ABC (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)
Egan Foote, a sad, shabby man who looks as if he'd walked headlong into wind his entire life, goes into a bank to ask for a loan—to buy a boat, he says—but his real thought is that it's just a matter of time before he kills himself. But fate can out-twist anyone: Foote has coincidentally timed his bank visit with a robbery that escalates into a 52-hour hostage crisis. He not only survives, he goes home elated, hailed as a hero for his actions during the siege. In comes his wife, a sour woman in a bathrobe. "Why would you do that, Egan?" she demands. "Risk your life for people you don't even know? What about me?" Foote's face goes dead.
We don't know yet how Foote (John Billingsley) distinguished himself, or how eight other hostages got through. They're all trying to make sense of this nightmare (glimpsed in flashbacks that suggest Spike Lee's Inside Man), while finding comfort in their new kinship. But when will we learn what happened? The premiere is packed with unanswered questions, allusions to weird alliances that might have formed in that pressure cooker and grim ironies like Mr. Foote's. This could be the fall's finest drama.

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ABC (Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET)
Six Degrees is set in a Manhattan of people consumed by private worries and delusions, connecting randomly and yet perhaps significantly—even life-changingly. It's Seinfeld bathed in an aura of tender meaningfulness. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Still, the show's a letdown, especially since it comes with one of the most lovingly assembled casts of any series: Campbell Scott as a photographer recovering from substance abuse; Hope Davis as the widow of a TV journalist killed overseas; Jay Hernandez as a public defender with a decent, uncorrupted heart; and Erika Christensen as a mysterious girl on the lam—those last two strike unexpected romantic sparks. The rest of the cast waits for magic. Well, is it coming? One of the show's co-executive producers is J.J. Abrams, who keeps discovering tantalizing new oddities among the wreckage of Lost. Degrees is set on an island, too, and its characters crave rescue. So far, it seems they'll have to fend for themselves.


ABC (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)
Ted Danson heads this ensemble sitcom playing Bill Hoffman, a famous psychologist with a small cuckoo's nest of patients in group therapy. In his private life, he keeps tripping over emotional ottomans he doesn't see coming: His 25-year marriage seems to be over and, in a Freudian-farcical twist, his daughter is dating a middle-aged psychologist who stands in awe of the more prominent Hoffman. It's pleasant enough—and thankfully it's not zany. The problem is that Danson's crisis is believable midlife comedy, while the patients' neuroses are closer to stock. Tell the group to meet at a new location, Doc, then don't show up.

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Showtime (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)
This series starts with a juicily sick premise, and Michael C. Hall wrings out every viscous, unwholesome drop from it. Dexter Morgan is a vigilante serial killer who has learned—through excruciating discipline—to channel his diabolical energy into two different crimson paths: By day he's a forensics expert who specializes in blood-splatter analysis; off hours he tracks down practicing serial killers who have so far eluded the law. It's here, administering his own brand of justice, that he gives in to the gruesome longings that tease him. As Dexter, Hall (Six Feet Under) has the damp, cold pallor of frozen poultry and a small, unnerving smile. Improbably enough, he's terrifically sexy. If you want edge, here's Dexter.

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NBC (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)
Based on the highly regarded 2004 movie, Lights is about a Texas football coach (Kyle Chandler), his high school team and the pressure to win, win, win. One town leader corners him and asks, "Are you going to be able to answer the bell and bring championships back to this town?" It's the desert asking for rain. Lights has a natural, lived-in look and performances to match, especially from Connie Britton as the coach's wife. In fact, it feels so close to actual American life that it lacks the gut excitement that would take it over the line into true entertainment. It's a bit dull.

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For more critics' picks, quizzes and video, go to PEOPLE.COM/FALLTV

>Has Tim Daly, one of the hostages on The Nine, ever suffered anything remotely as traumatic? "Well, if you live long enough ..." says the 50-year-old actor. "I was arrested once for murder. I was 16 years old and driving through Providence, R.I." Cops pulled him over, took him to the station, released him. "It was a case of mistaken identity." Of course, he's also been threatened within an inch of his life on The Sopranos, where he plays a screenwriter with a drug problem. He's returning for the final season: "I can't wait!"

>Everybody Hates Chris (The CW, Sundays, 7 p.m. ET) A new season of the light but tart family sitcom from Chris Rock. Whoopi Goldberg plays young Chris's new neighbor.

Lost (ABC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET) Season 3: Back to the island, the Others, the hatches, that sneak Henry Gale and a thousand vexing enigmas.

The Bachelor: Rome (ABC, Oct. 2, 9 p.m. ET) Two-hour premiere. This time the man handing out the roses is Prince Lorenzo Borghese. Cara mia ...

Veronica Mars (The CW, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET) Teen detective Veronica (Kristen Bell), a beautiful blonde shell containing a hard-boiled heart, starts college. First big case: the campus's serial rapist.

South Park (Comedy Central, Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET) Season 10. Is Chef still dead?

>John Stamos
After a stint on ER last season as paramedic and med student Tony Gates, Stamos, 43, returns with stethoscope in hand.
ON HIS NEW ROLE I'm an intern there, which is kind of weird because I'm old.
ON TONY'S DARK SIDE He's kind of a hothead. This is the first real adult character I've played. Very much a man.
ON BEING (HAPPILY) SINGLE Every day at work it's, "Let's play the 'Who do we fix John Stamos up with?' game!" I'm okay with where I am.

Our critic's take on The Rachael Ray Show and The Megan Mullally Show
September 18 saw the birth of two syndicated talk programs, one with promise and punch, the other ... oh, not so good. The Rachael Ray Show, produced by Oprah Winfrey, showcases the Food Network queen in an hour devoted to quick meals and improvised entertaining. Ray's indifference to presentation means that the results aren't always pretty—one viewer showed how to make a floral centerpiece using frozen peas instead of gravel—but Ray's pugnacious energy drives her on. She and Oprah share the same power to command people to have the time of their lives—or else. The Megan Mullally Show is less compelling. Stripped of her nutty, oversize Will & Grace character, Mullally seems at first like a child afraid to enjoy herself at a birthday party. (How excited would any host be about a segment on grandmas who shoot hoops?) It may just be that her humor is drier than expected. Ray is doggedly franchising a successful persona, while Mullally is trying to start over with a public face that's new, casual and authentic. She'll need both grace and will.

>"I can't seem to get away from dead bodies," says the actor, 35, who went from playing a Six Feet Under-taker to a strangely sympathetic forensics expert and part-time serial killer on Dexter. "My therapist loves it." Hall researched the role by reading up on serial killers and talking with a blood-splatter analyst in Miami, where the show is set. "Naturally, an imaginative leap is required unless you're willing to murder people. I don't think it would stand up in court that I was just doing research."