TV Report: Programming

Watch This, Skip That

A Guide to the Upcoming Broadcast TV Season

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As I viewed many of the pilots for the 2009-2010 TV season and pored over reports from the recent network upfronts, a strange sensation came over me: I was engaged. I felt no compulsion to check my e-mail or grab a snack. Where my mind usually wandered, it stayed put.

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Some of the shows actually looked good.

Not "shot in stunning hi-def" good or "packed with fetching starlets who reach for things on high shelves and bend to pick up stuff they dropped" good, but good-quality-wise good. Watchable good. Screw-the-DVR-and-set-your-alarm-for-it good.

Now, there's only so much one can glean from a pilot. A few years back, ABC's "The Nine" started as promisingly as any series in history, then shortly devolved into plot-twisty melodrama. But from what little I've seen, I'm enthused. So with that giant grain of salt taken, here's a night-by-night look at the new shows with which I'll be passing the prime-time hours come autumn, as well as the ones I've already assigned to the piffle pile.


The Marriage Ref
Sure! "The Marriage Ref," NBC (note: It may not debut until after NBC's "Sunday Night Football" slate): The title is willfully dumb, and exec producer Jerry Seinfeld hasn't been funny since his last American Express spot. But the concept has promise, with celebs and comedians weighing in on real-life marriage disputes. Hey, it beats another 44-minutes-and-out forensics procedural.

The Cleveland Show
No. Just no. "The Cleveland Show," Fox: So help us all, Fox has handed over 90 minutes of primo Sunday-night real estate to Seth MacFarlane ("Family Guy," "American Dad"). Vegas has already set the "number of extraneous pop-culture references per episode" over/under at 145. Take the over.


The Jay Leno Show
Sure! "The Jay Leno Show," NBC: Jay Leno is not funny. His gentle jabs and ain't-that-something! recitation of dopey headlines don't amuse so much as fatigue, which is why he became the nation's favorite non-prescription sleeping pill. At the same time, he'll be a first-flip destination during halftime of "Monday Night Football," simply to see which celeb happens to be occupying his couch. If NBC wants demographically super-desirable dunceheads like me to keep checking back in, they'll have somebody like Eliza Dushku joustin' with Jay at precisely 10:27 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 14.

Accidentally on Purpose
No. Just no. "Accidentally on Purpose," CBS: Jenna Elfman has long since affirmed her comedienne bona fides, but the setup -- career gal gets knocked up by charming scamp, then decides to live with him platonically -- has "wacky hijinks" stamped all over it. Why CBS has decided to interrupt the "How I Met Your Mother"/"The Big Bang Theory" pairing with a show that is tonally incompatible, I'll never know.


Melrose Place
Sure! "Melrose Place," the CW: Recycled trash from Fox's glory era? O happy day! I won't spoil nuthin' for nobody, but wacko-bonkers "Melrose" alum Sydney (Laura Leighton) is said to play a pivotal role in the series' rebirth. Beyond that, expect generous helpings of blithe bitchery, hair pulling and sexxxy poolside fraternization.

NCIS: Los Angeles
No. Just no. "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS: On one hand, the missus owns a bunch of CBS stock, so I'm happy for any development that will elevate the company onto higher financial ground -- and the arrival of this "NCIS" spinoff, as safe a bet as anything on the fall schedule, certainly qualifies. On the other hand, why? We can't possibly be so creatively bankrupt as a society. Can we?


Sure! "Parenthood," NBC: Fox's joyous, wildly imaginative "Glee" technically isn't new, so "Parenthood" gets the nod on its cast alone: Peter Krause, Maura Tierney, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen, Bonnie Bedelia and -- drum roll, please -- the Coach himself, Craig T. Nelson. Assuming they aren't saddled with jokes about parental sexlessness and precocious kids, they should be able to wring some giggles out of a tired premise.

Cougar Town
No. Just no. "Cougar Town," ABC: I tried to think of a way this exhausting comedy, which jumps on the cougar craze a full 18 months after its pop-culture statute of limitations ran, could prove remotely watchable. The best I could come up with was "if they turned down the volume on every character by roughly 60 decibels." Courteney Cox or no, this is a primo first-cancellation candidate.


Sure! "Community," NBC: A pair of "Arrested Development" directors helm this alternately silly and sophisticated look at a community college and the dips, dirtbags and horndogs who are edumacated there. Welcome home, Chevy Chase.

Vampire Diaries
No. Just no. "Vampire Diaries," the CW: Never one to let a trend go unexploited, the CW makes a hops on the "Twilight" bandwagon with "Vampire Diaries." It involves a love triangle involving two vampire brothers and, ostensibly, some throat-noshing. We've been there before.


Ghost Whisperer
Sure! "Ghost Whisperer" and "Medium," CBS: Friday night currently boasts a single new show -- which will change when ABC's all-new Wednesday lineup tanks and the network relocates half the shows to this end-of-week graveyard. So I'll just give a thumbs-up to CBS for having the good sense to pair the two most estrogenificent shows about paranormally inclined cutesy-pies in recent TV history. Like anybody who watches one won't stick around for the other.

No. Just no. "Brothers," Fox: From my perch in section 328 at Giants Stadium, I watched former defensive end Michael Strahan do a great many wonderful things: sack quarterbacks, stuff runners, pounce on fumbles, etc. Never did I envision a day when his gap-toothed visage would invade my home as one part of a comically mismatched pair of brothers. This makes me sad.

Sure! College football, ABC: Alabama-Virginia Tech kicks off the prime-time slate on Sept. 5. Hey, it beats yet another "Dateline NBC" true-crime exclusive, right?

No. Just no. "Trauma," NBC: This drama about first-responder paramedics will suck during its first-run Monday airing and it will suck during its Saturday rerun. It will suck topically, because the person-in-distress genre has been strip-mined of every iota of drama, and it will suck creatively, because it is populated by shiny-faced actors saddled with character names like "Rabbit" and "Dr. Joe." I'd rather watch actual accident-scene footage -- and I say that as a guy who's not fond of the sight of blood.

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