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Image: "The Walking Dead"
TWD Productions  /  Courtesy of AMC
Watch out! The undead from AMC's "The Walking Dead" are dragging their rotting bits onto your TV screen for at least another season.
TODAY contributor
updated 11/19/2010 1:20:16 PM ET 2010-11-19T18:20:16

Now that the new shows have had a couple of months — or at least a couple of episodes  — to demonstrate just what they can do, it’s time to take a closer look at the surprises out of this season’s fresh offerings.

A surprise in this case means surprisingly good TV. What it doesn’t necessarily mean is that a program made a huge splash ratings-wise. Some have, but it’s safe to say others won’t see a second season — or even a full first one.

After all, quality has never guaranteed prime-time longevity. (See “Wonderfalls,” “Freaks and Geeks” and of course, “Firefly” for proof.)

'The Walking Dead'
Only a few episodes into its freshman run and “The Walking Dead” is easily the most satisfying new series of the season. Fans of Robert Kirkman’s comic-book source material have to appreciate the somewhat-faithful translation of the original survival saga, while any zombie-film buff would find it hard to be disappointed by the big-screen-worthy, big-budget look.

Having already earned its “critics’ darling” status, AMC’s weekly glimpse into the undead apocalypse seems a safe bet for some time to come. Just one day after the second episode aired, the network ordered a second season.

Slideshow: Creating 'Walking Dead's' zombies
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'Lone Star'
Fox’s highly anticipated “Lone Star” suffered a very different fate. While it proved a positive surprise by living up to its hype and bringing a taste of cable-style (in a good way) production to prime-time broadcast TV, the double-life, long-con show was canceled after just two episodes.

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Was the Monday night time slot a killer? Possibly. It was scheduled against reality TV’s ballroom blockbuster “Dancing With the Stars” and CBS comedy staple “Two and a Half Men.” Still, for the few who actually watched it, “Lone Star” made for two nearly flawless hours of entertainment.

'Boardwalk Empire'
Unlike “The Walking Dead,” which scared up premiere night approval, HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” required a few episodes to reach its full potential. The fact that it ever met its potential is enough to put it near the top of this list.

Despite a pre-premiere hype machine in overdrive — “Sopranos”-meets-“Deadwood”! Produced by Martin Scorsese! Starring Steve Buscemi! OMG! — the story of Nucky Thompson’s Atlantic City reign lives up to its pedigree and works as well as any other top-notch and thoroughly addictive HBO drama.

FX’s “Terriers” has turned out to be the surprisingly satisfying, rough around the edges, buddy not-quite-cop show of the season.

Quick-fire, clever dialogue between two well-cast leads in “Grounded for Life’s” Donal Logue and ex-“True Blood” baddie Michael Raymond-James results in enough believable chemistry to just about carry the series. With a heavy dose of unexpected antics and genuine laughs, “Terriers” is worth a weekly watch.

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'Raising Hope'
“Raising Hope,” otherwise known as Fox’s charming slice of oddball family life, fills a gap left vacant since “Malcolm in the Middle” — and to a lesser degree, “My Name is Earl” — went off the air.

“Hope” offers a comedic look into the lives of an extended family making ends meet and getting into unexpected jams, all of which is appeals to the viewer thanks to one heck of an ensemble. Special props go to the women of the show, particularly Martha Plimpton, Shannon Woodward and Cloris Leachman.

'The Event'
A sci-fi thriller wrapped in politics and more mystery than TV has seen since it lost “Lost”? Yes, please!

Though still in the early days of its long-unfolding story arc, NBC’s “The Event” bears more than passing similarities to “Lost,” “The 4400” and “24” and that’s by no means a bad thing. (TODAYshow.com is a part of msnbc.com, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

In fact, if the series maintains its early momentum and finds the magic balance between teasing reveals and hush-hush secrets (as the shows that came before it did), it could be must-see for seasons to come.

An unexpected prime-time pick from BBC America is this fast-paced and decidedly dark cop drama.

Completely flipping over the usual procedural crime show, “Luther” begins with the whodunit portion of the crime already solved. It’s up to the show’s part-genius, part-mad man to think like the perp and solve how and why the baddie-of-the-week did the deed. That twist is enough to keep premise fresh — for now.

With two films and a previous television series based on the same story, one would think the CW’s version of the “Nikita” tale would have a been-there, done-that vibe, but it doesn’t.

OK, maybe the spy-assassin-sexy-female-lead gone rogue feels a little familiar. Still, with an all new butt-kicking woman leading the way in Maggie Q, the action remains exciting and the story endures.

'Blue Bloods'
One more cop show makes the cut with CBS’ all-in-the-family drama “Blue Bloods.” In addition to packing a solid plot in each episode, this is another program that owes a big part of its appeal to a winning ensemble.

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Tom Selleck plays Frank Reagan, a police commissioner working closely with his father and three kids (Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan and Will Estes), all of whom occupy various positions in the law-enforcement chain.

Proof of “Blue Bloods’ ” appeal is the fact that it’s survived its death-by-time-slot Friday night placement (so far), which is no small feat.

Honorable mentions go to two shows that almost made for pleasant surprises, and with a little more time, they still could: ABC’s “Detroit 1-8-7” and “No Ordinary Family.”

This time of year Ree Hines remembers what she’s thankful for: a bounty of top notch TV shows and her near and dear DVR. Follow @ReeHines and reveal your TV appreciation.

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