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Dead Tree Alert: Fall Is A-Fallin'

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The print issue of TIME this week features our Fall Arts Preview, including TV as well as movies, music, visual art, theater and those funny iPads made out of paper. It’s not online, though I believe there will be an enhanced web version going up; I’ll alert you when it does. [Update: And… bingo!] In the meantime, here’s the mini-version of how fall looks to me.

In short: I hope you get cable.

My TV preview for the print magazine isn’t so much a best or worst list as a sample of shows I expect to attract attention and curiosity: from Boardwalk Empire to $#*! My Dad Says to Sarah Palin’s Alaska. (TLC really missed an opportunity not titling it $#*! Bristol’s Mom Says.)

I’ve never liked those annual feature that some outlets do, along the lines of “10 New Shows You’ve Gotta Watch!” because invariably they grade on a curve. I guess it keeps the pages full and publicists happy, but people don’t watch TV that way: no one says, “I need 10 new shows to watch this fall, even if nos. 4 through 10 are actually not that great.” Some falls there are not, in fact, 10 shows you gotta watch. This looks like one of them.

So of the new shows coming out in the fall, what am I actually going to watch regularly—or, if I haven’t seen them yet, what am I excited for? Again: cable. Boardwalk Empire is easily the best new series of the fall, and (hedging only in case I’m foggily forgetting the spring and winter) probably the year. Terriers, already premiered, is a solid regular appointment. I have very high hopes for The Walking Dead on AMC, though critics haven’t seen more than a trailer yet.

As for broadcast: here, you’ve really got to grade on a curve to make a list. Fox has my top candidates: Lone Star is the best network pilot, though I worry whether it can stay plausible as a series. Greg Garcia comedy Raising Hope is about 50% dumb, 25% gross and 25% sweet, but it has a strong enough voice that I’m crossing fingers that it could course-correct into a keeper. I’d like the original pilot of Running Wilde better than some critics, but sadly, I actually find the “fixed” final pilot worse.

Beyond that, the most generous I can be with the networks’ pilots this season—almost all following a trend of unambitious, easy-to-swallow escapism—is, at best, Looks OK if You Like That Sort of Thing. (That’s where I’d place No Ordinary Family, UnderCovers and Hawaii Five-0, to cover a few shows getting, “buzz,” whatever the hell that means.) Commercially, anything NBC does will probably do better than Jay Leno did, but creatively, Outsourced is embarrassing, Outlaw is unintentionally funny and The Event learns all the wrong lessons from Lost, once again. (That last I base not on the final pilot but the original, but it did not give me a lot of hope.)

Around the rest of the dial, ABC’s mock-doc My Generation could be the next Quarterlife, but at least it’s the rare broadcast pilot this fall that has anything like narrative ambition; Detroit 1-8-7, as I’ve written, seems to have the aims of being more than a straight procedural—but not a lot more, I’m concerned.

Beyond that, a pretty big sea of bad-to-meh. As we get into the fall premieres the week after next, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to review single-handed (especially because I may be doing some business travel that might fall smack in the middle of Premiere Week). But I’ll get to what I can and return to what I can’t. In the meantime, what are your hopes for the fall?