It’s never too early to start looking ahead on the 2011 TV schedule. Here’s a quick look at premiere dates for some of the more buzz-worthy shows. Keep in mind, network schedules are fluid things, and dates may change. But these are up to date as of mid-March.
UPDATE: “Terra Nova” has been pushed back and I added some TNT premieres along with a couple of random others.
“Deathwish Movers” (Travel). A reality show about a moving company. Seriously. We’re officially at the bottom of the reality-show idea barrel. Next up: A fascinating series about bridge toll-takers.
“Dancing With the Stars” (ABC). Contestants this season include such C-listers as Kirstie Alley, Ralph Macchio, Kendra Wilkinson and Sugar Ray Leonard. Ugh. Actually, Leonard could win this thing, he had great footwork as a boxer.
“Mildred Pierce” (HBO). An all-star cast appears in this miniseries adapted from the 1941 James M. Cain novel about a single mother’s struggles in Depression-era Los Angeles. Kate Winslet stars along with Guy Pearce, Melissa Leo, Hope Davis and Evan Rachel Wood. This is pretty much guaranteed to win a bucketful of Emmys come fall.
“Nurse Jackie” and “The United States of Tara” (Showtime). Edie Falco and Toni Colette are back, respectively, in these comedies that really aren’t comedies.
“Body of Proof” (ABC). Dana Delaney stars as a top-notch neurosurgeon who gets injured and has to become a medical examiner. And of course she decides to start solving mysteries. Delaney’s almost always worth watching, but this looks like nothing more than a modern version of “Quincy.”
March 31 or thereabouts
The as-yet-untitled behind-the-scenes docu-series following the world champion San Francisco Giants is set to debut sometime around the start of baseball season. There’ll be a premiere episode focusing on the team’s spring training, and the series will return with weekly episodes during the second half of the season (say July or so). If it’s anything like HBO’s “Hard Knocks” or “NHL 24/7 Winter Classic,” it’ll be awesome.
“Camelot” (Starz). Between this and HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” April is the month for swords and sorcery. This retelling of the legend of King Arthur will doubtlessly offer copious amounts of sex, swordplay and blood, though probably less than its Starz cousin, “Spartacus.” Joesph Fiennes (“Flash Forward”), pretty boy Jamie Campbell Bower and Eva Green (“Casino Royale”) star.
“Chaos” (CBS). KAOS were the bad guys on “Get Smart.” But now CHAOS are the marginally good guys in this action-comedy-drama about a team of rogue CIA agents who fight evildoers and red tape with the agency. The trailer doesn’t look entirely bad, but the fact that it’s premiering in April doesn’t bode well.
“The Killing” (AMC). This adaptation of a Danish miniseries could be AMC’s next big hit. It focuses on the investigation of a Seattle girl’s murder, following three storylines: the cops, the grieving family and the reactionary politicians. And it turns out everyone has a secret. This could be very good.
“The Borgias” (Showtime). “The Tudors” is done, so now it’s time to move over to Italy. This rich-looking historical drama comes from Oscar winner Neil Jordan and stars fellow Oscar winner Jeremy Irons as the patriarch of one of the Renaissance’s most notorious and influential families. Expect plenty of sex, swordplay and backstabbing power plays. Sounds like trashy fun.
“Top Chef Masters” (Bravo). The format gets tweaked for the third season, as the chefs will compete in a “Top Chef”-style weekly elimination format rather than the playoff format of seasons past. New faces include host Curtis Snow, judge Ruth Reichl, and, on the competitors’ side, Bay Area favorite Traci Des Jardins.
“Breaking In” (Fox). Christian Slater and Bret Harrison star in this office comedy set at a security company that tests clients’ security by breaking in. I like Harrison, but this looks stupid.
“Secret Diary of a Call Girl” (Showtime). Billie Piper returns for eight new episodes in the fourth season of the British-made sex comedy. Well, at least Showtime’s definition of “comedy.”
“Gigilos” (Showtime). A reality show following a group of high-end male escorts in Las Vegas. I sense a theme here . . .
“Human Planet” (Discovery). The six-episode series is a follow-up to “Planet Earth” and “Life,” and focuses on the story of us. Expect vivid, spectacular cinematography if nothing else.
“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (ABC). The Los Angeles Unified School District has banned filming on its campuses (they thought they’d come off looking bad), but that won’t stop the celebrity chef from trying to improve eating habits in L.A. Instead on tap this season: giving kitchen demonstrations and creating a healthy menu at a fast-food restaurant.
“Deadliest Catch.” After an emotionally wrenching sixth season, the Alaska crab fishermen are back for a seventh season, which has Josh and Jake Harris trying to prove they’re worthy of filling their father’s shoes on the Cornelia Marie.
“Happy Endings” (ABC). Oh god, another romantic comedy about a group of friends. Thais is what, like the sixth one this year? This one has Elisha Cuthbert (Kim from “24”) and Damon Wayans Jr. It doesn’t sound good.
“Sports Show” (Comedy Central). Norm MacDonald, who famously skewered O.J. Simpson (among others) at the ESPY Awards years ago and was never invited back, gets a chance to further mercilessly rip sports figures. Expect basically a “Daily Show” for sports, though Comedy Central won’t allow him to air it live. That’s probably wise.
“Friday Night Lights” (NBC). The final season already aired on DirecTV, but now everyone else can see it. Of course, the full season will be released on DVD on April 5, so I’m guessing most of the diehard fans will take that option instead. Either way, it’ll be a bittersweet goodbye to one of TV’s most underappreciated series, a football drama that’s not really about football, and one of the best portrayals of small-town life ever to hit your screen.
“Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe” (USA). A movie prequel that takes place five years before Season 1 of “Burn Notice,” with Sam battling terrorists and a jealous admiral in Colombia. Jeffrey Donovan directs. This should be very cool, and a nice appetizer to hold over fans until the new season starts in the summer.
“Game of Thrones” (HBO). My pick for the TV event of the year. The epic fantasy soap opera focuses on feuding families battling to rule their medieval nation, with plenty of sex, violence and swordfighting. I hadn’t read a fantasy novel since “Lord of the Rings” in high school, but I’ve read the first two installments in this series from George R.R. Martin, and they blew me away. The story is smart, dark and gripping, with none of the eye-rolling cheesiness typically associated with the fantasy genre. I have no idea how well a bunch of 700-page books packed with intrigue, backstory and complex relationships will translate to film, but I’m really looking forward to finding out. Sean Bean (“Lord of the Rings”) and Peter Dinklage (“The Station Agent”) are among the sprawling cast.
“Doctor Who” (BBC America). The cult British sci-fi series kicks off with the Doctor taking his exploits to the U.S. for the first time.
“Treme” (HBO). David Simon’s ode to post-Katrina New Orleans is back for a second season. Jon Seda (“The Pacific”) joins the cast as a real estate developer, and Anthony Bourdain joins the writing staff.
“The Voice” (NBC). A new reality show that NBC hopes will be the next “American Idol.” It won’t be, mainly because this is NBC and this will most likely come off as a cheap copy. The cast won’t be cheap though: Carson Daly will host, with judges Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine (Maroon 5) and country star Blake Shelton.
“In Plain Sight” (USA). Mary McCormack returns for a fourth season as a U.S. Marshal working with the witness relocation program.
“Louie” (FX). Louis C.K. returns for a second season of surreal, profane hilarity.
“Men of a Certain Age” (TNT). Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula are back for a third season of one of TV’s more underrated dramas.
“Franklin & Bash” (TNT). Mark-Paul Gosselar (“Saved By the Bell”) and Breckin Meyer (“Road Trip”) star as kooky lawyers. Looks stupid.
“The Real L Word.” Showtime’s awful reality series is back for a nine-episode second season.
“Memphis Beat” (TNT). Jason Lee returns for a second season as an offbeat cop. Meh, I lost interest midway through the first season.
“Hawthorne” (TNT). The medical drama is back for a third season.
“Falling Skies” (TNT). It’s “V” meets “Red Dawn,” as Noah Wylie (“E.R.”) and Moon Bloodgood (“Teminator: Salvation”) lead a group of resistance fighters against alien invaders in this series produced by Stephen Spielberg. Looks cheesy, but if done right, it could be really entertaining.
“Leverage” (TNT). Timothy Hutton and his gang of con men and women return for a fourth season.
“Weeds” (Showtime). Suburban pot dealer Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) returns for yet another season. It peaked about four seasons ago, and I checked out a while back.
“The Big C” (Showtime). Golden Globe winner Laura Linney is back for a second season in this cancer “comedy.”
“Damages” (DirecTV). FX canceled the legal thriller, but it’s found new life on satellite. Glenn Close and Rose Byrne return, and this season will revolve around a wrongful-death lawsuit against a military contractor in a war zone. Think of something along the lines of Blackwater’s antics in Iraq. Non-satellite fans will have to wait a few more months until Season 4 is released on DVD (it won’t be available online this summer).
“Torchwood: Miracle Day” (Starz). The sci-fi series’ fourth season will be much like its third: A 10-episode miniseries rather than episodic. When we last saw Captain Jack, he had left Earth after vanquishing the child-sucking aliens and losing the love of his life in the process. John Barrowman returns with Eve Myles (Gwen), and they find Torchwood has been taken over by the U.S. government, so accordingly there’ll be plenty of American newcomers: Bill Pullman (“Independence Day”), Mekhi Pfifer (“E.R.”) and Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”). The central plot involves a miraculous day after which no one on Earth dies, ever, and the problems — both moral and practical — that ensue.
“Breaking Bad” (AMC). Walter White officially broke bad at the end of Season 3, and the fourth season should find him even more at odds with cartel leader Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). Bryan Cranston has won three best-actor Emmys in a row, and Aaron Paul won for best supporting actor last year, but this will premiere too late for consideration for the 2011 Emmys. Too bad, because it’s the best acted — and possibly the best overall — series on TV.
“The Closer” (TNT). Kyra Sedgwick is back for the seventh and final season as the bestest interrogator ever.
“Rizzoli & Isles” (TNT). Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander return for a second season of crimefighting.
“Web Therapy” (Showtime). Lisa Kudrow’s webisodes get expanded to the full sitcom treatment. She plays a therapist who dispenses advice via short Internet sessions. The cast is huge, with Lily Tomlin and Victor Garber (“Alias”) as her parents, and Jane Lynch (“Glee”), Courtney Cox (“Cougar Town”) and Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”) among her patients.
“True Blood” (HBO). Vampires and werewolves and shapeshifters, oh my! Add to that list: Witches. Yep, there’ll be a Wiccan plot this season in addition to all the other ridiculous supernatural stuff. Most interesting, though, is news that dead vampire Godric will be back somehow. I’m sick of vampires, but it’s enough of a guilty pleasure to probably draw me in again.
“Wilfred” (FX). A demented dark comedy starring Elijah Wood (“Lord of the Rings”) as a suicidal guy who finds salvation in his neighbor’s dog, which talks and appears only to him in human-like form. Like “Fight Club” with a talking dog. Looks bizarre, but like AMC, FX doesn’t do bad shows. Sounds very twisted and very intriguing.
“White Collar” (USA). Season 2 just ended, but Season 3 is already in the works. Now that the Kate/music box storyline has been wrapped up, look for a new mythology based on the mysterious thief who just put a fortune at Neal’s feet. And of course that’ll test Neal and Peter’s relationship. Speaking of relationships, insurance investigator/Neal’s maybe-girlfriend Sara (Hilarie Burton) will become a regular character. And speaking of regular characters, also expect episodes focusing on the backstories of Mozzie, Elizabeth, Diana and Jones.
“Burn Notice” (USA). A sixth season is on tap with its usual summer run. Until then, whet your appetite with April’s prequel move about Sam’s backstory.
“Covert Affairs” (USA). Piper Perabo will be back as the girl-next-door CIA agent. It starts shooting around now, so look for it probably in July or August.
“Rescue Me” (FX). Finally, the final season. It’s been a depressing, torturous ride along with Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) as he’s self-destructed over six seasons. I had to give up last year. This nine-episode season was shot a year ago and is scheduled to end a few days before the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 (so that’d put its start date at what, July?). There’s probably no way the show can effectively end on a note that isn’t a total downer. On the bright side, Maura Tierney had recovered enough from her cancer treatment to reappear as Tommy’s romantic interest.
May 23 Fall
“Terra Nova” (Fox). This very expensive, highly hyped sci-fi series is getting the “Glee” treatment, with a two-night series premiere in May and the series actually starting in the fall. Kinda annoying, if you ask me. Never mind. On Friday, Fox yanked it from the May schedule and put it off until the fall. Apparently the special effects aren’t ready yet. Stephen Spielberg is the creative force behind this drama about a family sent back in time to the days of the dinosaurs in a bid to save humanity. Sounds very ambitious and could be very interesting. Stephen Lang (“Avatar”) stars.
“Luck” (HBO). Could this be HBO’s next great show? It’s one of the most highly anticipated series of the year, and for good reason. Writer David Milch (“Deadwood”) and director Michael Mann (“Miami Vice”) are behind this blockbuster drama about the seamy underbelly of horse racing. Dustin Hoffman stars along with Nick Nolte and Dennis Farina. Count me in.
“Luther” (BBC America). Shooting just wrapped up on Season 2 of this dark British detective tale, so look for Idris Elba to be back in the fall. After that cliffhanger ending, it can’t come too soon.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO). The start date is unknown, but “Curb” has traditionally aired in the fall, so that’s our best guess. Season 8 finds Larry David, everyone favorite misanthrope, back in New York. Ricky Gervais will guest-star and that’s about all that’s known so far.
“Boardwalk Empire” (HBO). Michael Zegan (“Rescue Me”) joins the cast as young gangster Bugsy Siegel when the Prohibition-era drama returns for a second season.
“The Walking Dead” (AMC). There were rumors of Season 2 coming out in July, but October looks more likely, probably around Halloween. Expect more zombie thrills, more gore, a look at Hershel’s farm (for those of you who’ve read the graphic novel) and yes, we will find out what the scientist whispered to Rick in the season finale.
“Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome” (Syfy). This movie prequel to the late, great sci-fi series follows young fighter pilot William Adama through the First Cylon War, several decades before the “BSG” action took place. It’s a backdoor pilot, meaning if it does well, it could become a series. The previous “BSG” prequel, “Caprica,” got canceled before its first season ended, but this one — billed as a gritty, intense war movie — looks like a more natural fit with the original (well, the Syfy original at least). I’ll definitely check it out, whenever it may air. I list this as “fall,” but that’s optimistic. It very well may be held back until early 2012.
“Dexter” (Showtime). Your friendly neighborhood serial killer will be back for a sixth season with a new showrunner, Scott Buck, taking over for Chip Johannessen. Will you even notice? Eh, probably not.
“Sons of Anarchy” (FX). Kurt Sutter is starting writing the fourth season, which will have the SAMCRO members coming out of a stint in prison. Look for the story to stay in Charming and focus more on the characters and their relationships. Jax will have a new baby, the town will have a new mayor and sheriff, and the club will find itself challenged like never before. This’ll be good.
“Mad Men” (AMC). As of this writing, creator Matthew Weiner and AMC still haven’t come to an agreement for Season 5. Though the chances of the Emmy-winning series not returning seem slim, it’s a possibility. But even if “Mad Men” does return (which don’t worry, it almost certainly will), it seems unlikely to happen this year. They’re just running out of time, and “The Walking Dead” will take AMC’s Sunday timeslot come October. More likely, it’ll be back at the beginning of 2012. Keep your fingers crossed.
“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” (Starz). The “Gods of the Arena” prequel has just ended, but it’s not too early to look ahead to Season 2 of the original. Star Andy Whitfield is off the show due to his ongoing cancer battle, and Aussie Liam McIntyre takes over the title role. After the season-ending bloodbaths of the first two series, the list of returning characters is rather short: Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), Gannicus (Dustin Clare), Crixus (Manu Bennett), Oenomaus (Peter Mensah) and Ashur (Nick E. Tarabay) are the most notable. The season will feature the escaped slaves on the run from authorities, no doubt facing danger from every side. And what will become of poor wounded Lucretia? Can’t wait to find out. Look for this early next year.
So what do you think looks good? Anything you’re marking on your calendar as a must-watch? On the flip side, what looks awful? Chime in in the comments.