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NEW EPISODES OF 'LOST' CAN BE FOUND IN MAY SWEEPS

After last Wednesday's stunning life and death episode of ABC's freshman series hit, "Lost," fans will be disappointed and surprised to learn that this week's episode is a repeat.

The network is disguising that fact with promos that give the wrong impression by focusing on upcoming episodes.

The producers only make 22 original episodes a season, and ABC is saving the final original episodes for the May sweeps. ABC's other big freshman hit, "Desperate Housewives," is able to carry original episodes for seven straight weeks, because it saved a few on the Sundays when the Super Bowl and Oscars were carried.

This season's schedule seems to be more complicated than the plot line of "Lost." That's primarily because of business reasons, like the need to save episodes of popular series for the sweeps and to end low-rated series before they begin.

As a rule, the earlier series end their seasons, the more likely they are in trouble.

NBC's "American Dreams" ended its season a few Wednesdays ago after the network moved its expensive reality boxing series, "The Contender," to its Sunday spot. "The Contender" has fallen on its face, with "American Dreams" probably going down for the count, too. Its Wednesday ratings were so low that it will be difficult for NBC to bring it back for another season, even if it is a favorite of executive Jeff Zucker.

"The West Wing" ended its season last week with a terrific episode in which Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) won the Democratic nomination and picked Leo McGarry (John Spencer) as his Cheneyesque running mate. Santos-McGarry bumper stickers reportedly are a hot item among "West Wing" fanatics. McGarry's selection was quite a revelation a week before the show's time slot goes to a six-episode series, "Revelations."

"West Wing" ended its season a few weeks after NBC announced it will return for another season, though the price it will pay the producers has been cut in half. That means it may undergo the kind of cast changes that "The Practice" dealt with in its final season.

This Sunday, Fox airs the season finale of the low-rated Emmy-winning comedy, "Arrested Development." It also could be the series finale. Despite the Emmy win, critical raves and a significant amount of promotion, the dark comedy can't get arrested in the Nielsen ratings.

Liza Minnelli's last marriage probably had a better chance of survival. The one saving grace for the off-beat comedy may be DVD sales. If they are high enough, Fox might consider bringing it back for another 13 episodes. Maybe it would consider putting it on one of its cable channels, FX. That probably is where it belonged in the first place.

"Bernie Mac" already has had its season finale on Fox, with the future of the show that stars the co-star of the hit film "Guess Who" anybody's guess. Most likely, it is history.

CBS carries the season finale of Jason Alexander's freshman comedy on April 25. With neither respectable ratings nor reviews, it would appear to be iffy to return for a second season.

The future of "Joan of Arcadia," a hot Emmy-nominated show in its rookie season, also is in the hands of the Nielsen gods. Its season finale airs April 22 and could be its series finale. CBS already has to replace one long-running drama, "JAG," and one long-running comedy, "Everybody Loves Raymond." NBC has to replace "Third Watch," which has been canceled.

Among other series in a life or death situation: NBC's comedies "The Office" and "Committed"; CBS' "60 Minutes Wednesday," "Yes Dear" and the Sunday night movie; ABC's slumping "The Bachelor," "Rodney," "Eyes," "Blind Justice," "Complete Savages" and "Jake in Progress"; WB's "Jack & Bobby"; and UPN's "Kevin Hill."

"The Office," "Jack & Bobby," "Eyes" and "Kevin Hill" have many critics on their side. That won't hurt, but it won't necessarily help, either. It helped UPN's "Veronica Mars," which was renewed Monday. As much as I love "Jack & Bobby," it is probably history. "The Office," which follows the critically acclaimed, low-rated "Scrubs" (which was renewed for two years in May 2004), may benefit from NBC's serious lack of good new shows. It at least deserves an order for midseason of 2006. It could become this season's "Cheers," the classic comedy that had a low-rated first season and only got a second season because NBC was in such sorry shape.

"Eyes," a terrific show that stars Tim Daly, deserves a second shot away from "Law & Order" and "CSI: NY." But it could become the victim of ABC's dramatic success this season. "Grey's Anatomy," the new medical show, is doing so well at 10 p.m. Sunday that ABC is keeping it there and holding filmed episodes of "Boston Legal" for next season.

The final deciding factor for the shows on the renewal bubble could be something totally out of their producers' control: the quality of the pilots that each network is presently looking at before announcing fall schedules in May. If their networks have strong shows in development, fans of bubble shows like "American Dreams" will have to deal with the nightmare scenario of cancellation.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com