- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

More than two dozen new shows will compete for network television viewers this season. That’s not many when you consider how many have the same concept.

“30 Rock” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” are both behind-the-scenes looks at a “Saturday Night Live”-type sketch-comedy show — and both are on NBC, home of “SNL.” Two dramatic serials, Fox’s “Vanished” and NBC’s “Kidnapped,” follow a single kidnapping through the course of a season. Then there are the usual “Friends” clones, including CBS’ “The Class” and Fox’s “Happy Hour.”

The big question may not be which new challengers triumph but how some of the 50-plus returning programs fare. Schedule changes mean that the biggest shows will be battling each other. One of television’s longest-running programs could get caught in the fallout.

Monday nights should remain the domain of CBS, which premieres all its shows except “Survivor” the week of Sept. 17. Two hours of comedy start at 8 p.m. with “The Class,” followed by two enjoyable favorites, “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men.” The network’s “CSI: Miami” may face some tough competition at 10 from “Studio 60,” the “SNL” show created by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”). It stars Amanda Peet and Matthew Perry. The show’s lead-in is “Heroes,” which can be described as “X-Men” with heart.

From the wreckage of UPN and the WB come two new stations, My Network TV and the CW. My Network features two telenovelas with new episodes every weeknight, including the guilty pleasure “Fashion House,” with Bo Derek and Morgan Fairchild. “Runaway” (Mondays at 9) is one of just two new series on the CW. Donnie Wahlberg plays a lawyer on the lam after he’s framed for murder.

CBS has another strong night on Tuesdays with “NCIS,” the David Mamet-scripted “The Unit” and the new series “Smith.” The other networks have strong entries, too. None has the star cast of “Smith,” with Ray Liotta as a gangster and Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”) as his wife.

The cast is mostly unknown in NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” based on the football movie. That’s followed by the “Law & Order” spinoffs “Criminal Intent” and “Special Victims Unit.” ABC has a night of new shows, including the unpromising “Big Day,” which follows a single wedding over a season; “Notes From the Underbelly,” about what happens when “Sex and the City”-type girls have children (although we already saw that on “SATC”); and “Knights of Prosperity,” a comedy about lowlifes who rob Mick Jagger. Following that is “Help Me Help You,” featuring Ted Danson as another medical professional, this time a group therapist. It starts Sept. 26; “Knights” debuts Oct. 17.

Critical darlings “Gilmore Girls” and “Veronica Mars” give the CW its strongest night, but Fox’s “House” remains one of the best shows on television. Its lead-in is the new series “Standoff,” with Ron Livingston as a hostage negotiator dating his partner.

ABC’s “Lost” on Wednesdays will be replaced by “Day Break” for 13 episodes starting Nov. 15. Taye Diggs is doomed to repeat himself in this cross between “Training Day” and “Groundhog Day.” “The Nine” follows, with Scott Wolf as one of nine people who survived a bank robbery.

CBS sandwiches the thoughtful FBI profiler “Criminal Minds,” starring Mandy Patinkin, between the new show “Jericho,” about the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, and “CSI: NY.” NBC brings John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor back to TV as a couple of womanizing oldsters in “Twenty Good Years,” followed by “30 Rock,” with former “SNL” cast mates Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan.

Thursday sees the week’s biggest battle as ABC’s top-rated medical soap “Grey’s Anatomy” goes head-to-head with the CBS juggernaut that is “CSI.” Viewers having trouble deciding which network to watch at 9 may have an even harder decision at 10. ABC’s “Six Degrees” has two of indie film’s best talents, Hope Davis and Campbell Scott. CBS’ “Shark” has James Woods as a defense lawyer who goes to work for District Attorney Jeri Ryan after a crisis of conscience. CBS’ “Survivor” competes with ABC’s “The Devil Wears Prada”-concept telenovela “Ugly Betty” at 8.

Other networks aren’t offering much of interest that night, other than NBC’s consistently hilarious “The Office” at 8:30. Fox’s best shot is “‘Til Death,” the new Brad Garrett (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) vehicle.

Friday, usually a boring night of television, just got more interesting with the move of “Law & Order” from Wednesdays. The 10 p.m. time slot was the kiss of death for two previous Dick Wolf-produced shows; will the procedural finally end after 14 years? The addition of two hotties, Milena Govich from the failed “Conviction” and Alana De La Garza, late of “CSI: Miami,” just might be enough to hold viewers — at least the male ones.

Saturday night remains a television wasteland with repeats mingled with shows such as “Dateline NBC” and “Cops.”

On Sunday, Fox gives us its returning mix of end-of-the-weekend animated fun starting at 8 with “The Simpsons,” then continuing with “American Dad” and “Family Guy.” Look for one notable “Simpsons” with literati guest stars Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen when Moe becomes a poet — and never mind that these men are all known for their prose.

Beltway viewers might switch over to ABC at 10 for “Brothers & Sisters,” starting Sept. 24. Calista “Ally McBeal” Flockhart returns to television as a conservative talk-radio host modeled after Mary Matalin.

There’s also some political talk — of the bedroom variety — this season on its lead-in, “Desperate Housewives.” A sex scene from an upcoming episode has been leaked on YouTube and features Bree (Marcia Cross) and new love Orson (Kyle McLachlan) in bed. “I don’t do that,” Bree says of a certain sexual act. “I’m a Republican.”

“I’m a libertarian,” Orson replies. “I believe in minimizing the role of the state and maximizing individual rights. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”

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