|The Middle||Better with You||Modern Family||Cougar Town||The Whole Truth|
|Survivor||Criminal Minds||The Defenders|
|America's Next Top Model||Hellcats||[Local programming]|
|Hell's Kitchen *||[Local programming]|
|Undercovers||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Law & Order: Los Angeles|
Key new show: Undercovers (NBC, 8p starting 9/22)
Otherwise known as "the new J.J. Abrams series," Undercovers plays like a frothier version of Abrams' earlier show Alias (or perhaps a modern-day Hart to Hart). Relative unknowns Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw star as married ex-spies-turned-caterers who are reinstated by the CIA when their friend and fellow spy goes missing during a crucial mission. The show blends action, comedy, and romance, and the first episode was written and directed by Abrams himself. But before you start thinking that NBC has a much-needed hit on its hands, keep in mind that the relatively bland pilot didn't blow anyone away.
May not last long: Better with You (ABC, 8:30p starting 9/22)
ABC's attempt to fill its one hole in its Wednesday night comedy lineup takes Modern Family's premise of three separate couples within a single family, but presents it in a traditional multi-camera sitcom setting, complete with laugh track. Couple that lack of originality with a lack of laughs (at least in the pilot), and audiences may quickly determine that they are better with Modern Family a half hour later.
Also: Law & Order may be off the air for the first time in two decades, but taking its place is the new spinoff Law & Order: Los Angeles (NBC, 10p starting 9/29), starring Skeet Ulrich, Terrence Howard, and Alfred Molina ... Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell are a pair of Las Vegas defense attorneys who like to party in The Defenders (CBS, 10p starting 9/22) ... ABC also has a new legal drama in The Whole Truth (10p starting 9/22), which stars Maura Tierney as a D.A. who faces off against defense attorney Rob Morrow ... Competitive cheerleading is the topic of the dance-filled drama Hellcats (CW, 9p starting 9/8), which is set at a Southern university and co-stars High School Musical's Ashley Tisdale.
Key returning show: Modern Family (ABC, 9p starting 9/22)
Last season's top new comedy could very well have several Emmy awards to its name by the time its season two premiere rolls around a month from now. One upcoming episode will feature Nathan Lane as a friend of Cam and Mitchell; another will find the family caught in an earthquake. Really, the only concern here is whether the breakup of the business partnership between creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd will affect the on-screen product; both men will continue to write for the show, however.
Also: Survivor (CBS, 8p starting 9/15) moves to Wednesday nights for its 21st season, which is set in Nicaragua and pits young against old; the over-40 group includes former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson ... Though there was a possibility of a name change for season two, Cougar Town (ABC, 9:30p starting 9/22) will come back as exactly that; a rumored Jennifer Aniston appearance is still being negotiated ... Criminal Minds (CBS, 9p starting 9/22) is losing series regular A.J. Cook, while Paget Brewster will have a lesser role this year ... Doris Roberts will guest on the season two premiere of The Middle (ABC, 8p starting 9/22) ... Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC, 9p starting 9/22) now holds the title of TV's current longest-running drama; the upcoming 12th season will feature guest stars Joan Cusack, Maria Bello, and Henry Ian Cusick, while Paula Patton (Precious) will join the full-time cast in October ... Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn will guest on the upcoming third season of Lie to Me (Fox, 8p starting 11/10), which will find the struggling series under the leadership of yet another group of showrunners after the departure of Shawn Ryan.
Key show: Terriers (FX, 10p starting 9/8)
And speaking of The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, he and Ocean's 11 writer Ted Griffin team up to produce the latest entry from what is quickly shaping up to be cable's most adventurous network. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James star as a pair of unlicensed, low-rent private detectives in this hourlong buddy comedy set in a beach town. An early look at the show points to a blend of light comedy, more serious character development, and darker crime stories; if it somehow succeeds at blending these competing tones, it could easily be the best show in its time period.
Also: Comedy Central's animation double-feature of South Park (10p) and Ugly Americans (10:30p) returns October 6th ... Technically, it's not cable, but Friday Night Lights (9pm) returns to DirecTV for its fifth and final season beginning October 27th; the 13 episodes will also air on NBC in the spring.