While cable doesn't necessarily follow the network calendar, channels are continuing to charge hard into their rivals' traditional fall territory.
Names like Claire Danes, Laura Dern and Kelsey Grammer are headlining the kinds of ambitious concepts increasingly hard to find in movies that now act more like theme-park attractions than a medium for adult ideas and attitudes.
In other words, there's no shortage of sharp choices on the tube -- even in the unscripted arena.
(There's more in early 2012: the return of AMC's "Mad Men," FX's "Justified," HBO's "Game of Thrones" and Starz's "Spartacus," plus the arrival of Showtime's Don Cheadle corporate comedy "House of Lies" and HBO's Dustin Hoffman horse-racing series "Luck.")
Among the best fall bets:
LONG ISLAND MEDIUM
Premiere Sept. 25 at 10 and 10:30 p.m., TLC
Theresa Caputo is a local mom and a local medium, juggling her Hicksville husband and two kids with her booming career taking clients on journeys into the afterlife. When the two roles come into conflict, TV cameras capture all.
Premiere Sept. 27 at 8 p.m., ESPN
The acclaimed sports/society docuseries "30 for 30" lives on in this weekly successor. Early offerings: "Catching Hell" (Sept. 27), about fan Steve Bartman's ill-fated Wrigley Field ball grab; "Renee" (Oct. 4), about transgendered tennis player Renee Richards; "The Dotted Line" (Oct. 11), about sports agents.
Premiere Oct. 2 at 10 p.m., Showtime
Driven CIA agent Danes suspects a newly rescued long-MIA-in-Iraq officer might actually have become an inside agent for his terrorist captors. So she goes rogue, further prodded by her own mental instability. Smartly executed suspenser holds plenty of promise.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY
Premiere Oct. 5 at 10 p.m., FX
Get creeped out by "Nip/Tuck"/"Glee" creator Ryan Murphy's latest -- a complex cornucopia of psychosexual distrust and murder-house hauntings among one of those (not so) perfect families. You know, like the ones in "Twin Peaks," whose wild imagery is echoed in this eerie new stew.
THE ROSIE SHOW
Premiere Oct. 10 at 7 p.m., OWN
Stars Rosie O'Donnell, host
Commack's favorite comic is back, welcoming celebs, authors and other newsmakers weeknights before live audiences at Oprah HQ in Chicago. She'll also share her own new life, separated and living in a new city.
Premiere Oct. 10 at 9:30 p.m., HBO
"Office Space" mastermind Mike White created this comedy about an executive whose public breakdown leads her to shed her obnoxious behavior and seek to lead a meaningful life. Good luck to that with her interfering mom and druggie ex-husband around.
Premiere Oct. 21 at 10 p.m., Starz
Stars Kelsey Grammer, Connie Nielsen, Kathleen Robertson
Formerly funny Grammer gets gritty as a scheming Chicago mayor trying to hold his sprawling city together, while also secretly battling a degenerative brain disorder. The personal and the political vie for his diminishing attention in a series gamble Grammer clearly hopes will put him on the dramatic map.
HELL ON WHEELS
Premiere Nov. 6 at 10 p.m., AMC
It's an "Eastern" Western, charting the post-Civil War building of the transcontinental railroad. Conflict percolates among a multicultural mix of workers and tycoons, settling old frontier scores as a new industrial nation takes shape.
Premiere Nov. 30 at 10:30 p.m., TV Land
NEW SHOW PREMIERES
MORE SCRIPTED DRAMA/COMEDY/ANIMATION
OCT. 1 BEDLAM (BBC America) -- Former insane asylum turned apartment house is haunted.
OCT. 5 PENN & TELLER TELL A LIE (Discovery) -- The comic-magician debunkers offer outrageous claims, with viewers asked to find the whopper.
OCT. 27 GOOD VIBES (MTV) -- Animated comedy of craziness among California surfers.
MORE UNSCRIPTED DEBUTS
"Hulk Hogan's MCW" (truTV, premiered Wednesday)
"Angels Among Us" (CMT, premiered Thursday)
"Killer Instinct" (Cloo, premiered Saturday)
"24 Hours in the ER" (BBC America, Saturday)
"Rocket City Rednecks" (NatGeo, Sept. 28)
"Mysteries at the Museum" (Travel, Oct. 4)
"Mad Scientists" (NatGeo, Oct. 5)
"The Adam Carolla Project" (DIY, Oct. 6)
"Oprah's LifeClass" (OWN, Oct. 10)
"Puppies vs. Babies" (Animal Planet, Oct. 15)
"Coast Guard Alaska" (Weather, Nov. 9)
"I Do Over" (WE, Nov. 20)
TUESDAY "Tosh.0" and "Workaholics" (both Comedy Central)
WEDNESDAY "Blue Mountain State" (Spike)
SEPT. 25 "Boardwalk Empire" (HBO)
SEPT. 28 -- "Luther" (BBC America)
OCT. 2 -- "How to Make It in America" and "Hung" (both HBO), and "Dexter" (Showtime)
OCT. 4 -- "Onion News Network" (IFC)
OCT. 6 -- "The League" (FX)
OCT. 7 -- "Sanctuary" (Syfy)
OCT. 10 -- "Bored to Death" (HBO)
OCT. 12 -- "Psych" (USA)
OCT. 27 -- "Beavis and Butt-head" (MTV)
NOV. 1 -- "Covert Affairs" (USA)
NOV. 3 -- "Burn Notice" (USA)
NOV. 30 -- "Hot in Cleveland" (TV Land)
ALREADY BACK -- "Storage Wars: Dallas" (A&E)
SEPT. 23 -- "Ghost Adventures" (Travel)
SEPT. 25 -- "Storm Chasers" (Discovery), "Kendra" (E!), "IRT Deadliest Roads" (History), "Sister Wives" (TLC)
SEPT. 28 -- "Mythbusters" (Discovery)
OCT. 3 -- "The A-List: Dallas" (LOGO)
OCT. 12 -- "Work of Art" (Bravo)
NOV. 10 -- "Braxton Family Values" (WE)
TBA -- "America's Most Wanted" (Lifetime)