- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

If anything unites the TV networks’ disparate schedules this fall, it’s reliance on the supernatural.

The minds behind “The X-Files” may be grinning about their legacy, but the true catalyst was ABC’s “Lost,” which folded the surreal into an old-fashioned survival yarn.

Imitation is more than flattery for TV executives. It’s a way of life.

ABC

ABC doesn’t mind piggybacking on its own hits. The network’s new thriller, “Invasion,” from the mind of teen-idol-turned-sci-fi-scribe Shaun Cassidy, follows a family — blended like the Brady Bunch — that realizes that a rash of natural disasters may be hiding something far more ominous. (10 p.m., Sept. 21)

The network also revisits “Night Stalker,” a smart supernatural series from the 1970s that starred Darren McGavin. (9 p.m., Sept. 29)

ABC’s biggest heat could emanate from “Commander in Chief,” a drama starring Oscar winner Geena Davis as the commanderette in chief. We’re told she’s an independent, not a Democrat like 99.8 percent of Hollywood and most of the fictional players in “The West Wing.” (9 p.m., Sept. 27)

CBS

The Tiffany Network, which ruled the ratings roost last year, isn’t giving up on the sitcom. A new offering, “How I Met Your Mother,” brings Neil Patrick Harris ( “Doogie Howser, MD”) and Alyson Hannigan (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) back to the small screen. The twist? Show narrator Bob Saget flashes back from the year 2030 on how he met and romanced his wife. The series is told entirely in flashback, with Mr. Saget’s narration kicking off each installment. (8:30 p.m., Sept. 19)

CBS’ entry into the supernatural sweepstakes is a pair of high-concept dramas. “Threshold” boasts arguably the strongest cast of any news series, including Charles S. Dutton, Peter Dinklage (“The Station Agent”), Brent Spiner (“Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data”) and Carla Gugino. The series details what happens when researchers discover an alien spacecraft in the middle of the ocean. (9 p.m., Sept. 16)

“Close to Home” tracks a brilliant prosecutor (Jennifer Finnigan, stretching from last year’s “Committed”) who uncovers the corruption bubbling beneath a bucolic suburb. (10 p.m., Oct. 4)

NBC

Turn down the buzz emanating from the sitcom “My Name is Earl” and “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” and it looks as if the network’s executives believe last year never happened.

NBC keeps clinging to past-their-prime shows such as “The West Wing,” “Will & Grace” and “ER” instead of instituting the kind of “extreme makeover” that could right its ship.

Instead, there are a few novel shows, including “Surface,” which follows oceanographers tracking a new species of sea life the government wants to keep under wraps. (8 p.m., Sept. 19)

The aforementioned “Earl” stars Jason Lee (“Almost Famous”) as a reformed crook trying to undo the damage he has done after winning a lottery. Mr. Lee is often the best thing about the often mediocre movies in which he appears, so slipping him into an offbeat vehicle like “Earl” makes sense. (9 p.m., Sept. 20)

“The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” tries to extend the Trump series into home-diva territory. (8 p.m., Sept. 21)

FOX

Fox executives must be addicted to gimmick-laden premises. The network that gave us “Married … With Children” (sour family sitcom) and “24” (real-time thriller) launches “Reunion” this fall. The series follows a group of high school chums over a 20-year period. Each episode is set one year after the last, and the kicker is that one of the six is brutally murdered in the 20th year, and we get to figure out whodunit. (9 p.m., Thursday)

The network already introduced its neat escape yarn, “Prison Break,” Aug. 29 and offers up “Head Cases” later this month, starring Chris O’Donnell and Adam Goldberg as mental-health-challenged lawyers who cling to each other and their neuroses. (9 p.m., Sept. 14)

Should anyone fear Fox is all innovation, all the time, consider “The War at Home,” a surly comedy in the “Married … With Children” tradition.

Fox isn’t averse to bandwagon-hopping. It tries to steal some “CSI” thunder with “Bones,” which stars Emily Deschanel (“Boogeyman”) as a forensic scientist teamed with a special agent (David Boreanaz of “Angel”) to solve maddening crimes. (8 p.m., Sept. 13)

UPN

UPN offers the best chance for a breakout comedy hit with “Everybody Hates Chris,” a show adored by the press and created by incendiary comic Chris Rock. Mr. Rock will narrate and executive-produce the show, which chronicles his comically troubled youth. It kicks off the network’s attempt to establish steady Thursday night programming. (8 p.m., Sept. 22)

WB

The now frog-less WB serves up its own supernatural thriller this fall, called — what else — “Supernatural.” The drama stars Jared Padalecki (“The Gilmore Girls”) and Jensen Ackles as two brothers who encounter all manner of ghouls and goblins while tracking down their missing father. (9 p.m., Sept. 13)

The new comedy “Twins” plays like a where-are-they-now? special. Sara Gilbert (“Roseanne”) stars as the brainy one of twin sisters who take over their parents’ undergarment empire.

Along for the ride are Mark Linn-Baker (“Perfect Strangers”) and Melanie Griffith (“Working Girl”) as the pair’s parents. (8:30 p.m., Sept. 16)

Across the cable universe, HBO marks the fall with the return of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the new series “Extras,” a comedy debuting Sept. 25 about fledgling actors from “The Office” creator Ricky Gervais.

Showtime fires back with “Speak,” an original film about date rape to air simultaneously on Lifetime at 9 p.m. tonight . The network also brings us fresh episodes of late summer arrivals “Weeds” and “Barbershop.”

The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup is sure to raise hackles with “The Boondocks,” an animated series inspired by the far-left comic strip of the same name.

Comedy Central extends its “Daily Show” brand with “The Colbert Report,” a spinoff featuring ace faux reporter Stephen Colbert.

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