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Explainer: What to expect when fall TV favorites return

  • As summer’s best shows pack it in (so long, “True Blood”; bye-bye, “Burn Notice”), it’s time for viewers to get ready for the long-awaited return of their fall favorites. Thankfully for fans of TV’s top comedies and dramas, the upcoming action is bound to make the break after last season’s finale fanfare worth the wait.

    Warning: The following previews contain speculation and possible spoilers.

  • '30 Rock'

    Image: Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey on "30 Rock"
    Ali Goldstein  /  NBC

    Returns Thursday, Sept. 23, at 8:30 p.m. on NBC

    The cast will up their on-screen game in the new season with an all-live episode. As if the potential foibles of live TV weren’t enough to prompt viewers to tune in, the Oct. 14 special promises to feature the return of one fan favorite character. That would be none other than “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm reprising his role as the ditzy Dr. Drew Baird, one of Liz Lemon’s most unforgettable past partners.

    In other casting coup news, expect to see film star Paul Giamatti make an appearance, as well as at least one more round of the Mr. Perfect routine from guest star Matt Damon.

  • 'The Big Bang Theory'

    Image: Jim Parsons, Mayim Bialik on "Big Bang Theory"
    Sonja Flemming  /  CBS

    Returns Thursday, Sept. 23, at 8 p.m. on CBS

    Now that the usual off-again, on-again awkwardness between Penny and Leonard is officially and firmly off-again, Sheldon’s blossoming love life is set to take center stage when the show returns on its new Thursday night spot. (It aired on Mondays the first three seasons.)

    Sure, it may be a little soon to call Sheldon’s online match, Amy, his love, but for him a theoretical love connection is close enough. Besides, fans won’t have to wait long to see where things are headed for the would-be couple as Sheldon and Amy hit the town, with a suitable chaperone in tow, on premiere night.

    There may be a little more trouble for Sheldon down the line, too. Executive producer Bill Prady told Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello that Sheldon's rival, Wil Wheaton, may return to revive their feud in November.

    Timeline: Fall TV premiere schedule

  • 'Desperate Housewives'

    Image: "Desperate Housewives"
    Florian Schneider  /  ABC

    Returns Sunday, Sept. 26, at 9 p.m. on ABC

    The seventh season of “Desperate Housewives” is bound to begin by investigating the biggest mystery to hit Wisteria Lane since, well, the last mystery. This time the all important question is which babies were involved in Fairview Memorial Hospital’s baby switcheroo? The answer is coming, and according to EW's Ausiello, it's coming within the first 10 minutes of the premiere.

    Meanwhile, Bree is destined to find love — or maybe it’s just lust — when she spots one hot handyman, played by “Beverly Hills, 90210” star (more recently of Mr. Megan Fox fame) Brian Austin Green. But thanks to neighborhood newbie Renee (Vanessa Williams), Bree may have to fight for him.

    And of course, as last season’s finale revealed, Mary Alice’s long-absent widower Paul is back and ready to start over — or maybe he’s just there to throw a wrench in anyone and everyone’s big plans. One or the other, he’s back to stay.

  • 'Glee'

    Image: Britney Spears and Heather Morris on "Glee"
    Adam Rose  /  Fox

    Returns Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. on Fox

    When last viewers left “Glee,” Finn announced his undying love for Rachel, Santana got into everyone’s business, Sue Sylvester continued her evil reign, Quinn gave birth to a baby girl and in record time, Shelby Corcoran adopted the little Puckette, which sort of makes it Rachel’s little sister. Whew!

    Picking up on those and many other loose threads — such as Kurt’s love life — from season one should keep season two busy for some time. Of course McKinley High’s never too busy for new artist-centric episodes (including an expected Madonna redux and the already famous focus on all things Britney Spears), theme nights (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) and stunt casting (Hey again, Britney!).

    Story: Heavyweights dominate fall dramas

  • 'Grey's Anatomy'

    Image: Sandra Oh "Grey's Anatomy"
    Bob D'Amico  /  ABC

    Returns Thursday, Sept. 23, at 9 p.m. on ABC

    The premiere picks up where the Seattle Grace shootout left off, or more precisely, two short months after the jaw-dropping massacre ended. The “Grey’s Anatomy” regulars will have healed physically, but still carry the scars of their personal tragedies (poor Meredith) and the memories of their fallen friends (RIP, Reed, Percy and assorted redshirts). But life goes on, so don’t expect the baggage to drag on all season.

    Good thing, too, because that leaves more time for the hospital to get its groove back. That’s right. As usual, the cure for what ails almost everyone is a little romance. And for those long-tired of the Mark-Lexie-Alex-Izzie quadrangle of uncertainty, there’s hope on the horizon — things will get very certain, very soon. Hint: Alex feels a little nostalgic.

    Plus, [WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!] Cristina and Owen are reportedly getting hitched!

  • 'House'

    Image: House
    Justin Stephens  /  Fox

    Returns Monday, Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. on Fox

    Surprising positively no one who watched last season’s wrap-up, the upcoming season of “House” will devote plenty of time to the ups, the downs and the reactions to the gloomy doc’s new romance with none other than his boss, Cuddy.

    Yes, the love connection six years in the making will soon be common knowledge at the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, no doubt helped in part by House’s long-standing loose-lips policy. That means every well meaning pal (well, there’s really just the one in Wilson) and disgruntled intern will have something to say about the “Huddy” hookup.

    With the focus on the expected office buzz — not to mention the uncomfortable unveiling of House’s domestic side as he interacts more closely with Cuddy’s bambino, Rachel — during the first few episodes, viewers may wonder when they’ll finally learn what became of Thirteen, who secreted away during the series finale. Keep wondering.

    Story: Fall comedies may not deliver the laughs

  • 'Modern Family'

    Image: Eric Stonestreet on "Modern Family"
    Bob D'Amico  /  ABC

    Returns Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 9 p.m. on ABC

    When quirky comedy “Modern Family” comes back for its sophomore season, more of those zany, familial interactions that earned the show so many accolades last time around will come back, too, as well as a few extras.

    For instance, fans of co-dads Mitchell and Cam will finally get to see the couple share an on-screen lip lock, you know, like all the other lovey-dovey pairs on the show occasionally do. (Well played once again, Facebook.)

    In other Cam-related news, Nathan Lane will guest star as his over-the-top former friend early in the season. But what Lane’s character means for Mitchell, or the rest of the extended family for that matter, remains a mystery.

  • 'The Office'

    Image: "The Office"
    Mitchell Haaseth  /  NBC Universal, Inc.

    Returns Thursday, Sept. 23, at 9 p.m. on NBC

    While the adventures of Dwight Schrute: Building Tyrant are destined to dominate early episodes of “The Office’s” seventh season — that is if everyone’s favorite beet farmer sealed the deal on his big business bid — and some new twist in Pam and Jim’s romance is de rigueur, expect the best of the best plot points to revolve around Michael Scott.

    It’s no secret that the man behind the bossman, Steve Carell, declared that the upcoming season will be his last. That can only mean the time is ripe to wrap up some highly anticipated Michael melodrama.

    As finale night hinted, the always-unlucky-in-love leader will soon come face to face with Holly, aka the one who got away. Just don’t be surprised if she isn’t Michael’s only ex-leading lady to enter the picture. (Think Jan and think trouble.)

    Story: Reality gets a few twists this fall

    Ree Hines debates the merits of a third DVR while she peruses the fall schedule. Follow her on Twitter @ReeHines and share your thoughts on the upcoming season.

Timeline: Fall TV premiere schedule

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