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TV for the time-pressed: One show per night

Our writer picks six shows, but takes a pass on Saturday
/ Source: contributor

Even the most dedicated TV watcher has limited time to devote to shows. People have these little things called "lives," you see, which require real maintenance, and can't always be lived from a spot on the couch.

With that in mind, we've chosen the one single best show airing each night, from Sunday through Friday. We left out Saturday — nothing to tune in to worth noting unless you're a “Cops” fanatic, and really, don't we all need one night to stay tube-free?

Spend Sunday night on the gridironAre you ready for some football? NBC sure is. After kvetching for years about how pro sports contracts were too expensive and a money-losing proposition, the network reversed course and ponied up $600 million for each season of the Sunday-night NFL rights package. The series is going by the name "Football Night in America," not to be confused with "Hockey Night in Canada."

While it’s true that there’s enough college ball on Saturday and pros on Sunday morning and afternoon to satiate even the most devout fan, a primetime game always has the feel of a big event. That’s especially relevant now, since the NFL gave NBC latitude to schedule playoff-contending teams late in the season.

Is football important to a network schedule? Feel free to ask ABC, which saw its “Monday Night Football” franchise drop-kick itself into the top 10 for about 30 years or so. Not only will NBC land the hardcore gambler here but the network will capture the casual fan as well, especially with John Madden and Al Michaels moving over from ABC. Call this must-see pigskin TV.

Live, from Aaron Sorkin, it's Monday night at ‘Studio 60’
“The West Wing” may be over, but Aaron Sorkin is back. For those who couldn’t get enough of Sorkin’s unique brand of highbrow hallway bantering, tune in to “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” The series is a behind-the-scenes look at a “Saturday Night Live”-type variety show that's on its creative last legs — much like the real “SNL,” some would say.

After the executive producer (Judd Hirsch) stops a lame skit and goes in front of the camera to give a rambling “Network”-style speech on the abysmal quality of TV, he’s booted out, and new network entertainment president Amanda Peet brings in Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford's characters to run the show.

Knowing Sorkin’s track record — “The West Wing,” Sports Night,” “The American President,” “A Few Good Men” — there’s very little doubt whether or not “Studio 60” will be good.  The question, rather, will be do most viewers really care about the drama of making television. Here’s betting that in a timeslot not exactly brimming with intellectually stimulating shows (“What About Brian,” “CSI: Miami”), “Studio 60” settles in nicely.

Crime can pay on Tuesday ‘Knights’Crime doesn’t pay, yet it can produce laughs. Such is the case with ABC’s “The Knights of Prosperity,” about a down-and-out, underachieving janitor (Donal Logue) who channel-surfs into a show showcasing the spacious Manhattan digs of the Rolling Stones’ legendary front man Mick Jagger. Realizing cleaning toilets will never make him get rich, Logue's character recruits a goofy band of misfits and assembles a scheme to rob Jagger’s pad.

The pilot doesn’t begin with a bellyful of laughs, but once Logue (“Grounded for Life”) and his cohorts plan their caper, the chuckles begin in earnest, and there’s a sweet feeling that overtakes the proceedings.

“Prosperity” was created by Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman, the guys behind another charmer, “Ed.” Replace the bowling alley with Jagger’s apartment, and this one just might rob the competition.

Still happily ‘Lost’ on WednesdaysWhen last we left our island castaways on “Lost,” Michael had sold them out to the Others in order to be reunited with his son, Walt. While a father-son bond is immeasurably strong, even Michael — in the depths of his soul — knew that it was the wrong thing to do.

The “Lost” producers hide their secrets well, and there’s little to go on in trying to figure out what will unfold this season. We do know two cast members have been added: Kiele Sanchez will play a character named Nikki, and she might have a love interest with another new actor, Rodrigo Santoro.

Need a refresher? Rent or buy the DVDs — both seasons are now out — and scour the numerous Web sites devoted to island theories of all stripes. The third season won’t start until Oct. 4, and then there will be only six episodes before a months-long hiatus. At that point — probably in late January or February — “Lost” will air weekly without repeats, much to the delight of those devoted fans who spend one hour watching and then another four or five online discussing.

The ‘Shark’ bites on ThursdaysWhile many great shows have made Thursday home, the depth of programming for this prime TV night might be better now than ever.

There’s been the much-discussed battle between goliaths “CSI” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” NBC’s smart comedies “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office,” CBS’ reality standard-bearer “Survivor,” ABC’s version of Spanish telenovela “Ugly Betty,” game-show winner “Deal or No Deal,” the new J.J. Abrams series “Six Degrees” and longtime hospital drama “ER,” in which Forest Whitaker will appear in a multi-episode arc.

So while it would be tough for even a home with multiple TiVos to keep up with all those, be aware that these shows are swimming in dangerous waters. On "Shark," CBS's new legal drama, James Woods plays a slick, top-notch defense attorney who gets a case of the guilts when a client who he successfully defended commits murder. He’s asked by the L.A. mayor to use his skills to become a city prosecutor

On paper, “Shark” may not seem that different from the hundreds of other court shows throughout TV history, but Woods is a true star, and his enthusiasm for the character is infectious. Take a bite out of this one on an already crowded night.

End the week in Sin City with “Las Vegas”Who wouldn’t want to go to Vegas for a fun-in-the-sun weekend? Sounds great, but if you can't make it in reality, try a virtual trip to the desert with James Caan and Josh Duhamel's underrated NBC drama.

Although it’s already been on the air for three seasons, “Las Vegas,” unlike “Lost,” is one show you don’t need a whole lot of backstory to enjoy. It's never going to win an Emmy, a Peabody or any type of award for TV excellence — think mindless entertainment that’s a perfect Friday-night fit.

A little gambling, showgirls and the occasional cocktail — a perfect way to end the TV week.

Stuart Levine is a senior editor at Variety. You can reach him at .