Isn’t it nice to be at the beginning of the fall TV season, a magical (if brief) time when every new network show appears to have a chance for breakout success? Pay attention now, because history has taught us that some of these programs might be history by Thanksgiving.
Let’s start with the mature-women-who-date trend: ABC has Courteney Cox starring as a recent divorcee confronting the dating scene in the disturbingly titled Cougar Town (Wednesday, Sept. 23, 9:30 p.m.). Sounds rather terrifying, but early buzz has been surprisingly good. Meanwhile, for more late ’90s nostalgia, Jenna Elfman is back on the small screen in CBS’ comedy Accidentally on Purpose (Monday, Sept. 21, 8:30 p.m.), a Knocked Up knock-off that finds Ms. Elfman wrestling with an accidental pregnancy following a one-night stand with a younger man. Apparently, the only thing more complicated than the prospect of dating after your 20s is if you add magic; Eastwick (ABC, Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 10 p.m.) is a supernatural drama—think Desperate Housewives crossed with Practical Magic—based on John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick and the 1987 movie of the same name. Rebecca Romijn headlines with Lipstick Jungle’s Lindsay Price and Jaime Ray Newman in this saga of three women who turn a small New England town upside down as they compete for the affections of an age-appropriate man. And then there’s CBS’s The Good Wife (Tuesday, September 22, 10 p.m.), starring Julianna Margulies as the shamed wife of a philandering politician. This figures to be must-see television in the Spitzer, Edwards, Ensign and Sanford households this fall.
Meanwhile, as Lost fans await the new season’s 2010 premiere, they may want to pass the time with ABC’s latest time-bending mystery drama FlashForward (ABC, Thursday, Sept. 24, 8 p.m.). If you squint, you might just think you’ve returned to the island: Sonya Walger (Penny Widmore from Lost) stars along with Joseph Fiennes, who has ducked the spotlight since playing a sexed-up Bard in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love. Or they can check out the remake of V (ABC, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 8 p.m.), an alien-invasion thriller featuring Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost’s Juliet). Viewers eager for another mystery can sort out how the career arcs of Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J led to shared billing on NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 9 p.m.), the first spin-off of the popular Navy procedural (could the network have pimped this show harder during Sunday night’s Emmy Awards? Answer: no). There are even more familiar faces, with Christian Slater headlining in The Forgotten (ABC, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 10 p.m.)—we fear the jokes may write themselves—trying to solve missing persons cases creaded by Jerry Bruckheimer. And, TV stalwart Kelsey Grammar attempts to get another sitcom under his belt with Hank (ABC, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m.), about a Wall Street tycoon who loses everything and moves back to his hometown to start over. How timely! (Though La-La chatter has this one being a surprising stinker.)
Better hype is already under way for Community (NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.), starring The Soup’s Joel McHale, as a fast-talking lawyer who finds himself back in school. A strong pilot, witty script and the undeniable allure of Mr. McHale makes this one a strong contender. Ditto Bored to Death (HBO, Sundays, 9:30 p.m.), with Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson, already receiving lavish praise from critics. And of course there’s the already undeniable juggernaut Glee, the high-school ensemble (Fox, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.), and the we-can’t-pretend-it’s-not-happening 21st-century update of Melrose Place (the CW, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.) and it’s–not–True Blood The Vampire Diaries, filled with bloodthirsty hotties (the CW, Thursdays, 8 p.m.)
Of course, some of our old favorites return, too. Larry’s back, with the Blacks on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (Sundays, 9 p.m.) This season’s excitement is all about the show’s planned Seinfeld so-meta-your-head-might-burst reunion (featuring the entire cast, including the publicly disgraced Michael Richards, who’ll try for some image rehab as Kramer). Big Emmy winner 30 Rock (NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.) won’t be back until Oct.15, which is O.K. as long as NBC continues to let the show survive. Elsewhere, CBS has been pimping The Big Bang Theory (Monday, Sept. 21, 9:30 p.m.), hoping this third-year show will get a boost from its new time slot following ratings-powerhouse Two and a Half Men. Good news! For the second straight season, NBC and DirectTV have struck a deal to share Friday Night Lights (DirectTV 101, Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 9 p.m.). Like last time around, the show will make its first run on DirectTV before being rebroadcast at a later date on NBC. This fourth season finds Dillon divided into two school districts, and perhaps a new football rivalry.
Speaking of Friday Night Lights, its creator, Peter Berg, has a new show on NBC: Trauma (Monday, Sept. 28, 9 p.m.), one of its two specialized medical dramas (miss ER much, NBC?), the other being Mercy (Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m.), which turns the attention away from those glamorous doctors to the nurses instead. Oh, If that’s still not enough blood and guts, try CBS’s organ-transplant (eeek!) drama Three Rivers (Sunday, Oct. 4, 9 p.m.).
Oh yeah, and have you heard that Jay Leno has a new nightly show?
Of all the television pilots hoping to claw their way onto network schedules (and into American living rooms), a safe bet would be the new ABC comedy Modern Family. Created by TV veterans Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd (Back to You and Frasier), this half-hour sitcom takes a look at three couples that make up a rather confusing family tree, shot in loose mockumentary style—a format that’s getting a little tired but one that works beautifully here. Married With Children’s Ed O’Neill is back (hooray!), playing Jay, who recently married a much younger, hot and sassy Colombian named Gloria (Sofía Vergara), who has Manny, a passionately romantic preteen son from her previous marriage. Jay’s children are daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) and her husband, Phil (Ty Burrell), who thinks he’s “down”—which, of course, means horribly embarrassing to his own two children (he’s learned all the dances from High School Musical and explains texting slang “WTF” as “Why the Face”); and son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his partner, Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), who adopt a Vietnamese baby. After watching the pilot, we have high hopes, for the writing is sharp and the jokes actually funny, and the actors have that almost chemical exasperation with one another that feels—yes!—quite familial. Another good sign for Modern Family’s future? Edward Norton, reportedly a fan of the pilot, has signed on to play a guest-starring role as a rock star in November. —Sara Vilkomerson