Why is this on the air?: The A.V. Club's fall TV preview
Entertainment innovation seems to operate in a pendulum pattern. For every clever creator moving forward with a new idea or style, there are a host of copycats pulling backward, either by churning out imitations of the hot new thing until it becomes old and familiar, or by plugging those new ideas back into familiar, "safe" products. That helps explain this year's slate of new TV shows, which seem like retreads of everything from American Idol to Heroes to CSI to, um, Forever Knight. Here are The A.V. Club's thoughts on how this gaggle of been-there-done-that imitators got on the air, and which of them might be worth giving the benefit of the doubt anyway:
CW Now (7 p.m., CW; premières Sept. 23)
The concept: A half-hour look at the latest trends—or, as the official write-up noxiously puts it, "like going to cool school without the bullies."
Likely pitch: "Hip, brand-positioning, demographic-targeting, [insert risible marketing buzzword here] fun!"
Why is this on the air? The lovechild of UPN and the WB has tried to present itself as the young person's network of choice. It's only in its second year as the CW, but things are clearly getting desperate already.
Will it be any good? If old reliables like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood are no longer doing it for the kids of today, surely the proliferation of celebrity gossip and trend sites on the Internet are taking care of their junk-culture needs. Only on a bean-counter's chart could this look like good TV.
Online Nation (7:30 p.m., CW; premières Sept. 23)
The concept: Seizing on the CW Now lead-in, this show plumbs the Internet for the hottest viral video and brings it to the slightly bigger screen.
Likely pitch: "You know what this generation is into? Watching uploaded videos of people embarrassing themselves on the Internet."
Why is this on the air? Completing an hourlong block of buzz-driven CW product, Online Nation is again trying to hit the 18-to-25 sweet spot; in a world where Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion for the same privilege, it's probably worth a shot.
Will it be any good? A spotlight on user-generated videos made specifically for the show sounds scary, but so long as it features plenty of cute animals, wince-inducing personal confessionals, and the "Boom Goes The Dynamite" clip, it has potential.
Viva Laughlin (8 p.m., CBS; "Special preview" Oct. 18, premières Oct. 21)
The concept: Lloyd Owen wants to open a casino in Laughlin, Nevada, but he's in trouble with his family, the law, and an all-singing, all-dancing Hugh Jackman.
Likely pitch: "Before we begin, I want to emphasize once again that we have learned the hard lessons of Cop Rock."
Why is this on the air? An insomniac CBS producer, desperate for new show concepts, came across Viva Blackpool! on BBC America too soon after watching Hugh Jackman host the Tony Awards.
Will it be any good? Episodes where Jackman belts out a number will make it one of the best television shows ever made. Episodes where he is seen only in the "previously on Viva Laughlin" recaps will slowly slide down your TiVo queue, accumulating guilt-inducing exclamation points.
Life Is Wild (8 p.m., CW; premières Oct. 7)
The concept: Hunky veterinarian D.W. Moffett and wife Stephanie Niznik move their sprawling family from New York to a rundown South African lodge, where he tends to sick animals and diplomatically deals with people confusing him with D.B. Sweeney. Culture-clash shenanigans ensue as his beloved biological children and barely tolerated step-kids learn life lessons and interact with telegenic beasties.
Likely pitch: It's a contemporary Dr. Quinn, Medicine Guy in South Africa with D.B. Sweeney meets Wild Kingdom! On acid! Really weak acid. Acid so weak it's not even acid at all, but rather a mild tranquilizer.
Why is this on the air? It's an adaptation of a successful British drama. And as Coupling and Men Behaving Badly proved, anything that succeeds on British television is destined to make it big on this side of the pond.
Will it be any good? It follows Online Nation on the CW, so even if it's an abomination, it can't help but look good by comparison. Also, giraffes are involved. Giraffes are kinda cool.
Chuck (8 p.m., NBC; premières Sept. 24)
The concept: Ordinary computer nerd Zachary Levi has a cache of state secrets downloaded into his brain by his former college roommate, who now works for the CIA. While continuing his perpetual quest to develop some kind of romantic life, Levi also aids the government in terrorist-fighting.
Likely pitch: "The demo reel will kill at ComicCon!"
Why is this on the air? The Office, Heroes, and Superbad prove that geeks are chic.
Will it be any good? The O.C. mastermind Josh Schwartz is one of the creators, so expect Chuck to be one of the most addictive shows on TV for its first season, then never that good again.
The Big Bang Theory (8:30 p.m., CBS; premières Sept. 24)
The concept: A band of brainiacs deals with a sexy, friendly female neighbor, as Two And A Half Men producer Chuck Lorre goes for his next traditional sitcom hit.
Likely pitch: "You've got a Monday-night lineup, and we've got three cameras we aren't using. Let's do this!"
Why is this on the air? Either the networks are run by nerds these days, or they assume America is.
Will it be any good? Sitcom director extraordinaire James Burrows helmed the pilot, which means this will either be the next Friends, or the next The Class. Based on the pilot, in which the sexy neighbor uses the nerds' bathroom after her shower breaks down, this sounds like the big hit of 1981.
Aliens In America (8:30 p.m., CW; premières Oct. 1)
The concept: A Midwestern stay-at-home mom, worried that her teenage son doesn't have any friends, signs up for the student-exchange program and gets sent a Pakistani Muslim. Culture clashes yadda yadda.
Likely pitch: "It's Fez from That '70s Show in a post-9/11 world."
Why is this on the air? Since no one watches the CW anyway, the threat of fatwas from offended Muslims should be manageable.
Will it be any good? There's a glimmer of hope in the title's telltale plural, which implies that the show is about generalized adolescent disaffection, not just a wacky foreigner.
K-Ville (9 p.m., Fox; premières Sept. 17)
The concept: Brash, dedicated NOPD veteran Anthony Anderson and his secretive new partner Cole Hauser navigate a far-from-recovered post-Katrina New Orleans.
Likely pitch: "How can we make a cop drama more dramatic? Location, location, location!"
Why is this on the air? Home to a successful medical drama (House) and a successful counterterrorism-unit drama (24), Fox is looking to follow in the footsteps of its cable counterpart, FX's The Shield, with a (hopefully) successful police drama.
Will it be any good? Any show shot in New Orleans runs the risk of skimming the surface and turning into a Zatarain's commercial, but the previews seem to indicate that K-Ville will include the city as a character, not just a backdrop. The gritty look is also promising.
Samantha Who? (9:30 p.m., ABC; premières Oct. 15)
The concept: After a hit-and-run accident, a young woman (Christina Applegate) awakes from an eight-day coma with retrograde amnesia, which lets her function just fine, but leaves her with no personal memories. She was a bad-girl type in her previous life, so maybe this is a blessing in disguise.
Likely pitch: "Regarding Henry. Memento. Paris, Texas. The Bourne Identity. Is there anything funnier than amnesia?"
Why is this on the air? Something needs to air between Dancing With The Stars and The Bachelor. Might as well make this the meat of a reality-show sandwich.
Will it be any good? Applegate knows her way around half-hour comedy by now, and she's surrounded by seasoned vets like Jean Smart and Kevin Dunn. On the other hand, ABC is to comedy what CBS is to shows appealing to anyone under 70.
Cavemen (8 p.m., ABC; premières Oct. 2)
The concept: Based on the insurance pitchmen that were mildly funny three years ago, three cavemen battle the prejudices of the more evolved in a racism allegory that is itself pretty damn racist.
Likely pitch: "It's a bold, complex study of how people internalize and adapt to the constant stream of mediocrity in our culture, and You know what? Fuck it. Let's just make a show about those cavemen who hate GEICO."
Why is this on the air? The built-in Q-rating that comes from three years of commercials was too great to pass up. Plus, the one-joke premise means scripts practically write themselves, which will come in handy if that writers' strike happens.
Will it be any good? Early pilot reviews and a "major retooling" bode poorly, and given how well the last commercial-turned-sitcom worked out (Baby Bob? Hello?), it seems unlikely that this will surprise anyone. Though maybe GEICO will finally stop airing those ads. That'd be good.
Carpoolers (8:30 p.m., ABC; premières Oct. 2)
The concept: Four guys commiserate about their lives while carpooling.
Likely pitch: "The Office, but in a car!"
Why is this on the air? ABC's comedies generally fall into two categories: broad, conventional, unfunny sitcoms (According To Jim, George Lopez), or hour-long dramedies that Emmy voters think are hilarious (Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty). Carpoolers is a single-camera sitcom that actually looks funny, so it doesn't fit the pattern. Maybe ABC had a temporary bout of amnesia and thought it was NBC?
Will it be any good? Bruce McCulloch of Kids In The Hall is writing it, and two of the minds behind Arrested Development will produce and direct, so Carpoolers promises to be sharper than its premise.
Reaper (9 p.m., CW; premières Sept. 25)
The concept: A slacker's parents sold his soul to Satan before he was born. On his 21st birthday, the devil (Ray Wise) demands he come help collect evil souls that have escaped from Hell.
Likely pitch: "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure meets Ghostbusters meets Josh Schwartz's NBC show Chuck, which pretty much sounds like the same sort of thing."
Why is this on the air? After scoring its one real original-series hit with Supernatural, the CW returns to the well with another show that combines supernatural and comedy elements as effectively as former WB/UPN cult favorites Buffy and Angel.
Will it be any good? The first episode, from guest director Kevin Smith, was one of the season's more celebrated pilots. And casting Twin Peaks' Wise as Satan is a masterstroke.
Cane (10 p.m., CBS; premières Sept. 25)
The concept: Hector Elizondo plays the patriarch of a wealthy Cuban-American family at a crossroads. Should they get out of the sugar business and concentrate on selling rum? Jimmy Smits ups the sexy level as Elizondo's adopted son.
Likely pitch: "Hey, you know how there are a lot of Hispanic people in the U.S? Here's a whole show about them! Ay caramba, is it tasteful! Its cultural sensitivity is muy caliente!"
Why is this on the air? See above.
Will it be any good? Distinguished cast members Smits, Elizondo, and Rita Moreno, plus the sprawling, epic feel, make this look promising. If nothing else, it's nice to have a Hispanic presence on American television that isn't Carlos Fucking Mencia.
Pushing Daisies (8 p.m., ABC; premières Oct. 3)
The concept: Unassuming piemaker Lee Pace can bring the dead back to life with a touch. One caveat: A second touch re-deadens them, which becomes thorny when Pace reanimates his childhood sweetheart.
Likely pitch: "Kinda like Dead Like Me, except people will actually watch it, we swear."
Why is this on the air? Dead Like Me creator Bryan Fuller and blockbuster-factory Barry Sonnenfeld have created what looks like a perfect storm of current TV trends: a supernatural, hyper-stylized, serialized "forensic fairy tale" whose convoluted plot should appeal to comic-book nerds and television snobs in equal measure.
Will it be any good? The pilot was overwhelmingly well-received, and the show's casting and technical execution seem spot-on. Provided it doesn't fall victim to its own quirkiness, Pushing Daisies could be the season's critical and popular hit.
Kid Nation (8 p.m., CBS; premières Sept. 19)
The concept: A Survivor-style show where children are left to die in a New Mexico desert. Or at least left to do backbreaking labor and form their own government.
Likely pitch: "It's like Lord Of The Flies—with cameras! And lots and lots of release waivers!"
Why is this on the air? After years of hating on reality TV's unending supply of pathetic adults, America is thirsty for new blood—and what's more pathetic than a kid crying for his mommy?
Will it be any good? If this really were Lord Of The Flies, maybe. But its promos carefully point out how "inspiring" it all is and how much the kids accomplish, so there's probably no hope of anyone being hunted like a pig or crushed by a rock.
Back To You (8 p.m., Fox; premières Sept. 19)
The concept: After an embarrassing public gaffe, big-time news anchor Kelsey Grammer has to return to the smaller market where he got his start.
Likely pitch: "Hey, remember that Frasier guy? People still like him, right?"
Why is this on the air? Fox does good business in primetime animation, hourlong dramas, and reality programming, but lacks a popular half-hour sitcom. Grammer, paired with mega-director James Burrows and producer Christopher Lloyd, seems like a safe bet.
Will it be any good? With all the eccentric, non-traditional comedies out there, a multi-camera, laugh-tracked sitcom set in a newsroom seems antiquated. But Grammer and Burrows have repeatedly mined TV-comedy gold, so it might well be popular. And Fred Willard is involved, so it might even be funny.
Gossip Girl (9 p.m., CW; premières Sept. 19)
The concept: A mysterious blogger who seems to know everyone's secrets chronicles cliques, romance, and class warfare at an exclusive Manhattan prep school.
Likely pitch: "The kids loved those rich O.C. brats. Why wouldn't they fall for the same thing set on the East Coast?"
Why is this on the air? Upon discovering that some WB hotshot acquired the rights to some spiced-up Sweet Valley High crap back in the Veronica Mars tentpole days, the CW decided to stick with what it knows.
Will it be any good? The show is smothered with leftover Mars cred: One of its regular directors helmed the pilot, and Kristen Bell does the blogger's voiceover. But it'll take a few more classy upgrades before we start feeling the LoVe.
Kitchen Nightmares (9 p.m., Fox; premières Sept. 19)
The concept: Hell's Kitchen tyrant-chef Gordon Ramsay tries to whip the owners and staff of failing restaurants into shape.
Likely pitch: "It's like Hell's Kitchen, with less cooking and more yelling!"
Why is this on the air? Got to extend the brand, man.
Will it be any good? The British version is terrific—arguably the best of the many shows Ramsay's been associated with. Watching him try to convince stubborn chefs to take his good advice makes for high drama, with unpredictable results. (And given the troubles Ramsay has had with his own new restaurant in New York, perhaps he'll show up on his own doorstep by the end of the season.)
Bionic Woman (9 p.m., NBC; premières Sept. 26)
The concept: A dark remake of the '70s series The Bionic Woman. When a car accident nearly kills a struggling bartender, her scientist boyfriend "rebuilds" her with bionic technology. Way to get all creepy-possessive there, guy.
Likely pitch: "It's a new twist on an old show that we already own—it's like Alias meets Heroes meets DVD sales!"
Why is this on the air? NBC is currently riding high, thanks to its popular dramas, like that one about moody superheroes, plus uh Actually, it could really use another show about moody superheroes.
Will it be any good? Reinventing a cheesy late-'70s science-fiction show with a realistic, post-millennial sensibility worked for Battlestar Galactica, and the presence of that show's Katee Sackhoff certainly doesn't hurt. As long as there are no campy Lee Majors cameos, this should do all right.
Private Practice (9 p.m., ABC; premières Sept. 26)
The concept: Kate Walsh's super-OBGYN character from Grey's Anatomy gets spun off into her own show, set at a touchy-feely beachfront "wellness center."
Likely pitch: "Fewer mopey men, more vajayjay."
Why is this on the air? Hundreds of emo bands still haven't had their songs played over a pre-credits montage.
Will it be any good? Walsh provided an interesting dynamic on Grey's Anatomy for about a year, before that show went completely off the rails, but if creator Shonda Rhimes can't get Grey's right these days, it's hard to imagine that extending her energies to a second show is a good idea.
Life (10 p.m., NBC; premières Sept. 26)
The concept: A wrongly convicted cop returns to the force after years in the big house and has to deal with cultural changes, sexy lady-cop partner Sarah Shahi, and countless jokes about dropping the soap.
Likely pitch: Who's the fastest-growing demographic in the country? Ex-prisoners! What do ex-cons love even more than a well-constructed shiv? Cops! So everyone's gonna love a show about an ex-con ex-cop turned active cop! It's a no-brainer! Pass the cocaine!
Why is this on the air? NBC stands to make a fortune by tapping into the buying power of ex-convicts. With W still in power, the wrongly convicted demographic is growing by leaps and bounds as well.
Will it be any good? Maybe, but the sheer novelty of a television drama about a sexy male cop and his sexy-lady cop partner should be enough to draw viewers.
Dirty Sexy Money (10 p.m., ABC; premières Sept. 26)
The concept: Following his father's mysterious death, Peter Krause takes over as the personal lawyer of an eccentric New York family well-stocked with filthy, sensual currency.
Likely pitch: "It's like Dallas, but sexy, and in New York, which is sexy, and about lawyers, which isn't sexy, but if we get the guy from Six Feet Under, it'll go from 0 to sexy in no time. Sexy!"
Why is this on the air? Boston Legal home ABC knows that lawyers and eccentrics are a fine pairing. Also, the "sexy" tag doesn't hurt.
Will it be any good? The cast (including Donald Sutherland) is solid, the characters are colorful, the plot is soapy, and the title is colossally stupid, so, uh, maybe?
Big Shots (10 p.m., ABC; premières Sept. 27)
The concept: Michael Vartan, Christopher Titus, Joshua Malina, and Dylan McDermott play CEO types who endure various crises between Scrooge McDuck-style dips in their giant cash vaults.
Likely pitch: It's like Mad Men only contemporary and nowhere near as good!
Why is this on the air? Probably because the people who green-lit it were relieved to see a show about folks in their income-tax bracket.
Will it be any good? Finally, a show that boldly confronts the problems of wealthy white men.
The Search For The Next Great American Band (8 p.m., Fox; premières Oct. 19)
The concept: It's American Idol with instruments.
Likely pitch: "It's American Idol with instruments!"
Why is this on the air? American Idol does very well. People like to hear other people play instruments.
Will it be any good? This one is up to America. Some talented musicians with heretofore-unrecognized songwriting skills could be discovered. Or we could wind up with "Battle Of The Wedding Bands." Either way, the chances of hair-tearing frustration are high.
Women's Murder Club (9 p.m., ABC; premières Oct. 12)
The concept: Four San Francisco women with various specialties in the crime field, led by Angie Harmon (Law & Order), circumvent the Justice Department's boys' club by taking on cases themselves.
Likely pitch: "Here's the title: Women's Murder Club." "Wow, that sounds edgy!" "Um, it's about women solving murders, not committing them." "Oh."
Why is this on the air? The dozen or so current prime-time crime procedurals aren't enough to satiate the American viewing public. In this subgenre, introducing an all-female cast to the formula counts as blazingly original.
Will it be any good? Any project produced by Jessica Simpson's creepy dad and Brett Ratner deserves to fail miserably, but this series, based on James Patterson's popular novels, does have a few good things going for it, including the participation of Angel writers Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain.
Moonlight (9 p.m., CBS; premières Sept. 28)
The concept: Sixty years after his bride turned him into a vampire, an undead private investigator gets caught between the moon and New York City while romantically pursuing a mortal and making "hardboiled" quips like "Being a vampire sucks."
Likely pitch: "It's like Angel or Forever Knight meets Okay, it's just like Angel or Forever Knight."
Why is this on the air? As Heroes, Medium, Ghost Whisperer, and Bionic Woman prove, moody people with supernatural abilities are currently in vogue. Too bad for Angel and Forever Knight.
Will it be any good? Judging from the trailer and early pilot reviews, Moonlight's main character, Mick St. John, is a special kind of vampire: one who can suck the fun out of anything.
Nashville (9 p.m. Fox; premières Sept. 14)
The concept: A "docu-soap," a.k.a. reality series, about a group of young musicians trying to make it big in Nashville.
Likely pitch: "Laguna Beach: Country Western Style."
Why is this on the air? Never underestimate the power of the people behind Laguna Beach, and the pretty, pretty way they film reality and package it into shows.
Will it be any good? Define "good." Will it be an interesting, worthwhile piece of entertainment? No. Will it make good background TV for while you're washing the dishes or running at the gym? Probably, yes. Also, like Laguna Beach, the potential for unintentional comedy is high.