Much of the excitement of the fall TV season focuses on the new shows — whether the new "Melrose Place" will be as gloriously silly as the original; whether "Flash Forward" is more than just a gimmick — but every year, the most popular comedies and dramas also have to figure out how to recover from bad seasons or build on good ones. Warning: Possible spoilers ahead.
George flatlines on ‘Grey's Anatomy’
While "Grey's Anatomy" ended the season with a then-shocking cliffhanger and left both George and Izzie flatlining, there are few secrets left about the basics of how it's going to turn out. It's not a secret that T.R. Knight is not returning, or Katherine Heigl — at least until a midseason hiatus — is. So you can safely expect Izzie's health crisis to turn out better than George's, and for much sniffling to ensue as "Grey's" goes through what figures to be an almost supernaturally weepy grieving process.
In addition to Heigl's absence, the writers will be handling Ellen Pompeo's maternity leave, so McDreamy will have to find something to do besides fret over Meredith's neuroses. Or he'll at least have to fret over them while she's perpetually "at the store" or "reviewing charts" or whatever they've got in store for her. There will be plenty of distractions, though, since the show is introducing a few new doctors to the cast, who will have to earn their stripes by kissing in closets and accidentally killing patients, in the great tradition of Seattle Grace.
Bringing baby to ‘The Office’
Last season on "The Office" ended with the apparent revelation that receptionist Pam was pregnant, and NBC has been very open about confirming that she is — even showing commercials for the fall season in which Michael asks Jim and Pam about taking pregnancy tests (to which Jim, naturally, replies that he took one).
Don't go poking around the Internet if you don't want to know quite a bit about what's next, because there are some highly telling location photos here and there, including some from Niagara Falls. Whether this season's Dunder Mifflin stories can live up to last season's — especially the unexpected delights that grew from the Michael Scott Paper Company — remains to be seen, but it looks like a very domestic year for Jim and Pam.
Not time to meet ‘Mother’ yet
Yet again at the end of last season, "How I Met Your Mother" advanced the story of Ted and the mother in a seemingly important way, this time by revealing that she would be in a class Ted would start teaching. But we've been down this road before, and it would be grossly naïve to assume that just because it seems like we're closer to meeting the mother, it's actually going to happen.
‘Sopranos’ veteran gets ‘Desperate’
With Drea de Matteo of "The Sopranos" joining the cast of "Desperate Housewives," expect good-looking women to continue making trouble on Wisteria Lane. De Matteo will be part of the new Bolen family, which will be tied up with the customary shocking event that kicks off the season's customary season-long mystery.
Jesse Metcalfe is also making a brief return appearance as John the Hunky Gardener, which will likely be awkward for Gaby. Also awkward? Whatever turn of events has both Susan and Katherine in wedding gowns in the previews for the season premiere. That really can't be good.
‘House’ flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
What will happen to House (Hugh Laurie) now that he's finally being treated for some of his copious psychological problems? The two-hour premiere is getting great buzz, and is being promoted as something more like a movie than a television episode. The tradition of interesting guest stars continues with the arrival of Franke Potente (of "Run Lola Run" and the first two "Bourne" movies), who will be connected to House's life at the psychiatric hospital where he's having those lipstick-related hallucinations addressed.
It will undoubtedly take a while for House to get back to work at Princeton-Plainsboro, back to his job ruling out lupus, but it will happen eventually. Meanwhile, Cameron and Chase — who got married in the season finale — will reportedly see their roles beefed up again, which will encourage their very frustrated fans.
‘Big Bang’ reaches for next level
After two years, the season finale of CBS's increasingly popular "The Big Bang Theory" hinted that Leonard's nerdy love for beautiful neighbor Penny may be about to turn into something. Unfortunately, geek luck being what it is, just as she was coming to the realization that she has complicated feelings for Leonard, he was on his way to the North Pole.
When he returns, they will have a few obstacles to overcome, one of which is the behaviorally unconventional Sheldon. The show creators have been pretty open about the fact that they'll be taking the Leonard/Penny relationship to the famous "next level" this fall, but that's likely to have severe repercussions for the delicate little nerd-blonde ecosystem they've got going in and around that apartment.
‘NCIS’ must stage a rescue
"NCIS" doesn't get all the sexy press coverage that shows like "Lost" and "House" find so easy to come by, but it's a proven show with a lot of fans, and they'll be anxiously waiting for it to come back. Don't expect any major upheavals — this is a show with a formula, and when the formula is working, you don't have much reason to change gears.
The big cliffhanger at the end of last season left Ziva in very dire straits, being held captive after returning to Israel. What becomes of her will be the big question awaiting fans when the show returns. And what of her relationship with Tony, with whom she's been flirting since forever? You can't very well date from your position in captivity, so that problem will need to be resolved before the Ziva-Tony relationship can find any kind of resolution. Of course, once she's rescued, she may learn that this is exactly the kind of life-threatening dramatic development that often serves as a catalyst for television romances of all kinds.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington, D.C.