This is the first television season of the decade without new "Seinfeld" episodes to keep us off-kilter, so we felt obliged to ferret out some interesting and quirky TV specials. OK, we threw in some informative ones too.
Among the trends spotted: No conspiracy theory is too out there for its own television special (see "The Cattle Files" below). Other paranormal activity: the Academy Awards move to Sunday, the Friars Club opens its doors to Comedy Central's cameras and someone thinks our underwear is worth a program.
Here are other highlights, with as much scheduling information as available:
NOW THAT'S COMEDY
"In Thru the Out Door" is the first sketch-comedy television show to showcase gay and lesbian comedians exclusively. Politically incorrect does not even begin to describe this show. Oct. 11. Showtime.
For the first time ever, "The New York Friars Club Annual Celebrity Roast" will be televised. This year's roastee? ABC star Drew Carey. October. Comedy Central.
CRIME & PUNISHMENT
"Life of Crime 2" is the follow-up to the controversial 1989 documentary "Life of Crime," which gave a disturbing look at the lives of two criminals, Rob and Freddie. Filmmaker Jon Alpert revisits the two men almost a decade later. December. HBO.
Quincy Jones' "Do or Die" is a first-hand look at L.A. street gangs. TBA. NBC.
"Escape From Laos: Werner Herzog's Little Dieter Needs to Fly." This documentary by the venturesome German filmmaker tells the story of Dieter Dengler, who left postwar Germany for America, joined the U.S. Army, was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War and became the only American prisoner of war to escape from Laos. Oct. 22. Cinemax.
"Vietnam: The Soldier's Story," a six-part series in which Vietnam veterans tell their stories first hand is hosted by ABC News correspondent Jack Smith, himself a Vietnam veteran. Oct. 11-13. TLC.
"Monsterfest: House of Horrors and Hollywood Ghost Stories": Director Tim Burton ("Edward Scissorhands," "The Nightmare Before Christmas") will be the host for this week-long festival of more than two dozen classic horror films. Oct. 26-Nov. 1. AMC.
"Scooby-Doo, Where Are You" Marathon. The crime-solving pooch and his pals are finally getting the credit they deserve. Oct. 26. Cartoon Network.
Actor Ben Gazzara narrates "Italians in America," a new two-hour documentary about the Italian-American experience that ranges from Christopher Columbus to Rudolph Giuliani. The program includes interviews with politician Geraldine Ferraro, actor-screenwriter Chazz Palminteri and author Gay Talese. Oct. 11. A&E.;
In a category-defying special, A&E; will take an in-depth look at the history of . . . undergarments, in "Unmentionables: A Brief History," December. A&E.;
Introducing UniverSoul Circus, the first touring African American owned-and-operated circus. TBA. HBO.
A three-part special for those who like their paranormal and conspiracy theories straight up. "The Real Men in Black," an investigative look at the CIA's so-called "top-secret mind-control program"; "The Cattle Files," a look at the bizarre and mysterious mutilation of more than 10,000 cattle in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado over the past two decades; and "Alien Encounter," a report on an alleged international cover-up of an alien aircraft crash in Brazil. Nov. 15. TLC.
The Cold War ended peacefully, but that's not dramatic enough for some folks. "World War III" is a two-hour "fictional documentary" on how the Cold War might have ended. Dec. 20. TLC.
Some of the unusual critters who will get their own television specials this coming season: "The Ultimate Guide: Octopus," a rare look at the carnivorous marine mollusks. Sunday. Discovery.
"Tiger Hunt: The Elusive Sumatran," the first program ever to show footage of the Sumatran tiger in the wild. Oct. 3. Animal Planet.
Actress Susan Sarandon narrates "Secrets of the Humpback Whale," which follows the great sea mammals on their 3,000-mile migration from Hawaii to Alaska. Oct. 12. Discovery.
"Wild Dogs of Yellowstone," a National Geographic special on the controversial effort to reintroduce wolves to the national park. TBA. NBC.
For the first time in its 71-year history, the Academy Awards will be held on a Sunday (it's been held on Monday evenings for the past 32 years). The venue has changed too: In 1999, the Oscars once again will be at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. March 21. ABC.
Also save the dates for: "The 32nd Annual Country Music Awards," Wednesday. CBS. "The 56th Annual Golden Globe Awards," Jan. 24, NBC. "The 41st Annual Grammy Awards," Feb. 24, CBS.
"Christmas in Rockefeller Center": A one-hour special centered around the lighting of the mammoth Christmas tree in New York city. It will include figure skating on the Rockefeller rink beneath the tree, of course. December. NBC.
"The Great Christmas Movies": A nostalgic one-hour look at the most memorable scenes from the best-loved holiday classics. December. AMC.
Look for Christmas specials from Celine Dion and Kathie Lee Gifford, both in December on CBS.
"Snowden's Raggedy Ann and Andy Holiday Show," featuring figure skaters Scott Hamilton, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Kurt Browning. December. CBS.