DRAMA

ABC (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

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A young man (Matthew Fox from Party of Five) in a business suit wakes up cut and disheveled in a jungle. How did he get there? The only clue is a little airline liquor bottle in his pocket.

He walks out onto a seemingly deserted beach—quiet, beautiful. Then suddenly the sound of anguished cries and the sight of smoking wreckage. A plane fell down on this island, and the young man came with it. As he springs into action to help his fellow survivors, we realize that he is a physician.

The Sept. 22 premiere of this new series from Alias creator J.J. Abrams grabs you so forcefully that you won't shake free even when the drama strains credulity. You'll have to suppress a snicker when Fox's character, Jack, tells a long anecdote from his surgical career while fellow passenger Kate (Evangeline Lilly) does some amateur stitching on a nasty wound he suffered in the crash. You may feel manipulated when the first two episodes keep flashing back to the aircraft in the moments before it plummeted. But when Jack, Kate and faded British rocker Charlie (Dominic Monaghan from Lord of the Rings, in the show's best performance) grope their way past dead bodies to see what secrets the cockpit holds, you'll be gripping the arm of the chair like a white-knuckle flier on takeoff.

Maggie Grace and Ian Somerhalder strike a few false notes as bickering siblings Shannon and Boone, and Shannon's selfish sunbathing looks like an excuse for the camera to give her body a going-over. Abrams and co-creator Damon Lindelof appear to be reaching for relevance when a stubbly stud (Josh Holloway) tars an Arab survivor (Naveen Andrews) with the brush of terrorism. Nevertheless, the writers deserve credit for doling out information in a way that keeps us wondering about the characters' backgrounds and motives. What I really don't like is the howling in the distance that tells us there's something monstrously nonhuman on the island. It seems like a cheap horror trick—but okay, I am kind of curious.

COMEDY

CBS (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

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Jason Alexander's second post-Seinfeld series is based on the writings of Washington Post columnist and ESPN commentator Tony Kornheiser. But it could easily have been inspired by such sitcoms as Everybody Loves Raymond and 8 Simple Rules (when it had John Ritter). You know, the ones with journalists who spend an awful lot of time at home.

Tony Kleinman (Alexander) recently shifted from sportswriting to a humor column that draws on his life with wife Dana (Wendy Makkena from Oliver Beene) and teen kids Megan (Daniella Monet) and Mickey (Will Rothhaar). He also cohosts a raucous sports talk show with ex-jock Bernie (Malcolm-Jamal Warner). There's some comic potential in Tony's TV work, but the Sept. 20 opener and the second episode feature strident conflict between Tony, bellowing like Ralph Kramden, and a snotty Megan. Dad should quit writing his column at the kitchen table and get out of the house whenever possible.

DRAMA

UPN (Wed., Sept. 22, 9 p.m. ET)

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I don't think Nancy Drew started like this. Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), teenage detective, heads straight for the seamy side in this series premiere, staking out a strip joint and a hot-sheets motel. She also has a lurid recollection of the night she lost her virginity.

Through numerous flashbacks and a voice-over narration that makes Veronica sound like a hurt child one minute and Philip Marlowe the next, the opener explains that she used to be the girlfriend of golden boy Duncan Kane (Teddy Dunn) and best pal of his sister Lilly. Then Lilly turned up dead and Veronica's dad, town sheriff Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni from Just Shoot Me), tried to pin the girl's murder on her billionaire father. Result: Keith lost his public-servant job and Veronica lost her high school popularity. Now she nurses her alienation while helping out in his private-eye business.

Bell is an attractive lead, but the show (which moves to Tuesday at 9 beginning Sept. 28) starts out by taking itself too seriously and working too hard to establish an atmosphere of teen angst mixed with noir mystery. It wouldn't hurt if the student-sleuth lightened up.

DRAMA

ESPN (Sat., Sept. 25, 9 p.m. ET)

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Say this for Tom Sizemore: He doesn't let vanity hinder his portrayal of tarnished baseball great Pete Rose in this largely superficial TV movie from director Peter Bogdanovich. Affecting a hunched gait—as if he's always on the verge of a headfirst slide—and wearing a hideous wig that approximates Rose's mop top of the '80s, Sizemore plays the ex-Cincinnati Reds star and manager as an out-of-control gambler and deceiver whose banishment from the game seems well-deserved.

While never uninteresting, Sizemore's performance seldom gets beyond caricature. Rose's errand boy Paul Janszen (Dash Mihok) comes across as such a sap that when a bookie says he's too dumb to live, you'll be apt to agree. Hustle doesn't strike out, but it's hardly Hall of Fame material.

Emmy Awards (ABC, Sept. 19, 8 p.m. ET) Garry Shandling, who emceed the Emmys in 2000, returns as host of the 56th annual event. For serious stargazers, there's a red-carpet special at 7.

North Shore (FOX, Sept. 20, 8 p.m. ET) The temperature rises at the Hawaiian resort when Shannen Doherty joins the castas a hotel baron's illegitimate daughter.

Amish in the City (UPN, Sept. 21, 9 p.m. ET) The season finale includes a sailing adventure, a fire-works display and some big decisions: Will the Amish roomies elect to remain in the outside world?

The Bachelor (ABC, Sept. 22, 9 p.m. ET) Here's a twist to start the new season: The 25 women in the field choose which of two bachelors will have his pick of them.

Welcome to The O.C. (FOX, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET)

Calm down—the season premiere isn't till Nov. 4. This is a special with cast interviews and bloopers.

There's a slew of reality TV headed your way this fall, and the shows range from the ridiculous (a group of strangers are forced to quit smoking together) to the, well, even more ridiculous (a bunch of macho men are trained to be beauty queens). Here are some of the unscripted shows you'll be seeing:

LAGUNA BEACH (MTV, Sept 28) It's like The O.C. but for real. Cameras follow eight wealthy Orange County teens through their spats and hookups as they roam around the Southern California coast.

COLD TURKEY (PAX, Oct. 3) Ten chainsmokers are recruited to appear on a reality show under false pretenses. Trouble ensues when they're suddenly faced with a daunting challenge: kicking their habit. Will they last 24 days?

HE'S A LADY (TBS, Oct. l2) Eleven guys leave their wives and girl-friends for what they think is a run-of-the-mill reality show competition. Instead, they're made over as women and trained as beauty queens. The winner of a Swan-like beauty pageant banks a quarter of a million dollars.

I HATE MY JOB (SPIKE TV, Oct. 12) Eight men who recently quit their miserable jobs are given three months to pursue their true calling with career counseling from ex-presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton.

MANHUNT (BRAVO, Oct, 13) Modeling scouts handpick runway-caliber men off the streets to see if they have what it takes to be the next fashion sensation—but only one hottie will receive a one-year contract with the IMG modeling agency. Hosted by Carmen Electra.

THE PARTNER (FOX, Nov. 7) In Apprentice fashion, recent law school graduates from both the Ivy League and less prestigious schools duke it out in weekly mock trials for a job at a major law firm.

THE CONTENDER (NBC, November) FOX beat NBC to the boxing-show punch earlier this month with The Next Great Champ, but that hasn't stopped hosts Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard from going forward with another pugilistic endeavor. Created by Survivor's Mark Burnett, this series follows 16 boxers as they battle to be the last man standing for a $1 million purse.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Amy Bonawitz.