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Once again, favorite TV shows get blown away

Good news, “Lost” and “Without a Trace” fans. You too, “Smallville,” “Supernatural” and “Ugly Betty” diehards.

Your shows were blown away by Thursday night’s damaging lightning-and-wind storms that raced through the Kansas City area. But you’re getting a do-over. Just set your video recorders for noon today for “Betty” and 10:30 p.m. tonight for “Lost” (on KMBC-9, of course) and 7 p.m. for “Smallville” followed by “Supernatural” (KCWE). “Trace” watchers can take their time setting the VCR for 11 p.m. Sunday (KCTV-5).

As for the rest of you ... well ... hope you’ve got broadband. You’ll have to visit www.cbs.com, www.abc.com, www.fox.com or www.nbc.com — on a computer that wasn’t built before the Iraq war — to see the episodes you missed.

This is my 12th severe storm season in Kansas City, and the pattern has become utterly predictable. We endure weeks of reruns in March and April, eagerly awaiting new episodes. And then finally, when they air, Mother Nature does the samba.

Suddenly, zap! Away goes “CSI” and “30 Rock” and even “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?” And whoosh! In come the four horsemen of Doppler radar! (OK, Katie isn’t technically a horseman, but then again, technically I doubt any of them actually rides horses.)

As long as some part of the 15-county area is “in danger” — and, perhaps, as long as the other stations are interrupting their programs — the show must go on.

On Thursday, the weather show aired from 7 p.m. until about 8:20 p.m., then, just when viewers thought it was safe to settle in with their favorite 9 p.m. shows, zap! Another 35-minute interruption.

Now, I will admit that by this point, the stations know how to put on a show. It’s almost as pretty as looking out the window at 2 a.m. and seeing your trees doing the wave with lightning strobes in the background.

And for this severe storm season, two stations are bringing you their splashy radar images in high definition.

I prefer KMBC’s sea-blue background to the angrier colors of KSHB, but KMBC did have a six-month head start in producing HD news.

As for all those shows, by the time you read this, most of them have already re-aired. So your only choice is online, where hits like “Survivor” and “Grey’s Anatomy” were available for next-day viewing.

In addition to the very real damage these storms do due to home and business owners, the stations that pre-empt their most-watched programs of the week to put on exactly the same storm coverage as their rivals have to be wondering what long-term damage this is doing to them.

“I think you could certainly argue that,” said Craig Allison, general manager of KSHB, on Friday. The station’s contract won’t allow it to re-air “30 Rock” or “The Office” in the few time slots it has available, so it had no choice but to put a link on its Web site redirecting viewers to www.nbc.com.

“Of course, if you talk to the pundits and experts at NBC (about whether it hurts the local stations), they’ll say not at all,” Allison says. “My guess is the truth is somewhere in between.”

The stations are in a bind. They can’t re-air programs during prime time, because their network contracts generally prohibit them from interrupting network shows to put on other network shows.

The late-night re-airings aren’t necessarily safe. KSHB tried to rebroadcast “ER” early Friday morning, as did KCMO with “CSI,” but they had to bail when more lightning and wind blew in.

The viewers are in a bind. Only 25 percent of households in the U.S. have digital video recorders, and the rest, who have VCRs, never did learn to program them.

And this cycle has gotten so predictable, in fact, that most viewers who are tired of having their shows interrupted have simply given up — at least, if my e-mail and voice mail are any sign.

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