There are 24 new series gasping and grasping for attention over the next few weeks, but here's the shortest guide to the entire fall season you'll read anywhere: "Hawaii Five-0" and William Shatner.

They need no introduction (which is the entire point), but just in case: The former is a high-octane thriller that has crammed more special effects into a single frame than the original 1968-80 series probably deployed over its entire run. The latter is an iconic actor who has been a cherished presence on TV screens for much of the past 40 years, but in his new show, "$#*! My Dad Says," grumbles and shuffles his way through a sitcom based on a tweet.

Both shows could not be more different, and yet together share the core trait that sums up the entire 2010 fall season - a sweet smell of numbing familiarity.

The familiar . . . the recognizable . . . the deeply, insistently known. Network TV has a message for you: Experimentation is dead. Don't come to us - the networks seem to be saying - for anything wildly different or groundbreaking. Don't worry about complex narratives or never-ending arcs or postmodern comedies.

We have two basic items on our menu - meat and potatoes. Take your choice.

Nothing wrong with meat and potatoes, except that you may have a hard time the next morning recalling what cut of meat or type of potato you sampled the night before. Take some of the new series: "Detroit 1-8-7" seems a little like a Motown "NYPD Blue." "Lone Star" has a whiff of "Dallas." "Raising Hope" raises memories of "Malcolm in the Middle." "Undercovers" feels like "Moonlighting" meets "Alias." Dana Delany's "Body of Proof" feels like "CSI" meets "CSI."

These are, by the way, competent shows, and some of them the best of the fall crop. But exciting . . . groundbreaking . . . innovative . . . different?


(There is one truly exciting new series - "Boardwalk Empire," a limited-run drama about Prohibition-era Atlantic City starring Steve Buscemi. But it's on HBO.)

The major commercial networks are in a nesting mood, and there are reasons for that. NBC is still recovering from Le Debacle du Leno. CBS knows its older audiences like older franchises and stars, so why change that formula? ABC is allergic to anything that seems like "Lost" (which bled viewers through the years with its increasingly convoluted story lines) and gets an angina attack from anything remotely like "FlashForward." Fox, meanwhile, would probably be content just to have another "Family Guy" spinoff.

We've been through retrenching periods like this before, and as long as there are networks, we'll keep going through them. Like everyone else, networks need to catch a breath, take stock, consolidate gains or - in this case - stanch losses. Not like everyone else, they need to keep advertisers happy, and these are advertiser-friendly lineups, indeed.

As you look at this new crop - then perhaps yawn, and go back to sleep - remember: These shows are "pilots," and not the full creative efforts that may one day blossom into something really good. Yes, indeed, there could be some late bloomers in this crop. It's just, at this early stage, it's kind of hard to say which those are.

Five to watch
(click show title for video preview)

"Lone Star"(Fox)

"Hawaii Five-0" (CBS)

"Raising Hope" (Fox)

"Detroit 1-8-7" (ABC)

"The Event" (NBC)

Five to miss
(click show title for video preview)

"Outlaw" (NBC)

"Outsourced" (NBC)

"Running Wilde" (Fox)

"Chase" (NBC)

"Mike & Molly" (CBS)


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