Most TV viewers have learned that cable networks these days offer more than just old movies, updates on O.J. Simpson’s civil trial or a refuge from shows like “The Single Guy.”
In fact, during last season, America’s viewers spent nearly one-third of their prime time watching cable, partly because of original cable series that ranged from HBO’s classy comedy “The Larry Sanders Show” to MTV’s hormone hurricane “Singled Out.”
In TV, like in most things, success breeds success, and cable networks this season are airing even more first-run series. Here are a few of the new ones worth noting:
“Arli$$” (HBO, premiered in August. Wednesdays at 10 p.m.): A clever comedy along the lines of “Larry Sanders” about a deliciously manipulative sports agent (Robert Wuhl) whose sliminess fits perfectly with the sliminess of the athletes, owners and sponsors he deals with. Part of the fun is that real athletes and owners are happy to play themselves.
“The Big Easy” (USA, premiered in August. Sundays at 10 p.m.): A knockoff of the 1987 feature film about a not-completely-uncorrupt New Orleans cop and the sexual electricity that connects him to a Northerner-turned New Orleans prosecutor. On the downside, the TV characters (Tony Crane and Susan Walters) don’t have the chemistry of the movie’s Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. On the plus side, they still have New Orleans.
“Traders” (Lifetime, premiered Sept. 3. Sundays at 7 p.m.): A one-hour, high-caliber drama from Canadian television about an investment banking firm that mixes greed, ambition, greed, intrigue and greed. It has an almost “ER”-like intimacy with the firm’s internal workings. The players are hard and tough but not soapy.
“Democracy in America ‘96” (CNN, premieres Sunday and runs for seven Sundays at 9 p.m.): CNN promises “substantive, in-depth” reporting on campaign issues and candidates and to delineate between hype and real strengths and weaknesses in America.
“The Wubbulous World of Dr. Suess” (Nickelodeon, premieres Oct. 13. Sundays at 8 p.m.): The Cat in the Hat hosts a show combining puppets from Jim Henson Productions and a computer-generated set. Regular characters include Horton, the Grinch and Yertle the Turtle.
“The High Life” (HBO, premiering in November): An odd comedy produced by David Letterman and Adam Resnick about two men in 1950s Pittsburgh who run a storage facility while continually botching schemes to get rich.
Cable networks also offer some of the best, and worst, specials, documentaries and original movies on television. Here are some of the better ones:
“Reach for Gold: USA Basketball’s Women’s National Team” (USA, Friday): A look at the odyssey of the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team.
“Football America” (TNT, Oct. 18): A two-hour documentary that features nine stories about grass-roots football and how the passion for the game reaches across social, economic and generational lines.
“If These Walls Could Talk” (HBO, October): Demi Moore, Cher and Sissy Spacek star as women dealing with unwanted pregnancies in the 1950s, 1970s and 1990s.
“Secrets of the Internet” (Discovery Channel, Nov. 18-20): A six-hour miniseries looks for the most entertaining or informative sites on the World Wide Web.