DRAMA

CBS (Fridays, 8 p.m. ET)

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Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a woman whose extraordinary psychic powers keep roping her into duty as an express courier between the dead and the living, is not the best title for a series. It sounds too much like The Horse Whisperer, and suggests a series about horses that have gone to the Pasture in the Clouds and now neigh, snort and maybe even stomp their hooves in order to communicate one last message: I'm eating all the alfalfa I could ever want and I'm at peace. But despite the title, Ghost Whisperer can be surprisingly moving. It treats the grief of the living (and the dead) with a reverence that's undeniably mawkish, but so what? It feels genuine and tinged with a sad acquiescence of the gulf between here and beyond. The show's heart is closer to Touched by an Angel than Medium. It's Touched by Jennifer Love Hewitt.

She plays Melinda Gordon, a woman who has been able to see, hear and speak with spirits since she was a girl. (Her grandmother, we learn in a flashback, had the same power). Now, even though she's a newlywed and trying to run an antiques shop, spirits keep invading her space. She should probably just install a little buzzer or bell by the front door. A soldier who died in Vietnam hasn't been filled in on the fate of the pregnant wife he left behind. A child killed in a train accident lingers by the tracks, afraid that his mother is angry with him (in fact the poor woman is frozen in sorrow). Hewitt deals with these intrusions with great tact and gossamer sweetness. If her performance isn't as interesting as Patricia Arquette's in Medium, that's because Arquette's character is grounded in raising a family and solving crime. There's otherworldly friction and everyday aggravation. Sometimes it seems Hewitt should be astride Rainbow Brite, strewing petals and little stars in her wake. At least she's comforting.

SCI-FI

Comedy Central (Thursdays, 10:30 p.m. ET)

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David Spade has lank blond hair that holds light with a soft, almost foppish gleam. It looks as if it were styled from one of those classic Gainsborough portraits, like The Blue Boy. He could set it off with a velvet cap. But his humor is, needless to say, completely contemporary. He has a slack, casual contempt for just about anything, and he can be very funny.

So this vehicle for him is a disappointment. Conceived as a sort of Daily Show targeting the vanities of the entertainment industry, it should feel like a killer parody of Extra or Access Hollywood—shows where someone like Billy Bush can actually cast a shadow. Instead, it's mostly Spade sitting at a desk in what feels like a Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update." Just riffin'. The show can be wonderfully mean—after promising footage of Ashton and Demi's bridal night, Spade showed Jack Nicholson being chased by a cackling old devil lady in The Shining-but it's too spotty.

CBS (Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

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As a doctor would say, first the good news...Practice is constructed with great felicity. The plot is a clever farcical setup. It's a family of doctors (including one therapist). The parents are recently divorced, the father's already with a younger, dumber girlfriend, and the youngest son just got dumped. They all have advanced certificates in repartee, the light stinging kind that makes for a classic sitcom. They know how to prick with a syringe, but they're too kind to draw blood. And the cast couldn't have been picked with a finer hand: Stockard Channing as the mother? Jennifer Tilly as the girlfriend? They can get laughs as predictably as a tin sheet produces thunder.

Now the bad...In the first few episodes, nothing's happening. No pulse. Doctor, what's wrong? That's the thing about a sick sitcom. We don't have a sure diagnostic tool.

COMEDY NBC (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

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Benjamin Bratt plays J.T. Tisnewski, an Army major who works in a special forces division of the Pentagon. "Works"? Boy, does he ever. This is another Jerry Bruckheimer coproduction, which means it's got a solid metallic polish you couldn't dent with a hammer and lots and lots of energy. E-Ring rushes headlong into one adrenaline-depleting story after another, as Tisnewski, whose body is one lean cord of muscular sinew with a probable body-fat content of .07 percent, confronts and tackles and defeats global crises. It's not sloppy, and it sure ain't lazy. But anyone who saw Team America, the movie send-up of all things Bruckheimerian, will find E-Ring hard to take too seriously. Anytime a high-ranking official begins barking out an urgent command from the military codebook, I see a big puppet head.

ABC (Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

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The career trajectory of Freddie Prinze Jr. has been the soft, low lob of a tennis ball with a smiley face. If s not unfair to observe that in his dozen or so movies, his greatest risk as an actor was to go blond for Scooby Doo and its sequel. Yet Prinze, who has a gentle, genial boy-next-door personality, seems no less talented than plenty of other stars. Maybe he just needs to luck into the right, outta-the-blue role. I never really respected Rob Lowe until he unveiled his Robert Wagner impersonation in the Austin Powers movies.

Prinze's first sitcom is another soft, low lob. Inspired by his childhood growing up surrounded by women after the 1977 death of his father, actor Freddie Prinze, the show casts him as a celebrated Chicago chef sharing his apartment with a divorced sister and her daughter, a widowed sister-in-law (who's a drinker) and a Puerto Rican grandmother who shares her sarcastic pearls of wisdom in Spanish. (All her dialogue is subtitled—a nice little innovation.) These women drift in and out, cajoling and hectoring Prinze like phantoms of memory in one of those old Fellini movies. Meanwhile, he's been given a best buddy next door: Beverly Hills, 90210's Brian Austin Green. Why not just give him a pet shark? As an actor Green is always more "on" than Prinze, and he gobbles up their scenes, Maybe Prinze should just clear the soundstage of all these people, stand there alone and start over. Be brave, Freddie!

COMEDY

ABC (Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET)

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The character named Carl Kolchak, a journalist whose beat is the supernatural, first appeared in 1972. Or rather, emerged from the dank murk with muck smearing his shoes. The original Night Stalker had something scummily compelling about it. Darren McGavin, an actor with a knack for unwholesome crustiness, played Kolchak in the old-fashioned newspaperman mold. That's "mold" as in "fungus." This was a rumpled guy with a gutter-tabloid sensibility, except that he stalked monsters instead of third-rate celebrities. He didn't look much better than the monsters, come to think of it.

The new Night Stalker is a much cooler affair, starting with theme music by composer Philip Glass. Kolchak is now played by Stuart Townsend, who is bleak and brooding but by no means crusty, dank or mucky. He looks as if he had done nothing his entire life except peer out from behind a windshield while driving through glamorously inclement weather in car commercials.

This Kolchak, hired by a newspaper in Los Angeles, has been obsessively hunting a mysterious force or creature since his pregnant wife was murdered and their unborn child ripped from her womb by some...thing. Now, sure enough, awful stuff is happening, either out in the nighttime desert or on sunny streets. In the premiere, a coyote-like monster dragged a little girl off to a cave. In the follow-up, which generated some solid suspense, a serial killer mentally commanded fresh murders from within his prison cell.

This doesn't have as distinctive a style as The WB's Supernatural—that's more like a jeans ad for the undead—but Kolchak three decades on still knows how to move.

Rome(HBO, Oct. 16, 9 p.m. ET)

Ancient history heats up: Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) meets Cleopatra (Lyndsey Marshal—so put Liz Taylor out of your mind).

Nip/Tuck(FX, Oct. 18, 10 p.m. ET)

That mutilating Carver is still on the attack, and somehow Christian (Julian McMahon) becomes a prime suspect.

2005 Black Movie Awards (TNT, Oct. 19, 10 p.m. ET)

Cedric the Entertainer is MC, with a special award going to up-and-comer Kimberly Elise, currently on CBS's Close to Home.

Saturday Night Live (NBC, Oct. 22, 11:30 p.m. ET)

Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Legend of Zorro) hosts. With the band Franz Ferdinand.

Grand Ole Opry Live! (GAC, Oct. 22, 9 p.m. ET)

An hour-long performance by country music phenomenon Martina McBride.

>Nick Lazzarini

On Oct. 5, Nick Lazzarini, 21, a California dance instructor, was crowned winner of FOX's So You Think You Can Dance. His prize? $100,000 and a New York City apartment to call home for a year.

ON HIS BIG WIN It's frickin' crazy. It's overwhelming. I have a lot of friends that live in New York, so I'm excited to get there. I'm sure I have 800 voice mails by now because they'll all want to party at my new apartment. I can't wait for the next step in my dance career.

ON WHAT HE'S LEARNED I never thought I'd be good at doing ballroom stuff. One of the judges basically said I sucked the first time I did it. But I pushed through it and when [my partner] Melody and I did the paso doble they said it was flawless. That was pretty amazing.

ON HIS TRAINING SECRETS My mom used to play a lot of music when I was a baby—I'd prop myself up on the coffee table and wiggle myself around. I owe everything to my parents.

ON THE FIRST THING HE'LL BUY Maybe a new pair of shoes. These are the same shoes I wore in the auditions. They've seen better days.

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Monica Rizzo.