Duped, I tell you, I was duped. Not that this is exactly one of the season's most urgently pressing issues, but I get enough mail about it to know that fans would be pleased to learn Men in Trees would be returning a little earlier than scheduled on April 12. That was the news from ABC on Monday. (And as I write this, ABCs Medianet grid still shows Trees airing on April 12.) But the situation has changed, not for the better. Got into work this morning (a bit bleary from last night's sensational Sopranos screening/party) to learn- thanks to a heads-up from our ad production side- that ABC has something else in mind for the post- Grey's Anatomy slot for several weeks in April. Falling somewhere between the absolute dregs that is October Road and the quirky bliss that is Men in Trees falls ABC's latest feeble stab at yuppie-romance sitcomedy (a genre badly botched in ABC's serialized wedding comedy Big Day earlier this year). Airing back-to-back episodes starting April 12: Notes From the Underbelly, a harmless yet stale retread about a young couple's anxieties as they endure a first pregnancy. This back-to-back scheduling scheme, which worked so well- not- for the much superior Sons & Daughters last season, will effectively burn off the show while we wait for May sweeps, at which point I would assume Men in Trees will finally return to finish out its first season. The good news is that, despite this shoddy treatment, ABC already has renewed Trees for a second season. And this sort of extended midterm hiatus is becoming common practice among networks that fear some of their shows won't hold up well in repeats. The upside: While Underbelly is on, it will at least give me a chance to stay current with ER, which is still scheduled to return from its own long hiatus that same week.

Update: ABC's official release about the scheduling of Underbelly notes rather vaguely that "the network will air two new episodes of the comedy in the . . . timeslot throughout the run of the series." What isn't yet clear is how many episodes (thus weeks) that will be, and whether that means Trees may end up relocating elsewhere on the schedule for "the run of the series."

What a way to treat a show, to wreck a night, to abuse a fan base.

But then, if people are actually willing to settle for something as dreary and cliched as October Road, maybe ABC is actually on to something here. Not something pretty, but where TV is concerned, things rarely are.