[NOTE: The following article will also appear as my regular television column for WILDsound.]
I love January. And not just because the hated Christmas music goes away. No, January is like a mini version of September, with the launch of new programs and new seasons of existing shows. To celebrate, I decided to write a mini version of my annual shows-I'm-looking-forward-to column. But as I started my research, I immediately discovered that the second-half schedule was far more dicey than I had hoped. So I have no choice but to lay out both the programs I am most looking forward to, and the ones I am most sure to avoid.
On the positive side:
I couldn't find a third show I was genuinely looking forward to seeing. Sure, if NBC comes out with the rumored "Office" spin-off or Amy Poehler project, I'll definitely want to watch them. ABC's decision to reboot the short-lived but little-watched 1998 series "Cupid," which was created by "Veronica Mars" head honcho Rob Thomas and starred Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall, would certainly be a contender, only it doesn't launch until late March, putting it too far out in the future for this roundup. (The new "Cupid" will also be run by Marshall and will star Bobby Canavale.) And if I was a "Buffy" fan, I'm sure I'd be salivating over the February 13 bow of "Dollhouse," even with the reported script problems. But with Ashton Kutcher producing two of the handful of new programs, it's not surprising I can't find a third new offering to fill this slot.
2. "Trust Me" (TNT, Mondays at 10 p.m. Eastern, debuts January 26)
Okay, maybe a "witty drama" (according to TNT's Web site ... the network's description carefully avoids the term "dramedy") about two advertising guys is going to instantly get my attention, since I'm such a devotee of "Mad Men," and I was a huge fan of "thirtysomething" back in the day. But the reason that there was never a doubt I would give "Trust Me" a chance is that one of the two leads is Tom Cavanagh, the love-him-or-hate him comic actor who starred in the smart and funny "Ed," as well as playing J.D.'s brother in six episodes of "Scrubs." There is something about Cavanagh's characters that evoke humor and emotion, from his bowling alley lawyer Ed (sorry, as Ed would note, he owned a bowling alley and was a lawyer, two different things) to his slumming indie music exec on the missed-the-mark "Love Monkey" to his turn as Eli's flashback father on "Eli Stone." Cavanagh's fellow Mad Man on "Trust Me" is Eric McCormack, still trying to find a post-Will (of "Will & Grace") role that sticks. The casting seems right: McCormack as the responsible family man, Cavanagh as the boyish irresponsible bachelor. Between Cavanagh, advertising and a dramedy, I have to give this show a shot.
1. "Scrubs" (ABC, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern, debuts January 6)
NBC obviously had a love-hate relationship with "Scrubs." The network kept the single-camera hospital-based sitcom on the air for six seasons despite dismal ratings, but moved it all over the schedule like a television nomad, virtually ensuring it would never find an audience. Which was a shame, because few shows are as funny, entertaining and moving as "Scrubs." Mixing wacky humor with gut-punch drama, "Scrubs" is an innovative half-hour comedy that helped pave the way for critically acclaimed programs like "Arrested Development," "The Office" and "30 Rock." ("Scrubs" is the kind of program that can make you laugh with scenes like this one, entertain you with clever moments like this one, but tug at your heartstrings with a sequence like this one.) NBC foisted the ultimate indignity on "Scrubs" last season when, after the writers' strike was settled, the network did not allow the sitcom to come back and film a series finale. Enter ABC, whose sister company produces the show (and reaps its syndication profits). ABC snapped up "Scrubs" for a final season, and we will now have a chance to see its story lines wrapped up.
On ABC.com, you can watch two question-and-answer videos with executive producer Bill Lawrence and star Zach Braff, in which Lawrence promises that the tone of the final season will return to the show's roots of mixing comedy and drama. Personally, I never thought "Scrubs" lost much over the years, but you get the feeling that this season is going to be pitch-perfect, and not just because many of the guest stars who stopped by Sacred Heart Hospital over the first six seasons (and there were a ton of them) will be making cameos in the final episodes. And Courtney Cox will appear in the first three episodes as the new chief of medicine. If you're a "Scrubs" fan, you won't want to miss the last season. And if you haven't watched the show, there is still time. Watch the quick primer on ABC.com, and episodes run in syndication on Comedy Central, TV Land and local stations. I am certainly excited for the return of "Scrubs."
What I'm not at all excited about is:
3. "Momma's Boys" (NBC, Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern, debuted in its time slot on December 22)
My review two weeks ago says it all.
2. "Game Show in My Head" (CBS, Saturdays at 8 p.m and 8:30 p.m. Eastern, debuts January 3)
Here's the thing: I love game shows. I despise hidden-camera ambush programs. So "Game Show in My Head" gets double demerits from me, one for being a hidden-camera ambush program, and one for besmirching the good name of game shows. I enjoy watching greedy contestants ask one of 26 beautiful women to open a numbered case while Howie Mandel tries to build tension. I have been known, on occasion, to watch Jeff Foxworthy figure out if people are smarter than a fifth-grader. I have even enjoyed watching Bob Saget see if one contestant could beat 100 others. And, if pressed, I'll confess that I have watched Wayne Brady guide a karaoke singer through a string of tunes in an effort to win a million bucks. But a studio-based Joe Rogan (think host of "Fear Factor," not his early work on the underrated sitcom "News Radio") telling contestants through an earpiece to do wacky and embarrassing things in public? With Ashton Kutcher, he of "Punk'd," as one of the producers? Count me out. Emphatically.
1. "Superstars of Dance" (NBC, Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern, debuting Sunday January 4)
Suddenly, turning over five prime-time hours a week to Jay Leno seems like a good thing for television, when you consider that NBC will air two-hour editions of "Superstars of Dance" featuring, among others, Michael "Lord of the Dance" Flatley throughout January. Talk about copy-cat bottom feeding. ABC has the wildly successful "Dancing with the Stars." Fox has the decently rated "American Idol" for dancers, "So You Think You Can Dance." The best NBC can do is come up with is the sloppy thirds of "Superstars of Dance," which will offer, according to the network's Web site, "a breathtaking international dance competition." Somehow, I doubt any viewers will be taking any more than the normal amount of breaths. The description then goes on to brag that the show comes from the "masterminds" of "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance." Can you contain yourself, America? So NBC is third in on the dance show bandwagon, with a show that is a knock off of a knock off of "American Idol." Wow. No wonder NBC is in so much trouble.
As a public service, here are a few debuts that didn't make either list: Ashton Kutcher and Tyra Banks team up to produce "True Beauty" (ABC, Mondays at 10 p.m., debuting January 5), which sticks six hot women and four studly guys in a house to find the most beautiful ones, inside and out (the contestants don't know about the inside part); "Flashpoint," which follows an elite Toronto police unit, returns January 9 (CBS, Fridays at 9 p.m. Eastern); Tim Roth can tell if your lying, and he and his team use their ability to help the law in "Lie to Me" (Fox, Wednesdays at 9 p.m., debuting January 21); Kyra Sedgwick and her southern accent return when the new season of "The Closer" bows on January 26 (TNT, Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern); and Joss Whedon unveils his newest creation, the Actives (one is played by Eliza Dushku), people who have their personalities wiped clean so they can be reprogrammed and sent on missions, when "Dollhouse" premieres on February 13 (Fox, Fridays at 9 p.m. Eastern).