Winter TV to Be Excited For

(This is a preview of Sunday’s PopRox column in the Pocono Record.)

Winter used to be a TV wasteland.

Networks premiered their best shows in September and used midseason replacements as filler to get them through the year. Not anymore.

The winter season now means more good TV shows starting up than ever before, so here are five premiere dates to watch out for this winter TV season after 30 Rock finally came back to the schedule Thursday (no links, I’m short on time, sorry):

am i the only one who thinks he should be saying "misssterrrr andersonnnnn" in the ads for the show? he sounds exactly like hugo weaving in the matrix, right? am i crazy?

Alcatraz (9 p.m. Mondays, Fox, two-hour premiere Monday): Hearing JJ Abrams’ name attached to any TV show immediately piques people’s interest. I’m just not sure why. He hasn’t been intensely involved in a show since Alias, and networks pretty much just use his name to launch the show. He basically will write the pilot, maybe direct the pilot, and then he just hangs back and collects checks. Pretty good gig. So if you want to watch Alcatraz, do it because you like the concept — past Alcatraz inmates return from the dead and start with the gun shooting — not because you like other Abrams shows. He may not even know he’s producing the show if you asked him. That’s probably a bit much, but you get the point.

Justified (10 p.m. Tuesday, FX): Pivotal season coming up in what surprisingly has become FX’s best show (and it’s not particularly close). There is a new crime boss in town for Raylan Givens to tangle with, but that’s just a bitter reminder that Margo Martindale won’t visit from the great beyond to reprise her Emmy-winning role as Mags Bennett that made the last season of Justified such a tense, enjoyable three months of television.

Luck (10 p.m. Sundays starting Jan. 31, HBO): Not everything is a home run — just ask David Milch. As good as Deadwood was, John from Cincinnati was that nonsensical. So the producer now takes his third shot at HBO with Luck, the story of the dark side of the horse track. All you have to do is hear the cast — Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte — to get excited. But why fool around with perfection? Wasn’t the 1989 Richard Dreyfuss movie Let It Ride already Hollywood’s perfect look at life at the track? Yes. Yes it was. Can’t they at least bring in Robbie Coltrane as the cynical ticket counter guy as a delicate nod to Let It Ride?

Smash (10 p.m. Mondays starting Feb. 5, NBC): If you’re tired of seeing slushies thrown in people’s faces but you just can’t quit Glee, then there is hope for getting your TV musical fix elsewhere. NBC already tried to ride the coattails of another popular show this season (The Playboy Club was a blatant rip-off of Mad Men), so why not see if the second time is the charm? Smash is the grown-up version of Glee, with the participants trying to make it on Broadway instead of regionals. It seems like everybody who has seen the pilot raves about it.

march 25, you say?

Mad Men (10 p.m. Sundays reportedly starting March 25, AMC): That’s not a mirage. It’s not a typo. Mad Men is supposedly returning to TV on March 25, a short 10 weeks from now. Here’s the problem. That starting date? It was slipped by Jon Hamm, Don Draper himself, in a recent interview and hasn’t been confirmed from AMC yet. That means one of two things. Either the network just wasn’t ready to announce the date and had its own big plans for how to make the announcement, or it isn’t sure it can make that date. I’m going to just say it’s AMC figuring out a new launch date for the new and improved “Mad Men Yourself” Facebook avatars or something, and that it is coming on that date. It’s a week after Walking Dead ends its season, would lead into season 2 of The Killing, which would then lead seamlessly into the next season of Breaking Bad in July or August. So go ahead and just tell us, AMC. We already know.

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