Every fall, it's the new shows that get all the critical attention. But for most viewers, those shows are possible friends we haven't met yet, and it's hard to get too excited about a new relationship that may or may not work out.
It's the returning shows that we look forward to meeting up with again. Even in this world of TiVo and downloaded episodes, there are certain shows we make time to watch as soon as possible after they air. We asked a number of writers to hold forth on their favorite shows, and tell us what they're hoping to see happen in the 2007-2008 season.
‘The Office’ is taking care of businessI often work long days on Thursdays, which isn’t all bad. There’s very little traffic by the time I haul myself onto the freeway, and when I finally arrive home, there’s a new episode of “The Office” all queued up on the TiVo. The show reminds me how good I have it compared to the sad sacks at Dunder-Mifflin. My boss has never cooked his foot on a George Foreman Grill, and I’ve never had to spend the day apologizing to customers who found their paper order embossed with an obscene watermark. No one at MSNBC.com has yet taken to enclosing our staplers in Jello, or faxing us messages pretending to be from our future selves. But who can’t relate to the hapless, hilarious “Office” mates? Fans will get a reward early in the season since the first four episodes will be hour-long shows. And as we learned last season, former temp Ryan has been promoted to Jan’s job, and Jan has reportedly moved in with Michael, which can’t bode well. While many fans clamor for a happy, dating Jim and Pam, I hope that the show is smart about how it handles their love match. I have faith in the brilliant writers, though. I’ll bet a million Schrutebucks they get it right. —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Come back, ‘Mother’Have you met Ted? And Robin? And Marshall and Lily and especially Barney? Because if you have, you might just see why "How I Met Your Mother" is the comedy about friends in New York that "Friends" should have been. I've known couples like Marshall and Lily for whom getting married was the greatest threat to their permanent relationship. And, yes, I've known guys who remind me of the over-the-top Barney Stinson, yet who I still considered friends, which is something I can't say about George Costanza or Earl Hickey. And that "Robin Sparkles" thing with having a youthful 15 minutes of fame that you'd rather nobody ever know about? Yeah, I did that too, except NOT with the 80's hair, mini-skirts and singing about the mall. With Marshall and Lily finally really married and Ted resuming his quest for the title character, I'm more invested in these characters than ever, and this new season is going to be legen — wait for it — dary! —Wendell Wittler
Awaiting the ‘Friday Night’ kickoffI love football — gambling on games I wouldn't normally care about, the camaraderie of the guys watching in a bar — and I'm just as smitten with "Friday Night Lights." So now I'm eager to see what happens when everyone from Dillon High School returns and the team defends its hard-earned state title. Will Coach Taylor move to Austin to propel his career and become an assistant coach? Or will he break his word and stay home with wife Tami, who's unexpectedly pregnant? Will the romance continue between the Taylors' daughter Julie and quarterback Matt Saracen? NBC moved "Lights" to — duh — Fridays at 10 p.m. this season, hoping to use the title as a schedule reminder. The network admitted a mistake when it marketed the show last year as a sports drama, not a family one. Personally, I don't care how they promote it, and when or where it airs. Even if it only shows in a cave just off the Arctic Circle, I'll be there. If the world was falling down around me, I'd need to know how that affects Dillon. — Stuart Levine
Time to remodel the ‘House’Often times a house doesn't need an extreme makeover. Sometimes a simple kitchen remodel with some new granite countertops and stainless steel appliances freshens things up just fine. That's what's in store on "House," where our favorite diagnostician, Dr. Gregory House, took a wrecking ball to his crack team last season. House's, umm, "quirky" disposition keeps us coming back. He's a huge jerk, but we all wish we were a little more like him and can't wait to see what he does next. Lately, though, the procedural nature of the show has been a little predictable: They run tests, say words we don't understand, then realize that a guy is coughing up blood because he swallowed a toothpick. There's an air of mystery around House and his team again as he rebuilds with a slate of new doctors, and that's why this season premiere is circled in huge red pen on my calendar. We know this much: all the regulars still have jobs on the show, but a group of five newcomers, including Kal Penn and Olivia Wilde, are vying for spots on House's new team. The remodel wasn't yet desperately needed, but it's just like "House" to figure out the cure before it's too late. —Victor Balta
‘Battlestar Galactica’: What the frak?A critically praised sci-fi series that avoids easy clichés and features high-quality, veteran actors is a rarity. As a sci-fi buff, I know this. I’ve endured the worst of the genre and what once passed for the best. I looked beyond the hackneyed writing, the cheesy effects and enjoyed them all the same. Beggars can’t be choosers. Then the Sci-Fi channel brought the reinvented “Battlestar Galactica” to cable, and the bar was raised. Any resemblance to its 1978 counterpart ends with the most basic plots and names. This “Battlestar” is a dark, intelligent, action-packed drama that leaves fans dreading the break that follows each season finale. Alas, we BSGers won’t have to worry about that anymore. The Nov. 24 two-hour telemovie, “Razor,” marks the beginning of the end stretch (although regular episodes aren't planned until January). But as much as I’d like to indulge in some series-ending sadness, I’m too excited about what’s still to come. Are Tigh, Chief, Anders and Tory really Cylon-positive? Just what the frak happened to Starbuck in that nebula? Will they find the mythical Earth? With all the answers on the way, waiting a couple more months seems almost bearable. —Ree Hines
‘CSI’: Wanted, dead or aliveGoing into the new fall season, there’s really only one question for “CSI” viewers: Is Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) dead or alive? According to TV Guide, the show is planning to introduce a female character this year who could be a new love interest for Gil Grissom. That information alone doesn’t make it look good for Sara fans. Not everyone was happy with last year’s on-going miniature killer case — obviously an attempt to compete with the soapy “Grey’s Anatomy.” “Grey’s” may cause some watercooler talk, but, for me, there’s nothing more fun than discussing Thursday night’s "CSI" with my pal Gerrie on Fridays. OK, there were some red herrings last year: Warrick’s marriage (is he divorced or not?), Greg’s court case (who cares?) and the return of Lady Heather (now that “The O.C.” has been canceled, bring her back). But one of last season’s most surprising episodes are when the lab techs took over (who knew Wendy and Mandy were separate characters?). This fan's wish list: more on the techs, let Nick and Warrick work some more cases, give sarcastic Brass more dialogue, and keep Grissom in the spotlight. He constitutes my strangest TV character crush. —Paige Newman
Live, from ‘30 Rock’Remember last fall, when NBC was preparing to air two shows about the inner workings of late-night sketch shows? When the smart money was on Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip," while Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin got a pat on the back and a "better luck next time" for "30 Rock" ? What a difference a year makes. Not even Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming Jack Donaghy could have predicted that "30 Rock" would be showcasing an effortless near-awesomeness around the same time "Studio 60" reached the zenith of its smug pandering. Donaghy and harried sketch-com producer Liz Lemon make a magnificent odd couple: a deadpan 1960s-style executive acting as a passive-aggressive, self-imposed mentor to a career woman barely holding it together in her bi-curious shoes. But really, all the employees of the Sheinhardt Wig Company are fabulously nuts, all the way down to network page Kenneth, mindlessly cheerful as he grins his way towards either managerial greatness or mass murder. Add on hilariously awful in-show sketches like Gaybraham Lincoln and movies like "The Rural Juror," and I couldn't be happier if I fled to the Cleve. —Marc Hirsh