American Idol

FOX, Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET/PT, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

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REALITY

After all the buildup, Ellen DeGeneres skipped making a grand entrance onto American Idol Feb. 9. Instead she slipped into place alongside Simon Cowell, smiled at him wryly and said, "So this is it, huh? I come on, you leave." The fact is the significance of DeGeneres taking over from the dippily mercurial Paula Abdul has been eclipsed by Cowell's decision to quit and start another talent show, the upcoming X Factor. An army of managers, press agents, entertainment lawyers and executive suits will be taking on the burden of replacing him. Good luck! In her Idol debut DeGeneres was in terrific form—observing the goings-on with a birdlike alertness, using jokes to break tension and infuse a little charm into the atmosphere. Post-Cowell, she could turn out to be the best judge.

Castle

ABC, Mondays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

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MYSTERY

When Castle premiered last March, I faulted it for being Bones with less edge. In its second season the show is more like a hipper Murder, She Wrote—which is an improvement. This is solid, comfortable entertainment. Nathan Fillion, as a crime novelist paired with a detective, is charmingly flippant. Stana Katic, as the partner, is his straight (wo)man, with occasional charges of personal anguish. The show is lightly constructed—a Castle of sand instead of stone—and the minutes tick by enjoyably.

Being Erica

SOAPnet, Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

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COMEDY

Now in its second season, this gentle Canadian import starts with a TV staple—single career girl—and weaves in self-help, time travel, alternate reality and both love and death as she confronts past regrets with the aid of a mysterious therapist. Any show that can make all that work—it's like Fringe meets Eat, Pray, Love—must have its own magic. And Erica does: Her name is Erin Karpluk. In the title role she has a frank, appealing openness, regardless of the era she lands in.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Starz, Fridays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

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DRAMA

Spartacus doesn't need your stinking respect—it's already been renewed for a second season. Shot in a style close to that of the box office smash 300, it serves up the adventures of the rebellious fighter slave (Andy Whitfield) as a cheesy, pulpy CGI showcase. The viscera goes splurting, like overripe eggplant dropped into a centrifuge. History probably shouldn't be so mindless. But gore? It's more fun this way. Nor is Spartacus stingy with the sex. The actors who play free citizens and overlords, at least, get to act with the sort of decadent archness typical of the genre. Meanwhile, the warriors apparently scarfed down every available ounce of protein in the Roman empire.

>1 DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES

SUN. 2/21, 9 P.M.

ABC

Julie Benz, so dead on Dexter, has come to Wisteria Lane as a former stripper.

2 LIFE UNEXPECTED

MON. 2/22, 9 P.M.

CW

Young Lux (Britt Robertson) tries to get a legal problem squared away.

3 MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE

MON. 2/22, 10 P.M.

TNT

Season wrap-up for Ray Romano's tough yet poignant show.

4 THE DEEP END

THURS. 2/25, 8 P.M.

ABC

The lawyers (including Tina Majorino) prepare for a gala in the season finale.

5 NAACP IMAGE AWARDS

FRI. 2/26, 8 P.M.

FOX

A special award goes to phenomenal actor-writer-director-producer Tyler Perry.

>TV'S NEW TEENAGE WITCH

• The Swiss-born actress, 20, works her magic as Bonnie on the hit CW drama about Mystic Falls' resident vampires.

THE SHOW IS FILLED WITH DRAMA, BUT WHAT'S THE CAST REALLY LIKE?

It's a fun set. Ian [Somerhalder] will pop out of a corner and scare me. I was just texting Nina [Dobrev], and we go to the movies or the Cheesecake Factory.

ANY CRAZY FAN ENCOUNTERS?

We did a Hot Topic signing in Atlanta, and there were over 2,500 screaming girls. I was like, "Are the Jonas Brothers here?" It was amazing.

BONNIE HAS MAGIC SKILLS. GOT ANY QUIRKS?

Collecting $2 bills. There's always one in my wallet, in my organizer.... They're stuffed everywhere!

>A DECADE OF GLOBETROTTING

• The bubbly Travel Channel host, 40, celebrates 10 years of exploring hot spots around the world and helping people plan their perfect getaways.

HAVE YOU ALWAYS LOVED TO TRAVEL?

As a kid, I loved road trips. I could eat fast food, and I thought motor lodges were awesome: the excitement of staying in a new place.

ANY AWKWARD ON-AIR MOMENTS?

People—especially men—don't know how to handle their alcohol when they see a camera. They get a little randy. A simple bar can be a heck of a lot more uncomfortable than walking down a back alley in Brazil.

BEST VACATION ADVICE?

Don't join a group. Just walk without an itinerary or map. I've become much more fascinated by seeing people's everyday lives. And the most important thing: Be nonjudgmental.

>BY THE NUMBERS

129 PASSPORT STAMPS

I'm on my second passport.

56 COUNTRIES VISITED

You think the world gets smaller ... and it just gets bigger.

2 PIECES OF LUGGAGE

Buy good luggage! The first one lasted eight years; I'm on my second one now.

3 PERSONAL VACATIONS

My honeymoon to Key West, a mother-daughter trip to Santa Fe with my mom, and my first anniversary with my husband to San Sebastián, Spain. That's it.

>Will The Office's Michael Scott Ever Get Fired?

Between his inappropriate remarks, refusal to do actual work and overall incompetence, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) should have gotten the boot six seasons ago. Yet the Dunder Mifflin boss remains fireproof, says co-executive producer Paul Lieberstein (who also plays Toby). "If Michael hasn't been fired yet, it's hard to imagine anything else he could do that would change that."

>1 DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES

SUN. 2/21, 9 P.M.

ABC

Julie Benz, so dead on Dexter, has come to Wisteria Lane as a former stripper.

2 LIFE UNEXPECTED

MON. 2/22, 9 P.M.

CW

Young Lux (Britt Robertson) tries to get a legal problem squared away.

3 MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE

MON. 2/22, 10 P.M.

TNT

Season wrap-up for Ray Romano's tough yet poignant show.

4 THE DEEP END

THURS. 2/25, 8 P.M.

ABC

The lawyers (including Tina Majorino) prepare for a gala in the season finale.

5 NAACP IMAGE AWARDS

FRI. 2/26, 8 P.M.

FOX

A special award goes to phenomenal actor-writer-director-producer Tyler Perry.

>TV'S NEW TEENAGE WITCH

• The Swiss-born actress, 20, works her magic as Bonnie on the hit CW drama about Mystic Falls' resident vampires.

THE SHOW IS FILLED WITH DRAMA, BUT WHAT'S THE CAST REALLY LIKE?

It's a fun set. Ian [Somerhalder] will pop out of a corner and scare me. I was just texting Nina [Dobrev], and we go to the movies or the Cheesecake Factory.

ANY CRAZY FAN ENCOUNTERS?

We did a Hot Topic signing in Atlanta, and there were over 2,500 screaming girls. I was like, "Are the Jonas Brothers here?" It was amazing.

BONNIE HAS MAGIC SKILLS. GOT ANY QUIRKS?

Collecting $2 bills. There's always one in my wallet, in my organizer.... They're stuffed everywhere!

>A DECADE OF GLOBETROTTING

• The bubbly Travel Channel host, 40, celebrates 10 years of exploring hot spots around the world and helping people plan their perfect getaways.

HAVE YOU ALWAYS LOVED TO TRAVEL?

As a kid, I loved road trips. I could eat fast food, and I thought motor lodges were awesome: the excitement of staying in a new place.

ANY AWKWARD ON-AIR MOMENTS?

People—especially men—don't know how to handle their alcohol when they see a camera. They get a little randy. A simple bar can be a heck of a lot more uncomfortable than walking down a back alley in Brazil.

BEST VACATION ADVICE?

Don't join a group. Just walk without an itinerary or map. I've become much more fascinated by seeing people's everyday lives. And the most important thing: Be nonjudgmental.

>BY THE NUMBERS

129 PASSPORT STAMPS

I'm on my second passport.

56 COUNTRIES VISITED

You think the world gets smaller ... and it just gets bigger.

2 PIECES OF LUGGAGE

Buy good luggage! The first one lasted eight years; I'm on my second one now.

3 PERSONAL VACATIONS

My honeymoon to Key West, a mother-daughter trip to Santa Fe with my mom, and my first anniversary with my husband to San Sebastián, Spain. That's it.

>Will The Office's Michael Scott Ever Get Fired?

Between his inappropriate remarks, refusal to do actual work and overall incompetence, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) should have gotten the boot six seasons ago. Yet the Dunder Mifflin boss remains fireproof, says co-executive producer Paul Lieberstein (who also plays Toby). "If Michael hasn't been fired yet, it's hard to imagine anything else he could do that would change that."