The city of New York is a magnificent place to be, if you’re on television. At least nine of the coming fall shows take the city’s wonderfulness as their theme or inspiration—10, if you count the one about Los Angeles that’s really about New York.
Of those, Six Degrees, the ABC drama executive-produced by J.J. Abrams, is, by a narrow margin, the most nakedly worshipful. Here, the city is some sort of web of invisible threads linking humanity, as the show follows six New Yorkers on their interwoven paths toward self-knowledge and harmony. The we’re-all-in-this-together message has been replicated by its publicity campaign, which has crept through TV screens and invaded the spaces of actual life, so that it is impossible to ride the F train without being told that the man by the door will be your boss someday.
For riders of the No. 7 train, meanwhile, ABC’s message is that Yo Soy Betty, la Fea, is coming in Ingles. The network has transplanted the Colombian smash-hit ugly-duckling telenovela to the New York publishing industry, as Ugly Betty, executive-produced by Salma Hayek. America Ferrara stars as Betty—or as Lauren Weisberger, as the show comes off like The Devil Wears Prada, minus the makeover sequence and with an even tidier fairytale narrative.
Television has always been interested in this city, but was often content to keep it as an idyllic backdrop: a place of large and well-appointed apartments, available tables at the coffee shop, witty single friends and an effective criminal-justice system. This year’s version of the city is more about its epic, redemptive qualities.
Of all the networks, NBC seems to need the most redemption, and so it relies not only on television shows about New York, but television shows about New York television shows. Four of its six new shows are set here, and a fifth, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, is about a show like Saturday Night Live but takes place in Los Angeles. Studio 60, which premiered Sept. 18, is a drama about comedy, in the Aaron Sorkin witty-drama mold, created, written and produced by Mr. Sorkin. It stars Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford and Amanda Peet as the people working behind the scenes to bring dignity and intelligence to late-night television.
The other show about Saturday Night Live—the funny one, in shorthand—stars Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan and Alec Baldwin. It debuts Oct. 11.
Also on the schedule:
— Heroes follows six people with mystical powers—teleportation, levitation, tissue regeneration, prophetic oil-painting, etc.—who join forces to prevent a nuclear bomb from going off in midtown. “Is this outside the realm of possibility?” asks the narrator, an Indian professor, in an ambitious monologue that overlays the first minutes of the premiere. “Or is man entering a new gateway to evolution? Is he finally standing at the threshold of true human potential?”
— Kidnapped, which premieres on Sept. 20, stars Timothy Hutton and Dana Delany as the rich parents of a future Young Lion snatched one morning on his way to prep school. While most of this season’s crime procedurals trade on our fears of terrorism—nuclear peril in Manhattan ( Heroes) or Kansas (CBS’s Jericho)— Kidnapped pokes at an even more sensitive nerve: It’s 9/11 for the Dalton P.T.A.
— Twenty Good Years, premiering Oct. 11, features John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor as a pair of sixtysomething Manhattan men who resolve to make the most of what life they have left. It’s I’m Not Rappaport without the Jews.
ABC has its own slate of New York–set shows padding the hours between episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Besides Six Degrees and Ugly Betty, there’s The Knights of Prosperity, formerly titled Let’s Rob Mick Jagger, which stars Mick Jagger and Donal Logue as, respectively, a pop star in New York and the aspiring bar-owner who gathers together a band of misfits in a project to rob him. It premieres Oct. 17.
There’s also The Nine. It’s Lost. In a bank. There’s an extended joke about an old woman’s “box.” But it’s in Los Angeles.
Then there are CBS and Fox, which have the luxury of good ratings and therefore no need to mine Manhattan for life-affirming narrative. CBS has James Woods doing a turn as a lovable prosecutor in Shark, which spares not a word of dialogue for any purpose beyond exposition. A puffy Ray Liotta headlines in Smith as the leader of a band of misfits robbing art museums instead of aging British pop stars. In Jericho, starring Skeet Ulrich, someone blows up the Midwest.
Fox has a new season of American Idol premiering in January.