May is a month that finds television networks at a crossroads. Just as they use up the last of their new episodes of the season, they step up to reveal what their fall schedules will look like in hopes advertisers take a shine to them.

It used to be a pretty predictable process, until recent developments changed the landscape of prime time. Not only has a wave of reality television hits and misses eaten into the once-steady diet of half-hour situational comedies and hour-long dramas, it's hard even to define when the fall season starts -- especially after what happened a couple of years ago when the two most popular new shows weren't autumn debutantes at all.

Fans recall that when Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) CBS threw Survivor into the mix in the summer of 2000, it was a sleepy time of year ripe with reruns. Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? also carved an unlikely path to prime-time gold.

Perhaps that is why General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC subsidiary announced a dozen new shows earlier this week -- but noted that only five will launch at the start of the new season. OK, so maybe it's more likely the result of the network's anticipated hangover after the Olympics in August. Still, NBC is using that as an excuse to mix up its programming and assure fresh content all year long. Its peers will be left with little choice but to follow.

As a result, the new season will feature hungry networks taking chances. ABC, which has churned through countless hollow sit-coms and inconceivable reality shows, is relying on a new slate of dramas to turn things around. Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) WB is also flushing out the old to make room for the new.

In the business, they call this time of year the upfronts, as sponsors look to lock in attractive rates by buying ad time early. For those who guess right -- like DaimlerChrysler (NYSE:DCX) did by helping bankroll The Apprentice this past year -- it's a slice of content heaven. However, the way networks are shuffling their offerings and tinkering with the calendars, there seems to be little that is up front this year.

Have you checked out the list of new shows being programmed for later this year? Did one of your favorites get axed? All this and more -- in the Television Banter discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been on TV a few times -- then his wife told him to get down before he gets hurt. He owns shares in Disney but no other company mentioned in this story.