If you think about it, there’s a certain poetry to the dramatic arc of the fall premiere season. As we all know, after fall comes winter, and by December many of these TV shows will be dead, with just a few dried-up blog entries left behind to mark their passing. This painful thought might provoke a zealous couch fan to get carried away — watching every last debut to hit the networks while staying faithful to old favorites from seasons past. And granted, certain shows, like the well-cast Six Degrees, with Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, and Jay Hernandez (premiering Sept. 21 on ABC), or Showtime’s Dexter, starring Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) as a serial killer with the best of intentions (premiering in October), deserve at least a shot at some viewers.
But even the Guinness record (69 hours and 48 minutes) proves there are limits to how much TV one human being can watch — though apparently there are no limits to how many dramas based on the premise of 24 can be developed in one season. Choices must be made — between, say, the NBC comedy about a late-night sketch comedy show starring SNL’s Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin and the NBC drama about a late-night sketch comedy show starring Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, and Bradley Whitford and created and written by Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, The West Wing). What follows are notes from a highly subjective decision-making process. Show info is subject to change.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip vs. 30 Rock Aaron Sorkin’s writing is pretty much why I started watching television again, and I’m still not over Sports Night’s 2000 cancellation. Thus, in the face-off between shows about sketch-comedy shows, his creation, Studio 60, will no doubt reign supreme. Bradley Whitford from The West Wing stars alongside Amanda Peet and Matthew Perry — and while the latter actor certainly wasn’t the least annoying of Friends’ friends, a guest spot on The West Wing proved his Chandler mannerisms haven’t completely devoured him. (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Mon., 10 p.m., NBC; premieres Sept. 18. 30 Rock: Wed., 8:30 p.m., NBC; premieres Oct. 11)
Vanished vs. Veronica Mars Having spent five years watching Gale Harold plug every available male extra in greater Toronto as Queer as Folk’s surly stud Brian Kinney, I’m tempted to get invested in his character’s FBI investigation of a disappeared senator’s daughter. The thing is, even if he does get to play another unapologetic asshole, he will likely have clothes on. So will Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars, but the latter show, about a smart-ass teen private investigator engaged in all kinds of class warfare, was easily the best high school drama since My So-Called Life, while in a vastly different vein. The sleuth is university bound now, and higher education is clearly a death knell for teen dramas, but I’m betting Veronica won’t let her studies get in the way. (Vanished: Mon., 9 p.m., Fox; premiered Aug. 21. Veronica Mars: Tues., 9 p.m., CW; premieres Oct. 3)
The O.C. vs. Dante’s Cove They may seem like an odd couple, but both The O.C. and Dante’s Cove feature melodramatic sexual entanglements, power tripping, drug addiction, and expensive real estate. The O.C. may have a slight advantage in terms of plotlines and thespian talent, but c’mon: Dante’s Cove, part of Here!’s all-queer programming, has real live gay people, a private sex club — and black magic! Also, I get how satisfying it must have been to finally off the waif with suicidal tendencies, but with Marissa in the grave, The O.C. is likely to become so bearable it’s boring. (The O.C.: Thurs., 9 p.m., Fox; premieres Nov. 2. Dante’s Cove: Fri., check for times, Here!; premieres Sept. 1)
One Tree Hill vs. Friday Night Lights The infant love child of UPN and the WB fashioned a glaringly lowest-common-denominator ad campaign whose thought-provoking tagline for One Tree Hill was “Free to be cool.” And yet, I breathed a deep sigh of relief on learning that the show, basically about a small town that loves its basketball and the dramas that ensue, had survived the merger and gained entrance to the freedom-loving land of the CW. Friday Night Lights, based on the movie that’s based on the book, is about a small town that loves its football and the dramas that ensue. A toughie, but I hate football, so for me One Tree has the home court advantage — plus the laser-beam-eyed power-acting of Chad Michael Murray. (One Tree Hill: Wed., 9 p.m., CW; premieres Sept. 27. Friday Night Lights: Tues., 8 p.m., NBC; premieres Oct. 3)
Prison Break vs. Runaway Maybe it all goes back to my deep, abiding love for The Legend of Billie Jean, but dramas about desperate people on the run from the law have a near-endless ability to captivate me. Prison Break has the hot brothers. CW debut Runaway looks to have more of a Running on Empty family dynamic — with New Kids on the Block’s Donnie Wahlberg in the Judd Hirsch role. Both hint vaguely at possible political undertones. Mostly for River Phoenix’s sake, I’m going to go with the latter. (Prison Break: Mon., 8 p.m., Fox; premiered Aug. 21. Runaway: Mon., 9 p.m., CW; premieres Sept. 25)
Jericho vs. Three Moons over Milford Jericho has Skeet Ulrich and a nuclear holocaust on the horizon. Three Moons has, well, three moons — or parts of what used to be one moon — and one or more of them might be heading this way. The end (of the season, that is) will be in sight for the latter sooner, which is good, because how many times a week can a person watch the world teeter on the brink of collapse? (Jericho: Wed., 8 p.m., CBS; premieres Sept. 20. Three Moons over Milford: Sun., 8 p.m., ABC Family; premiered Aug. 6)
Project Runway (reruns) vs. Fashion House The community-minded thing to do, no doubt, would be to support KRON TV’s efforts to add dramatic content to its programming. After all, Fashion House, a six-nights-a-week telenovela-style program about the fashion industry starring Morgan Fairchild and Bo Derek, should just about do the trick. And yet, even after Project Runway’s latest season ends later this fall, I’m probably going to find other uses for those six hours — including renting back episodes of the show that makes it work. (Project Runway: Bravo; your local video store. Fashion House: Mon.–Sat., 10 p.m., KRON; premieres Sept. 5) SFBG