Tom Selleck, Michael C. Hall

To many, and for good reason, Friday is seen as a TV graveyard, a burying ground for shows with low expectations. But the networks aren't giving up on the night just yet. CBS, with its more traditional and very loyal (and yes, more mature) audience, can still do some business with its scripted series. And it can still remember what happened when a little sleeper called CSI broke out on Fridays, soon to change the face of the network.

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The CW is using Friday as a safe haven for its fantasy cult faves Smallville (launching its final season) and Supernatural. Fox is trying yet again, moving the rambunctious summer underperformer The Good Guys to the night, bringing along Human Target next week, and let's hope that isn't the death knell for this one. ABC and NBC are relying for now on their newsmags (and NBC has hung the terrible Outlaw out to dry here).

Could CBS have a new under-the-radar hit in Blue Bloods (10/9c)? Here's my take from TV Guide Magazine's Fall Preview issue: "A bit square, but there's a lot of meat on the family-dinner plate as police work, big-city politics and multigenerational dynamics combine for an engrossing drama, enhanced by Tom Selleck's star wattage. Our main problem: Why's it buried on Fridays?"

To elaborate, and to answer my own question: CBS has to put something there, and by moving CSI: NY to Fridays (now with Sela Ward) as a lead-in, that's a potentially powerful one-two punch of procedural drama. Blue Bloods actually raises the game with its character-driven premise. Selleck plays the widowed head of the Reagan family and New York City's police commissioner, juggling political firestorms at work — the sort that cut short the career of his own father, a former police chief played by Len Cariou — while playing peacemaker at home among his own grown kids. Donnie Wahlberg is Danny, a volatile detective with post-Iraq War rage issues, who often clashes with his sister Erin (Bridget Moynahan), an assistant D.A. who's gorgeous enough to qualify for Law & Order duty if it was still filming in New York. The baby of the family, golden-child Jamie (Will Estes), is also the rookie of the family, new to the police force but with a Harvard Law degree under his belt before he took up the uniform (in part to honor their eldest brother, who died in the line of duty under circumstances that will fuel future storylines). This is a solid hour that feels perfectly attuned to the CBS lineup, although it's less formulaic than what you usually find on Fridays — which is why, if it flexes any ratings muscle at all, I wouldn't be surprised if CBS moves it to a more hospitable night.

Although something has to air on Fridays, and it might as well be something this good.

Moving on to Sundays, where the big splash made by HBO's Boardwalk Empire last week has already earned it a second-season renewal after one episode. This week, it goes head-to-head with Showtime's most popular signature drama, the grisly serial-killer thriller Dexter, so consider this a DVR alert. (The networks all kick back into gear this weekend as well, so they'll be fighting for attention against new seasons of Desperate Housewives, a supersized Amazing Race opener and, of course, the huge draw of NBC's Sunday Night Football.)

Dexter picks up immediately after last season's classic-shocker finale, in which Dexter arrived home after putting the Trinity Killer (the great John Lithgow) to rest, only to discover his lovely wife Rita had become Trinity's final victim, lying dead in a bathtub overflowing with bloody water, in which their little baby Harrison sat. (Shades of Dexter's own childhood trauma as witness to his mother's savage murder. Chip off the old dismemberer's block, I guess.)

Dexter Morgan (the ever-riveting Michael C. Hall) has always had trouble mastering the skill set of genuine human emotion, so grief and guilt in the wake of this tragedy do not come naturally to him — even if he knows his numb, impassive reactions will draw suspicion on him. (Since the trail will likely lead to Trinity, how to explain his absence?) The real suspense of the first part of the fifth season comes in waiting for Dexter, a newly single dad, to crack, to unbottle the rage and despair that we know lies within. We are sorry for his loss, but we also know he's at a loss when it comes to this thing called humanity.

It takes a while for this season to build up some steam — by the third episode, though, we're back in full murderous swing, with some gasp-inducing twists—and things stall whenever the focus shifts to subplots involving Dexter's police co-workers, especially where the newlywed period of adjustment for Detective Angel Batista and Lt. Maria Laguerta is concerned. Snore. But whenever Dexter is center stage, Dexter remains one of TV's most gripping dark entertainments. Loved the meta moment when Dexter finds himself at a funeral parlor, and it's impossible not to feel a little Six Feet Under vibe as he muses, "So this is how normal people do it. No Hefty bags, no diesel fumes."

For Dexter Morgan, the stages of grief are anything but normal. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Blue Bloods premieres Friday, 10/9c, on CBS.

Dexter premieres Sunday, 9/8c, on Showtime.

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