Network television has found great success in the past couple of years by trying new things — or, at least, updating things that haven't been tried in years. Things like game shows and reality series.
But this fall's network lineup isn't about innovation, it's about variations on themes. Themes like dramas, sitcoms and, yes, reality shows.
There are a couple of shows directly descended from "Survivor." There's a new "Star Trek" series (the prequel, "Enterprise") as well as a new "Law & Order" (this one titled "Criminal Intent"). Producer Steven Bochco has a new series, "Philly," that looks, feels and even sounds like several of his old series — primarily "NYPD Blue."
Richard Dreyfuss does his first TV series, but "The Education of Max Bickford" looks a lot like his movie "Mr. Holland's Opus." The comedy "Undeclared" is a lot like its predecessor, "Freaks and Geeks," only with college kids instead of high-school kids.
Ex-"Seinfeld" co-star Jason Alexander returns as "Bob Patterson," a character who is George Costanza in everything but name. Ellen DeGeneres is back with a new sitcom that looks quite a bit like her old one. Bob Saget ("Full House") returns once again as a widowed father in "Raising Dad." Emeril Lagasse, who has a successful cooking show on cable, now has a sitcom about having a successful cooking show on cable.
Not that imitation is always a bad thing. Two of the season's most promising new comedies — "Scrubs" and "Maybe It's Me" — owe a lot to "Malcolm in the Middle." And both the new Superman series ("Smallville") and the new prime-time soap ("Pasadena") show promise.
And, in one of those weird coincidences that seem to crop up every year, there are no fewer than five new shows about spies/undercover agents — three of those featuring CIA agents.
Again this year, dramas are better than comedies. There's not a single drama that's unwatchable; several sitcoms for fall are just that.
Overall, the nearly three-dozen new series on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, the WB and UPN aren't a bad lot. There are only a handful that are utterly dreadful — which, for network television, is pretty good.
But there are fewer yet that stand out — only a few that show potential beyond your run-of-the-mill network shows. Here's what to expect, with the new comedy, drama and reality offerings ranked from best to worst. (And, at press time, some debut dates may be changed)