Hail to thee, fall season! Though someday you will be just a half-remembered bygone television ritual, subsumed in an already rising tide of series that premiere just any old time, you are for now still the biggest thing on the broadcast calendar, blowing in like spring in September (and October, and November) with new, baby TV shows.
What shall we say of you this year, fall season? You strike us as content, for the most part, to spin slight variations on the tried and true. (A season whose most experimental programming involves Jay Leno cannot truly be called innovative.) Fox revives "Melrose Place" and awards Seth McFarlane a third half-hour to scribble upon. CBS orders up another Ye Olde Three-Camera Comedy for its Monday yock-block and extends its "CSI" and "NCIS" franchises. NBC spreads Leno across five nights of prime time. The CW continues to tempt youth with youth. And ABC tries a little bit of everything -- one-camera sitcoms, a three-camera sitcom, a mockumentary, a mystery, a couple of sci-fi series (one a remake) -- to draw our inconstant love.
Already in progress
The Jay Leno Show
(NBC, weeknights, 10 p.m.)
From a programming standpoint, the Leno comedy strip is the year's most radical notion, pushing late-night down into the 10 o'clock hour and filling it up with comedy -- a thing not seen, really, since "The Carol Burnett Show" went off the air three decades back. Unless the star has undergone a total personality makeover, the content itself will not be groundbreaking, but if enough people watch, it could remake the medium.
(CW, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.)
Appropriately scheduled to follow the resuscitated "90210," from whose earlier incarnation its own earlier incarnation was spun, "Melrose Place" once more fills the courtyard pool with operatic soap -- and, as traditional, a body. A pack of new damn kids overruns the old Mediterranean courtyard, while a few "MP 1.0" veterans make trouble within and without.
(Fox, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.)
"Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy (with Brad Falchuck and Ian Brennan) is behind this cheerily satirical, generally lovable small-town high school musical about students and teachers and the glory of pop. Obvious sometimes, ambitious most times, as corny as Kansas in August but also a little perverse, it makes up in spirit what it lacks in sense.
The Beautiful Life
(CW, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.)
TV's ongoing thing for pathologically thin women gets a dramatic rationale in this youth-soap set in the world of New York high fashion. It's rendered in the bright and shiny CW house style -- glamorous locations, hot young things, pop songs turned up loud -- and yet the pilot felt sewn together from old scraps. Mischa Barton plays a fading superstar, Sara Paxton the unspoiled (underfed) new gun in town, Ben Hollingsworth a naive hunk of Iowa beefcake.
(NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.)
Old-fashioned institutional comedy set at a community college. Joel McHale is the unifying disruptive presence, a lawyer whose license has been revoked. (Surprised friend: "I thought you had a bachelor's from Columbia." McHale: "Now I have to get one from America.") A Bill Murray movie, basically, with a hint of "Breakfast Club," which the script preemptively acknowledges. And there's Chevy Chase, besides. From Dan Harmon ("The Sarah Silverman Program").
The Vampire Diaries
(CW, Thursdays, 8 p.m.)
I imagine a network executive holding up a DVD of "Twilight" and bellowing, "Get me one of these!" (I have no idea how the TV business actually works, mind you.) Another story of the living and undead in the halls of high school and the love that dares not stay up past dawn. (Although there is a magic ring for that, apparently.) Based on, though not strictly following, a series of YA novels whose publication preceded that of "Twilight" by a good 15 years.
Today, Sept. 20
Bored to Death
(HBO, 9:30 p.m.)
Writer Jonathan Ames ("The Extra Man") adapts his novella about a mentally disheveled Brooklyn writer (Jason Schwartzman), named "Jonathan Ames," who impulsively advertises himself as a detective after his girlfriend moves out. One of fall's freshest series, it puts an original spin on sitcom tropes. Ted Danson once again chooses well, as Schwartzman's sybaritic editor; Zach Galifianakis is his very married friend.
Monday, Sept. 21
Accidentally on Purpose
8:30 p.m. (CBS)
Jenna Elfman is a film critic at a San Francisco newspaper -- this is somehow represented as glamorous -- who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand with a dude young enough to be her much younger brother. It's "Knocked Up" set to the ticking of a biological clock. Ashley Jensen does loose-living best-friend duty (see also: Busy Philipps in "Cougar Town").
Tuesday, Sept. 22
(ABC, 10 p.m.)
Amateur detectives, led by ex-cop Christian Slater, bring closure by identifying the remains of John and Jane Does in yet another moody procedural from producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Cold Case," "CSI: Whatever" and so on).
The Good Wife