Fall TV preview



Tuesday, Sept. 9

Fox's "Fringe" airs "remote-free"

The highly anticipated new J.J. Abrams drama is Fox's experiment in "remote-free TV," running with about half the usual number of ads per episode. That could please viewers and advertisers alike. If not, the network will shrug, confident that "American Idol" will still kick everybody's butt come January.

Saturday, Sept. 13

"SNL" launches 34th season

With politics-minded "Saturday Night Live" bound to shine this year, the franchise has finally earned the honor NBC bestowed on "Deal or No Deal" and "The Office": overexploitation. Next month, a batch of spinoff "Thursday Night Live" specials will zero in on the election; bet on "SNL" alum Tina Fey returning to mimic her new doppelganger, GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Thursday, Sept. 18

"Survivor" vs. "Hole in the Wall"

CBS' "Survivor" will be challenged by the Japanese-inspired "Hole," which could benefit from the success of ABC's similar "Wipeout." Expect critics who once trashed "Survivor" as the end of Western civilization to defend it against Fox's end-of-Eastern-civilization newbie.

Sunday, Sept. 21

Emmy Awards prediction

A little basic cable network's period drama ("Mad Men") might teach the big boys a thing or two about getting academy attention. The next day, broadcasters will console themselves when Emmy ratings are about the same as a little basic cable network's period drama. (Oh, and nobody will believe it when Howie Mandel wins for best reality host.)

Monday, Sept. 22

NBC's "Heroes" returns

This sci-fi hour is one of many returning shows whose previous season was derailed by the WGA strike. Now networks will get a sense of how much those eight months on the shelf really cost. Meanwhile, showrunners will blow their hard-fought new-media earnings on a bag of Skittles.

Wednesday, Sept. 24

CBS launches Wednesday comedy block

Introducing a new comedy called "Worst Week" during Premiere Week is not a good omen for CBS. But the Eye wants to open a second comedy block that includes "Gary Unmarried," a Jay Mohr vehicle originally called "Project Gary." Maybe "Worst Night" would be a better title given the odds for success.

Thursday, Sept. 25

"Grey's Anatomy" is back

After Katherine Heigl withdrew herself from Emmy consideration because she was not "given the material to warrant" a nomination, speculation had it that the show's writers would get revenge on her character, Izzie, in this season's scripts. Showrunner Shonda Rhimes says there's no beef. But if Izzie trips in front of a steamroller, maybe they're miffed after all.

Friday, Sept. 26

McCain vs. Obama

The debate, from the University of Mississippi, will be the first time voters can watch the two presidential candidates spar. Usually such affairs are aired as a wearisome network obligation. But considering that Barack Obama's Democratic nomination acceptance speech drew 38 million viewers, the typically depressed Friday night ratings likely will get their biggest spike since the Beijing Olympics.

Sunday, Sept. 28

Showtime shows off

Showtime is gunning for HBO, scheduling the returning seasons of "Dexter" and "Californication" up against "True Blood" and "Entourage." Couldn't the pay network pick another night of the week besides Sunday? Showtime is like the guy who comes into an otherwise empty movie theater and sits right next to you.

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Wednesday, Oct. 1

ABC's "Pushing Daisies" 2.0 unveiled

After creator Bryan Fuller's protracted negotiations with ABC this summer over just how weird "Daisies" should be (we can't make this stuff up), the network agreed to a style that's, oh, about 31% less confusing to viewers who are just waiting around to watch "Private Practice." Side effects might still include uncontrollable bouts of bemusement.

Friday, Oct. 3

Hey, where did CBS' "Moonlight" go?

Crazed fans in denial of the cult favorite's cancellation will tune in to CBS at 9 p.m. to discover the premiere of the new dramedy "The Ex-List." CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler might spend the night at a safe house.

Saturday, Oct. 4

Ratings in for "SmackDown!"

Now that "WWE SmackDown!" has moved from the CW to MyNetwork TV, its solid premiere ratings will spur nostalgia for spandex in Burbank. Expect the CW to give serious consideration to repackaged "Gossip Girl" catfight scenes as a new wrestling franchise.

Monday, Oct. 6

Real premiere week ratings released

With DVR penetration jumping from 20% last fall to at least 26% next month, today's release of the Live+7 Nielsen ratings offers an increasingly accurate measure of viewership. All the trades publish a story saying this, then resume running overnight numbers.

Thursday, Oct. 9

Gil Grissom's long goodbye

Cherish William Petersen while you can; he'll be there for the season opener of CBS' "CSI," but he's handing over the gloves to Laurence Fishburne on Dec. 11. The biggest suspense will be whether TV's most-watched drama can weather a key casting change. To borrow forensics parlance, switching your lead character midseason is like performing an autopsy in a moving ambulance.

ABC, NBC look abroad

It's Foreign Exchange Day as two adaptations of scripted overseas formats are put to the test. NBC will hope its own take on the Aussie hit "Kath & Kim" fares more like "The Office" than "Coupling." With its adaptation of BBC's time-warp cop drama "Life on Mars," ABC hopes viewers don't think they've somehow traveled back to 2007 to watch NBC's  "Journeyman."

Wednesday, Oct. 22

World Series, Game 1

By this time Fox has stopped complaining about the playoffs interrupting its fall schedule. But if small-market teams go the distance, the bellyaching will have just begun. Fox chairman Peter Liguori might want to pray that the Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers don't meet in the Fall Classic.

Sunday, Oct. 26

NBC's draft pick

The new quirk in NFL scheduling kicks in this eighth week of the season, with NBC getting to pick which game it broadcasts. The Peacock will need every ratings point it can squeeze in the competitive fourth quarter. Will it be Jets games with new QB Brett Favre? Perennial favorites New England Patriots? Only safe bet: It won't be a team from Los Angeles.

Thursday, Oct. 30

November sweep begins

Think of it as Ben Silverman's Groundhog Day. If the NBC co-chair can see just one of his new shows become a bona fide hit, it assures six more months of employment.