This television midseason is mainly about the returns.
Will “American Idol” retain its ratings power? Has America missed Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) after “24” didn’t air last year? Can “Lost” electrify fans all over again?
So far, the TV season has been a disappointment for most broadcast networks. Only CBS, bolstered by “The Mentalist” and a string of sturdy crime dramas, has maintained its viewership from a year ago.
Fox has the best chance to rebound when “American Idol,” last season’s most popular series, returns Jan. 13. The show has added a fourth judge (Kara DioGuardi) and slightly revamped its process with a wild-card show.
Fox kept “24” off the air last year after the writers strike interrupted production. The thriller returns with four hours on Jan. 11 and 12. A two-hour movie, “24: Redemption,” scored respectable ratings in November and set up the new season.
The United States has a female president, and Bauer is answering a senator’s questions about torture when the FBI turns to him. Bauer learns that Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) is miraculously alive and apparently involved with the bad guys.
A different challenge faces ABC’s “Lost”: Can it maintain its mesmerizing style after last year’s season stunning finale? The drama returns Jan. 21.
Each struggling broadcast network has a reason to hope. “American Idol” has yet to fail Fox. NBC airs the Super Bowl, usually the most-watched program, on Feb. 1. “Dancing with the Stars,” ABC’s most popular series, returns March 9.
Some new dramas offer impressive actors. Tim Roth plays a deception expert in Fox’s “Lie to Me,” arriving Jan. 21. Ian McShane of “Deadwood” headlines NBC’s “Kings,” debuting in March. Nathan Fillion portrays a mystery novelist in ABC’s “Castle,” also coming in March.
The actors are the main attractions on cable. TNT’s “Trust Me” brings together Eric McCormack (”Will & Grace”) and Tom Cavanagh (”Ed”) in an acid look at the advertising world, beginning Jan. 26. Toni Collette displays multiple personalities as the heroine of Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” starting Jan. 18.
Grammy-winner Jill Scott has the lead role in HBO’s “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” based on Alexander McCall Smith’s novels and starting in March.
FX’s “Damages” returns Wednesday with Glenn Close in her Emmy-winning role as high-powered attorney Patty Hewes. The series has added Timothy Olyphant of “Deadwood” and Oscar-winners William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden.
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