Two and a Half Men Two and a Half Men

This being such an epic week in the TV business, with the majority of new and returning shows premiering in the kickoff to the official TV season, I'm adjusting my "guide to the week" format all week to focus separately on each night as a whole: analyzing the programming strategies and showdowns while previewing the pilots and season openers I've seen in advance.

Monday in a Nutshell: ABC and CBS should continue to dominate. Dancing With the Stars has once again cast a buzz-worthy group — though some are wondering if they've overstepped and alienated their more mainstream fans with lightning-rod contestants like Chaz Bono and Nancy Grace. (Get over it, folks. It's a dancing show, all for fun.) And Castle makes for a fine nightcap. CBS' popular comedy lineup includes one new winner (Two Broke Girls) and one show in transition (Two and a Half Men) that's more talked about than almost any new fall series, while Hawaii Five-0 more than holds its own. Fox is shaking things up with its big-budget fantasy spectacular Terra Nova (which bows next week), which should open big at the very least. We'll see if its family-friendly tone attracts a broader-than-cult following. A Cuddy-free House (premiering Oct. 3) may be on its last legs, though. NBC is likely to struggle again, starting with the odd decision to pair The Sing-Off against Dancing. It performed well during holiday weeks, but will this a cappella competition be a match for ballroom shenanigans? And The Playboy Club hasn't generated as much controversy as NBC probably hoped, and could suffer against the established procedurals — not to mention so much of the presumed male target audience being distracted by Monday Night Football in the fall. The CW barely registers with its long-in-the-tooth Gossip Girl and the insufferably precious Hart of Dixie (premiering next week).

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