Blake Lively and Penn Badgley in Gossip Girl by Andrew Eccles/The CW
Is it possible that this season, Wednesdays are the new Thursdays? An incredible amount of high-profile new programming - nine freshman series in all - will be introduced to the Wednesday prime-time schedule over the next few weeks, and when the dust settles, I can only hope a few of my new favorites will survive.
First up are CBS, the CW and Fox, launching their newbies a week before the official season begins. The biggest headlines so far have been generated by CBS' unseen-by-critics and instantly controversial
, a reality show in which 40 kids are set loose in a desert ghost town (actually an unused film set) and tasked to create a Utopian adult-free society. Sounded kind of prosocial and heartwarming until all those red flags began to surface about possible abuse of child-labor laws, penurious confidentiality agreements that made boilerplate mention of such possible reality-show liabilities as STDs, and allegations of injuries on the set. Something tells me that when we actually see the show, what's on camera won't be as objectionable as the very idea of putting children into the cauldron of exploitive reality programming. Even if this turns out to be a hit, it may ultimately be seen as a failure if CBS is unable to produce a follow-up because of the legal and ethical firestorms generated by the very premise.
faces steep reality competition from the latest season of CW's most popular reality series,
America's Next Top Model
, which is followed by the very compatible
's whiz kid Josh Schwartz, this is a glossy wish-fulfillment fantasy based on a series of popular books about privileged Upper East Side prep-school brats whose extracurricular intrigues are obsessively tracked by an unseen narrator (
' Kristen Bell), who keeps everyone plugged in on their Sidekicks. Well-cast and well- (if inevitably over-) written, aping the classic WB/
format of having adolescents seem more worldly wise than their permissive parents,
is poised to be the next hot young thing on TV.
Fox gets a jump on the more mainstream competition by launching its entire new lineup: most notably
Back to You
, a classically old-school workplace sitcom starring sitcom pros Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as squabbling Pittsburgh anchors. Their chemistry is instant and awesome, the ensemble has several bright spots (Fred Willard as the hardy sports guy and newcomer Josh Gad as the bumbling blob of a too-young news director), and the jokes come fast and frequent, if sometimes on the crude and smarmy side. The premise finds Grammer returning to Pittsburgh after a career rise and fall, not exactly humbled, because Grammer's specialty is comic pomposity, which he displays to great effect. Heaton is the unimpressed thorn in his side, and it soon becomes obvious that their past is going to haunt them as the show goes forward. A twist toward the end left me hoping the show will keep most of its focus on the workplace shenanigans, not on the personal stuff... at least not for now. If it can stick to the funny,
Back to You
should be worth coming back to.
It's pretty much on its own here, because the rest of Fox's night is downhill all the way. You may not be surprised to learn that the second-season opener of the relentlessly mediocre
recycles several of the same cleavage jokes that Brad Garrett made at Joely Fisher's expense during their lamentable presenting gig at the Emmys earlier this week. And this is just a warmup for Gordon Ramsay shrieking and bleeping his way through America, finding new hell's kitchens wherever he goes in the reality show
, which is kind of a culinary version of
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
. Ramsey shows up at eateries in peril and bullies the bosses, or whoever's getting in the way of serving palatable food, until things turn around. In the first episode, he installs new kitchen equipment into a shoddy Italian joint, which makes him more lifesaver than consultant. Personally, his profane TV shtick nauseates me. Imagine, something falling behind even
in this time period on my list of things I'd consider watching.
The real test for all of these new shows will come in a week, when NBC launches the high-octane
(intriguing) and the cop drama
(annoying); CBS returns its powerful crime duo of
; and ABC revs up its new schedule with the much-anticipated (but needs much work)
and the deluxe and decadent
Dirty Sexy Money
And my favorite new show of the night, ABC's weirdly whimsical and flat-out delightful
, won't even arrive until Oct. 3. Will there be room for it to grow? Here's hoping.