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Explainer: Heavyweights dominate fall dramas

  • Jimmy Smits. Jerry Bruckheimer. Jon Voight. Tom Selleck. These are just some of the bigger names tied to the dramas debuting this year. Whether the talent and name recognition can help shepherd the new series to a long, healthy run remains to be seen, but they can’t hurt in guaranteeing at least a few sets of eyeballs in the beginning.

  • 'Blue Bloods'

    Image: Tom Selleck in "Blue Bloods"
    Marni Grossman  /  CBS

    Premieres Friday, Sept. 24, at 10 p.m. on CBS

    Tom Selleck heads up this multigenerational drama about a family of cops — with an attorney sister tossed in. Frank Reagan (Selleck) not only is the patriarch of his family, but he’s also the New York Police Commissioner. Eldest son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) is a detective and Iraqi war vet who does whatever is necessary to get the job done. His sister Erin (Bridget Moynahan) is an assistant DA trying to explain to him why doing things like roughing up bad guys is unwise in so many ways. Youngest sibling Jamie (Will Estes) is a Harvard grad who chucks a promising career as an attorney to follow in the family’s cop career path.

    Adding to the drama is Jamie’s decision to become part of a secret investigation into department corruption that could involve his tightly twined circle of friends and family. Len Cariou co-stars as Frank’s ex-cop dad, Henry, whose independent attitude made his tenure on the force a troubled time.

    Worth checking out? I’m a sucker for Selleck, and Wahlberg hasn’t looked this good since “Boomtown,” but solid and dependable isn’t compelling enough to add yet another hour of drama on a crowded viewing plate. — Susan C. Young

  • 'Chase'

    Image: "Chase"
    Vivian Zink  /  NBC

    Premieres Monday, Sept. 20, at 10 p.m. on NBC

    “Chase” is the latest TV creation of Jerry Bruckheimer, who has had his share of hits and misses on the small screen. For every “CSI” there's an “E-Ring.” Where will “Chase” fall on that spectrum? It's hard to say.

    Starring fetching newcomer Kelli Giddish as U.S. Marshall Annie Frost, “Chase” follows a team of highly trained criminal-apprehension specialists as they hunt down and capture the nation's most dangerous fugitives. It’s a structured procedural, with one manhunt per week.

    The strong female lead is perhaps the most important hook here, a paradigm that's been the driving force behind quite a few recent TV successes (“The Good Wife,” “The Closer”). Giddish is likable and hard-edged enough, but she doesn't yet have the clout or charisma to pull off what she's asked to do here.

    Worth checking out? Not if you're expecting something legitimately good. “Chase” falls into the “NCIS” genre of procedurals, which may be your cup of tea. If so, give it a shot. — Oscar Dahl

    (TODAYshow.com is a part of msnbc.com, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

  • 'The Defenders'

    Image: Jim Belushi, Jerry O'Connell in "The Defenders"
    Robert Voets  /  CBS

    Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 10 p.m. on CBS

    This series began as a reality show about two flamboyant Las Vegas attorneys, but CBS opted to fictionalize it and put Jerry O’Connell and Jim Belushi into the roles of high rollers Nick and Pete. Belushi’s Nick Morelli is a hard-driving man who can’t let go of his ex-wife — or embrace any other change in his life. O’Connell’s the charming Pete Kaczmarek, who carouses through life on his good looks and charm. Together the attorneys defend both the underdogs and the mongrels of Vegas.

    And what would a Vegas-based show be without the inclusion of a reformed exotic dancer? Former child actress Jurnee Smollett plays new associate Lisa Tyler, who’s out to prove she’s more than just a gyrating money machine. Tanya Fisher co-stars as eager assistant Zoe.

    Worth checking out? Wouldn’t bet the house on this one. Just another buddy series that fails to hit the jackpot. — Susan C. Young

    Story: Reality gets a few twists this fall

  • ‘Detroit 1-8-7’

    Image: Cast of "Detroit 1-8-7"
    Craig Sjodin  /  ABC

    Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 10 p.m. on ABC

    Yes, it’s yet another cop drama on network TV. But this one comes with a little bit of a twist: Think the voyeuristic, gritty touch of “Cops” plus the polished writing and solid acting of “Law & Order” and “NYPD Blue.”

    A camera crew follows the homicide unit of the Detroit police, documenting every crime scene, investigation, interrogation and bust. It is through the camera lenses that viewers are drawn into the cases: The detectives look straight into the cameras — and at viewers — to explain situations, and the shaky camerawork lends a sense of reality.

    Michael Imperioli (“The Sopranos”) stars as Det. Louis Fitch, the unit’s hardened vet who has no interest in his new partner, Det. Damon Washington (Jon Michael Hill). The detectives are led by “True Blood’s” Aisha Hinds as Lt. Maureen Mason.

    Worth checking out? Absolutely! In fact, I’m adding it to my DVR. Imperioli, who was perfect as Tony Soprano’s bumbling young protégé, is riveting as the older, much wiser Fitch. The story line is fast-paced and gripping, and the fact that the show films on location in Detroit adds a level of grittiness and credibility to this tale of inner city detectives. — Anna Chan

  • 'The Event'

    Image: Blair Underwood on "The Event"
    Joseph Viles  /  NBC

    Premieres Monday, Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. on NBC

    “The Event” wants to fill “Lost's” void. It's a fantasy/sci-fi/action/political thriller that piles on the mysteries and moves at an incredibly brisk pace. The pilot employs a fractured plot structure, moving backward and forward in time as it leads up to the titular event.

    It's impossible to know what the future holds for “The Event,” whether it will enjoy a “Lost”-like multiseason run or fizzle out of the gate like most every other ambitious serialized drama of the past decade. What can be said is this: The pilot is extremely well-done, featuring a plethora of capable actors (especially Blair Underwood as The President of the United States), efficient writing and ridiculous aspirations. There's a kidnapping, a plane-hijacking, a group of secretly imprisoned people (aliens?) and then there's the event itself. So much happens at such a frenetic pace that there's little room to judge the pilot on its own merits. You just want to see what happens next.

    Executive producer Evan Katz (a key cog on “24”) has intimated that “The Event” will act as a sort of anti-“Lost,” with the mysteries being revealed in a timely fashion so as to not frustrate the audience. Regardless of how true this statement ends up being, the pilot looks great now, but in this highly specialized genre the only way to truly judge it will be in retrospect.

    Video: What is 'The Event'?

    Worth checking out? Yes, at least for a few episodes. It could be a mind-blowing, mythology-heavy, multiple-season triumph. It could also be an all set-up, lame payoff, disaster in the making. At this point, there's just no way of knowing. — Oscar Dahl

  • 'Hawaii Five-0'

    Image: "Hawaii Five-O"
    Mario Perez  /  CBS

    Premieres Monday, Sept. 20, at 10 p.m. on CBS

    Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan team up as reluctant partners who banter their way through crime-solving in the remake of the old ‘70s cop show. O’Loughlin loses his “Moonlight” fangs and becomes Mike McGarrett, a decorated Naval officer turned cop who returns to his home in Hawaii to investigate his dad’s murder. He stays on as leader of an elite task force charged with wiping out crime. He’s aided by an ex-New Jersey cop named Danny “Danno” Williams (Caan), who came to the island to be close to his 8-year-old daughter after his divorce and his ex’s remarriage to a powerful man.

    Rounding out the team are Chin Ho Kelly (“Lost” alum Daniel Dae Kim,), wrongly accused of corruption and now eager to salvage his reputation, and his cousin Kona (“Battlestar Galactica’s Grace Park), a kick-ass surfer chick and rookie cop. Taryn Manning plays McGarrett’s estranged sis Mary Ann.

    The volatile relationship between McGarrett and Danno sends enough sparks, but there are also a lot of things that go boom in flashy, fiery explosions. Filmed on the island of Oahu, the scenery should have billing as a supporting character.

    Worth checking out? Book me, Danno. This is an escapist thrill ride that’s sure to supercharge the week. — Susan C. Young

    Story: What to expect when fall favorites return

  • 'Hellcats'

    Image: "Hellcats" cast
    Andrew Eccles  /  The CW

    Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 9 p.m. on The CW

    If you’re a fan of the “Bring It On” films, The CW may have just the show for you.

    Lancer University pre-law student Marti Perkins (Aly Michalka) has her life planned. With her scholarship, she’s going to become a lawyer and move away from her alcoholic mother, Wanda (Gail O’Grady), leaving Tennessee behind. That is, until she loses her scholarship and realizes the only way to pursue her dreams is to join the school’s legendary cheerleading team, The Hellcats.

    The team has to win the nationals, and when former gymnast Marti shows off her unconventional moves and impresses during tryouts, the coach sees a potential star who can help the squad win in competitions.

    It wouldn’t be a CW series if there wasn’t some catty drama. Injured Hellcat Alice Verdura (Heather Hemmens) isn’t pleased with the new addition and sets out to sabotage Marti at every opportunity, while the perky Savannah Monroe (Ashley Tisdale) quickly becomes friends with the newbie.

    Worth checking out? Maybe. It’ll be interesting to see where the show goes after nationals, but one roadblock could be Marti. She’s supposed to be a hip, alt chick, but she comes across as someone who tries way too hard to be hardcore, making her rather unlikeable. And without a likeable lead, the show could be headed for trouble. — Anna Chan

  • 'My Generation'

    Image: Cast of "My Generation"
    Craig Sjodin  /  ABC

    Premieres Thursday, Sept. 23, at 8 p.m. on ABC

    The mockumentary format meets almost-“Thirtysomething” in the new Gen-Y drama “My Generation,” which revisits the lives of nine high-school grads from the class of 2000 10 years later.

    Conveniently, each of the former students represents a different high-school archetype. There’s the overachiever, the beauty queen, the jock, the punk, the nerd and a few other easily identifiable placeholders, all of whom have the strange habit of intertwining their lives with each other instead of like-minded overachievers, jocks and nerds.

    Not that the ensemble hasn’t changed a lot and even lost a few of those labels over the last decade. In fact, the focus of “My Generation” is on just how much their lives have strayed from their expected courses thanks to the personal effects of national events, such as the 2000 election controversy, Enron and of course, 9/11.

    Worth checking out? No way. Who cares what this unbelievable, one-dimensional cast of characters has been up to lately? See this premise done right in the classic, real-life “Up!” series. — Ree Hines

  • 'Lone Star'

    Image: "Lone Star" cast
    Patrick Ecclesine  /  Fox

    Premieres Monday, Sept. 20, at 9 p.m. on Fox

    Can a con man go straight for the women he loves? That’s the premise of this sudsy saga about likable Robert/Bob Allen (James Wolk), the son of a grifter who decides he wants to get off the gimme train and turn legit.

    His dad, John (David Keith), wants him to stick with the family business, while he’d rather make his money through the more respectable route of his oil tycoon father-in-law, Clint (Jon Voight). But he’s not ready to give up his sweet down-home wife, Lindsay (Eloise Mumford), even though he’s also fallen in love with his other wife, the wealthy, sultry intelligent Cat (Adrianne Palicki). Allen juggles his two lives in different parts of Texas. It’s a big state, but perhaps not large enough to cover his tracks.

    Worth checking out? This “Big Love”-meets-“Dallas” drama has me intrigued, especially with the sensational James Wolk in the lead. But I’m not quite ready to jump on the love train. — Susan C. Young

    Story: Fall comedies may not deliver the laughs

  • 'Nikita'

    Image: Maggie Q as "Nikita"
    Jan Thijs  /  The CW

    Premieres Thursday, Sept. 9, at 9 p.m. on The CW

    She’s baaaack … for the fourth time.

    The CW is resurrecting the character first made famous by Luc Besson’s 1990 film “La Femme Nikita,” which was remade for American audiences as “The Point of No Return” (starring Bridget Fonda) and in 1997 turned into a series on the USA Network.

    The basic premise of this latest incarnation is similar to the previous versions: Nikita (Maggie Q) is a young, highly skilled assassin who was trained by a secret government agency called Division after it faked her death and saved her from death row. She goes rogue after the group kills her fiancé, and she is set on destroying the corrupt agency and preventing it from forcing more girls into becoming assassins.

    “24’s” Xander Berkeley plays Percy, Division’s main man who is hell bent on bringing Nikita down. Michael (Shane West of “ER”) is his right-hand man who trained Nikita and is now ordered to track her down and at the same time, mold her replacement, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca of “Desperate Housewives”). The prerequesite catty drama comes from the tension between Alex and fellow student Jaden (Tiffany Hines of “Bones”), who constantly challenges the new recruit.

    Worth checking out? Full disclosure: I never watched any of the earlier versions of “Nikita.” But The CW’s version looks pretty darn good. Maggie Q makes Nikita slick, sexy and tough, but also offers a softer, more emotional side to the character. The plot is well paced and offers just enough twists to keep you interested. — Anna Chan

  • 'No Ordinary Family'

    Image: Julie Benz, Michael Chiklis of "No Ordinary Family"
    Eric McCandless  /  ABC

    Premieres Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m. on ABC

    Michael Chiklis (“The Shield”) returns to his rightful place in the prime-time spotlight as he plays the part of superdad in “No Ordinary Familiy.”

    To be clear, “superdad” isn’t shorthand for the father who does it all and does it well. In fact, Chiklis’ Jim Powell is surrounded on all sides by marital and family woes. No, this time “super” stands for superpowers, which each member of the Powell clan procured during a recent splash down in the sparkling waters of the Amazon. In other words, Papa Powell smash!

    But whether it’s dad’s super strength, mom’s warp-speed runs or the kids’ slightly less awesome talents, the family has a leg up on the typical superhero drama. Rather than fretting about how these amped-up abilities will change their lives, they family is jumping (really high) for joy.

    Worth checking out? Maybe. Heavy narration, sketchy super origins and oh-so-apt powers notwithstanding, “No Ordinary Family” has potential for family fun. — Ree Hines

    Timeline: Fall TV premiere schedule

  • 'Outlaw'

    Image: Jimmy Smits on "Outlaw"
    Virginia Sherwood  /  NBC

    Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 10 p.m. on NBC

    The new Jimmy Smits vehicle from NBC begins with a solid premise: Bad-boy Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza (Smits) is distraught after the untimely death of his beloved father, and eventually questions his life. He resigns from the Supreme Court, makes an about-face in his purported world view and starts a law firm in order to strike down injustices wherever they may arise. Garza is cut from the "House"/"Mentalist" cloth: He's an advanced genius who plays by his own rules and is the best at what he does despite his personal demons and overt shortcomings.

    “Outlaw” is a curious little show, and one that may improve dramatically in its post-pilot episodes. The cast has a good pedigree and they're clearly doing their best with the material given, but the pilot stretches the limits of the audience's suspension of disbelief. (For example, Garza, still a judge, stays the execution of a cop killer, then as a lawyer, takes up the convict's case in appeal. Can you say conflict of interest?)

    Worth checking out? No. Don't be fooled by the swarthy Jimmy Smits or the curious executive producer credit handed to NBC's Enemy No. 1, Conan O'Brien. “Outlaw” is a failed procedural, sloppily made and poorly written. — Oscar Dahl

  • 'Undercovers'

    Image: Undercovers
    Chris Haston  /  NBC

    Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 8 p.m. on NBC

    J.J. Abrams is TV royalty at this point, having shepherded “Lost,” “Alias,” “Felicity” and “Fringe” into existence. “Undercovers,” Abrams’ newest concoction, will (fairly) be labeled as a reboot of “Alias” with a splash of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” thrown in for good measure.

    Starring Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as married former spies-turned-caterers-turned-spies again, “Undercovers” is as simple a spy concept as you can get. Each week, the married badasses take on a new mission in an exotic locale, all while bickering cutely and thwarting their marks via a series of break-ins, heists and gunfights. Whereas “Alias” pumped up the intrigue with a heavy dose of mythology, “Undercovers” is streamlined to one globe-trotting adventure per week.

    The biggest feather in the show's cap is the astonishing attractiveness of its leads. Relative unknowns, Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw display a dynamic chemistry that's essential to the success of the show. Abrams directed the pilot (the first episode of TV he's helmed since a 2007 installment of “The Office”), and the action is predictably breathless.

    Worth checking out? There's certainly no harm in watching this bubble-gum spy show. The leads are terrific (especially Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the action is solid and you won't be penalized for missing an episode here or there (unlike previous Abrams' shows). — Oscar Dahl

  • 'The Whole Truth'

    Image: Rob Morrow of "The Whole Truth"
    Adam Taylor  /  ABC

    Premieres Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 10 p.m. on ABC

    The standard courtroom drama takes a two-sided twist in “The Whole Truth,” which splits the screen time between the perspectives of both the prosecution and the defense.

    Rob Morrow (“Numb3rs”) plays disheveled and determined defense attorney Jimmy Brogan, who frequently goes head-to-head with his in-court nemesis and off-hours friend from the D.A.’s office, Kathryn Peale (“ER’s” Maura Tierney), in a series of head-scratching cases.

    The overlapping storytelling device of this latest Jerry Bruckheimer offering allows for a glimpse into just what each side is up to at the same moment in time. There’s his side, her side and after a fair amount of misdirects, the truth.

    Worth checking out? Though the weekly back and forth could soon seem redundant, it’s always worth giving a Bruckheimer crime or courtroom procedural a try. — Ree Hines

    Anna Chan is the TV Editor for TODAYshow.com. Oscar Dahl, Ree Hines and Susan C. Young are regular contributors.

Timeline: Fall TV premiere schedule

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