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It wouldn't be summer without good ol' reruns

On the big screen, it will surely be a summer to remember, as Pocahontas peaks, Waterworld sinks (or swims) and Batman's box office ensures that he and Robin will indeed wing it forever.

But on the small screen, reruns rule _ and how. Beginning in September, the big four networks, plus newcomers UPN and WB, will pop the corks on a record 42 new prime-time series for the 1995-96 season. Until then, look for fewer summer debuts on the broadcast networks than have been seen in years.

Fox announced Tuesday that July 21 will see a premiere of sorts: the return of TV Nation, Michael Moore's irreverent newsmagazine, which began life as a summer-replacement series on NBC in 1994. That makes it one of the few series breaking into the network schedules this summer.

Others are limited runs: Bringing Up Jack, ABC's Tuesday-night sitcom starring Boston comedian Jack Gallagher, just concluded a six-episode run on Saturday nights after being yanked from the spring schedule, and it won't return. On CBS, Christy, in a Wednesday 8 p.m. slot for the early summer, won't return this fall, despite having appeared occasionally on CBS for more than a year.

"I'm not sure you ever could get a hit out of the summer," says Alan Sternfeld, ABC's senior vice president of scheduling and planning.

It's not that the networks haven't tried. Seinfeld, now the top-rated show, began as a 1990 summer series, only to languish for years through time-slot changes before its tiny cult audience grew the show into a Nielsen phenomenon. Beverly Hills 90210, one of Fox's biggest hits, also debuted in summer 1990 with minuscule audience share.

One reason for the lack of new summer shows is that the traditional source of them _ shows that were held back for mid-season _ don't exist at networks anymore, particularly at CBS.

"They used them all up," says Paul Schulman, who owns a New York commercial-buying service. "They had so many schedule changes over the course of the year that they are completely depleted. If they had stuff on the shelf and had paid for it, they would want to run it."