Have you noticed an intoxicating scent of fear and desperation in the air recently? When you catch that scent wafting in from the general direction Hollywood, you know we’ve reached the time when the networks have begun to look very, very seriously at their schedules in order to determine which of the shows that haven’t yet earned pick-up notices for their next season actually deserve those notices. This year, the stench is particularly strong, what with the combination of Jay Leno’s new M-F 10 PM show killing five perfectly good spots for hourlong drama on NBC, the general economic situation, and the American public still not really having much of an interest in watching anything original. Keeping in mind, of course, that when I say “the American public,” I’m not talking about you

“No, Mum, they haven’t officially canceled ‘Eleventh Hour’ yet. I’ll keep you posted, though, shall I?”

Nellie Andreeva at the Hollywood Reporter has put together a piece where she gives a rundown of what shows are still waiting to find out if they’re going to get a pink slip or a terse note saying, “Yeah, yeah, you’ve got another season, now get your ass back to work,” while Hercules over at Ain’t It Cool News has taken the work out of it for you and simply offered up three succinct lists: Likely To Return, Unlikely to Return, and 50/50.

Taking the “Likely to Return” list – “Ghost Whisperer,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Law & Order,” “Numb3rs,” “Southland,” and “Ugly Betty” – out of discussion for the moment, I don’t mind telling you that, between the other two lists, it’s highly depressing to see about half of my TiVo Season Passes get cited. (Not mentioned in the Hollywood Reporter piece is “Kings,” but I agree with Herc that it’s probably been left out because its permanent vacation at the end of its Saturday night death slot run is considered a given.) Regular Premium Hollywood readers will already know that our man John Paulsen has been covering the death knell of several of these shows and established his feelings on what he’d be bummed to see depart, but here are the five shows – one per network, so as not to be greedy – that I’d most like to see earn a reprieve from cancellation:

1. “Medium,” NBC. When NBC held its cocktail party during the January TCA tour, I spotted Glenn Gordon Caron and immediately went up to him, first to offer my praise for “Medium,” which he created, then to ask why in the heck the network hadn’t deigned to give his show its own panel when it was only days away from its fifth-season premiere. (Caron’s appearance at the party was literally the only presence “Medium” had during the tour.) He politely suggested that it was simply down to NBC’s desire to utilize its limited number of panels to their greatest promotional advantage, but to read between the lines, it meant to me that NBC doesn’t really care about “Medium” anymore. Or do they? Last year, it was one of the first shows renewed by the network, and it’s one of the few shows that’s been able to maintain a decent-sized audience in the Monday 10 PM timeslot.

But, of course, the 10 PM timeslot won’t be there next season, which begs the question, “Could ‘Medium’ be as effectual if it’s on earlier?” Well, yeah, it probably could, since the show’s best episodes owe more to psychological creepiness than anything you actually see on the screen, but it occurs to me that this is something that I really haven’t seen discussed very much in the articles about the Leno changeover: the fact that any of NBC’s edgier series that survive into the 2009 – 2010 season are presumably going to have to change their tone at least somewhat to match a 9 PM audience.

But I’m going off-topic.

Let’s hope that NBC does indeed decide to bring “Medium” back for Season 6. I’ll be the first to admit that the show’s tendency to go to commercial immediately after Alison Dubois wakes up in a cold sweat has become drinking-game worthy, but despite being about a woman who talks to dead people and has precognitive dreams, it actually features one of the most realistic portrayals of a family on television. Patricia Arquette, God love her, actually has the figure of a real woman rather than a Hollywood starlet. Sofia Vassilieva has made Ariel Dubois into one of TV’s top teens, Maria Lark is still a hoot as Bridget, and while Madison and Miranda Carabello may not prove to be the Olsen twins of their generation, they’re still darned cute as Marie Dubois. And let’s not forget Jake Weber, who, as Joe Dubois, manages to be loving, concerned, sarcastic, and downright pissed off…all of which are appropriate emotions when dealing with the life he’s found himself in. (But, hey, at least his job finally seems to be going in the right direction.) Throw in Manuel Devalos, Lee Scanlon, and, yes, even the oft-reviled Lynn DeNovi, and you’ve got what’s still one of the most creative and enjoyable series on TV.

2. “Reaper,” The CW.

Even though I know that The CW has basically thrown the show to the wolves in favor of a goddamned “Melrose Place” reboot, meaning that it’s doomed to cancellation and that I should really put “Privileged” here instead (it’s quite good, you know), I can’t just ignore the fact that I love love love this series. I’m reminded of “Jericho,” a show which started strong, got confused part of the way through its freshman season, but then finished stronger than it began and came back for Season 2 with a fucking vengeance.

So why hasn’t it secured better ratings? The biggest problem with “Reaper” is that it doesn’t have the following to be able to pull off an 8 PM timeslot, but when it’s been in the 9 PM slot, it’s never had a good lead-in. It’d be perfect if it were paired with “Supernatural,” but The CW has that whole “Smallville” / “Supernatural” duo working for them, and they won’t dare to screw with that.

I really thought the network was behind a 3rd season, given that they’d scheduled the release of the Season 2 DVD set before the second season had even premiered…get the buzz going as quickly as possible, right?…but as soon as creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas signed their deal with another studio, it was evident that the optimism for Season 3 had departed.

I just don’t get it. The trifecta of Sam, Ben, and Sock never fails to make for comedy gold, and Ray Wise has deserved a Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy nomination since the pilot. Maybe it’s just making light of a hellish concept like a guy having had his soul sold to the Devil? I guess we can still hold out hope that we may yet get a “Reaper” movie at some point down the line, at least, but it’s hardly much satisfaction right this second.

3. “Better Off Ted,” ABC.

As noted elsewhere on Premium Hollywood, pairing this creative show with the oft-quirky “Scrubs” was one of the best team-ups ABC’s performed in recent years. There’s talk that the network is enjoying the way the show is progressing, and it’s a given that the cast is cheaper than “In the Motherhood,” so it seems like the odds are pretty good that, if the network is going to save one of its new sitcoms, this’ll be the one to get the nod.

4. “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” Fox.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it seems ludicrous that Fox would bail out on this show on the eve of a new “Terminator” film. Maybe they’ll do it, anyway, though…and if they do so and blame it on not getting good enough ratings to warrant the budget, well, you can see that as a valid reason to axe the series. “Dollhouse” is probably cheaper to produce, and they’ve already blown all that money on the show’s completely awesome set, anyway, so why not keep the Whedon-ites in their good graces? Well, frankly, because “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is the better show, with a deeper mythology. I admit that I lost track a bit during the early parts of the season, due to the sheer volume of high-quality Monday night shows, but everyone I know who watches the show has told me how solid it’s been, and it’s definitely impressed me more consistently than “Dollhouse,” so that’s why “Terminator” gets the nod here.

5. “Eleventh Hour,” CBS.

“The Unit” probably deserves this spot more, but I quite like Rufus Sewell, and the show’s blend of action, wit, and unique concepts has proven extremely enjoyable. It’s certainly not up to the standards of “Fringe,” but I’d like to see it get the chance to build for a bit longer before throwing it to the wolves.