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Get set for a deluge of returning, new shows

Gail Pennington
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

TV is off and running in the new year, trying to get a jump on the Winter Olympics, which arrive Feb. 12 on NBC. In an unusually busy January, series that took a holiday hiatus will return with new episodes, while shows slotted for midseason begin turning up on the schedule.

For some network series, though, the break will last longer. Making room for "American Idol" and "24" and trying to stretch the season into May, Fox will delay the return of "Glee" until April 13. ABC will hold back "FlashForward" and "V" until March, and the CW will do the same for "90210," "Melrose Place" and "Gossip Girl."

Cable viewers are accustomed to long waits between seasons of their favorite originals, which often produce only 13 episodes a year. Long hiatuses may seem unusual for network TV, but they're all part of broadcasters' move toward so-called year-round programming, as they struggle to deal with audiences' increasing refusal to watch repeats.

Running a show straight through until all episodes are used up, as ABC does with "Lost," and then taking it off the air for a long stretch, is one tactic; another is airing a "pod" of episodes, followed by a break, as Fox is doing with "Glee."

Neither strategy is likely to make fans especially happy, but one result is more to watch every week of the year — and especially in January and February this year.

Here are some highlights, in chronological order:

"The Biggest Loser"

Tuesday on NBC

Season 8 invites the heaviest contestants ever, including twins who together weigh almost a ton, to shed weight at the Loser Ranch.

"Nip/Tuck"

Wednesday on FX

The new season is the last for the outrageous plastic-surgery drama, and the season premiere was written by creator Ryan Murphy, who went on to concoct "Glee."

"Big Love"

Jan. 10 on HBO

As Season 4 opens, the Juniper Creek compound is in turmoil, and Bill (Bill Paxton) considers taking himself and his family in a startling new direction.

"Chuck"

Jan. 10-11 on NBC

It's a whole new Chuck as the reluctant spy (Zachary Levi) plunges enthusiastically into Season 3.

"American Idol"

Jan. 12-13 on Fox

Season 9 begins with auditions, with Paula Abdul gone and new judge Ellen DeGeneres joining the show during Hollywood Week.

"Leverage"

Jan. 13 on TNT

Nate Ford (Tim Hutton) and his team are back for more clever cons.

"Project Runway"

Jan. 14 on Lifetime

Returning to New York (whew!), with judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia in place, "Runway" hopes to make fans happier in its second season on Lifetime.

"Golden Globe Awards"

Jan. 17 on NBC

Host Ricky Gervais stands to make Hollywood's most unpredictable awards show even more of a must-see.

"Human Target"

Jan. 17 on Fox

In an action drama based on a graphic novel, Mark Valley ("Fringe," "Boston Legal") plays a high-level bodyguard who turns himself into a target to protect his clients. Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley also star in the series, getting a preview before its Jan. 20 premiere.

"24"

Jan. 17-18 on Fox

Jack Bauer, contented grandpa? Don't worry, "24" fans; it's not for long.

"Life Unexpected"

Jan. 18 on the CW

A lifelong foster child (adorable Britt Robertson) finds her birth parents (Shiri Appleby and Kristoffer Polaha) with, well, unexpected results, in a charming new drama with echoes of "Gilmore Girls."

"Kitchen Nightmares"

Jan. 29 on Fox

Gordon Ramsay tries to whip more failing restaurants into shape.

"Lost"

Feb. 2 on ABC

The final season will be epic. What more do you need to know?

"Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains"

Feb. 11 on CBS

The second all-star edition is divided into tribes featuring the players we loved and the ones we loved to hate, with the latter reportedly featuring "Samoa" loser Russell.

Winter Olympics

Feb. 12-28 on NBC

The winter games air from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Undercover Boss"

Feb. 14 on CBS

The title says it all, as an unscripted series challenges business executives to get a learning experience by working secretly among their employees.

"The Amazing Race"

Feb. 14 on CBS

Season 16 players haven't been announced, but evidence indicates that the teams include "Big Brother 11" contestants Jeff and Jordan, who made a love connection on that show.

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