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First impressions can be dead wrong.


Last year, I loved the pilot for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and thought 30 Rock was all over the map.


Within a month or two, 30 Rock had become one of the gems of the season, while Studio 60 took a swan dive in the quality department. So keep in mind that these impressions of the new fall shows are just that—first thoughts. And I reserve the right to change my mind about just about everything, which is one of the best perks of this gig.


If the networks’ clutch of new shows doesn’t appear to contain, at first glance, an instant game-changer such as Lost, be patient. Something great might emerge from this fall’s crop. Or not.


We’ll just have to keep watching.


Now, on with the shows ...


MONDAY

CBS, not surprisingly, makes few moves on this night (though I regret the temporary loss of The New Adventures of Old Christine, which doesn’t return until midseason). ABC, which still isn’t a Monday must-see in my house, unveils a reality-driven schedule (aside from the comedy Samantha Who?, which premieres in October).


NBC, the only network to make big changes, is putting its breakout hit, Heroes, inside a nerd-friendly sandwich, slotting the “spy-fi” series Chuck in the 8 p.m. spot and following its 9 p.m. superhero drama with Journeyman, which is one of fall’s most inexplicable programming decisions. The post-Heroes slot is prime NBC real estate—not exactly something that is in plentiful supply. Why not put Bionic Woman in that cushy spot? It’s not terribly good, but I think Bionic Woman might do a better job of holding onto the Heroes audience.


Finally, Fox and the CW (yes, the CW!) have the most potentially interesting new shows of the night, in the form of the intriguing New Orleans cop drama K-Ville and the surprisingly sweet cross-cultural comedy Aliens in America.


NEW DRAMAS:


Chuck (Sept. 24, NBC): In NBC’s charming but slight entry into the fall nerd-o-rama derby, Zachary Levi plays a computer-playing geek who, via an accidental download into his brain, becomes one of the government’s most vital intelligence assets. Levi is winning and Chuck, which is from The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, is pleasant enough, but this show is likely to be overshadowed (out of the gate, anyway) by the CW’s superior and similar Reaper.
Rating: Liked it.
Trailer


Journeyman (Sept. 24, NBC): Kevin McKidd (who was so memorable as charismatic soldier Lucius Vorenus in HBO’s Rome) plays a time-traveling reporter in this NBC drama, which feels like a holdover from last season’s batch of serialized thrillers. There’s also a romance element—McKidd’s character is torn between a past love and his wife—but overall the show feels like a slightly pallid remake of the ABC thriller Day Break, which flopped.
Rating: Blah.
Trailer


K-Ville (Sept. 17, Fox): Fox’s gritty drama follows an unlikely cop duo as they attempt to police a post-Katrina New Orleans. In the pilot, the show’s various elements—mismatched cops, urban action, post-Katrina conspiracy theories and New Orleans flavor—bump up against one another somewhat awkwardly, but this potentially interesting series bears watching, not just because it shines a light on a great, troubled city, but for the great performance of Shield veteran Anthony Anderson.
Rating: Liked it.
Trailer


NEW COMEDIES:


Aliens in America (Oct. 1, CW): A nerdy Wisconsin teen’s mother brings an exchange student into their home—only to find that the student is a Muslim from Pakistan. This promising series uses a light touch to look at intercultural fears (a relief after years of darker post-9/11 dramas), and it pokes fun at stereotypes without descending into cruelty. It’s one of fall’s weirdest (but most promising) hybrids: A timely, culture-clash Wonder Years.
Rating: Really liked the pilot; hope the show lives up to its potential.
Trailer


The Big Bang Theory (Sept. 24, CBS): CBS’ entry in the fall nerd-a-thon is both mean-spirited and predictable (a sitcom two-fer!). Two super-geniuses with massive IQs and non-existent social skills meet their new neighbor—a shapely blond who’s not so endowed with the gray matter. Hilarity allegedly ensues, if you buy into the premise that it’s funny to take potshots at intelligent people.
Rating: Are you kidding me with this nonsense?
Trailer


Samantha Who? (Oct. 15, ABC): Christina Applegate stars as a woman who wakes up from a coma to find out that she has amnesia—and that she wasn’t very nice in her former life. It’s all a bit too frantic to enjoy, but Applegate, a skilled actress, does her best.
Rating: Blah.
Trailer


TUESDAY

Would you believe the most interesting matchup of the night is between Fox and the CW? Yes, again I tell you, the CW has some good new shows this fall—possibly more good new shows than, say, CBS. But that might just be a measure of how subpar the fall crop is.


In any case, my TiVo will be getting a workout at 9 p.m. Tuesday, when a revamped House (which introduces some new characters) goes up against Reaper, one of fall’s most beguiling new shows. Surely Fox’s cranky doc will crush the CW newbie in the ratings, but most of the other offerings in that hour are reality programs—and there are few reality shows on my must-see list these days.


NEW DRAMAS:


Cane (Sept. 25, CBS): This is the sort of large ensemble family soap that ABC has specialized in making in recent years, and CBS’ attempt is somewhat clunky. Then again, it stars the able Jimmy Smits, who’s backed up by Hector Elizondo and Rita Moreno. Smits plays Alex Duque, the favorite son of a wealthy Cuban-American clan with a successful South Florida rum and sugar business. Who will inherit the business? What skeletons lurk in the Duques’ closets? Will Alex and his ambitious brother Frank go to war? If you’re thinking of a glossy (and predictable) Latino update to Dallas, you’re not far off.
Rating: Blah.
Trailer


Reaper (Sept. 25, CW): One of fall’s most buzzed-about pilots, and there’s good reason for that: The Reaper pilot is a nearly flawless hour of television. In the pilot, layabout Sam (the likable Bret Harrison) finds out why his parents never pushed him to succeed: They sold his soul to the devil, who turns up and wants Sam to go to work as a bounty hunter chasing fugitives from hell. Ray Wise is fantastic as the smooth-talking devil, and there’s a lot of charm and comedy in this sharp, well-written pilot, which was directed by Kevin Smith. But does Reaper‘s charm rest in the setup of its premise? That’s the big question going forward.
Rating: Really liked the pilot; hope the show lives up to its potential.
Trailer


NEW COMEDIES:


Carpoolers (Oct. 2, ABC): Do we need to say much about this show? It’s a fledgling ABC comedy, meaning its life span is probably shorter than that of a cicada. In any case, the title says it all—the show concerns the misadventures of a group of suburbanites who ride to work together every day.
Rating: Blah.
Trailer


Cavemen (Oct. 2, ABC): This show, which is based on the Geico commercials starring a series of thick-browed throwbacks, is bound to be one of the most controversial offerings for fall. The pilot is being shown later in the run and a new first episode is being made, which doesn’t inspire confidence. But I didn’t actually hate the show—I just thought it was a one-joke comedy, in which the cavemen suffer through a constant series of discriminatory situations.
Rating: Blah.
Trailer


WEDNESDAY

It’s a suddenly competitive Ladies Night, as three new female-centric dramas square off at 9 p.m. The futuristic Bionic Woman, the catty Gossip Girl and the sudsy Private Practice (which stars Grey’s Anatomy’s coolest female doc, the flame-haired Addison Montgomery) couldn’t be more different in tone, but it’ll be interesting to see which one of these women wins the hearts and minds of viewers of both sexes.


ABC’s anchor is the Grey’s Anatomy spinoff, Private Practice, but it is stranded between two other new dramas. The network leads off with the fanciful Pushing Daisies, one of fall’s riskiest dramas, and it rounds out its all-new night with Dirty Sexy Money, which is a smart take on an old format—the rich-family soap opera. NBC, on the other hand, puts the buzzed-about Bionic Woman between the warhorse game show Deal or No Deal and the mostly conventional cop drama Life, a typically mismatched odd-and-sods NBC lineup.


Meanwhile, Fox might have the sleeper hit of the fall on its hands—the broadcast-news comedy Back to You—and CBS has some of the buzz it so desperately wants in the controversial reality series Kid Nation.


NEW DRAMAS:


Bionic Woman (Sept. 26, NBC): This remake of the `70s series has a couple of big things going for it: Name recognition and Katee Sackhoff as Sarah Corvus, the nemesis of newly created Bionic Woman Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan). The rest of the show (so far) is an exercise in mediocrity, despite the presence of stellar supporting cast members such as Mark Sheppard and Miguel Ferrer, who do the best they can with a subpar pilot script.
Rating: Blah.
Trailer


Dirty Sexy Money (Sept. 26, ABC): Peter Krause returns to television as the family lawyer for the very screwed-up and mind- bogglingly wealthy Darling clan. Also in the cast: Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, Blair Underwood and Samaire Armstrong as a flighty heiress who can’t stay out of the tabloids. It’s a powerful lineup of actors, and the writing is just as sharp as the cast. If the terrific pilot (which mixes in some murder-mystery elements) is any indication, Dirty Sexy Money promises to be one of fall’s keepers.
Rating: Loved it.
Trailer


Gossip Girl (Sept. 19, CW): This soapy drama, which is set in the world of tony Manhattan private schools, is based on the popular novel series of the same name. Though Josh Schwartz, creator of The O.C. is on board here, the deeply cynical Gossip Girl lacks that Fox show’s heart, and the Gossip cast is far more bland, which is a big problem. Also, the constant cattiness of the narrator—the unseen title character who anonymously blogs about Manhattan’s top high school socialites—can be tedious, if not depressing.
Rating: Are you kidding me with this nonsense?
Trailer


Life (Sept. 26, NBC): English actor Damien Lewis, like the Scottish Kevin McKidd, is an actor from across the pond who is better than the new NBC drama in which he finds himself. In this cop show, Lewis plays a detective who was wrongly imprisoned for a dozen years. He solves weekly cases in an unorthodox, Zen-inspired style while he also attempts to figure out who framed him. The riveting Lewis is so good that he even makes the mediocre parts of this show interesting. But earlier this year, another NBC quirky-detective drama, Raines, didn’t last long, so hopes are not sky-high for this cop series.
Rating: Blah.
Trailer


Private Practice (Sept. 26, ABC): Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh), a fan favorite on “Grey’s Anatomy,” moves to sunnier climes, in the hopes that working at an L.A. wellness clinic will give her more balance in her life. Here’s hoping the show is more fun than the pilot we saw last spring, when Montgomery’s new colleagues (one of whom, a doctor played by Merrin Dungey, was replaced over the summer by Broadway vet Audra McDonald) were shown to be a pretty whiny bunch.
Rating: Haven’t seen it.
Trailer


Pushing Daisies (Oct. 3, ABC): According to the 2007 Hype Act, critics are required by law to love this show, which tells the tale of a young piemaker with the gift of bringing corpses to life. I thought the pilot, which was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, Get Shorty), was impressive and aesthetically pleasing, but I wasn’t emotionally drawn in by it. Still, it has potential aplenty, and it’s good to see a network taking chances and trusting a creator’s unique vision.
Rating: Liked it.
Trailer


 


NEW COMEDY:


Back to You (Sept. 19, Fox): If there’s one hit on the fall schedule, it’s this sitcom (and I’ll eat my Frasier boxed sets if I’m wrong). Kelsey Grammer does his usual excellent job as a blowhard anchor whose journey up the career ladder goes awry thanks to a YouTube debacle. After getting fired from a plum gig, he goes back to read the news at a local station in Pittsburgh, where his former co-anchor and ex-flame, played by Patricia Heaton, is still working. The material isn’t exactly as sparkling as Frasier in its prime, but it’s good enough, and Heaton and Grammer are such pros that they make Back to You perk along nicely.
Rating: Liked it.
Trailer


NEW REALITY:


Kid Nation (Sept. 19, CBS): The pitch from CBS: “40 children, 40 days, no adults.” A recipe for anarchy, a potential violation of child labor laws or a pretty good reality show? There’s no way to tell, because CBS hasn’t mailed out advance screeners of this series, in which those 40 kids, ages 8 to 15, had to forge their own civilization in a frontier-style New Mexico encampment. Lost doesn’t return to Wednesdays until February—maybe Kid Nation will turn out to be Lost Lite with fewer polar bears and more time-outs.
Rating: Haven’t seen it.
Trailer


Kitchen Nightmares (Sept. 19, Fox): It’s Gordon Ramsay (of the Fox reality contest Hell’s Kitchen) yelling at people—this time, the owners of failing restaurants. It’s a new American take on a show he’s done for the BBC for years; the English version is actually quite good—it shows how much Ramsay truly cares about good cooking and pleasant presentation. But I won’t put it past Fox to screw up something that the Brits did well.
Rating: Haven’t seen it.
Trailer


THURSDAY

There’s only one new show on this ultracompetitive night—the networks are standing pat with some of their biggest guns. ABC’s powerhouse female-friendly lineup of Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy gets an ugly, misogynistic chaser in Big Shots. Otherwise, the only real news is that CBS procedural stalwart Without a Trace returns to Thursdays and Shark migrates to Sundays. Fox keeps its reality lineup, the CW goes for the spooky and superpowered, and NBC sticks with one of the finest Thursday comedy lineups the network has ever fielded.


NEW DRAMA:


Big Shots (Sept. 27, ABC): Ugh. A masters-of-the-universe fantasy, with four business tycoons vying for the biggest jobs, the hottest mistresses and bragging rights at their posh country club. At the very least, it doesn’t take long to list all of this show’s positive attributes, because, despite the presence of Dylan McDermott and Michael Vartan, there aren’t any.
Rating: Are you kidding me with this nonsense?
Trailer


FRIDAY

Friday nights were supposed to be the dead zone, but the networks keep making plays for it, so it’s nowhere near as dead as Saturdays (yet). There are plenty of new shows on this evening, but my eyes will be fixed firmly on Friday Night Lights. Will the much-loved NBC drama make a go of it Fridays? Fingers crossed.


NEW DRAMAS:


Moonlight (Sept. 28, CBS): This drama about a vampire investigator has had a troubled history: The pilot was completely reshot; the entire original cast, aside from lead Alex O’Loughlin (The Shield), was ditched; and respected writer David Greenwalt (of Angel fame) signed on and signed off in record time. That said, I’ll check it out to see if it provides a moderately decent vehicle for new co-star Jason Dohring (Veronica Mars).
Rating: Haven’t seen it.
Trailer


Nashville (Sept. 14, Fox): A docu-soap about the music industry in Nashville. Given that it’s a Friday-night offering on Fox, how long do you think it’ll stick around?
Rating: Haven’t seen it.
Trailer


Women’s Murder Club (Oct. 12, ABC): This show entirely depends on your capacity to deal with Angie Harmon, and I can’t say I have a huge desire to see her on my TV every week. But at least this procedural, which is based on a series of novels by James Patterson about four San Francisco women who solve crimes, ticks along efficiently. Two former Shield producers are the head writers here, so maybe Club will improve on the pilot, which was fairly colorless.
Rating: Blah.
Trailer


NEW REALITY:


American Band (Oct. 19, Fox): This reality series about finding a great rock band comes from the producers of American Idol (Band takes over the slot of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? in mid-October).
Rating: Haven’t seen it.


SATURDAY

ABC airs college football this fall, while on the other big networks, it’s a mixed bag of reruns and magazine shows such as Dateline NBC and CBS’ 48 Hours Mystery. Fox sticks to its steady lineup of Cops and America’s Most Wanted.


SUNDAY

The marquee matchup puts NBC’s Sunday Night Football against ABC’s successful lineup of posh soaps and heart-tugging reality. CBS, which is attempting to shed its image as the stodgiest network, presents a mixed bag of old and new on Sunday: It unveils the risky Viva Laughlin, and it’s also imported Shark, the flashy star vehicle for James Woods, from Thursdays. The CW has the new family drama Life Is Wild plus two new half-hour entertainment digests.


But truth be told, it’ll take a lot this fall to pry me away from cable’s great Sunday offerings, namely the fascinating new HBO relationship drama Tell Me You Love Me and Showtime’s Dexter, which was one of my favorite shows of last year.


NEW DRAMAS:


Life Is Wild (Oct. 7, CW): An urban teen and her family are uprooted from their comfortable New York City life to live in South Africa. D.W. Moffat and Stephanie Niznik (Everwood) have replaced the actors who played the parents in the pilot, and the show, which is filmed on location, is undergoing extensive reshoots, so I’ll reserve judgment on Life Is Wild for now.
Rating: Haven’t seen it.
Trailer


Viva Laughlin (Oct. 18, CBS): CBS attempts to shed its image as TV’s boring-but-successful network by unveiling a musical—which it won’t call a musical (they’re calling it “a drama with music,” sheesh). It’s a shame that Viva Blackpool, the BBC hit on which this show is based, isn’t available on DVD in this country, then people could see for themselves how bold and superior the English version is. Despite the presence of Hugh Jackman in the pilot of Viva Laughlin, this adaptation is mostly a giant mess, and any hopes of fixing it are entirely sunk by terrible casting.
Rating: Are you kidding me with this nonsense?
Trailer


NEW ENTERTAINMENT DIGESTS:


CW Now (Sept. 23, CW): This infotainment show will be the “ultimate source for everything that’s hip, hot and happening right now in the world of young adults,” according to the CW’s press materials. Movies, fashion, technology, gossip and gadgets will be the subjects of “fast-moving” reports, in this Entertainment Tonight/Extra for the under-25 set.
Rating: Haven’t seen it.


Online Nation (Sept. 23, CW): Because today’s youth doesn’t spend enough time looking at silly clips online, the CW has come up with a weekly roundup of the Internet’s most irreverent videos.
Rating: Haven’t seen it.
Trailer

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