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What’s On TV

I’ve been somewhat remiss to comment on the new TV season. Between family events, the work on ABC PAC, constantly waiting to see what the Senate is going to do with telecom reform, and just trying to be a good dad to Little Quip, I have actually found time to TiVo and view most of the stuff I wanted to see this fall. Some of it is good, some of it is trite, but surprisingly, none of it has been downright awful.

As a service to my collegaues working insane hours on campaigns, I’d like to offer this brief (ok, not really) rundown of what you should be watching come November 8th. I’m breaking this down by day and I’m skipping Saturday and Sunday since those days are for catching up on TiVo’d programs, watching football, or generally not partaking in network programming.

Monday Night

The Fox lineup includes Prison Break and Vanished. They’re both decent shows with Prison Break entering its second season and Vanished debuting this fall.

Prison Break was actually getting kind of tedious last year with the network finding new and creative ways to make ten days in prison and one year on TV seem like a lifetime for viewers. This season continues that tradition with pretty much the same plot every week. Last season the plot was “How do we get out of prison, this season is how do we stay out. They seem to have misplaced the storyline about the Vice President’s brother being dirty and the framing of Lincoln, but they’ve added a bunch of personal lines, so this may be going the way of Melrose Place and 90210 – moving from story driven to personality driven.

Vanished has been pretty good so far, but given the same premise (kidnapped family of prominent individual) is being run Wednesday’s on NBC (see Kidnapped below) with a superior cast; the 9PM (8 Central/Mountain) time slot will pit Vanished against the eagerly anticipated NBC program Heroes, and those looking for comedy will likely flick to CBS, I suspect Vanished may disappear soon.

Over at NBC, Deal Or No Deal kicks off the night for the geriatric game show set. Honestly, I can’t see the appeal in that show. It’s followed by Heroes (which debuts tonight) and Studio 60 (think West Wing meets the set of Saturday Night Live). Those two shows will probably end up owning Monday nights if the dramas don’t split audiences to let CBS’ comedies win.

CBS is the only network with a slate of sit-coms on Monday night, and most of them (I’m reserving a final judgment on The Class until tonight) are good. The Class has an interesting premise (dork gets his third grade class together to celebrate his relationship with a classmate only to have her dump him in front of them all), but could go bad quickly. I can’t stand Julia Louis Dreyfus, so I’m also excluding her show. The only way she could be less appealing is if she teamed with Fran Drescher.

ABC, rounding out the night, has Wife Swap (which is another concept I don’t get seeing as it doesn’t involve actual swinging) and ABC tonight is trying the Anne Heche show Men In Trees in the 10pm slot. That’s not a bad show (think Northern Exposure meets Sex in the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw) but given the number of different time slots they’ve tested with it, they seem to be looking hard for an audience. Expect Anne to be unemployed again soon.

Tuesday Night

Last season Tuesday was sort of the big black hole of network programming. This season isn’t much better with a couple of notable exceptions. The Peacock network has lined up The Law and Order marathon on Tuesday nights, so if you’re into stories that are “ripped from the headlines” you’ll probably be ok on Tuesdays.

Fox lines up House (which I never really liked, but has a strong following) and a new show called Standoff. Standoff isn’t bad. Ron Livingston (of Office Space fame) plays a hostage negotiator who is sleeping with his partner. So far, it looks pretty good.

Over on ABC, Dancing with the Stars, a new Ted Danson project (yes he’s still alive and playing the same character for the 38th year running) called Help Me Help You, and Boston Legal make the night.

CBS offers up a stable of proven winners with CSI and NCIS returning and joined by the new show Smith. Smith (Ray Liotta of Goodfellas) is some sort of master criminal who is trying to balance being a rogue thief with the trials of being a family man. It’s like Analyze This without the funny little shrink. I suspect it’s going away soon, but the first episode wasn’t too shabby.

Wednesday Night

I know a lot of people who weren’t thrilled with the last season of Lost, and I suspect they’re going to be really unhappy this year. The show returns in October for six weeks, then disappears until spring. For a show based on a continual cliffhanger, a 3-4 month absence twice a year is awful. Only HBO seems to be able to pull that off.

Dancing with the Stars and 20/20 round out the ABC lineup (for tonight at least) and I’m not sure if/when Invasion is returning.

Over on NBC, it’s mucho, mucho grande hombres with two hours of Biggest Loser. If you don’t know the premise of Biggest Loser, think of it as a reality TV series based on a fat farm. That is followed by Kidnapped. With Timothy Hutton, Dana Delaney, Delroy Lindo, Jeremy Sisto and Mykelti Williamson, this has the stronger cast of the two serialized kidnap dramas this fall. It should last unless it goes head to head with Lost.

The Big Eye brings us Jericho. It’s a good show about a town dealing with the uncertainty of the world after nuclear bombs appear to have wiped out (at least) Denver and Atlanta and left the town’s citizens cutoff from the rest of the world. If you’re not into ballroom dancing and fat camp, Jericho should be the show for you. It’s followed by Criminal Minds and another CSI.

Thursday Night

NBC brings back much of its Thursday night lineup with The Office, My Name is Earl and ER returning. At least for tonight they’re joined by yet another episode of Deal or No Deal.

CBS has a pretty lame lineup with the highly promoted, but no longer watched Survivor, and yet another CSI. The one bright spot on Thursday for Katie Couric’s new network is the James Woods helmed Shark. Shark tells the story of a defense attorney who gets a wife beater off only to have him kill his wife that evening. After a crisis of conscience, he becomes a prosecutor to teach new ADA’s how to win against big league defense attorney’s. The first episode was pretty good, so I have hopes. ABC’s Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy may end up owning the 8-10 slot with ER and Shark duking it out for the 10pm win.

I suspect the ABC drama Six Degrees will be pushed aside quickly. That’s unfortunate since the first episode was actually pretty decent. The cast of Six Degrees includes Bridget Moynahan (I, Robot and Serendipity), Dorian Missick (Two Weeks Notice), Campbell Scott (Singles), and Erika Christensen (Traffic). It’s a strong ensemble, but perhaps a bit slow moving.

Friday Night

Honestly, I don’t really know why I’m including Friday night. It’s really sort of a hodge-podge of repeat performances, game shows, news shows, and other assorted muck with only CBS offering a lot of original programming. CBS is bringing Ghost Whisperer, Numb3rs, and Close to Home back for another season.

Those show are greeted by another Deal or No Deal installment on NBC. Deal joins Law and Order which moves to it’s new Friday 10pm slot. (10pm Friday’s, Saturday prime time and Sunday nights are usually where programs go to die, so make your peace with Law and Order).

Repeats of shows from earlier in the week and news programs dot the schedules for Fox, NBC and ABC. Justice, a new show from Fox, is trying on a different time slot. The show is pretty good, but how many lawyer/cop dramas can one season stand. I suspect this one may go the way of last season’s ABC series Injustice.

Grey’s Anatomy fills space for ABC with 20/20 while Men in Trees airs an original episode. Celebrity Duets (ugh!) and Dateline round out the shows for FOX and NBC respectively.

So that’s what’s on TV. One thing that strikes me so far is the number of actors normally associated with the big screen who are making a transition to the small box. Delroy Lindo, Ray Liotta, James Woods, and others should throw some of the traditional guessing about which series will survive into a tailspin. How much fan loyalty do these guys have? Can they keep a show afloat, or are they doing TV because their fan base has dried up? It’s really kind of hard to say.

Written by Michael Turk