Midseason TV Preview: Some shows are more promising than those they're replacing

Megan Hilty is Ivy Bell in Smash, about a Broadway production based on the life of Marilyn Monroe.
Megan Hilty is Ivy Bell in Smash, about a Broadway production based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Will Hart/NBC

Welcome to television's mid season, when network programmers hit the "restart" button and try to atone for the sins of the fall.

OK, so maybe The Playboy Club was a flop for beleaguered NBC. Smash (debuting Feb. 6) might be the hit it craves. And Pan Am didn't exactly take off for ABC, but perhaps The River (Feb. 7), the new Ashley Judd drama Missing (March 15) or G.C.B. (March 4) will.

Bring on the new shows, the fresh blood ... and the excitement?

Yes, the excitement. In years past, the midseason crop often had an afterthought quality to it, with replacement shows that were deemed not quite good enough to make the fall lineups. This year could be different. Many TV critics in September were saying that the midseason shows, in some cases, seemed to be more ambitious, provocative and promising than the fall fare.

On Fox, for example, Alcatraz (premiering Jan. 16) and Touch (previewing Jan. 25) have generated buzz. The former is another moody island mystery from J.J. Abrams (Lost), and the latter has Kiefer Sutherland returning in a role very different from 24's Jack Bauer.

Of course, Fox always has reason to be stoked at midseason because it means the return of American Idol (Jan. 18), the talent-show juggernaut that dominates the ratings and makes rival networks shudder in fear. But now NBC has its own musical sensation in The Voice, which will get a noisy Season 2 launch right after the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

Other returning broadcast favorites include 30 Rock (Thursday on NBC), Undercover Boss (Jan. 15 on CBS) and Dancing With the Stars (March 19 on ABC). On The CW, One Tree Hill is back for its final season on Wednesday.

But the networks don't have a monopoly on buzz. PBS, for example, can hardly wait to kick off Season 2 of Downton Abbey, the costume drama that earned critical raves, big ratings and shiny awards in 2011, on Sunday. And HBO is high on Luck (Jan. 29), a horse-racing drama set in California starring Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman in his first TV series role.

Elsewhere, the critically acclaimed, Kentucky-set Justified (Jan. 17) launches its third season on FX, The Game (Tuesday) is set to return to BET, and The Walking Dead (Feb. 12), created by Cynthiana native and former Lexingtonian Robert Kirkman, will resume its highly rated second season on AMC.

Let's take a look at some of the new offerings this midseason.



Jane by Design: A quirky teen (Erica Dasher) with an eclectic fashion sense lands a job at a hip fashion house. (Premiered Jan. 3, ABC Family).

The Firm: A legal thriller starring Josh Lucas follows up on the book by John Grisham. (9 p.m. Jan. 8, NBC.)

The Finder: A spinoff from Bones about a man (Geoff Stults) with a preternatural gift for locating people and things. (9 p.m. Jan. 12, Fox.)

Alcatraz: A suspense thriller about the shocking reappearance of the prison's most notorious inmates — 50 years after they vanished. Starring Jorge Garcia, Sam Neill and Parminder Nagra. (8 p.m. Jan. 16, Fox.)

Lost Girl: A supernatural seductress (Anna Silk) embarks on a mission to unlock the secrets of her origin. (10 p.m. Jan. 16, Syfy.)

Touch: A widower (Kiefer Sutherland) discovers that his mute son is a genius with the ability to see things no one else can. (Special preview at 9 p.m. Jan. 25; series debut March 19, Fox.)

Common Law: Two bickering cops (Michael Ealy and Warren Kole) enter couples therapy to save their partnership. (10 p.m. Jan. 26, USA.)

Spartacus: Vengeance: Australian actor Liam McIntyre assumes the title role in the next chapter of the gladiator series. (10 p.m. Jan. 27, Starz.)

Luck: Dustin Hoffman stars in a behind-the-track look at the world of horse racing. Filmed at Santa Anita racetrack in California and directed by Michael Mann, it also stars Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Jill Hennessy and real-life racing Hall of Famer Gary Stevens. (9 p.m. Jan. 29, HBO.)

Smash: A peek inside the inner workings of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, this drama, which NBC has been teasing much of the fall, stars Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee, Christian Borle (a Tony Award nominee for Legally Blonde: The Musical) and Broadway actress Megan Hilty. (10 p.m. Feb. 6, NBC).

The River: A mother and son go on a harrowing journey to find a wildlife expert who has vanished deep in the Amazon. Starring Bruce Greenwood. (9 p.m. Feb. 7, ABC.)

G.C.B.: The claws come out as a former high school mean girl (Leslie Bibb) returns to Dallas and reunites with old classmates. Also starring Franklin native Annie Potts and Kristen Chenoweth. (10 p.m. March 4, ABC).

Missing: The widow of a CIA agent (longtime Kentuckian and University of Kentucky grad Ashley Judd) learns that her son has disappeared while studying abroad. Also starring Sean Bean. (8 p.m. March 15, ABC.)


Work It: A pair of unemployed men dress up as women to get jobs. (Premiered Jan. 3, ABC.)

House of Lies: Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell lead a group of con artists who target corporate fat cats. (10 p.m. Jan. 8, Showtime.)

Are You There, Chelsea?: Laura Prepon (That '70s Show) stars in a show based on the best-seller by talk-show host Chelsea Handler. (8:30 p.m. Jan. 11, NBC.)

Rob: Rob Schneider is a newlywed dealing with his wife's tight-knit Mexican-American family. (8:30 p.m. Jan. 12, CBS.)

Napoleon Dynamite: An animated farce based on the cult big-screen hit. (8:30 p.m. Jan. 15, Fox.)

Unsupervised: The animated exploits of two best friends trying to navigate teen life. (10:30 p.m. Jan. 19, FX.)

Key and Peele: A sketch comedy series featuring Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. (10:30 p.m. Jan. 31, Comedy Central.)

I Want My Pants Back: Friends adjust to post-college life in Brooklyn, N.Y. (11 p.m. Feb. 2, MTV.)

Life's Too Short: A celebrity-studded faux reality series from Ricky Gervais. (10:30 p.m. Feb. 19, HBO.)


Celebrity Wife Swap: Somewhat-famous people exchange significant others and house rules. (Premiered Jan. 3, ABC.)

Gator Boys: Two brave guys capture and move alligators in Florida. (9 p.m. Jan. 8, Animal Planet.)

Caged: Aspiring MMA fighters duke it out in Louisiana. (10 p.m. Jan. 9, MTV.)

Shipping Wars: Heavy-duty movers battle for the chance to transport the "unshippable." (9 p.m. Jan. 10, A&E.)

24 Hour Catwalk: Alexa Chung hosts a fast-paced fashion design challenge. (10 p.m. Jan. 10, Lifetime.)

Remodeled: Industry veteran Paul Fisher sets out on a mission to create a major network of smaller modeling agencies. (9 p.m. Jan. 17, The CW.)

Fashion Star: Elle Macpherson hosts a competition featuring wannabe designers. (9 p.m. March 13, NBC.)