If the wig-pulling antics of "The Housewives of Atlanta" have you in despair, take heart: You have officially squandered away the summer, and will now be rewarded with new fall television.
There's one good sign that we're in for some quality programming. The critically gushed-over "Lost" has a habit of killing off characters and ignoring subplots, which gives some excellent actors plenty of extra time. Watch for "Lost" alums in much the same way you might search for clues about Claire's unexplained disappearance. (But don't look for Claire herself; Emilie de Raven bypassed TV altogether to film a romance with Robert Pattinson.)
Sonya Walger (Desmond's true love Penny) loses her accent to star in "FlashForward" as a puzzled surgeon, and she'll be joined by former castmate Dominic Monaghan (tragic Charlie). Things don't look good for Elizabeth Mitchell's character Juliet, who was in "Lost's" last season finale, seeing as she has a large part in the remake of "V." Ian Somerhalder (sweet Boone) goes to the dark side as a vampire - and not the nice kind - on "The Vampire Diaries."
There are some interesting alumni from the lauded "Mad Men," too. If you can't place Kelsey Grammer's raspy-voiced wife on "Hank," picture her in a bouffant flip, tied to the bed by Don Draper. Yep! That's Melinda McGraw. And Pete Campbell's prim wife Trudy (Alison Brie) moonlights as a rehabbed Adderall addict in the comedy "Community."
Which brings us to Joel McHale, the sharp, snarky host of "The Soup." This season, he stretches himself to play the sharp, snarky reprobate of "Community." He is irresistible.
In the months ahead, familiar faces reinvent themselves with a fair amount of success -- and a few flamboyant flops. (I'm looking at you, Jenna Elfman.)
OK, now. TiVo's at the ready?
Premieres Sept. 29
8 p.m. Tuesdays on WBBM-Channel 2
The "NCIS" juggernaut expands its territory with a new series that focuses on undercover work and surveillance. Chicago's Chris O'Donnell, who got his TV toes wet with an arc on "Grey's Anatomy," plays the talented lead agent. (O'Donnell also dipped in a toe with "Head Cases," a flameout lawyer show with Adam Goldberg, but I prefer Dr. McVet.) LL Cool J, whose first initials stand for "Ladies Love," gets a chance to prove it as an ex-Navy SEAL who is an expert on Middle Eastern culture.
The pitch: "We spin off a show from the spinoff of 'JAG.' Throw in some sweet abs."
The Good Wife
Premieres Sept. 22
9 p.m. Tuesdays on WBBM-Channel 2
Long-suffering political wives everywhere get a taste of revenge when Julianna Margulies slaps Chris Noth's character - hard. He has just stepped down as State's Attorney of Cook County, embroiled in a scandal involving hookers and kickbacks. She has to go back to work at a law firm. Will she stand by her man, even though he's in jail? I vote for blowing off some steam with dishy lawyer Josh Charles.
The pitch: "All of Illinois' recent political scandals meet 'Law & Order.' Can we get Elizabeth Edwards?"
Premieres Oct. 4
8 p.m. Sundays on WBBM-Channel 2
Alfre Woodard slums it at a Pittsburgh hospital, where she oversees a team of doctors who transplant organs. Katherine Moennig (Shane from "The L Word"), a rebel with dead daddy issues, races against the clock to get the crucial coolers to the patients before it's too late.
The pitch: "We take a public service announcement and add in some commercial breaks and musical montages. It's TV with a heart - literally."
Accidentally on Purpose
Premieres Sept. 21
7:30 p.m. Mondays on WBBM-Channel 2
Jenna Elfman's new vehicle has her working as a successful movie critic at a newspaper, and dating her hot boss (Grant Show). When he refuses to marry her, she goes cougar and has a one-night-stand that results in a pregnancy. In theory, it's a comedy. Co-starring the invaluable Ashley Jensen ("Extras," "Ugly Betty").
The pitch: "It's 'Dharma and Greg,' only there's no Greg, and Dharma is older and sluttier. Maybe we give her a baby."
Premieres Sept. 28
8 p.m. Mondays on WMAQ-Channel 5
One big adrenaline rush, followed by the inevitable crash. The intriguing Anastasia Griffith (she was on "Damages," and is a dead ringer for a young Tatum O'Neal) is part of a team of first responder paramedics in San Francisco who aren't afraid of extreme rescues. Cliff Curtis plays a cocky helicopter pilot named Rabbit, and Derek Luke ("Antwone Fisher") is a troubled family man.
The pitch: "Let's stage a relentless series of horrific accidents, and then have group therapy!"
The Jay Leno Show
Premieres Sept. 14
9 p.m. weekdays on WMAQ-Channel 5
Leno's new show will be lighter in more ways than one. He says he's lost 12 pounds by running four miles a day, and that there will be more comedy in the new time slot. Plus he's landed Rihanna for the first show. Dare we hope that he mimics his Hugh Grant schtick and asks her, "What the hell were you thinking?"
The pitch: "It's Jay. But earlier. And, if all goes well, funnier."
Premieres Sept. 23
7 p.m. Wednesdays on WMAQ-Channel 5
Once again, we learn that it's the nurses who should be running the show at hospitals, not the condescending doctors who don't know what they're doing. Michelle Trachtenberg ("Gossip Girl") is the wide-eyed intern, and Taylor Schilling plays an emotionally scarred Iraq vet. It's supposed to be about female camaraderie, but the male cast is a bit more promising: Delroy Lindo, James LeGros and James Tupper ("Men in Trees").
The pitch: "It's 'Nurse Jackie,' minus originality and realism. And Edie Falco."
Premieres Sept. 17
8:30 p.m. Thursdays on WMAQ-Channel 5
"The Soup's" Joel McHale struts around the community college campus in a navy blazer and track pants, because the state bar realized that he lacked a bachelor's degree. In the course of hitting on a brittle beauty named Britta, he stumbles into a group of misfits - including a geeky motormouth, an injured jock, and seven-times-divorced Chevy Chase. The pop culture humor is fast and sharp, and McHale makes for a sexy anti-hero. Don't miss this one.
The pitch: "Arrested Development" + "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" x "The Breakfast Club"
Premieres Sept. 22
9 p.m. Tuesdays on WLS-Channel 7
Christian Slater, who flopped in NBC's "My Own Worst Enemy," continues to look for a TV franchise - and Jerry Bruckheimer is happy to help. Slater plays an amateur detective who helps the police look for the 40,000 missing people in America. The tragic backstory: His own daughter was kidnapped three years ago. Keep looking, Christian.
The pitch: "It's 'Cold Case,' 'Missing' and 'Without a Trace' baked into a casserole and served as leftovers."
Premieres Sept. 30
7 p.m. Wednesdays on WLS-Channel 7
Kelsey Grammer continues to build on his smug, self-righteous oeuvre with this sitcom about a Wall Street legend who has been forced out of his own company. He packs his family and downsizes all the way to the tiny town of River Bend, Virginia. With David Koechner as his obnoxious brother-in-law, and Nathan Gamble as the requisite weird kid. Fun casting: Melinda McGraw, who played the predatory Bobbie Barrett in "Mad Men," softens the look as Hank's wife, but keeps the throaty growl. James Burrows ("Will & Grace") directs.
The pitch: "Picture 'Green Acres' with Kelsey Grammer instead of Eva Gabor. And no farm."
Premieres Sept. 30
7:30 Wednesdays on WLS-Channel 7
Kelsey Grammer's co-star in the ill-fated "Back to You," Patricia Heaton, is a charmer in this sitcom about a frazzled working mom. The "Middle" refers to middle age, middle class, and living in the middle of the country (Indiana). It might also be an allusion to "Malcolm in the Middle," which is its proud predecessor. Chris Kattan - yes, the Bollywood star - plays a fellow car salesman. Waukegan's Neil Flynn - yes, the Janitor on "Scrubs" - is the head of the family, with Atticus Shaffer as the requisite weird kid.
The pitch: "It's 'Mr. Mom,' if he were a woman with a job."
Premieres Sept. 23
8 p.m. Wednesdays on WLS-Channel 7
I laughed out loud - really - during the pilot of this single-camera sitcom, which follows three suburban couples: one traditional, one interracial, one gay. The "Lion King" joke is the one that did me in. Ed O'Neill ("Married ... With Children") is a standout as the patriarch who has Sofia Vergara as his much younger, infinitely hotter wife. And this just in: Shelly Long has signed on to play O'Neill's ex-wife.
The pitch: "It's 'Parenthood,' but shorter and funnier."
Premieres Sept. 23
8:30 p.m. Wednesdays on WLS-Channel 7
Courteney Cox famously jiggled her loose belly skin for this new sitcom, about a divorced woman who is older but not noticeably wiser. She starts dating again, with suitors who are awfully close to her teen son's age. Busy Phillips ("Freaks and Geeks") is reliably great as the sweetly sour best friend.
The pitch: "It's 'Weeds,' without the pot or the budget."
Premieres Sept. 23
9 p.m. Wednesdays on WLS-Channel 7
An update of "The Witches of Eastwick" - the movie and the John Updike novel - with a vibe somewhere between "Practical Magic" and "Desperate Housewives." Rebecca Romijn (Stamos O'Connell) convenes with coven Jaime Ray Newman and Lindsay Price ("Lipstick Jungle"), and eerie things begin a-happening. Interesting tidbit: ABC filmed a pilot for the same show in 2002 with Marcia Cross, Kelly Rutherford and Lori Loughlin.
The pitch: "It's 'Sex and the City' in Salem, Mass., and Mr. Big is really the devil."
Premieres Sept. 24
7 p.m. Thursdays on WLS-Channel 7
The whole world stops at the same moment and glimpses the future still six months away. Why is a happily married woman with a new lover? Why does a cop see only darkness? Who's behind it all? With Joseph Fiennes ("Shakespeare in Love"), Sonya Walger ("Lost"), Courtney B. Vance ("Law & Order: CI") and John Cho (Sulu on "Star Trek").
The pitch: "It's 'Lost,' with a fast-forward instead of flashbacks. In fact, why don't we snap up Charlie now that he's dead."
Premieres Nov. 3
7 p.m. Tuesdays on WLS-Channel 7
Sci-fi looks pretty sexy in this remake of the well-regarded miniseries. Aliens visit our planet, tell us they come in peace - and we believe them. "Lost's" Elizabeth Mitchell plays an FBI agent investigating any links to terrorist groups, and her teenage son gets involved in a pro-alien program disturbingly similar to the Hitler youth. "Party of Five's" Scott Wolf plays an ambitious broadcaster who cozies up to the beautiful head alien.
The pitch: "It's 'V'! You know, 'V!' Remember the '80s? Lizard aliens? Anyone?"
Premieres (again) on Sept. 9
8 p.m. Wednesdays on WFLD-Channel 32
A beleaguered underdog high school glee club struggles to make it to nationals - and to the next class without getting bullied. Musical numbers include Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and Beyonce's "All the Single Ladies." Jane Lynch is brilliant as the sneering coach of the championship-winning cheerleaders.
The pitch: "It's 'Fame,' but meaner. And sweeter."
Premieres Sept. 25
7 p.m. Fridays on WFLD-Channel 32
Daryl Mitchell was a regular on "Veronica's Closet" before he was in a motorcycle accident and paralyzed from the waist down. (I also very much enjoyed him in 1999's "Galaxy Quest.") Now he plays the bitter brother of a football star who has moved back home. The humor consists almost entirely of insults. With Carl Weathers, CCH Pounder, Michael Strahan, and a series of announced guest stars: Mike Tyson, Snoop Dog, Nancy O'Dell, Kim Kardashian . . .
The pitch: "It's 'The Odd Couple,' with Felix in a wheelchair. No one else is doing paraplegic puns, we'll be groundbreakers!"
The Cleveland Show
Premieres Sept. 27
7:30 p.m. Sundays on WFLD-Channel 32
"Family Guy's" Cleveland (voiced by Mike Henry) rates his own spinoff, much to the befuddlement of Peter Griffin and his pals. ("We're going to need a new Ringo," is the response.) He returns to his hometown of Stoolbend, Virginia (anywhere near "Hank's" Kelsey Grammer?), to woo his high school prom date (voiced by Sanaa Lathan). You'll miss Stewie, but you can comfort yourself with . . . Arianna Huffington?
The pitch: "No, not the demonic baby. No, not the talking dog. The black guy, you know the one."
Premieres Sept. 8
8 p.m. Tuesdays on WGN-Channel 9
The "90210" update hasn't been entirely successful, but "Melrose Place" was too buzzworthy to let it rest in peace. The outstanding Katie Cassidy, David's daughter (who was brunette in "Harper's Island") heads a cast of attractive people intent on sabotaging themselves and others. Ashlee Simpson-Wentz lost the baby weight for a role. Among the returning apartment alumni (however briefly): Laura Leighton, Thomas Calabro and Daphne Zuniga. Lisa Rinna has also made it known that she is available.
The pitch: "It's 'Melrose Place.' But newer! And cast one of those Simpson girls. I can't get their dad off my back."
The Beautiful Life: TBL
Premieres Sept. 16
8 p.m. Wednesdays on WGN-Channel 9
Poor Mischa Barton has raised the profile of this drama about high-fashion models, recovering from her breakdown just in time to get back to filming. She plays an "it" girl who's now over (yowch! a little too close for comfort). Ashton Kutcher produced, and "High School Musical's" Corbin Bleu co-stars. Don't get too attached to Elle Macpherson as the ruthless head of the modeling agency; her acting is less than desirable.
The pitch: "Imagine 'America's Next Top Model' without Tyra's face all over the walls."
The Vampire Diaries
Premieres Sept. 10
7 p.m. Thursdays on WGN-Channel 9
Based on the books, "The Vampire Diaries" focuses on a love triangle involving a beautiful teenager (Nina Dobrev) and vampire brothers (Paul Wesley, who's all strong jaw and smoldering eyes, and Ian Somerhalder, who played the puppyish Boone on "Lost"). Cue the fog machine! Also deserving of special mention: The recurring crow. The show is a potent reminder of the first rule of blood-sucking: If you're going to go vampire, be immortalized while you're still young and hot.
The pitch: "Dumb down 'Twilight,' tone down 'True Blood' and add himbo brothers that hate each other."
Bored to Death
Premieres Sept. 20
8:30 p.m. Sundays on HBO
I can't top the official description of the show as "a noir-otic comedy." If you've seen anything starring Jason Schwartzman - "Rushmore," "I Heart Huckabees," "The Darjeeling Limited" - and liked it, you'll love "Bored to Death." The rest of you may require an adjustment period before you enjoy the adventures of a humorless writer who advertises himself as an amateur private eye on Craigslist. Zach Galifianakis, hot off "The Hangover," plays pretty much the same role here, and Ted Danson is a hoot as a media titan.
The pitch: "It's Woody Allen with writer's block and an unfortunate haircut."
Premieres Sept. 7
9 p.m. Mondays on ION
This Canadian series won lots of awards for its story about a homicide detective who moves to the suburbs for a fresh start - and ends up across the street from his high school nemesis, who likes to keep the hair of dead girls in his picnic basket. Not a very nice neighborhood.
The pitch: "It's 'Twin Peaks' meets 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.'"