Mr. TV: Summer Preview

It will likely be a long, hot summer waiting for the 2009-10 TV season to kick in. So, I thought I would devote this week’s column to the original programming options worth watching, or avoiding, as we count down the days until the new season.  

The major cable networks, as always during the summer, are considerably more ambitious than their broadcast brethren, offering at least 18 new series (eight scripted, 10 nonscripted) and 24 returning shows (14 scripted, 10 nonscripted). ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW combined, in fact, are only debuting five new scripted series. But before you point the finger of shame at the Big 5, keep in mind that cable returns to the backseat in the fall.

Tonight marks the return of Bravo’s Emmy-winning Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List (which features a riotous guest turn by Bette Midler) and the debut of Showtime’s half-hour drama Nurse Jackie with former Sopranos star Edie Falco, who segues from mob wife to a frazzled emergency room nurse in a busy New York City hospital. While Falco deserves to be back on the Emmy ballot next year, my one complaint is the show’s length. Traditionally, anything of a medical nature is one hour.

This Thursday, June 11, will feature week two of the new Canadian drama on NBC called The Listener, about a paramedic who reads minds; USA’s combo of Burn Notice and new drama Royal Pains, the story of an out-of-work doctor who ends up tending to the rich in the Hamptons; and a new docudrama on WE called Raising Sextuplets. Sunday, meanwhile, has two original options: the sophomore season opener of HBO’s True Blood (which I need to get addicted to) and A&E’s Hammertime, a new reality series focusing on the life of the recording artist formerly known as MC Hammer. As for the young couple raising their sextuplets, I hope they don’t become the next Jon and Kate. Am I the only one sick to death of those two?

TNT is quite the busy bee this summer, with three nights of original programming (Monday through Wednesday) on the agenda. New seasons of The Closer and Raising the Bar open tonight. Tuesday, June 16, features two new series (nonscripted Wedding Day and medical drama Hawthorne) leading into the new season of Saving Grace. And Leverage returns for its sophomore season on Wednesday, July 15, at 9 p.m. as the lead-in to a new crime drama called Dark Blue. I’d like to see the burgeoning TNT keep the momentum going with more original product into fourth quarter—and beyond.

Sister cable net TBS, meanwhile, has two generic comedies on tap: House of Payne, which is airing at present, and The Bill Engvall Show, which returns in July.  Emmy won’t come calling, but I bet viewers will.

As NBC nervously awaits the arrival of its Jay Leno talker, the network has another big-themed drama coming up on June 21 called Merlin, the story of the arrival in Camelot of a young man with extraordinary magical powers. Three days later, NBC will roll out another scripted drama, The Philanthropist, about a billionaire who likes to give away his money.

While two scripted dramas on NBC sounds ambitious, both are probably so bad the network is just burning them off in the summer heat.

If you like science fiction, mark your calendars for Tuesday, July 7, for the premiere of Syfy’s Warehouse 13, which centers on two Secret Service agents. Particularly unusual sounding, meanwhile, is Hung, a new comedy on HBO about a well-endowed teacher who moonlights as a male escort. It premieres on Sunday, June 28, and it promises to be unusually, well, big.