Monday, September 15, 2008

The Flaming Nose Fall 2008 Network Schedules

Join us now for our night-by-night look at the Fall 2008 Network Programming Schedule. New shows are indicated in blue, and a discussion of each network's offering follows the grids.

There's a lot of good TV out there this season, though to be honest if you only watch the five broadcast networks you're missing a lot of it. As in recent years, several of the networks are planning major changes in January, but we'll take those on later. For now, let's just look at the shows that we'll be seeing this Fall.


On Sunday, the only slightly unusual thing is the CW's line-up of shows, which aren't actually CW product at all. They've been outsourced to MRC, a production company which has put together a line-up targeting a slightly older demo than most CW shows. A mixture of reality, comedy and drama, this certainly beats going dark on Sundays for CW. It will however be promoted as part of the CW.

The other networks are all returning their Sunday night successes, though on CBS The Unit now finds itself on a new night. Fox continues its popular animated comedy night (and will be adding two new shows come Spring '09).
This is one night where all the best action is on the cable. AMC has Mad Men, HBO has TrueBlood and Entourage, and Showtime has a new season of Dexter and more Californication. Nothing -- but nothing -- on trad network TV can match the quality of excitement of those shows. Sorry, broadcast networks, but it's true.


Monday brings us a lot of good television. Reality fans will flock to the return of ABC's Dancing with the Stars, followed by the well-received Christina Applegate comedy Samantha Who?, and Boston Legal on a new night.

CBS continues their successful Monday comedy block, with one new addition, Worst Week, the U.S. version of Brit favorite The Worst Week of My Life. Premise in a nutshell: Engaged man tries desperately to get his fiancee's parents to like him but fails miserably every time. Kyle Bornheimer (Jericho), Erinn Hayes (who played Pam Dawber in the TV movie about Mork and Mindy), Nancy Lenehan (Earl's mother on My Name is Earl), and Kurtwood Smith (That '70s Show) star, and with the lovely berth following Two and a Half Men, Worst Week should continue CBS' comedy slam.

NBC's lovable Chuck is back for its second season, and fan boy favorite Heroes returns finally for its third full season. At 10pm, the new My Own Worst Enemy, starring the always-interesting Christian Slater as a man who's living a secret (even to him) dual life as family man and a government agent, rounds out the impressive line-up. Co-starring Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks), Alfre Woodward (Desperate Housewives, The Forgotten), Tom Grady (Yes, Dear) and Saffron Burrows (Boston Legal, Enigma), My Own Worst Enemy could appeal to younger viewers eager for a few thrills at 10pm, and those tired of CSI and Boston Legal.

Fox brings back the flashy Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles at 8pm, and Prison Break returns at 9pm. Both series are well-made, and though Prison Break is entering its 4th season, fans are hoping that the high-tension drama will continue apace.

CW is up with Gossip Girl, one of the network's several trademark "rich kid" programs, and the sensitive One Tree Hill follows. If you're out of the CW demo you may never have watched these shows, but they know who they're going for at least.


Lots of new shows -- most networks have at least one -- are scattered about the Tuesday night TV landscape, and there is no shortage of possibilities for good viewing.

ABC leads off with the new gameshow Opportunity Knocks, premiering 9/23. Ashton Kutcher is one of the exec producers of this "taking it to the streets" quiz which finds one family somewhere in America surprised by a visit from the OK team who set up a gameshow in their front yard. The whole neighborhood gets into the act and of course a semi truck filled with money and loot awaits. While I don't doubt that Kutcher et all will make this immensely entertaining, I'm never heartened by greedy dashes for prizes, but that's just me. The evening continues with the results portion of Monday's Dancing with the Stars, and then Eli Stone returning for its sophomore season. While viewers didn't exactly flock in huge numbers to this off-beat comedy/drama -- Eli is a lawyer turned unlikely modern-day prophet -- it might have enough populist cred to work on ABC's very people pleasin' Tuesday.

CBS offers a night full of their trademark -- forensic drama -- including new show The Mentalist, starring Simon Baker (The Guardian, The Devil Wears Prada) as a skilled mentalist and former TV psychic -- think Kreskin without the oversized eyeglasses -- who now uses his incredible powers of observation to solve crimes in his own roguishly disarming way. Co-stars Robin Tunney (Prison Break, Hollywoodland), Amanda Righetti (The O.C.), Owain Yeoman (Generation Kill, Kitchen Confidential, The Nine), and Tim Kang (Rambo, Third Watch) and Baker are sure to get their share of dismembered females -- the bread and butter of all these slab-happy series -- to investigate. The night rounds out with Without a Trace returning for its 7th season.

NBC starts the night with the two-hour long The Biggest Loser: Families, which should give ABC's Opportunity Knocks a run for the money. You know the drill -- a family tries to lose weight together -- and TBL:F leads into the still-kickin' Law & Order: SVU.

Fox has a killer evening with the return of House and then the new J.J. Abrams series Fringe. In terms of sheer idiosyncratic entertainment, I can't see what could compare to this impressive one-two punch. This is a do-not-miss combination.

CW offers their over-hyped and so-far underappreciated new take on 1990's Aaron Spelling game-changer 90210, followed by Privileged, a series in the vein of all the other glitzy shows about the mega-haves but with a real premise (well, it is based on a book, after all): a beautiful but brilliant Yale grad is hired to tutor the spoiled orphaned granddaughters of a cosmetic tycoon, setting Palm Beach. The cast includes veteran actress Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction, et al) as the grandma (!), JoAnna Garcia (Reba, Freaks and Geeks), Ashley Newbrough (Radio Free Roscoe), Lucy Hale (The Bionic Woman) and some guys, too, but this one is all about the ones, to be sure.


Wednesday is a real mixed bag, with a few new shows, most returning; to me a rather weak night with no amazing standouts, but let's take it one network at a time.

ABC brings back the fanciful comedy/drama Pushing Daisies at 8pm, followed by the Grey's Anatomy spin-off Private Practice, and finally the 2nd season of Dirty Sexy Money. Line-up begins 10/1.

CBS moves the terrific Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine from its sometimes-Monday night to a too-early 8pm slot, but at least it's got a regular time. It's really a wrong time for this often sexy and genuinely hilarious show -- too early, makes it seem like a throwaway -- but let's root for it. Following is a new sitcom Gary Unmarried, starring Jay Mohr (Action, SNL, Last Comic Standing) as a divorced father coping with an ex-wife, kids, and a new girlfriend. Veteran actor Ed Begley Jr. (Living with Ed, Veronica Mars, et al), Al Madrigal (The Ortegas), and Ryan Malgarini (played Will Robinson in an '04 Lost in Space TV pilot!) co-star. Thematically pared nicely with TNAoOC, and they're the only comedies on in the time period, but I hope interested viewers will remember to tune in. Longtime police procedural favorites Criminal Minds and CSI:NY finish the night for CBS. Starts 9/24.

NBC unveils the weekly version of the surprise hit TV movie Knight Rider redo at 8pm, starring Justin Bruening (Cold Case), Deanna Russo (NCIS), Sydney Poitier (Veronica Mars), Bruce Davison (the original Willard, X-Men), Yancey Arias (The Division, Kingpin miniseries) and Paul Campbell (Battlestar Galactica). You either like this kind of thing or you don't, but it's undoubtedly cool good-looking fun. The Howie Mandel gameshow Deal or No Deal follows at 9pm, and the Type-A female empowerment saga Lipstick Jungle returns at 10p. Is anybody talking about or watching this show at all? Good actresses notwithstanding -- Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan, et al), Kim Raver (24), and Lindsay Price (Beverly Hills, 90210) -- this seems like an odd timeslot but where else are they going to put it? Wednesday is one mixed-up night for NBC, looks like. Begins 9/24.

Fox slots returning sexy forensic Bones in at 8pm, followed by an hour of sitcoms. The very tall Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) returns for the third season of 'til Death, co-starring Joely Fisher (Ellen, Zoe Busiek, Desperate Housewives). Leading out is Do Not Disturb, a sitcom which was roundly savaged in its first outing on 9/10. Jerry O' Connell (Crossing Jordan), Niecy Nash (Clean House, Reno 911), Molly Stanton (Passions), Jolene Purdy (Donnie Darko), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (The Class) and Dave Franco (Superbad) star in this hip NYC hotel-set show. We'll see how long it lasts.

CW brings back Cycle 11 of the hit competition series America's Next Top Model, with Tyra Banks, at 8pm, with encores of 90210 in at 9pm until the new fashion-industry set Stylista premieres in late October. Stylista pits would-be fashion industry execs against each other for the chance to land a job working at Elle magazine. Meow!!


ABC opens up at 8pm with the returning Ugly Betty -- can it be three seasons already?! -- and the perhaps-peaked Grey's Anatomy at 9pm. The 10pm hour is the network's Americanized take on the British hit Life on Mars, about a modern day police detective who wakes up in the 1970s. Is it a coma or time travel? And can this troubled production -- delays, squabbles, producer David E. Kelley first in then out, an almost completely new cast -- overcome its rocky start and hit the deck running? Jason O' Mara (In Justice, Men in Trees, Grey's Anatomy) stars, along with Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos), veteran actor Harvey Keitel (The Piano), and Gretchen Mol (3:10 to Yuma, The Notorious Bettie Page). Certainly worth a look at least.

CBS continues its successful Thursday night Survivor and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation combo, and introduces the new Eleventh Hour at 10pm. Based on a succesful British series (which starred Patrick Stewart), this U.S. version has the built-in advantage of being part of producer Jerry Bruckheimer's burgeoning can't-miss TV empire (all the CSIs, Cold Case, Without a Trace, et al). Rufus Sewell (John Adams, Dark City, The Illusionist) stars as a brilliant scientific investigator whose mission is to ferret out those who would misuse the untold powers of science. Sounds eggheady, but don't bet on it, considering Bruckheimer's other output. Eleventh Hour co-stars Marley Shelton (Pleasantville, Grindhouse, Sin City), and if there aren't any other known names in the cast, no doubt like many of Bruckheimer's shows the supporting cast will become stars rather than starting out that way.

NBC keeps up its strong Thursday comedy line-up with the return of My Name is Earl, followed by the introduction of the network's adaptation of popular Australian comedy Kath & Kim, this time starring Molly Shannon (SNL), Selma Blair (Hellboy), John Michael Higgins (Best in Show, Evan Almighty), and Mikey Day (Wild 'N Out). Premiering 10/9, Kath & Kim is a skewering of a suburban mother/daughter relationship, not quite White Trashy but certainly completely over-the-top and we'll see how the talented Shannon and Blair handle it. The buzz seems to be rather unkind at this point, at least. The Office returns at 9pm, and after some weeks of Saturday Night Live specials, the witty and often downright hilarious 30 Rock, starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, returns at 9:30pm. At 10pm ER hangs in for its final season, its 15th, with guest star turns by series alumni promised.

At 8pm Fox offers the new raucous physical game show Hole in the Wall, based on the Japanese program Brain Wall. Contestants contort to fit through holes in a giant Styrofoam wall. That's it, and that's enough. One of those you either will love it or hate it. HitW is followed at 9pm by another season of Kitchen Nightmares starring Chef Gordon Ramsay, as he bullies restaurant owners while he helps them get their acts together. If you like rancor mixed with rosemary and radicchio, Ramsay is your man.

CW doesn't mess with their solid teen science fiction double-header of Smallville at 8pm and the engaging Supernatural at 9pm. If you're over a certain age you might never have watched these, but they are both terrific series that the CW are fortunately treating right.


Ah, Friday. Supposedly nobody's home -- well, nobody that the advertisers seem to want, anyway -- but that doesn't stop the networks from racking up some decent audience numbers.

ABC goes for the ladies with the return of 8pm's Wife Swap and 9pm's Supernanny. These two shows dig right into the domestic dynamic and take no prisoners; I find both of them terrific advertisements for celibacy and the resultant childlessness. The newsmagazine 20/20 follows at 10pm.

CBS continues its successful 8pm offering Ghost Whisperer and offers up a new and promising series at 9pm. The Ex List is based on an Israeli hit, and the premise is intriguing: a career woman learns from a psychic that somewhere in her dating life she's already met the man she's destined to marry, but if they don't hook up again within the year, she'll remain single forever. Yikes! There was a recent producer defection on the show which might not bode well, but let's hope that series stars Elizabeth Reaser (Grey's Anatomy), Rachel Boston (American Dreams), Alexandra Breckenridge (Dirt), Adam Rothenberg (Damages), and Amir Talai (Studio 60) get a chance to establish themselves. The evening concludes for CBS with the popular returning series Numbers at 10pm.

NBC premieres the ambitious action adventure hour Crusoe at 8pm. Based on Daniel Defoe's classic novel, Crusoe will juxtapose the treacherous deserted island existence of Crusoe, played by Philip Winchester (Flyboys), and friend Friday (acclaimed Zimbabwean actor Tongayi Chirisa) with his lost life at home with beloved wife (Anna Walton - Hellboy II) and his mentor, played by Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, et al).

Fox goes for the post-pizza night family audience with its popular game show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? at 8pm, and the tuneful Don't Forget the Lyrics! at 9pm. This is good clean family fun and somebody's got to do it, right?

CW offers up a bit of what made the original UPN network unique and popular. The likable domestic sitcom Everybody Hates Chris changes nights and gets the 8pm slot, followed by the pro football-set romantic comedy The Game at 8:30pm. Encores of America's Top Model run at 9pm.


Did I say nobody's home on Fridays? That goes double for Saturdays, but it's a good time to catch up on shows you may have missed during the week, often courtesy of the nets themselves.

ABC is into football, college football, that is, with its Saturday Night College Football game.

CBS offers selected repeats of its crime shows from 8p - 10pm, and then offers up a themed 48 Hours: Mystery hour at 10pm.

NBC goes with an edition of their newsmagazine Dateline, then encores of Knight Rider, and finally Law & Order: SVU repeats.

Fox keeps the Cops/Cops/America's Most Wanted line-up, a long-time tradition that may operate under the radar but keeps on satisfying audiences.

That's about it for now. We will be reviewing the new shows as they premiere and keeping tabs on old favorites. With so many of these shows available for viewing online, the beginning of the season excitement is perhaps more diffuse and certainly less focused on the actual television set, yet it's still a palpable force. The range of choices is amazing, and don't ever let any of us hear you say "There's nothing on" -- there's always something on!


Jane said...

This is the best new Fall Line-up guide I've ever seen! It's going to be hugely helpful as we navigate through all the great TV coming up. Wow! Thanks for this Lisa!

Lisa said...

At least we'll know where things are!

It will be particularly helpful when we start methodically reviewing the fall shows. Coming up!!

Dean Treadway said...

Beautiful post, Lisa! So insicive and exacting! I love seeing you comment in this way on network and cable's extremely helpful, and makes sense of a complicated business that you know oh-so-well. Great job!!!