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Unto You a Season is Born

Well, isn't this dandy? I've been bitching for five years that "Entertainment Weekly" publishes its Fall TV Preview after the fall shows have already started, and this year – after I drop my subscription – they finally publish it on time! And then the fall season kicked off last night with Ringer (which airs on the CW network but still technically counts as a show), and now I'm the one who's late to the party.

I mean, sure, we may as well not even have a TV season this year, since CW has canceled Hellcats for some reason. But the Annual TiVo Gauntlet of New Fall Programming is not a time for looking backward; it's a time for looking forward, to new shows! Which, by and large, look exactly like the old shows! For instance, there are nine new comedies on the networks this year, and five of them feature the premise where one character moves in with another character or characters – but surely there's great material still to be mined from that premise, right? (Technically eight shows hinge on moving in this fall, if you count Hart of Dixie [moving in to small-town Alabama]; Terra Nova [moving in to the Cretaceous Period]; and Two and a Half Men, which began with Jon Cryer moving in to Charlie Sheen's house and will reboot this fall with Ashton Kutcher moving in to his enormous two-story trailer...and also Sheen's old pad.)

While it's easy to have the same resigned disdain for most of the new fall shows (they don't call it a "gauntlet" for nothing!) (and by "they" I most certainly do not mean "me"!) what's new this year is that there are zero shows I feel particularly optimistic about. Sure, I'm hopeful that Will Arnett and Christina Applegate will combine their comedy forces to make Up All Night a breakout show – and I'm selfishly hoping it lasts all season because my son is due during February sweeps and I'm hoping to pick up some parenting tips. And I would love for the cast of How to Be a Gentleman to break the show free from its very very tired premise – Rhys Darby in particular is a favorite, and Dave Foley hasn't met a TV show he couldn't make better. The style and concept of Pan Am seem intriguing, but it also seems like the kind of show that could quickly become cloying and grating – so can Tommy Schlamme tip the scales in favor of excellence, as he often has before? (Or will cloying and grating win out, as they eventually did on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip?)

Maybe those will all be excellent shows, and maybe Zooey Deschanel and Hank Azaria will elevate New Girl and Free Agents (though the reviews haven't been great so far). But there's no Community on that list – no show that looks so good I can't wait for the fall season to start so I can see it. (Though I am looking forward to The Playboy Club as a salve for the hole Hellcats left in my heart.)

What's more, even if I look at this slate of shows impartially, from the perspective of the average American TV viewer, I can't see anything that seems destined to be a breakout hit. I know Fox hopes Terra Nova will be, since it's spending a fortune to make it, but expensive effects-driven shows are a really tough sell. You need enormous ratings to break even, and people just don't watch that much network TV any more. Then you layer in family drama and other stuff with the action, and it saps the momentum from the whole thing – I'm amazed No Ordinary Family made it all the way to the end of its only season last year. And, unless I missed some fairy tale resurgence, I see absolutely no chance for Grimm and Once Upon a Time, which aim to bring storybook characters from the public domain into a modern setting and have that be interesting for some reason. If Whitney is a hit, I hereby vow to eat my TiVo.

Maybe it's a good thing we have a lackluster season of TV on our hands. My wedding is during November sweeps and my baby is due during February sweeps, and I've been instructed to be present for both. Slashing the list of shows I watch will be a nice way to make room for other (arguably equally important) aspects of life. I will not have time to keep watching Ringer in hopes that favorites like Nestor Carbonell and Kristoffer Polaha will make it good. Similarly, I'll have to bail on Unforgettable (despite my love for Poppy Montgomery), Prime Suspect (Maria Bello and Peter Berg), The Secret Circle (Natasha Henstridge), and Suburgatory (Cheryl Hines) if they aren't excellent in an episode or two. And, after two years of almost quitting The Office on a monthly basis, I will probably have to lose it for good – but first I've got to see what they do with James Spader as Robert California, the most compelling part of last season.

Here are your official ATGoNFP study guides – a grid that shows all the new shows and their time slots, with their premiere dates conveniently displayed alongside (the way EW still refuses to do), and a schedule of all the new shows (and selected returning shows) for ease in setting up TiVo recordings (EW has come closer with their special pull-out this year, but it's so cluttered with photos and reality shows as to be nearly illegible, and it omits days of the week, which is confusing):

2011 Guide to Fall Premieres [86k PDF]
2011 Schedule of Fall Premieres [86k PDF]

Premiering This Week

Ringer: CW, yesterday at 9:00 2 stars (40/100)
Up All Night: NBC, Wednesday at 10:00 4 stars (80/100)
Free Agents: NBC, Wednesday at 10:30 3 stars (60/100)
The Secret Circle: CW, Thursday at 9:00  star (0/100)

Returning This Week

I was about 50/50 on permanently canceling the ATGoNFP this year (especially after missing my Monday deadline), but I couldn't give up on my precious Melonis. For those who don't remember from last year – and shame on you! – the Meloni is a measurement of my disapproval for a show I don't watch. Zero Melonis means I'd watch this show if I possibly had time for it. Five Melonis means this show is at least half as awful as The Big Bang Theory.

90210: CW, Tuesday at 8:00
Parenthood: NBC, Tuesday at 10:00
Survivor: CBS, Wednesday at 8:00
The Vampire Diaries: CW, Thursday at 8:00
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: FX, Thursday at 10:00
Archer: FX, Thursday at 10:30

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