- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

Last season’s writers strike, which left many popular programs with shortened seasons, might be just a distant memory - but that doesn’t mean television is back to business as usual.

Because the strike took place just when writers and producers would have been developing new shows, much less fresh fare is ready this year. That gives shows that have been on hiatus longer than usual a better chance to win back viewers. Count in that group ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money,” which premiered last September and hasn’t been seen since December.

You have plenty of time to decide what to watch, what to record and what to skip. Fox and the CW started their fall seasons Sept. 1, but most CBS series premiere the week of Sept. 22, with NBC series following the week after that. ABC’s premieres start late this month and continue into October.

On Mondays, CBS is adding just one new sitcom to the end of its comedy block that includes “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men.” “Worst Week,” starting Sept. 22 at 9:30 p.m., is about a guy who seems to do everything wrong. One wonders how producers will manage to keep up the farce for the show’s run, but it was a successful series in Britain. (By the way: You’re going to hear that a lot this season - importing foreign hits was the networks’ answer to the crisis brought on by the strike.)

“CSI: Miami” follows at 10 p.m., and NBC is putting one of its biggest new series up against that hit. “My Own Worst Enemy,” bowing Oct. 13, is a “Manchurian Candidate”-like drama starring Christian Slater as a man with a split personality. One side of him is a spy, the other a nice family man.

Mr. Slater might be happy that television could give his career a much-needed boost, but viewers should welcome the show for its women. The underused British actress Saffron Burrows (“The Bank Job”) plays his therapist, and “Twin Peaks” cutie Madchen Amick plays his wife.

Two legal dramas also will duke it out in that same time slot. ABC’s “Boston Legal” begins its final season Sept. 22, and TNT’s “Raising the Bar” began Sept. 1. The new drama from Steven “NYPD Blue” Bochco centers on rival lawyers in the public defender’s and district attorney’s offices in Manhattan.

The CW continues to offer relatively low-rated but high-buzzing series, including “Gossip Girl.” The show, which returned Sept. 1 at 8 p.m., so far seems to embody the tag line of its promotional campaign: “Every parent’s nightmare.” The same can be said about the network’s latest series, “90210” - a spinoff of the 1990s guilty pleasure - which anchors its Tuesday nights at 8.

Elsewhere, Fox moves its stellar hit “House” to an earlier Tuesday time slot, 8 p.m. “Fringe,” a new cultier-than-cult “X-Files” copycat from “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams, follows at 9.

CBS’ “The Mentalist,” premiering Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. after “NCIS,” sounds a lot like a dramatic version of USA’s hilarious “Psych.” Simon Baker (“L.A. Confidential,” “The Devil Wears Prada”) stars as a fake psychic who uses his real observational skills to solve crimes.

Wednesdays will see the return of some TV veterans. Jay Mohr is the title character of the new CBS comedy “Gary Unmarried” (8:30 p.m.), a divorced dad of two who finds himself dating again. “Criminal Minds” follows at 9, and die-hard fans won’t want to miss the Sept. 24 premiere - one of the core cast members dies. First Mandy Patinkin; now this?

Jerry O’Connell also returned to the small screen this week. In Fox’s “Do Not Disturb” (9:30 p.m.), he and the sassy Niecy Nash (“Reno 911!” and “Clean House”) run a boutique hotel in Manhattan.

Mary Tyler Moore is back, for a few episodes, as Brooke Shields’ mother in NBC’s “Lipstick Jungle” at 10 p.m., while the old-meets-new series “Knight Rider” kicks off NBC’s night at 8. Both start Sept. 24. Another big name, Lucy Liu, joins ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” Oct. 1 at 10.

Meanwhile, Comedy Central adds another faux news show to its schedule. “David Alan Grier’s Chocolate News” is a sketch comedy that parodies black newsmagazine shows such as “Tavis Smiley.” It premieres Oct. 15 at 10:30 p.m.

On Thursdays, two franchises get a big shake-up. Jeff Goldblum replaces Chris Noth on USA’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (Nov. 6, 10 p.m.) while Laurence Fishburne replaces William Petersen, who leaves after the 10th episode of “CSI” (Oct. 9, 9 p.m.).

CBS’ forensic juggernaut is followed by a new drama: Rufus Sewell (“The Illusionist”) is called in to solve crimes at the “Eleventh Hour” in the series of the same name. It’s one of two British remakes airing Thursdays at 10. The other, also starting Oct. 9, is ABC’s “Life on Mars,” in which a cop is hit by a car and somehow transported back to 1973 to solve crimes. There won’t be any of that now-ubiquitous, fancy-dancy CSI stuff here. “Mars” also has the most intriguing new cast member of the season - Harvey Keitel in a supporting role.

NBC has its own import, a remake of the Australian hit “Kath & Kim,” starting Oct. 9 at 8:30 p.m. It sounds a bit like the deliciously over-the-top “Absolutely Fabulous,” with a mother-and-daughter duo this time, played by “SNL” alum Molly Shannon and Selma Blair. Also on Thursdays, NBC resuscitates “ER” for one last season. Angela Bassett joins the cast, along with a few faces from “ER’s” past on Sept. 25 at 10.

It’s not just Commonwealth countries that provide our new shows this year. CBS’ “The Ex List” (Fridays at 9 p.m., beginning Oct. 3) is based on an Israeli hit. Elizabeth Reaser from “Grey’s Anatomy” stars as a woman told by a psychic that she already has met her soul mate - so she starts dating all her exes again. (How many does she have? Enough for multiple seasons?) Meanwhile, NBC gets inspiration from a classic for its “Crusoe,” based on the Daniel Defoe novel (premiering Oct. 17 at 8 p.m.). In fact, it seems there’s little new on this night: Starz’ “Crash,” co-starring Dennis Hopper, is based on Paul Haggis’ Oscar-winning 2004 film and bows Oct 17 at 10.

Fox paid a lot of money for its Sunday-night animation block. Seth MacFarlane, the brains behind “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” just signed a five-year, $100 million contract. “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill” return to start off the block that airs from 8 to 10 p.m.

Things are a lot bloodier on cable. Showtime adds Jimmy Smits to the cast of the serial-killer black comedy “Dexter,” while HBO has the new vampire mystery “True Blood,” from “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball. Both air at 9 p.m. “True Blood” started Sunday, while “Dexter” premieres Sept. 28.

Perhaps the scariest sight of the evening will prove to be a newly frumpy Eva Longoria Parker. ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” starting Sept. 28 at 9, fast forwards five years …and it doesn’t look pretty.

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