The broadcast networks will trot out new hour-long dramatic fare this fall. Is there another hit in the bunch? The networks hope so -- and each of them hopes they are the one to have it.
Last year's strike-recovery season was a disappointing one on so many fronts, but the drama field was perhaps the most affected. Only a few made it back for another season; there was only one hit of note, CBS' "The Mentalist," which was a bigger-than-expected success from episode one. The Simon Baker-led crime drama moves into the plum Thursday night slot after the original "CSI" Sept. 24, which will no doubt give the network a tighter foothold on TV's most competitive night.
CBS is likely to have another good-size hit on its' hands when "NCIS" spinoff "NCIS: Los Angeles" premieres Sept. 22. Of all the new series, this one might be the easiest to peg as a potential smash -- the original "NCIS" (which was itself a spinoff of the long-running "JAG") remains hugely popular, plus the new series will have safe harbor in the Tuesday night lineup, running in the hour after its parent.
FOX boasted one of last year's other drama successes, "Lie to Me," starring Tim Roth, which will premiere for a second season on Sept. 28. This year, the network will aim to stretch the boundaries of the hour-long format by making it more of a musical comedy. (A dark one to be sure, but still...) "Glee," which was co-created by "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy, premiered its pilot after the "American Idol" finale in May. The show is packed with high-energy performances from some very talented young actors, isn't afraid to have a mean streak and shows signs of being a word-of-mouth hit. The question is whether or not it will have FOX's backing through the first five or six weeks of the season -- a make-or-break time when those who didn't see it (or perhaps didn't even know about it) in the spring will need the most coaxing to give it a try.
The CW is still settling into its niche of appealing to young women -- last year, they resurrected "90210" to some success. This year, another show that used to be a FOX staple, "Melrose Place," will hit the air, joining the network's nearly-across-the-board nighttime soap lineup. No telling if this version will have the same kind of campy appeal, but the title alone will likely be enough to draw some viewers.
NBC, which will give 5 hours of weekly primetime programming over to former "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, had poor returns from many of its drama series. The network's most successful new hour was "Southland," a police drama which returns Oct. 23. They'll try out a pair of hospital shows this fall -- "Mercy," about a group of nurses, as well as "Trauma," which is already being called (in some circles) a "catastrophe-of-the-week" show. Sorry to say that clips from both shows are riddled with cliches, which doesn't bode well for the pilots. (Personally, I think that it's even more disappointing that "Mercy" replaced a show called "Parenthood," which was pushed back to midseason because one of that show's leads, Maura Tierney, had some personal health issues that sidelined her for a few weeks. "Parenthood" had a genuine cleverness and energy that I was fond of in the clips I saw; hopefully, everyone will be well and back to work on the show, making it ready to air in the spring.)
ABC is still trying to remember what the formula for "Lost" (and its remarkable success) was, so they're trying twice as hard this year to recapture it. Sept. 24 brings the premiere of "FlashForward," a series that the creators are calling "an intimate epic" about the fall-out from a worldwide blackout, then on Nov. 3, the network rolls out its version of the 1980s alien-invasion thriller "V," starring Elizabeth Mitchell of -- you guessed it -- "Lost." The best news I can deliver about this duo is that both are actually rather good, which was a genuine surprise to me. I can only hope the episodes that follow the pilots are as well-done.
I'll have more complete reviews of many of the new shows in the weeks to come, plus I'll check in on some returning favorites too.