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Bumper crop of TV comedies and dramas

TWENTY-TWO new American TV series are making their fall debut, including half a dozen comedies and lots of cops and courtroom shows. Frazier Moore gives an overview and his 10 picks.

Let's all marvel at the bumper crop of new shows about cops and courtrooms!

Let's welcome back favorite stars from the past like Tom Selleck, Jimmy Smits and Dana Delany!

Let's cross our fingers that ambitious new series like "No Ordinary Family" and "The Event" will find their way!

Let's get ready to laugh at the half-dozen new comedies (at least, some of them).

But let's dedicate this fall broadcast season to Jay Leno.

Sure, sure. It was LAST fall that Leno invaded prime time with his week night talk-comedy show, only to scurry back to "The Tonight Show" in March.

By then, the guy who got caught in this squeeze play - "Tonight Show" temp Conan O'Brien - had not only bolted from NBC, but also from broadcast TV altogether. He'll be launching a new late-night talk show on cable's TBS in November.

Credit Leno with reminding us how the difference between broadcast and cable is increasingly hard to detect.

Now comes the onslaught of freshman fall series on the big five broadcast networks (almost all of which will premiere the week of September 20). Even with the gaping five-hour prime-time hole Leno left behind for NBC to fill, the new fall crop adds up to just 22 shows - only one more than debuted last fall.

But NBC, which finished the 2009-2010 season ranked a dismal fourth, is bouncing back invigorated and maybe even contrite as it reinstates the 10pm ET (0200 GMT) hour with scripted shows. And it can rest secure in the knowledge that, no matter how its fall schedule may falter, nothing could match last year's "Jay Leno Show" for stinking up the joint.

With that upbeat prelude, I'd like to say broadcast's fall season - on NBC and elsewhere - boasts some pleasant surprises and good reasons to explore what's new on broadcast even as cable continues its year-round rollout of competing fare.

One very pleasant surprise: No new hospital shows!

Of course, other ruts - make that creative trends - remain in force.

The 20-something crowd is the focus of, and the designated audience for, numerous new series.

Meanwhile, among fall's 16 new dramas, 11 are firmly rooted in crime-fighting and/or the justice system.

Granted, "No Ordinary Family" (ABC) puts the emphasis on, well, family. It's a family (headed by Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz) that acquires superpowers each member must learn to use responsibly. But Chiklis plays a cop who wants to prove his worth.

"Detroit 1-8-7" (ABC) is a by-the-numbers police drama, with one difference: Michael Imperioli, who stars as homicide detective Louis Fitch. His glum, quirky, unsociable manner yields a character so distinct it could eclipse Imperioli's signature role as Christopher on "The Sopranos." If only the rest of "Detroit 1-8-7" were as distinctive.

"The Whole Truth" (ABC) has what might seem a clever format: It follows a legal case from the alternate perspectives of the defense and the prosecution. In practice, however, the show unwinds in a choppy, he said-she said fashion whose payoff seems to come only at the end, when the truth, and the correctness of the verdict, are revealed.

"The Defenders" (CBS) co-stars Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell as flashy, high-flying Las Vegas attorneys. Their chemistry is good. The writing could be better.

"Body of Proof" (ABC) stars Dana Delany as a brilliant, sexy medical examiner with a really bad attitude. Think "Crossing Jordan," with sassy defiance upgraded to obnoxiousness.

"Blue Bloods" (CBS) gathers an impressive cast (led by Tom Selleck) as a multigenerational family that permeates the New York City cop and court system. But "Blue Bloods" bleeds cliches. It's a good-looking, well-meaning rehash.

The good news about "Hawaii Five-O" (CBS): It takes the DNA from the circa-1970s original and reaps a robust, character-driven, crime-busting romp.

"Outlaw" (NBC) wastes the fine actor Jimmy Smits as a rascally US Supreme Court justice who up and quits the high court to reclaim his ideals and practice law as a social activist. He vows to fight for lost causes.

The title of "Chase" (NBC) says it all. It's an action-packed Jerry Bruckheimer-produced drama about US marshals in Houston. Kelli Giddish is hot. So is her partner Cole Hauser. They chase bad guys, and their tight jeans don't slow them down a whit.

"Law & Order: Los Angeles" (NBC) extends the "L&O" franchise to its fifth edition, the first to venture outside New York's jurisdiction. The pilot was unavailable for review, but cast members include the splendid actors Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard.

"Undercovers" (NBC) has the sheen of uber-magnate J.J. Abrams. It has the undeniable heat of Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as husband-and-wife CIA agents who are drawn back into espionage after leaving to begin a new life as caterers. It has lavish production values (at least in the pilot episode). Too bad the story is silliness and fluff.

And now, for something a little bit different, the other five new dramas:

ABC's "My Generation" takes the form of a documentary chronicling the stories of young adults in the present day, intercut with footage flashing back to them as graduating seniors a decade ago.

The Fox melodrama "Lone Star" is the smartest, sexiest, most entertaining new guilty pleasure on the schedule. James Wolk plays a charismatic Texas con man living a double life mating with two dishy women he genuinely loves - even as he secretly betrays both of them.

NBC's much-hyped "The Event" is an intriguingly disjointed, keeps-you-guessing thriller, the one new entry in the mystery-serial category.

"Hellcats" is set among the cheer-leading squad of a Southern university. It shrewdly adapts "Glee" to a CW sensibility: Well-toned young men and women cope with hormone-dominated college life, jazzed by acrobatic cheer-leading routines. What's not to like?

Also on CW, "Nikita" is a re-imagining of the bygone action-intrigue series and feature film. Maggie Q stars as the bootie-kicking former spy and assassin who's out to destroy the covert agency that did her wrong.

Besides all those dramas, there's also laughter available from the new fall lineup - if you choose carefully.

Fox's "Raising Hope" is a riotous return to the unrefined world in which "My Name Is Earl" resided. On this show, also created by Greg Garcia, a directionless lad becomes an unexpected father - and recruits his dysfunctional family to help him with his worthy new role.

Another promising Fox comedy "Running Wilde," stars Will Arnett as a lofty, self-involved scion of an oil company who is trying to win favor from a lovely, but equally daffy environmentalist (Keri Russell).

NBC's "Outsourced" ships a management trainee for a Kansas City-based novelty company to its relocated call center in India. Not only is this sitcom painfully timely, but hilarious.

Happily, there's more than that to say about the new fall season.Top 10 series worth checking out

SO many shows - 22! So little time! What to do? Prioritize. Here are 10 new series that deserve an early look:


(CW; premieres September 8)

It's almost laughably formulaic, but the formula works like a charm. "Hellcats" is one part youth melodrama, one part "Glee" in skimpy spandex.

Gorgeous prelaw student Marti scorns her university's cheerleading squad. "But suddenly she needs to join the squad to keep her all-important scholarship. As luck would have it, Marti (Aly Michalka) was a gymnastics champ in high school. But even as she enters the not-too-friendly world of the Hellcats, her scholarship still isn't assured. And there's a scheming rival. But in the meantime, golly, can those Hellcats dance!


(CW, premieres September 9)

It's payback time for Nikita, who is on the run from the secret government agency that trained her as a spy and an assassin - and now wants her dead. "I'm gonna take you apart, piece by piece, mission by mission," vows this petite powerhouse (played by Maggie Q). Meanwhile, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) is a new recruit in the sinister, mysterious Division. She wants out, too. An action-packed reboot of the 1990 film and subsequent USA network series, this "Nikita" is a slick celebration of conspiracy and sexy gals who mean to put a stop to it.

"Hawaii Five-O"

(CBS; premieres September 20) From the opening titles with the timeless rocking theme to the nickname "Danno," this new version of the 1970s original is a miracle of souped-up, loving restoration. Alex O'Loughlin plays simmering Steve McGarrett, who's got a score to settle with some very bad people. The governor of Hawaii gives him carte blanche to set up a justice team, The pilot is a fast-paced, eye-popping, modern-day homage. Be there! Aloha!

"Lone Star"

(Fox; premieres September 20)

A charismatic con man is married to one beautiful woman and shacking up with another, deep in the heart of Texas. Bob loves them both. He also loves the opportunity this double life gives him to pull scams in two communities - as long as he can keep his two worlds separate. "Lone Star" makes a dandy soap opera, which it is. But it's more: a solid drama of a man in conflict who needs it all. The pilot is outstanding as it introduces this fall's budding breakout star, James Wolk, as the schemer you root for. It's a blend of "Dallas" and "Friday Night Lights." It looks like the fall's best new series.

"The Event"

(NBC; premieres September 20)

Do you miss "Lost"? Do you wish last season's "FlashForward" had been better? Check out "The Event," the lone new entry in the serial thriller genre. Boasting a large ensemble cast, far-flung locations and helter-skelter time sequence, "The Event" demands a week-to-week commitment for the viewer to have any chance of making sense of the conspiracy that rages at its core. The pilot episode gives fair warning: it's anything but self-contained. The hour introduces a slew of characters and raises a slew of questions. Then it's over. NBC has taken a bold chance on this series.

"Raising Hope"

(Fox; premieres September 21)

Greg Garcia, creator of "My Name Is Earl," is back with a new brood of lovable losers in this wacked-out family comedy. It's a dysfunctional family, of course, whose aimless 23-year-old son, Jimmy (Lucas Neff), stumbles on the fact that he's the father of a baby girl. Suddenly Jimmy has a purpose in life. He persuades his none-too-capable mom and dad (Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt) that baby Hope is their chance for a parenting do-over. Here's "a chance for me to do something good - a chance for all of us," says Jimmy. And that includes his goofball cousin (Skyler Stone) and borderline-senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman), who sets the unbridled comic tone for this show by occasionally stripping to her brassiere - or even less.

"Running Wilde"

(Fox; premieres September 21)

"Arrested Development" creator Mitch Hurwitz has paired Will Arnett, one of his stars from that preternaturally zany comedy, with Keri Russell ("Felicity") as a radiantly comic odd couple. Arnett plays an oil tycoon's spoiled son named Steve Wilde, the sort of narcissist who welcomes a Humanitarian of the Fiscal Year Award from his own family's company. Steve wants to reconnect with childhood sweetheart Emmy, played by Russell. But she is now an environmental activist whose tree-hugging zeal clashes with Wilde Oil and everything else Wilde stands for. "I am going to undo every entitled impulse ever drilled into you," she tells him. "And then together, we're gonna change the world." The show's a good bet.

"My Generation"

(ABC; premieres September 23)

Granted, this isn't the freshest idea for a drama series. In 1977, "What Really Happened to the Class of '65" followed up on graduates of a fictitious high school 10 years later. Now "My Generation" is framed as a documentary about graduates of Austin's Greenbelt High School in 2010, intercut with footage shot of them as graduating seniors in 2000. Needless to say, the characters' lives have taken unexpected twists, and their paths have crisscrossed one another's in unexpected ways. The characters and their journeys are what make "My Generation" stand out. Boasting fresh writing and a troupe of fresh faces, it promises to be a fresh new series after all.


(NBC; premieres September 23)

Todd (series star Ben Rappaport) is startled to return from management training to find the Kansas City call center for Mid-America Novelties has been "right-sized." That's a euphemism for outsourced to India. So Todd is dispatched to India to see if he can manage. Besides its spot-on timeliness, "Outsourced" is a delightful comedy for how it deftly harvests laughs from the inevitable culture clash, from Todd's overeagerness to bridge the gap, and from the innate silliness of the company's product line (whoopee cushions, foam fingers and the like). "Why do Americans need these things?" one of Todd's team wants to know. Todd proudly replies, "Maybe no one NEEDS this, but in America, no one can stop you from making it. This is the definition of freedom." There's also the chance for comedic flirtation: lovely Tonya runs the adjacent call center for an Australian-based airline. It's a bleakly funny reminder: Outsourcing is a global affair.

"No Ordinary Family"

(ABC; premieres September 28)

Michael Chiklis ("The Shield") plays a police sketch artist who feels meek both at work and at home. Julie Benz ("Dexter") is his brainy wife, and two teenage kids complete this not-so-happy family. Then, through the oddest of quirks, they all gain superpowers. How can they put those remarkable strengths to good use - and make them a unifying family affair? The pilot episode takes too long to lay out the show's premise, but it adds up to a nice blend of sweetness and action.


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