Cable cares more about fall than it used to. But going up against the broadcast networks' promotional onslaught means these channels prefer to focus on returning series that need no introduction (while new shows launch in winter and summer).
Sons of Anarchy (FX, returned Sept. 11 at 10 p.m.)
Jimmy Smits shows up in season 5 as a rival on the SAMCRO bikers' crime scene, as gang prince-in-waiting Jax replaces stepdad Clay at the head of the table. Expect even more fireworks from Golden Globe-winner Katey Sagal (shamefully overlooked in the Emmy nominations), plus a further gaggle of guest stars, including Harold Perrineau, Joel McHale and Ashley Tisdale (the "High School Musical" star plays an escort!).
Season 3 starts with 1923, as the Prohibition decade really begins to roar. Hooch money, politics and booming business get more deeply intertwined, as do Nucky Thompson's Atlantic City and the big boys of New York. Bobby Cannavale arrives as a loose-cannon rival to Steve Buscemi's Nucky.
Homeland (Showtime, Sept. 30 at 9 p.m.)
Cable's most-awaited return? Season 2 of this explosive portrait of terror's ticking time bombs again focuses on Claire Danes' bipolar federal agent and Damian Lewis' returned prisoner of war-turned-undercover enemy agent. After last season's crazed intersections, she's been fired from the CIA, and he's been elected to Congress. Joining the cast: Rupert Friend (2005 "Pride & Prejudice") as a CIA analyst.
If you're still catching up to last season, we'll just say that Michael C. Hall's serial killer Dexter was seen doing something shocking by Jennifer Carpenter as his (adoptive) cop sister, Debra. And just as she was going to confess her love for him. Gee, you think things might change in season 7? Some key players will, with the signings of Jason Gedrick, Yvonne Strahovski and Ray Stevenson.
Jersey Shore (MTV, Oct. 4 at 10 p.m.)
Will they go out with a bang or a bong or what? Season 6 is the final go-round for reality TV's favorite gym/tan/party crew.
See Dad Run (Nick at Nite, Oct. 6) Scott Baio's latest sitcom casts him as a TV dad who becomes a stay-at-home dad, with help from pal Mark Curry.
Underemployed (MTV, Oct. 16 at 10 p.m.) "Dirty Sexy Money" creator Craig Wright takes a dramedy look at the other end of the spectrum: 20-somethings hustling to keep their heads above water. Ensemble cast shot in Chicago.
American Horror Story: Asylum (FX, Oct. 17 at 10 p.m.) Some cast members return, but creator Ryan Murphy ("Nip/Tuck," "Glee") tells a fresh tale in his second round of scary stuff. On board: Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, James Cromwell and Joseph Fiennes.
Hunted (Cinemax, Oct. 19 at 10 p.m.) Frank Spotnitz ("The X Files," "Strike Back") created this U.S.-U.K. co-production about a private intelligence firm involved in international espionage. Melissa George stars with Adam Raymer and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States (Showtime, November) The director reassesses what really happened in the 20th century, in his long-in-the-making 10-part series. (Preview episodes screening at the New York Film Festival.)
MORE RETURNING SERIES
Treme (HBO, Sept. 23 at 10 p.m.)
South Park (Comedy Central, Sept. 26 at 10 p.m.)
30 for 30 (ESPN documentaries, Oct. 2 at 8 p.m.)
The Walking Dead (AMC, Oct. 14 at 9 p.m.)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, Oct. 11 at 10 p.m.)
Hot in Cleveland (TV Land, Nov. 28 at 10 p.m.)
The Hour (BBC America, November)
BACK IN JANUARY/EARLY 2013:
Cougar Town (TBS)
Spartacus: War of the Damned (Starz)
The Haney Project: Michael Phelps (Golf)
Steel Magnolias (Lifetime, Oct. 7)
Remake of the movie with Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad and Jill Scott.
Titanic: Blood and Steel (Encore miniseries, Oct. 8)
Chris Noth and Neve Campbell in a 12-parter promising the "untold story" of the doomed liner.
World Without End (Reelz miniseries, Oct. 17) -- Cynthia Nixon stars in this eight-parter based on Ken Follett's saga.
The Girl (HBO, Oct. 20) -- Movie probes the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and his star, Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller).
Liz & Dick (Lifetime, Nov. 3) -- Lindsay Lohan as Liz Taylor. 'Nuff said.