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What to expect on returning shows

Spring is considered the season of renewal, but fall is the season when viewers discover what happened to the shows that got renewed.  By Wendell Wittler
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

[Warning: Possible spoilers for fall TV shows abound. Don't want to know? Don't read.]

Spring is considered the season of renewal, but fall is the season when we see what happened to the shows that got renewed. And this fall, it seems as if every returning show is promising big changes, big surprises or at least big-name special guest stars.

So let's separate the truly buzzworthy television events from the obviously predictable ("Charmed" is getting a new witch!) or the simply over-hyped (a kid on "The OC" is going to a public school!) and get a preview of all the shows we'll return to after we discover just how bad the new shows are. But be pre-warned. There are spoilers beyond this point - but only as much as the networks and producers will allow.

“Desperate Housewives”The biggest question being asked about last season’s biggest hit is: “Is Rex really dead?” And creator Marc Cherry’s official answer is: Oops.

“There was a scene in the finale which made it really, really clear,” he told the nation's TV critics . “We did indeed show Rex dying ... but because we were long, I cut it. ... Sorry, folks, I didn’t mean to confuse you.” In fact, Bree (Marcia Cross) is going to end up catfighting with Rex’s mother, played by Shirley Knight, over plans for his funeral. As for the potentially-fatal confrontation between Mike (James Denton) and Zach (Cody Kasch) at the end of the last episode: “The first couple of minutes of the first episode will resolve all that in a fun and exciting way,” says Cherry, meaning don’t expect to see anybody get killed.

But somebody will get killed in the first episode of Season 2. There are rumors that the victim will replace the dear departed Mary Alice as narrator — unless it’s Gabrielle’s boy toy John (played by Jesse Metcalfe, who’s definitely quitting the show) — or one of the Housewives’ fathers as other rumors claim, because a show about women wouldn’t use a male narrator, would it? Lynnette (Felicity Huffman) will become a “Desperate Working Wife,” with Joely Fisher as her new boss.

New neighbor Betty Applewhite (Alfre Woodard), spotted briefly rebuffing Edie in the first-season finale, will officially arrive in the season premiere. “She’s going to be involved in something pretty gothic on the show,” Cherry says, “pretty dark and spooky.” Let’s remain hopeful that they avoid making Betty a practitioner of voodoo — unless it gives Rex the opportunity to return as a zombie. Maisy Gibbons (Sharon Lawrence) will be back after doing her jail time, and both Susan’s ex-husband (Richard Burgi) and creepy pharmacist George (Roger Bart) have been promoted to regular roles. And Edie (Nicollette Sheridan) will move into her rebuilt house, start a new romantic relationship and be reunited with her young son. (She has a son?)

But probably the highlight of the new season will be a flashback episode showing when the Housewives first moved onto Wisteria Lane, including all the killed-off characters.

Premieres Sept. 25; airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC

“Lost”Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, get lost. A lot of “Lost” viewers are unhappy that the season finale didn’t live up to promotional promises (Weren’t we supposed to see a lot more of the monster? And get a better view inside the hatch?). So the promises the producers are making for the start of the new season had better not be broken.

Co-creator/executive producer Damon Lindelof told the nation's TV critics “by the end of the first episode, you will have seen what’s in the hatch and not just a little bit of it,” and it will not involve aliens, robots, a time-travel portal or a rocket ship. It will be “something great, something cool and something that was risky. I guarantee you there will be some people who do not like what they find in the hatch.” Lindelof insists. “We are erring on the side of giving away too much as opposed to being too vague.”

As for the mid-ocean cliffhanger with the castaways’ raft destroyed, Sawyer shot and young Walt kidnapped by the “Others,” the producers have said little more than that the survivors won’t be reunited with the rest until the seventh or eighth episode. But they’ll probably all survive, since the rumors about the next character to get voted off — excuse me, killed off — on the island are pointing to one of the “major females.”

There will be new faces on the island, with Michelle Rodriguez (“S.W.A.T.”) as a newly discovered survivor from the back of the plane, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Oz”), who’s only described as a "mysterious man." Is he one of “the Others,” or was he in the bathroom when the plane fell apart? In the longer run, producer Lindelof declared that Hurley’s lottery numbers would become “the driving and fundamental plot point of the second season,” (as if they hadn’t already) and promises that “By the finale of season two, viewers will know why the plane crashed.” Yes, but when are we gonna see the rest of the monster?

Premieres Sept. 21; airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC

“Alias”ABC executives have announced that pregnant star Jennifer Garner will definitely appear in every episode, likely resulting in a long mid-season hiatus/maternity leave. In response, the producers have conceded that Garner’s character Sydney also will be pregnant on the show. Nothing but rumor on who the fictional father is, but if Michael Vaughn isn’t really Michael Vaughn, what does it matter? The network has also declared that this will probably be the last season for “Alias,” based either on the expectation that Garner will prefer to either be a big movie star or Desperate Housewife to hubby Benfleck, or on their own decision to schedule the show in a Thursday night suicide time slot. The producers responded to that too, by hiring Rachel Nichols, moments after the cancellation of her show “The Inside,” to play a technical analyst trying to get into the secret-agent apprentice program. Another new addition to the cast is Élodie Bouchez as an internationally wanted criminal who has been secretly working for years with the Michael who isn’t. Leaving the cast is Greg Grunberg as Eric Weiss —J.J. Abrams is still trying to get him his own show.

Premieres Sept. 29; airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC

“Boston Legal”After losing its post-“Housewives” timeslot to “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Boston Legal” has resurfaced in “NYPD Blue’s” longtime location, with five episodes filmed last season that haven’t been aired yet, including a guest-star-studded two-parter featuring Heather Locklear as a high-profile murder defendant. Creator David E. Kelley says he “discovered that the series really wants to be a comedy more than a drama,” so expect it to continue to evolve when the really new episodes start, as Monica Potter, Rhona Mitra and Kerry Washington leave the cast while Julie Bowen (“Ed”), joins as an overachieving lawyer. You’ll see more interaction between the senior partners and associates (maybe leading to sexual harassment lawsuits?), and more serialized plotlines as Kelley and company work harder to hold an audience.

Premieres Sept. 27; airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC

‘CSI,’ ‘CSI: New York,’ ‘CSI: Miami’After Quentin Tarentino buried Nick Stokes (George Eads) alive in the blockbuster season finale of original-recipe "CSI," what can the hit show do for an encore? Nobody’s holding out for a raise, so no cast changes. Gil (William Petersen) will discover some loose ends from that last mystery in the first episode. Otherwise, the most interesting thing about the upcoming season is the revelation that the producers flew 200 writers (out of 10,000 who applied for the opportunity) to Las Vegas for a four-day brainstorming session that they say gathered enough ideas for the next two seasons. So, if “CSI” goes downhill this year, blame 200 consultants.

Meanwhile, in Miami, the end of last season saw Horatio Crane’s (David Caruso) true love flying away with his previously-presumed-dead brother, and she definitely won’t be back (at least this season). The major distraction from the weekly parade of dead bodies will involve Horatio’s backstory and a deep dark secret that producer Ann Donohue said “he has to spend the rest of his days atoning for,” not to mention the rest of the run of the series. 

And in New York, the C.S.I. team is moving out of the basement and into a bright Manhattan high-rise office as part of an over-all lightening of the show's mood. But not all is sweetness and light: One of the main characters will be killed off in the first two episodes (Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes are safe, as is Hill Harper, whose coroner character is getting a higher profile on the show when he goes out on the street — at least, that’s what they want us to think).

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” premieres Sept. 22; airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS
“CSI: Miami” premieres Sept. 19; airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS
“CSI: NY” premieres Sept. 21; airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS

“House”When Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) was declared “Sexiest Doctor on TV” by TV Guide, the producers took notice and started making plans for the dour diagnostician to get romantically involved with (a) idealistic young Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) and/or (b) ex-wife Stacy Warner (Sela Ward, signed on for at least seven episodes) and/or (c) his boss Dr. Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). Yes, that’s what exec producer Bryan Singer is saying, but he may have been taking advice from the producers of “Lost.” One thing you can definately expect is more familiar faces as the patient of the week, starting with L.L. Cool J. as a death-row inmate who’s apparently dying too soon. Our cynical sex symbol is gonna have a field day with the irony.

Premieres Sept. 13; airs Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET on FOX

“Joey”
The second-year show most in need of change will be getting some, as Joey (Matt LeBlanc) starts making it big in Hollywood and picks up a protégé (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.) who’s as goofy as he is. In the world of family, Joey's sister (Drea de Matteo) goes to work for his agent (Jennifer Coolidge), and his nerdy nephew (Paulo Costanzo) moves out of Joey’s apartment, but not off the show. No word yet when “Joey” will officially begin stealing plots from “Entourage,” but keep your eye out for underrated superheroes.

Premieres Sept. 22; airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC

“Las Vegas”Obviously this season is going to be different — they blew up the casino in the last episode! The series resumes at the rebuilt and reopening Montecito, and amazingly everybody’s back, having failed to get other jobs while it was closed — except for Marsha Thomason as Nessa (or was she inside the casino when it blew up?). Anyway, the new owner is played by Lara Flynn Boyle and she’s supposed to be shaking things up (will she require all the showgirls to wear pink tutus?). And sometime during November sweeps, the show will be doing their second incongruous crossover with the Boston-based coroner drama “Crossing Jordan.” I guess they just don’t want their dead showgirls to end up on “CSI.”

Premieres Sept. 19; airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC

“The Simpsons”
Nobody’s getting killed off, they’re running out of hot-button issues and we aren’t going to learn the Sea Captain’s real name, so the only buzz surrounding TV’s perpetually-jaundiced family is about its celebrity guest stars. The good news: Kelsey Grammar will be back again as Sideshow Bob, Richard Dean “MacGyver” Anderson will finally meet his biggest fans, Patty and Selma, and Ricky Gervais, current king of British comedy, is actually writing the episode his voice will appear in. If this works out, it could become a regular practice that would keep Homer and Company going another 15 years. In the meantime, other stunt casting will include William H. Macy, Lily Tomlin, Frances McDormand, Michael York, Rob Reiner, sports stars Joe Frazier, Randy Johnson, Terry Bradshaw and Dennis Rodman, and Alec Baldwin as a marine biologist (where’s George Costanza when you really need him?).

Premieres Sept. 11; airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX

“Smallville”
As if there weren’t enough outcasts from the ‘Buffyverse’ on all the new shows and “Veronica Mars,” the Vampire Formerly Known as Spike, James Marsters, enters the ‘Superverse’ with a plumb baddie role: Brainiac (which means he’ll have to do it without the cool hair and cockney accent). More stunt casting: old-school Duke boy Tom Wopat is reunited with former co-star John Schneider (Clark’s dad) and they’re negotiating to bring in the series’ second guy-who-used-to-play-Superman, Dean Cain.

Premieres Sept. 29; airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on the WB

“That ‘70s Show”
As the decade of the 1970’s goes into overtime (third consecutive season set in 1979), Eric (Topher Grace) is in Africa and Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) is moving out by the end of the fourth episode. So the show will add MADtv’s Josh Myers as “a self-assured guy ... on a lifelong lucky streak,” while Donna (Laura Prepon) “grows more popular at the radio station ... and meets someone who may actually be ‘the one,’” Hyde (Danny Masterson) “runs a successful record store... with a little help” from Leo (Tommy Chong, paroled and back as a regular) and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) becomes “quite the local lothario.” Mary Tyler Moore will also appear in three episodes as — what else? — a newscaster. Based on these quotes from the official FOX press release, this is way too happy for a good sitcom. The producers have until after the World Series to find something entertaining to go wrong.

Premieres in November; airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on FOX

‘Two and a Half Men’On one of his famous , "Two and a Half Men" creator Chuck Lorre declared “The kid is, and will remain, a real kid.” But now with the kid, Jake, (played by Angus T. Jones), rapidly approaching his teens, “[his] character will become much more difficult... more confrontational," Lorre says. "He was a lot of fun in the beginning. That’s going to change. To ignore that he’s growing up would be foolhardly.” But it won’t mean the show will be retitled “Two and Two-Thirds Men.” Another intriguing plot twist will see Jon Cryer’s Alan and his estranged wife (Marin Hinkle) considering reconciliation. But the big event of the new season is expected to be a guest appearance by Charlie Sheen’s real-life father (and “West Wing’s” outgoing president), Martin Sheen. Lorre pledges this example of stunt casting won’t be gimmicky. Then again, Charlie Sheen’s real-life wife Denise Richards guested twice before she filed for divorce, so this casting might be a wiser move for the show than for the star.

Premieres Sept. 19; airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS

“Veronica Mars”If you’re a devoted “Martian” (If fans of the show aren’t called that, they should be), you don’t dare miss the first episode of the new season, in which another season-arcing mystery will begin. This time it won’t be one of Veronica’s friends who gets murdered, but it will be big news in the little community of Neptune, California. And don’t miss the first minute — you will find out who Veronica told “I was hoping it would be you.” Last year’s mystery won’t be forgotten as Veronica’s dad (Enrico Colantoni) writes a book about it. And there will be two high-profile new characters played by high-profile actors: “Buffy/Angel’s” Charisma Carpenter as evil stepmother to the Casablanca brothers (and in her own words, “a bitch in a bikini”), and Steve (you’ll always be best known for “Police Academy,” deal with it) Gutenberg as a baseball-team owner who’s running for mayor.

Premieres Sept. 21; airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on UPN

is the online alias of a writer from Southern California.