Let the Shows Begin

By all appearances, the broadcast television networks finally got the message that audiences are hungry for original programming even during summer months. What’s more, they’ve learned to do it with relatively inexpensive programming.

Just look at the success that reality/competition shows “American Idol” and “Dog Eat Dog” both enjoyed.

But summer fun is over, and now it’s time for the networks to return to what they do best, or at least what they’re more accustomed to doing: unleashing a fall stampede of 35 new comedies and dramas, episodics and anthologies, shows focusing on cops and kids, doctors and degenerates. A few new shows have dribbled out already, with the stream picking up this week in advance of TV’s official premiere week the seven days following the Emmy Awards on Sept. 22.

It’s difficult for even the most dedicated TV watcher to keep track of it all--made no easier this year by the presence of two medical shows set in San Francisco airing opposite one another, one show offering a welcome to Tucson and another sending out greetings to Miami, and three new cop series set on the gritty streets of Los Angeles--but maybe we can help.

What follows are capsule summaries of the new series offerings from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB. You’ll find some pertinent information and some extras too. Let the watching begin.



Title: “Oliver Beene”

Network: Fox

Time slot: 7:30 p.m. Premieres in early 2003, after fall sports season ends

Key cast: Grant Rosenmeyer, Grant Shaud (“Murphy Brown”), Wendy Makkena (“Sister Act”), Andrew Lawrence

Behind the camera: Executive producer Steven Levitan (“Just Shoot Me”)

The gist: The Cold War fears of 1962 are nothing compared to the everyday dangers of being 11-year-old Oliver Beene (Rosenmeyer). He copes with on-edge parents (Shaud, Makkena), a tuned-out brother (Lawrence) and daily humiliations of being class clown at school.

Target audience: Baby boomers

Most like: “The Wonder Years”

Major competition: ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney,” CBS’ “60 Minutes”

What it has: A nostalgic pull for anyone who grew up with the Kennedys, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the early Johnny Carson years

What it needs: To lose the attitude

Title: “American Dreams”

Network: NBC

Time slot: 8 p.m. Premieres Sept. 29

Key cast: Brittany Snow (“Guiding Light”), Gail O’Grady (“NYPD Blue”), Tom Verica (“Providence”)

Behind the camera: Dick Clark is executive producer, along with creator Jonathan Prince (“Blossom”)

The gist: In 1960s Philadelphia, a 15-year-old girl gets to dance on “American Bandstand,” but the turbulent times spur her and the rest of the family to think about more important dreams.

Target audience: Families

Most like: “The Wonder Years”

Major competition: Its family-hour foes include “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “The Simpsons.”

What it has: Exhilarating tunes and choice “Bandstand” clips

What it needs: Drama with the oomph to match the soundtrack. For a nostalgic family drama, this is one forgettable family.

Title: “Bram and Alice”

Network: CBS

Time slot: 8:30 p.m. Premieres Oct. 6

Key cast: Alfred Molina (“Chocolat,” upcoming “Frida”), Traylor Howard (“Two Guys and a Girl”)

Behind the camera: Created by writer-producers Joe Keenan and Christopher Lloyd (“Frasier”).

The gist: A washed-up, womanizing barfly of a novelist and a struggling writer, who is among his many fans, discover they are father and daughter. She moves into his Manhattan flat, launching an awkward new chapter in their lives.

Target audience: Connoisseurs of witty sitcoms

Most like: “Cheers” meets “Frasier,” with a flawed hero who is a cross between Sam Malone and Frasier Crane.

Major competition: “The Simpsons”

What it has: Snappy writing, a hammy delight in Molina as the incorrigible schemer, a co-star who holds her own in Howard and a droll supporting cast

What it needs: Some have questioned the creepy father-daughter reunion in the pilot. Otherwise, not much, if that first episode is any guide.

Title: “The Grubbs”

Network: Fox

Time slot: 9:30 p.m. Premieres Nov. 3

Key cast: Michael Cera, Randy Quaid (“Kingpin,” “Independence Day”), Carol Kane (“Taxi,” “Man on the Moon”), Lori Rom

Behind the camera: Writer-producers Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia (“That ‘70s Show”)

The gist: Geeky 14-year-old Mitch Grubb (Cera) lives in a houseful of slackers--including a dad who fell off a forklift on purpose to collect disability--but when his alluring, motivated teacher (Rom) moves in next door, his so-called life will never be the same.

Target audience: Teenagers

Most like: “Growing Pains” meets “Married ... With Children.”

Major competition: “Alias”

What it has: Crude, cheesy humor, and a lead-in from the classier “Malcolm in the Middle.”

What it needs: Better jokes. On the other hand, crude and cheesy have drawn big ratings before.

Title: Boomtown

Network: NBC

Time slot: 10 p.m. Premieres Sept. 29

Key Cast: Neal McDonough (“Band of Brothers”), Donnie Wahlberg (“Band of Brothers”), Mykelti Williamson (“Forrest Gump”), Nina Garbiras (“The Street”), Jason Gedrick (“The Last Don,” “Murder One”)

Behind the camera: Executive producers Graham Yost (“Speed”) and Jon Avnet (“Fried Green Tomatoes”)

The gist: Like many shows before it, this one focuses on crime and crime fighting in Los Angeles. Like no show before it, “Boomtown” explores the crime from various viewpoints: an ambitious D.A. (McDonough), a conflicted cop (Wahlberg), a newspaper journalist (Garbiras) and so on.

Target audience: Adults of perhaps a more sophisticated bent

Most like: “Law & Order” if “Rashomon"-era Akira Kurosawa were supervising

What it has: A strong cast of familiar and fresh faces, and a fresh idea in the most tired of TV genres

What it needs: To maintain the quality of the pilot, and to resist the temptation to delve too much into soap opera devices


Title: “Everwood”

Network: WB

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 16

Key cast: Treat Williams (“Good Advice,” “The Late Shift”), Gregory Smith (“The Patriot”)

Behind the camera: Creator/executive producer Greg Berlanti (“Dawson’s Creek”)

The gist: Suddenly widowed, a renowned New York City neurosurgeon moves with his two kids to the snowy hamlet of Everwood, Colo., to start afresh amid the colorful locals. He finds that the hardest wound to heal is a rift with his 15-year-old son.

Target audience: Families, especially those with teens

Most like: “7th Heaven” meets “Northern Exposure”

Major competition: “Everybody Loves Raymond”

What it has: Wholesome appeal, a charismatic young talent in Smith and a reliable pro in Williams

What it needs: Less sugar. A bit of the twinkly-eyed school bus driver who speaks only in pearls of wisdom, for instance, goes a long way.

Title: “Girls Club”

Network: Fox

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Oct. 21

Key cast: Gretchen Mol (“Rounders,” “Sweet and Lowdown”), Kathleen Robertson (“Beverly Hills, 90210"), Chyler Leigh

Behind the camera: Writer-producer David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal”)

The gist: Three best friends from law school start their careers in San Francisco.

Target audience: “Ally"-watchers

Most like: “Ally McBeal,” of course, but perhaps also some of “First Years”

Main competition: CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond,” UPN’s similarly named “Girlfriends.” Oh, and memories of “Ally,” whose old time slot “Girls Club” now occupies.

What it has: Unknown; this show was unavailable for preview.

What it needs: See above

Title: “Half and Half”

Network: UPN

Time slot: 9:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 23

Key cast: Rachel True, Essence Atkins, Telma Hopkins (“Family Matters”), Valarie Pettiford (“One Life to Live”)

Behind the camera: Executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser (“A Different World,” “For Your Love”)

The gist: Long-separated half-sisters who have a father in common but little else must coexist in the same apartment building, separated only by a floor/ceiling.

Target audience: 16-and-up fans of sibling-rivalry, family-clash high jinks

Most like: “Too Close for Comfort,” or the “Cosby” family on the rocks

Major competition: Fox’s “Girls Club”

What it has: Smart writing, sassy cast

What it needs: A direction beyond the usual TV bickering

Title: “Still Standing”

Network: CBS

Time slot: 9:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 30

Key cast: Mark Addy (“The Full Monty”), Jami Gertz (“Twister”)

Behind the camera: Writer/executive producers Diane Burroughs and Joey Gutierrez (“The Drew Carey Show,” “Murphy Brown”)

The gist: A blue-collar Chicago couple who started out as high school sweethearts try to raise three kids while keeping their marriage intact. He sells toilets; she wears the pants around the house.

Target audience: Families

Most like: “Everybody Loves Raymond”

Major competition: “Monday Night Football” (depending on the time zone and length of the game), and perhaps “Girls Club” if David E. Kelley has another hit on his hands.

What it has: Compelling chemistry and rat-a-tat timing between its stars, plus an ideal lead-in from “Raymond”

What it needs: A more convincing Chicago accent from British-born Addy. But if the writing remains at the pilot’s quality, viewers will surely give the chap a break.

Title: “CSI: Miami”

Network: CBS

Time slot: 10 p.m. Premieres Sept. 23

Key cast: David Caruso (“NYPD Blue,” 1993-94, “Michael Hayes”), Kim Delaney (“NYPD Blue,” 1995-2001, “Philly”), Emily Procter (“The West Wing”), Rory Cochrane, Adam Rodriguez, Khandi Alexander (“ER,” “The Corner”)

Behind the camera: Same executive producers as “CSI,” including the original’s creator, Anthony E. Zuiker, and Jerry Bruckheimer

The gist: The precision of the original “CSI” in swinging Miami

Target audience: “CSI’s” multitudes of viewers

Most like: It doesn’t take a forensics expert to figure that one out.

Major competition: It’s in a cream-puff time slot against NBC’s “Crossing Jordan.” But perhaps the original “CSI” is the real competition.

What it has: Same winning formula in another party-hearty city. A launch in the last episode of last year’s “CSI.”

What it needs: Viewers with an evening to devote to another “CSI”


Title: “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter”

Network: ABC

Time slot: 8 p.m. Premieres Sept. 17

Key cast: John Ritter (“Three’s Company”), Katey Sagal (“Married

Behind the camera: Creator/executive producer Tracy Gamble (“The Golden Girls” and “Married ... With Children”)

The gist: A sportswriter, who finds himself suddenly working at home, tries to connect with his teenage daughters, only to be continuously reminded that they are no longer daddy’s little girls

Target audience: Parental units

Most like: ABC’s “My Wife & Kids”

Major competition: Fox’s “That ‘70s Show,” NBC’s “In-Laws,” CBS’ “Jag”

What it has: Two experienced lead actors

What it needs: A better time slot and to build on a fairly predictable theme

Title: “In-Laws”

Network: NBC

Time slot: 8 p.m. Premieres Sept. 24

Key cast: Dennis Farina (“Crime Story,” “Out of Sight”), Jean Smart (“Designing Women”) as the parents; Elon Gold, Bonnie Somerville as the newlyweds

Behind the camera: “Frasier’s” Kelsey Grammer is executive producer.

The gist: A young woman and her new husband move into her parents’ house so he can go to cooking school, and inevitable conflicts arise between him and his gruff father-in-law.

Target audience: Young or not-so-young adults who haven’t left the nest, and the people who love them

Most like: Postnuptial “Meet the Parents” and echoes of “All in the Family”

Major competition: Fox’s “That ‘70s Show,” ABC’s “8 Simple Rules

What it has: Fine casting and a good pedigree

What it needs: A better time slot and to build on a fairly predictable premise

Title: “Haunted”

Network: UPN

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 24

Key cast: Matthew Fox (“Party of Five”), Russell Hornsby, Lynn Collins, John Mann

Behind the camera: Executive producers Emile Levisetti, Keith Addis and Scott Shepherd

The gist: A near-death experience turns a former cop (Fox) into Super(natural) P.I. His sixth sense can help him solve cases--or kill him.

Target audience: Other-side fanatics 18 and older

Most like: “X-Files”

Major competition: CBS’ “The Guardian,” WB’s “Smallville”

What it has: Moody, atmospheric chills that may have you jumping out of your Barcalounger

What it needs: A dash of lust or humor to allow viewers to catch their collective breath

Title: “Life With Bonnie”

Network: ABC

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 17

Key cast: Bonnie Hunt (“Jerry Maguire,” “The Green Mile”), Mark Derwin, David Alan Grier (“In Living Color”)

Behind the camera: Executive producers Hunt and Don Lake, former Second City castmates and writers of the screenplay for “Return to Me”

The gist: A woman juggles her duties as wife, mother and host of the TV program “Morning Chicago,” not necessarily in that order

Target audience: Two-career families

Most like: “Malcolm in the Middle” meets a female “Regis”

Major competition: NBC’s “Frasier,” Fox’s “24"

What it has: Combines manically scripted family-life scenes with unscripted, improvised talk-show segments

What it needs: A much better time slot, more laughs and perhaps a sedative

Title: “Hidden Hills”

Network: NBC

Time slot: 9:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 24

Key cast: Justin Louis (“The Fighting Fitzgeralds”), Paula Marshall (“Snoops,” “Spin City”), Dondre Whitfield (“Inside Schwartz”), Kristin Bauer (“Just Shoot Me”)

Behind the camera: Creators-producers Peter Segal (“The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps”) and RicSwartzlander (“The Ellen Show,” “Sports Night”)

The gist: Harried Doug Barber (Louis) tries to maintain romance in his marriage to Janine (Marshall) while fantasizing about “porn Mom” (Bauer).

Target audience: Two-career families, again

Most like: “Ed” meets “Seinfeld.”

Major competition: ABC’s “Less Than Perfect,” CBS’ “The Guardian”

What it has: Appealing leads and lots of story potential

What it needs: A bit less forced quirkiness, less talking to the camera

Title: “Less Than Perfect”

Network: ABC

Time slot: 9:30 p.m. Premieres Oct. 1

Key cast: Sara Rue (“Popular”), Andy Dick (“NewsRadio”), Eric Roberts (“Star 80,” “Runaway Train”)

Behind the camera: Creator/executive producer Terri Minsky (“Sex and the City”)

The gist: An unglamorous young woman who wears cheery clothes and likes to bake lands a job assisting a TV network anchorman and copes with backstabbing, black-clad “beautiful” people

Target audience: Working girls

Most like: NBC’s “Just Shoot Me,” with a hint of “NewsRadio”

Major competition: Fox’s “24,” WB’s “Smallville”

What it has: Outsider and office-politics themes that most everyone can relate to

What it needs: It already has Andy Dick; where’s Dave Foley when you need him?


Title: “Cedric the Entertainer Presents”

Network: Fox

Time slot: 8:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 18

Key cast: Cedric the Entertainer, Wendy Raquel Robinson (“Miss Congeniality”), Shaun Majumder, Amy Brassette

Behind the camera: Writers/executive producers John Bowman and Matt Wickline (who both wrote for “In Living Color”) and, you guessed it, executive producer Cedric the Entertainer

The gist: An Original King of Comedy and his cast of players ham it up in sketches while the Ced-sation fly girls provide a dash of spice.

Target audience: Hip blacks, whites and anyone in between

Most like: Any TV comedy-variety show from the ‘50s onward, particularly Fox’s earlier “In Living Color”

Major competition: ABC’s “The George Lopez Show”

What it has: Cedric’s characters in a “really big shew,” with “The Bernie Mac Show” as a lead-in

What it needs: To keep the skits fresh and, if that fails, a continuous engagement for the host in Vegas

Title: “Birds of Prey”

Network: WB

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Oct. 9

Key cast: Ashley Scott, Dina Meyer (“Starship Troopers”), Rachel Skarsten

Behind the camera: Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins (“Smallville”) are executive producers. Based on the DC comic books.

The gist: In ominous New Gotham City, Batman and Catwoman’s orphaned love child (Scott) becomes the crime-fighting Huntress after she is taken in by the partially paralyzed Batgirl (Meyer), now known as Oracle, a master designer of high-tech gadgetry. They are joined by a girl (Skarsten) with the ability to read minds and dreams.

Target audience: Older teens, young adults, hip baby boomers

Most like: “Smallville,” of course, as well as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the defunct “Dark Angel”

Major competition: NBC’s “The West Wing,” Fox’s “Fastlane”

What it has: Dark, moody visuals and a setup rife with meaty psychological issues. And what a wardrobe.

What it needs: Still more of the mother-daughter tension between Oracle and Huntress, and excuses to get Meyer out of her wheelchair.

Title: “Fastlane”

Network: Fox

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 18

Key cast: Peter Facinelli (“The Scorpion King”), Bill Bellamy from MTV, Tiffani Thiessen (“Beverly Hills, 90210")

Behind the camera: McG, stylish director of “Charlie’s Angels” (even his name is quick and cool)

The gist: Two ultra-suave L.A. undercover cops take a fast and furious ride on the edge in pursuit of justice, guided by a sultry lieutenant who gives them access to “the candy store” of stolen goods.

Target audience: Young males who like to watch stuff blow up

Most like: “Starsky and Hutch” for the Vin Diesel crowd

Major competition: “The West Wing,” “Birds of Prey”

What it has: Glitz galore, pulsating music and a lot of energy

What it needs: An audience willing to go along with such an implausible ride

Title: “The Twilight Zone”

Network: UPN

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 18

Key cast: Forest Whitaker (“Panic Room,” “The Crying Game”) in the Rod Serling host role, and different guest actors each week. C’mon, you remember the formula.

Behind the camera: Pilot directed by Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”), executive-produced by Pen Densham, Mark Stern and John Watson of Trilogy Entertainment (“The Outer Limits” 1995 series, “Poltergeist: The Legacy”)

The gist: Submitted for your approval: a 21st century update of the concept Serling conceived for the original ’59 series; edgy, unsettling stories about strange things that happen to people and communities, having more to do with human imperfection than anything supernatural, although that plays a role too.

Target audience: Sci-fi and mystery fans

Most like: The two previous TV incarnations, naturally

Major competition: Lots of it in what might be TV’s toughest hour: “The West Wing,” “Fastlane,” “Birds of Prey”

What it has: A tremendous legacy, and a potential audience open to stories of the unexplainable in this post-"X-Files” world

What it needs: An easier time slot

Title: “MDs”

Network: ABC

Time slot: 10 p.m. Premieres Sept. 25

Key cast: William Fichtner (“Contact,” “Armageddon”), John Hannah (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “The Mummy”), Robert Joy, Aunjanue Ellis, Michaela Conlin, Jane Lynch

Behind the camera: Executive producer/writer Gary Tieche, executive producer Marc Platt (“Legally Blonde”)

The gist: A San Francisco hospital’s beleaguered medical staff, split roughly between renegade rule-breakers and by-the-book anal-retentives, has at it, leaving the patients to take cover

Target audience: 16 and up

Most like: The more sedate S.F.-set medical drama “Presidio Med”

Major competition: See above, plus “Law & Order”

What it has: A strong ensemble cast and that most venerable of story-generating settings, a large urban hospital

What it needs: Fresh angles and a breakout character or two should keep it off the critical list

Title: “Presidio Med”

Network: CBS

Time slot: 10 p.m. Sneak preview Sept. 24, then into its regular slot Sept. 25

Key cast: Blythe Danner (“Meet the Parents”), Dana Delany (“China Beach”), Anna Deavere Smith (“The West Wing,” “Twilight: Los Angeles”), Julianne Nicholson, Sasha Alexander, Oded Fehr (“The Mummy”)

Behind the camera: Created by Lydia Woodward and John Wells, whose joint work includes “ER” and “China Beach”

The gist: The doctors of a San Francisco medical group battle the impersonal, bottom-line-driven health care system that can terrify patients.

Target audience: Adults

Most like: The more frenetic S.F.-set medical drama “MDs,” and “Chicago Hope”

Major competition: NBC’s “Law & Order”

What it has: Since it’s not set in an emergency room, it can move at a slower pace than “ER,” allowing more time to get to know the patients and to build empathy for their dilemmas. And the appealing casting is a plus.

What it needs: A shot of Adrenalin. Stat.


Title: “Dinotopia”

Network: ABC

Time slot: 8 p.m. Premieres Oct. 10

Key cast: Michael Brandon, Shiloh Strong, Erik von Detten (“Days of Our Lives”)

Behind the camera: Robert Halmi Sr. (“Merlin”)

The gist: The series picks up where last year’s high-rated miniseries left off, depicting a fantasy world where humans and dinosaurs live and work together.

Target audience: Kids, fantasy fans

Most like: Not much else

Main competition: WB’s “Family Affair,” CBS’ “Survivor”

What it has: Unknown; the show wasn’t available for preview.

What it needs: See above

Title: “Family Affair”

Network: WB

Time slot: 8 p.m. Premiered Sept. 12 with an hourlong pilot

Key cast: Gary Cole (“Brady Bunch” movies, “One Hour Photo”), Tim Curry (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), Caitlin Wachs, Sasha Pieterse, Jimmy “Jax” Pinchak

Behind the camera: Executive producers Bob Young (“Smart Guy,” “Boy Meets World”), Gavin Polone (“Gilmore Girls,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Panic Room”), Sid and Marty Krofft (“H.R. Pufnstuf”) and Randy Pope

The gist: In this update of the 1966-71 sitcom, a swinging bachelor and his erudite English manservant have their well-groomed lifestyles flipped loafers over hair gel with the arrival of a savvy teen and her 6-year-old siblings, boy-and-girl twins.

Target audience: It’s a family affair.

Most like: If you still have to ask ...

Major competition: ABC’s “Dinotopia”

What it has: A cool apartment that’s more art museum than bachelor pad. And Tim Curry has a grand old time as Mr. French, who here is more of a fussbudget than jolly Sebastian Cabot.

What it needs: Viewers to hang with them when the curiosity/nostalgia factor wears off

Title: “Do Over”

Network: WB

Time slot: 8:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 19

Key cast: Penn Badgley, as teen Joel; Michael Milhoan and Gigi Rice as his parents; plus Angela Goethals, Josh Wise and Natasha Melnick

Behind the camera: Former NBC kingpin Warren Littlefield is an executive producer.

The gist: A freak accident transports 34-year-old Joel back to 1981 as a teenager to relive high school, knowing then what he knows now.

Target audience: Anyone who ever once uttered, “Tubular!”

Most like: A combination “Wonder Years,” with 20-20 foresight, and “The Time Machine” ... not to mention ABC’s “That Was Then”

Major competition: NBC’s “Scrubs,” CBS’ “Survivor”

What it has: Shameless excuses to trot out parachute pants and new wave songs

What it needs: Better time slot

Title: “Push, Nevada”

Network: ABC

Time slot: 9 p.m. Previews on Sept. 17, premieres Sept. 19

Key cast: Derek Cecil (“Pasadena,” “The Beat”), Scarlett Chorvat

Behind the camera: Executive producers Ben Affleck (“Pearl Harbor”) and Sean Bailey (“Project Greenlight,” with Affleck)

The gist: A misdirected fax sends an IRS agent to a remote desert town searching for answers, but the strange folks he encounters only generate more questions as the mystery deepens.

Target audience: Teens, young adults, “Twin Peaks” fans

Most like: “Twin Peaks,” “X-Files”

Major competition: CBS’ “CSI,” NBC’s “Will & Grace”

What it has: Through-the-looking-glass style to spare; multimedia clues help viewers play along at home

What it needs: To keep the weirdness from getting out of hand

Title: “Good Morning, Miami”

Network: NBC

Time slot: 9:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 26

Key cast: Mark Feuerstein (“What Women Want”), Ashley Williams, Jere Burns (“Dear John”), Suzanne Pleshette (“The Bob Newhart Show”)

Behind the camera: Executive producers Max Mutchnick and David Kohan (“Will & Grace”)

The gist: An ambitious young TV producer agrees to try to turn things around for a ratings-challenged morning show staffed by an assortment of eccentrics--and a spunky head-turner of a hairstylist

Target audience: 18 to 55, or ensemble-lovers everywhere

Most like: Aspiring to “Mary Tyler Moore,” “WKRP in Cincinnati”

Major competition: “CSI”

What it has: A solid top-to-bottom lineup of comic actors and some snappy writing

What it needs: To rein in too-broad Cubanisms

Title: “Without a Trace”

Network: CBS

Time slot: 10 p.m. Premieres Sept. 26

Key cast: Anthony LaPaglia (“Lantana” and umpteen other law enforcement roles), Poppy Montgomery (“Blonde,” “Glory Days”), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Secrets & Lies”)

Behind the camera: Executive producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman from “CSI” and Ed Redlich from “The Practice”

The gist: The FBI’s missing persons squad, which is headed by LaPaglia, uses psychological profiling and detailed day-of-disappearance timelines to track down victims. An unseen but omnipresent 48-hour clock adds tension: After two days the odds of finding anyone become daunting.

Target audience: Fans of clever crime shows in the “Law & Order"/"CSI” tradition

Most like: “CSI” meets the FBI

Major competition: NBC’s “ER”

What it has: Swift pacing, a solid cast and a potent lead-in from the original “CSI”

What it needs: Cases, like the one on the pilot, with enough twists to keep you guessing. And viewer fatigue with “ER” wouldn’t hurt.


Title: “Firefly”

Network: Fox

Time slot: 8 p.m. Premieres Sept. 20

Key cast: Nathan Fillion (“One Life to Live”), Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk (“A Knight’s Tale”), Sean Maher (“Brian’s Song” 2001)

Behind the camera: Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”)

The gist: Set 500 years in the future, the show follows the crew of Serenity, a commercial spaceship operating at the far edge of the Alliance. Adventures and relationships ensue.

Target audience: “Buffy” fans, and their sci-fi friends too

Most like: A bit of “Star Trek,” some “Zardoz,” a touch of “Alien” and assorted ensemble dramas

Main competition: NBC’s “Providence”

What it has: Unknown; this show was unavailable for preview.

What it needs: See above

Title: “What I Like About You”

Network: WB

Time slot: 8 p.m. Premieres Sept. 20

Key cast: Jennie Garth (“Beverly Hills, 90210"), Amanda Bynes (“The Amanda Show,” “Big Fat Liar”), Simon Rex

Behind the camera: Co-creators and executive producers Wil Calhoun (“Friends”) and Dan Schneider (“All That” and “Kenan & Kel”)

The gist: With her dad off to work in Japan, 16-year-old Holly (Bynes) becomes roommates with her 28-year-old sister (Garth) and interferes with her perfect life.

Target audience: Young women

Most like: Anyone remember “My Sister Sam”?

Major competition: NBC’s “Providence,” ABC’s “America’s Funniest Home Videos”

What it has: Plenty of opportunities for zany antics

What it needs: Something more tangible to like about it

Title: “Hack”

Network: CBS

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 27

Key cast: David Morse (“St. Elsewhere”), Andre Braugher (“Homicide: Life on the Street”), George Dzundza, Donna Murphy

Behind the camera: Created by “Spider-Man’s” David Koepp

The gist: A dumb judgment error costs Mike Olshansky (Morse) his career as a cop in Philly. Now he’s driving cabs. When he realizes that some of his fares need more than a ride, he becomes a freelance investigator.

Target audience: Fans of crime dramas

Most like: “Taxicab Confessions” meets “Homicide: Life on the Street” meets, heaven help us, “Touched by an Angel.”

Major competition: Fox’s “John Doe”

What it has: Morse

What it needs: Look at that “most like” list again. Do those concepts seem like they belong together?

Title: “John Doe”

Network: Fox

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 20

Key cast: Dominic Purcell, Sprague Grayden, John Marshall Jones, Meatloaf Aday

Behind the camera: Executive producer Mimi Leder (“ER,” “The Peacemaker”)

The gist: A man (Purcell) awakes in the woods outside Seattle with no memory but with encyclopedic knowledge and a strange symbol branded near his clavicle. As he tries to piece together his past, he becomes a vigilante crime investigator.

Target audience: Young adults and fans of mystery-thrillers

Most like: “The X-Files” and CBS’ short-lived “Now and Again”

Major competition: Nothing like it in the time slot. This is the spot “X-Files” once occupied; maybe magic will strike twice.

What it has: The moody mystery of “The X-Files” and, in Purcell, a face that will launch a thousand magazine articles

What it needs: To simplify

Title: “That Was Then”

Network: ABC

Time slot: 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 27

Key cast: James Bulliard, Tyler Labine, Bess Armstrong (“My So-Called Life”), Jeffrey Tambor (“The Larry Sanders Show”), Kiele Sanchez

Behind the camera: Executive producers/writers Dan Cohn, Jeremy Miller

The gist: A 29-year-old door-to-door doorsalesman with unfinished issues about his high school years gets a chance to go back and set things right. And then another chance, and another chance....

Target audience: Teens and up, or those for whom three “Back to the Future” films weren’t enough

Most like: WB’s “Do Over”

Major competition: Fox’s “John Doe”

What it has: The “If I knew then what I know now” spin offers rich story line possibilities.

What it needs: Time will tell if the series can keep its wiggy concept fresh.

Title: “Greetings From Tucson”

Network: WB

Time slot: 9:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 20

Key cast: Pablo Santos, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Rebecca Creskoff, Lupe Ontiveros

Behind the camera: Based on the life of creator Peter Murrieta

The gist: Identity issues abound for 15-year-old David (Santos), son of a Mexican American dad (Mechoso) and Irish American mom (Creskoff), as Dad’s promotion enables them to move to a nicer (read: white) Tucson neighborhood.

Target audience: Latinos and members of dysfunctional families

Most like: “The Jeffersons” meets “Malcolm in the Middle” and “George Lopez”

Major competition: Life. People are pretty distracted on Friday nights.

What it has: Once upon a time, there may have been a good concept here. But this show has been pushed into caricature.

What it needs: To stop trying to crack wise with every line and to drop the stereotypical, Speedy Gonzalez accents

Title: “Robbery Homicide Division”

Network: CBS

Time slot: 10 p.m. Premieres Sept. 27

Key cast: Tom Sizemore (“Black Hawk Down,” “Heat”), Barry “Shabaka” Henley (“Ali”), Michael Paul Chan (“The Insider,” “Spy Game”)

Behind the camera: Executive producers Michael Mann (“The Insider,” “Heat”), Frank Spotnitz (“The X-Files”)

The gist: Rough-edged but savvy detective Sam Cole (Sizemore) heads an elite team on the LAPD’s major crimes unit. They get only the toughest cases.

Target audience: Mature audiences, fans of realistic cop action

Most like: Mann’s “Heat”

Major competition: NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”

What it has: Slick action, nocturnal ambience and a feel for the mean streets of L.A. Oh, and lots of violence.

What it needs: Less mannered acting from Sizemore, more of the nuanced, ambitious storytelling that made “Heat” one of the smarter, most unappreciated crime thrillers of the ‘90s