What you'll see: Heavens! Is this TNT or Cinemax? The opening scene to this decidedly provocative drama features Detective Grace Hanadarko (Holly Hunter), nearly au naturel, in the throes of passion with her work partner. Thinking of his family, he starts to worry about their affair. Not Grace, who barks, "I'm not the one who's married!" In addition to having sex with lots of people in Oklahoma City, Grace drinks heavily, refuses to be told what to do and carries a lot of sad history around with her.
She hits an obstacle -- literally -- when she drunkenly slams her battered black Porsche into someone on the side of the road. She calls for help, and a tobacco-chewing angel named Earl (Leon Rippy) answers her prayers, offering aid in exchange for Grace trying to clean up her life. Despite a varied cast, and plots centered around interesting police work, it's Ms. Hunter who anchors the cast, sets the tone and fills the screen. Meanwhile, there are some pretty raunchy sexual situations, lots of hooch guzzling, and, oh yeah, crimes to solve.
When you'll see it?: Monday nights at 10 p.m., for nine weeks, starting July 23.
What's at stake?: If "Saving Grace" succeeds, TNT may well have a full night of original dramatic programming on its hands, along with "Heartland" and "The Closer." As cable outlets continue to proliferate, coming up with a pipeline of original dramas helps distinguish a TNT from, say, an FX or a Spike -- much more so than running repeats of programs purchased from one of the broadcast networks. Landing an actress as renowned as Holly Hunter is a coup for the network, and launching a successful series with her could draw other talent to the Time Warner outlet.
Also worth watching is whether a serious drama with religious themes and outlandish behavior can cut it with the mainstream viewing public. In 2006, NBC unveiled an unorthodox drama called "Book of Daniel," which featured a Vicodin-taking Episcopalian priest, his gay son, his drug-dealing daughter and a character portraying Jesus Christ. The program drew the ire of the American Family Association and some NBC affiliates refused to air the show, and the network eventually canceled the program. TNT has no affiliates, but it's worth monitoring whether there's any reaction from the public or from two of TNT's top overall sponsors in the recent past, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble.
Who's onboard?: Viacom's Paramount Pictures will promote the film "Stardust" in the first episode, with TNT offering a one-minute sneak peek of the movie. AT&T is a full-season sponsor and will get some "billboards" as the show breaks for ads. BMW will be a sponsor of episodes two through five.
Insert product here?: Beverage-makers, beware -- as noted, boozy Grace likes to drink. In several scenes in the pilot, she is spotted near cans that look suspiciously like the iconic containers of Coca-Cola Classic (into which she pours whiskey) and Budweiser. Coke and Anheuser-Busch, draw a breath: The cans are facsimiles, not real. One interesting opportunity might be to get a name-brand chewing tobacco into the hands of Earl, the angel. His moments are light, not serious, and are aimed at making Grace improve, not fall any further. But given the state of tobacco marketing restrictions, maybe a gum maker can persuade him to quit in favor of something more icy cool fresh.
Your ad here?: TNT has smartly signed up some major marketers to sanctify its commercial time, making it easier for others to put their toes in this water. And it's hard to resist the lure of a major Hollywood actress in a complex, challenging role. Nancy Mills, creator and executive producer of "Saving Grace," has been a co-executive producer of "The Closer," a TNT marquee property. But advertisers are a squeamish lot, and some may want to get to know this program better before embracing it in full.
Media buyer's verdict: Flawed characters in sharply written dramas often lead to ratings bumps, said Barbara DiMaria, senior VP-director of national broadcast at Interpublic Group's Martin Agency. "This type of content is bringing viewers to the screen," she said, although "from a buying standpoint, you need to be comfortable" with the environment. "It's definitely edgy," she added.