across the middle. They both have a central plain surrounded by mountains. 

"I've looked at geographical data from the rest of the world and of the 50 largest islands there is only one that has a plain in the middle -- Ireland." 

Erlingsson believes the idea that Atlantis sank came from the fate of Dogger Bank, an isolated shoal in the North Sea, about 60 miles off the northeastern coast of England, which sank after being hit by a huge floodwave around 6,100 BC. 

"I suspect that myth came from Ireland and it derives from Dogger Bank. I think the memory of Dogger Bank was probably preserved in Ireland for around 3,000 years and became mixed up with the story of Atlantis," he said. 

Erlingsson links the boundaries of the Atlantic Empire, as outlined by Plato, with the geographic distribution of megalithic monuments in Europe and Northern Africa, matching Atlantis' temples with well-known burial sites at Newgrange and Knowth, north of Dublin, which pre-date the pyramids. 

His book, "Atlantis from a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land," calculates the probability Plato would have had access to geographical data about Ireland as 99.98 percent. 

Previous theories about Atlantis have suggested it may have been around the Azores islands 900 miles west of the Portuguese coast, or in the Aegean sea. Others locate it solely in the long-decayed brain of Plato.
Genre News: Fall Network TV Season 2004

Fall Season 2004: Don't Blink
By FLAtRich

August 8, 2004 (eXoNews) - Well, let's be honest. There aren't any new "genre" shows in your fall future. Contrary to popular opinion, there are some new dramas on the broadcast network schedules, but the only fantasy and sci fi / thriller shows are returning favorites and most of these are on their last legs, as network TV descends once again into the grape juice valley of depression.

The boob tube will mostly be adding lots of new contests where you can couch potato your time away watching other people win things in exotic or inexplicably boring settings.

The networks call this mutated form of quiz show "reality". I argued that this label was wrong a couple of years ago - and I still prefer "contest show" to "reality show" - but the networks were right.

TV will forever be a morass of programs that require no real thinking on the part of the audience. The Number One Law of Network Robotics. So it always has been, and so it always shall be. That's reality.

And what can the more discerning viewer hope for when most of America would prefer to watch shiny yuppies bob for worms?

Well, we have the half-dozen or so network genre returnees, including Charmed, Smallville, Tru Calling, Enterprise and Joan of Arcadia.

That's five and depending on your definition of alternate reality, there's also West Wing.

Assuming Enterprise and Tru Calling disappear by mid-season and the Charmed gals decide to end their show before the broom hits the fan, you're probably considering giving One Tree Hill or Third Watch a second chance, but don't despair.

A couple of networks are trying new combinations of cops and lawyers and forensic detectives that might be interesting. There aren't many, so don't blink or you'll miss them. And don't look for them on The WB or UPN or Fox. The little nets seem to have given up on drama (there are some new yuppie soaps between the contest shows, but we don't talk about those here.)

  8PM/7c 9PM/8c 10PM/9c
Sunday Cold Case (CBS)
Charmed (WB)
Desperate Housewives (ABC)
Law & Order (NBC)
Jack and Bobby (WB)
Boston Legal (ABC)
Crossing Jordan (NBC)
Monday   Las Vegas (NBC) CSI: Miami (CBS)
LAX (NBC)
Tuesday Navy NCIS (CBS)   NYPD Blue (ABC)
Judging Amy (CBS)
Law & Order (NBC)
Wednesday Lost (ABC)
Hawaii (NBC)
Smallville (WB)
West Wing (NBC) CSI: NY (CBS)
Law & Order (NBC)
Thursday   CSI (CBS)
Tru Calling (Fox)
Without a Trace (CBS)
ER (NBC)
Friday Joan of Arcadia (CBS)
Enterprise (UPN)
JAG (CBS) Dr. Vegas (CBS)
Medical Investigation (NBC)
Saturday      
Shows that won't make you gag in the Fall 2004 Broadcast Network Schedule (eXoNews)

ABC is mounting Desperate Housewives on Sundays at 9 PM. This one is told from the vantage point of a dead housewife, which gives it that genre sort of ring (in fact, it sounds like the same device that Fox was supposed to use on Still Life, a show that never made it to air last season), but ABC admits that Desperate Housewives is a "primetime soap", so we'll have to hope the cast can make it fun.

Teri Hatcher is one of the players, so I'm willing to watch and see. Teri can be excellent given half the chance.

NBC is running one of the many Law & Order shows opposite Desperate Housewives and The WB is trying a teen family drama called Jack and Bobby following the return of our favorite witches on Charmed at 8 PM.

Jack and Bobby is not about the Kennedys, but is supposed to be about one of two brothers who grows up to be president of the USA. The growing up isn't set in the past, so the premise sounds a little too complex for the current contest program majority. David Nutter directs, but he also did Tarzan, which failed in this WB time slot last season despite its Charmed lead-in at 8 PM.

ABC is offering Boston Legal at 10 PM on Sundays, starring James Spader and William Shatner as lawyers or something. As you probably know, it's a spin-off of The Practice. Maybe it will be more interesting than its sire, but it will also be opposite Crossing Jordan on NBC, and I already like Jordan too much to miss her.

Monday is still Monday, with the return of NBC's delightful Las Vegas at 9 PM and a new cop show called LAX on NBC at 10 PM.

LAX is the airport abbreviation for Los Angeles International Airport, so you can guess what this one's about. NBC says "when it comes to stories to tell, well, the sky's the limit." Unfortunately, the stars are aging Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood, who are about as likely to be working airport security as Madonna and Denzel Washington. CSI: Miami is opposite on CBS, so I wouldn't expect LAX to last.

Tuesday has no new shows worth mentioning. Navy NCIS, one of my favorites last season, returns to CBS at 8 PM. Those contest shows plug up the 9 PM slot. The big three continue to fight it out for market dominance at 10 PM with older returning dramas that I don't watch anymore.

Smallville is back on The WB at 8 PM Wednesdays, the big night to beat last season. Lois Lane shows up this year and there will be some flying, although Tom Welling does not don the traditional underwear and cape. No Angel to follow Smallville, so that's about it for the Frog.

ABC is trying to get Lost at 8 PM opposite Clark and Lois, and NBC is going to Hawaii.

Lost is about 48 people who crash in an airplane on a pacific island and have to survive. Sounds like it's based on one of the contest shows, and that may be close. ABC says "The band of friends, family, enemies and strangers must work together against the cruel weather and harsh terrain. But the intense howls of the mysterious creatures stalking the jungle fill them all with fear."

Oooh. Mysterious creatures stalking the jungle. Maybe they landed in Dinotopia? Can ABC really hope to keep this premise alive for more than a few episodes? I doubt it, but genre vets Terry O'Quinn (MillenniuM) and Daniel Dae Kim (Angel) are along for the flight.

NBC's Hawaii is not to be confused with James Michener's Hawaii. NBC says "Hawaii can seduce just about anyone - cops and criminals alike." OK. I get it. Hawaiian cop show without Poncie Ponce and Connie Stevens, Tom Selleck and Roger E. Mosley, or Jack Lord and James MacArthur.

This time we get Michael Biehn leading the Hawaiian dicks and NBC says they "may work against a breathtaking backdrop of jungles and seascapes, but they can never take a vacation from the tangle of local and international criminals constantly crossing their paths." Oh, boy! Tangled!

West Wing returns to NBC at 9 PM on Wednesdays. Another Law & Order show follows on the peacock channel at 10 PM, challenged opposite by the new CSI: NY clone on CBS. This time the corpses are being dissected in New York City. I wonder how long before CBS tries CSI: Hawaii?

Thursday looks just like last year. Fox has returned Tru Calling, giving us Tru and her crew in the 9 PM slot opposite CSI: Las Vegas on CBS. This may actually be a good thing, as no one ever expects to out rate the original CSI. In any case, I'm happily surprised Tru Calling is back, but there is nothing else I would care to watch on Fox this season and nothing remotely promising coming up from the former X-Files network.

There was talk of a genre show called Point Pleasant from ex-Buffy producer-writer Marti Noxon, but no sign of it happening at this point.

Friday marks the return of Star Trek Enterprise, the only interesting show UPN has to offer this fall. Interesting because Enterprise may dematerialize right before your eyes if the 8 PM Friday time slot doesn't save Captain Archer and his rather somber crew from increasing unpopularity.

UPN is probably plotting to beam the last survivor of the Great Franchise out quickly, as they have put it opposite Joan of Arcadia on CBS.

After last season's pathetic cliffhanger - leaving Archer in an old Sliders episode full of alien Nazi's - I think I may opt for Joan. At least God still has a sense of humor.

The Trek people promise a new direction, however, and there are reports that Brent Spiner and Bill Shatner may guest during the season. On a less promising note, T'Pol will get married.

What's next? T'Pol gives birth to an alien Nazi, of course!

JAG returns for their millionth season on CBS Fridays at 9 PM. This show was slowing down a bit last year, but I do love all the players and have watched it pretty regularly since 1995.

The recent subplot with Harm and his adopted daughter Mattie worked well at first but got a bit soapy, even though Hallee Hirsh is really great as Mattie. Let's get back on those ships and planes, JAG!

Friday winds up the week's dramas at 10 PM with two newbies, Medical Investigation on NBC and Dr. Vegas on CBS. Medical Investigation (soon to be shortened to MI) is probably just another show about dissecting corpses, but NBC says "Based on true accounts, these are the stories of the National Institutes of Health, America's most elite unit of medical experts." Yawn.

Dr. Vegas stars Rob Lowe as the casino doctor and Joe Pantoliano as the casino general manager in CBS's obvious attempt to capture the success of NBC's Las Vegas, which was NBC's obvious attempt to capture the success of CBS's CSI: Las Vegas.

I think NBC won that battle.

In case you haven't seen the James Caan show on NBC, it's very funny, surprisingly action-packed and extremely fast.

It has Josh Duhamel for the girls and Nikki Cox, Vanessa Marcil, Molly Sims and my favorite Marsha Thomason for the boys.

Las Vegas is a very hard act to follow.

Dr. Vegas will probably be burdened by medical leanings. CBS says "Whether it's a celebrity headliner who takes a header from the stage, an employee hurt on the job or a desperate guest whose luck has run out at the tables, it's a safe bet that Dr. Grant [Lowe] will see his share of unique medical cases." Uh, OK.

Is that all there is? Of course not! Cable TV will be more than happy to come to your rescue if you can get it or afford it. Sci Fi Channel and all the others are plotting to take over the world right now as we speak. Farscape returns for a big finale in October on Sci Fi, who also promises more Battlestar Galactica (better than last time, I hope) and Earthsea.

Elsewhere, Steven Spielberg is producing a western mini-series called Into The West for TNT, and we will hopefully see new stuff from the good folks at USA as well. 

For info on all the broadcast network trash I didn't bother mentioning, here are the websites:

ABC Fall Preview - http://abc.go.com/primetime/schedule
CBS Fall Preview - http://www.cbs.com/primetime/fall_preview_2004
Fox Fall Preview - http://www.fox.com/schedule/schedule_2004_fall.htm
NBC Fall Preview - http://www.nbc.com/nbc/Primetime_Preview_04_05
WB Fall Preview - http://www.thewb.com/Shows/Special/0,11116,171792,00.html
UPN Fall Preview - http://www.upn.com/shows/fall_preview_2004 

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