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Sight unseen

The fall TV season flies without pilots
By JOYCE MILLMAN  |  September 11, 2008

SOUL-SICK CHARM: Simon Baker stars as a fake psychic on The Mentalist.

Hollywood writers are no longer walking picket lines, but their 14-week shutdown of TV production reverberates through the 2008-’09 fall season. The strike, which lasted from November 5, 2007, to February 12, 2008, disrupted the fall pilot-shooting season, and the networks are still playing catch-up. New fall series are traditionally unveiled to advertisers in May and TV critics in July, but not this year. In fact, critics have yet to see pilot episodes of many of the new shows. So when it comes to recommending which newcomers are worth the time, your guess is as good as mine.

There are only two new shows on ABC’s fall slate, and one of them is a heartwarming family game show (OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS, Tuesdays at 8 pm; starts September 23). The other is a touch more intriguing. David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) has remade the endearingly odd BBC crime-drama/sci-fi series LIFE ON MARS (Thursdays at 10 pm; October 9), in which a cop gets hit by a car in 2008 and wakes up, still on the force, in 1973. The original version (seen on BBC America) was a retro delight, from the ’70s stylings to the prickly interplay between enlightened modern detective Sam Tyler and pre-PC commanding officer Gene Hunt. ABC’s version does have one big selling point, however: Harvey Keitel as Hunt. “Bad Lieutenant” indeed.

The big news for CBS is not a new show but a new leading man: Laurence Fishburne succeeds the departing William L. Petersen on CSI (Thursdays at 9 pm; October 9).

I was able to see rough versions of some of CBS’s pilots. WORST WEEK (Mondays at 9:30 pm; September 22) is a remake of the British sit-com chronicling the humiliating misadventures of a well-meaning shlub as he prepares to marry his pregnant fiancée. It’s excruciatingly awkward comedy of Meet the Parents proportions. The most promising show on CBS’s fall slate is THE MENTALIST (Tuesdays at 9 pm; September 23), which stars Simon Baker as a phony psychic who helps the “California Bureau of Investigation” solve difficult cases. As he did in the underrated series The Guardian, Baker plays a flawed, charming, soul-sick character with great subtlety. The sit-com GARY UNMARRIED (Wednesdays at 8:30 pm; September 24) stars Jay Mohr as a newly divorced dad floundering in the dating pool. THE EX-LIST (Fridays at 9 pm; October 3), starring Elizabeth Reaser (Grey’s Anatomy), is a romantic comedy drama about a woman who revisits her old boyfriends after a palm reader proclaims that one of them is the man she’s destined to marry, but only if she weds within the year — if not, she’ll stay single forever. Any woman who forces her boyfriend to watch this show will suffer the same fate. British actor Rufus Sewell plays a biophysicist consulting for the FBI on crimes involving science in the drama ELEVENTH HOUR (Thursdays at 10 pm; October 9). CBS is still working on this one at the 11th hour; the original pilot has been scrapped.

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  Topics: Television , Elvis Presley, Celebrity News, Ally McBeal,  More more >
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