Our look ahead to the new and returning shows debuting in early 2012 begins, on this page, with descriptions of January and February premieres. On the following page, you can find a full calendar of premiere dates for the next two months. Finally, our preview concludes with a look at a few additional shows expected to debut in the spring.
The most promising new shows
Alcatraz Watch trailer
(Fox, Mondays at 9p starting January 23; special 2-hour premiere Jan. 16 at 8p)
J.J. Abrams takes another stab at island-based mystery with this serialized tale of a group of Alcatraz prisoners and guards who have resurfaced in present day San Francisco after vanishing 30 years ago. Lost's Jorge Garcia stars alongside Sam Neill, Robert Forster, Jonny Coyne, and Sarah Jones. Critics who viewed the original pilot were less than enthused, but the series has since been tweaked, with new producers coming on board and portions of seven episodes re-shot in the fall.
The Firm Watch trailer
(NBC, Thursdays at 10p starting January 12; special 2-hr premiere Sunday, Jan. 8 at 9p)
Kicking off with a special two-hour premiere this Sunday (before shifting to the Thursday night spot vacated by Prime Suspect next week) is NBC's continuation of the legal drama that began with the 1993 film adaptation of John Grisham's novel. Picking up a decade after events in the movie, The Firm finds attorney Mitchell McDeere (Josh Lucas, taking on the role established by Tom Cruise) and his family attempting to re-establish their lives upon emerging from the Federal Witness Protection program after bringing down a mob-affiliated law firm. Juliette Lewis, Molly Parker (Deadwood), and a pair of former Cylons (Callum Keith Rennie, Tricia Helfer) round out the cast. Despite its late start, the series received a 22-episode order.
House of Lies Watch entire first episode
(Showtime, Sundays at 10p starting January 8)
Though billed as comedies, Showtime's half-hour series frequently emphasize drama over laughs. That isn't necessarily the case for the buzzy new House of Lies, though the subject matter—management consulting—may seem dry on paper. Allaying those fears is the show's strong cast led by Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Richard Schiff, and Ben Schwartz (best known as Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation), while creator Matthew Carnahan (Dirt) mines viciously dark comedy out of Martin Kihn's tell-all book that gives the series its name.
Luck Watch trailer
(HBO, Sundays at 9p starting January 29)
HBO's new horse-racing drama has one of the best pedigrees of any midseason show. Luck is created by David Milch (Deadwood) and directed by Michael Mann (Heat), and stars Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina, Nick Nolte, and Richard Kind. The pilot already had a sneak preview in December to mostly positive reviews (that same episode will be re-shown on January 29, kicking off the nine-episode season), with critics encouraged about the show's future prospects. In other words, it's no John from Cincinnati.
The River Watch trailer
(ABC, Tuesdays at 9p starting February 7)
Michael Green (a writer for Heroes, Kings, and the Green Lantern movie) and Paranormal Activity writer-director Oren Peli are among the producers for this eight-episode supernatural thriller set in the Amazonian jungle. Combining an ongoing mystery with stand-alone storylines, the series centers on the host of a nature show (Bruce Greenwood) who vanishes in a magic-filled uncharted region in South America, and his loyal family and crew who begin searching for him—while filming a documentary series about their adventures. (It wouldn't be an Oren Peli production without fake found footage, after all.)
Smash Watch trailer
(NBC, Mondays at 10p starting February 6)
NBC has high hopes for its new musical drama, which could indeed be a smash when it launches in early February. Produced by Steven Spielberg (who came up with the idea), Smash follows the cast and crew of a Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe in the months leading up to opening night. Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston, and former American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee star, Uma Thurman will guest in five episodes, and the show within the show will feature original songs by Tony-winning composers Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (Hairspray).
Angry Boys (HBO, Sundays at 10p and 10:30p, started Jan.1) Watch trailer
The latest Australian mockumentary from Chris Lilley (Summer Heights High) once again finds the creator/writer/star taking on multiple roles, including 17-year-old twins, a corrections officer, and young black rapper S.mouse. For some reason, HBO will be burning these off at a rate of two episodes per week.
Are You There Chelsea? (NBC, Wednesdays at 8:30p starting Jan. 11) Watch trailer
Loosely based on Chelsea Handler's memoir, this comedy about the adventures of a group of quirky twentysomethings who live and work together stars Laura Prepon (That '70s Show) as hard-partying Chelsea, and -- confusingly -- Handler herself as Sloane, a character based on her own older sister.
Betty White's Off Their Rockers (NBC, Mondays at 9:30p starting Jan. 16)
Sort of a nonagenarian take on Punk'd, Rockers finds White enlisting a group of senior citizens to pull a series of hidden-camera pranks on younger folks. It's based on a hit Belgian series (presumably featuring Tintin and waffles, though we can't be certain).
Comic Men (AMC, Sundays at 10p starting Feb. 12)
Formerly known as Secret Stash, Comic Men (also possibly called Comic Book Men) finds AMC moving into the reality television genre with a Kevin Smith-produced hourlong series revolving around the comic book fans who frequent Smith's store.
The Fades (BBC America, Saturdays at 9p starting Jan. 14) Watch trailer
This well-received British supernatural drama centers on a geeky teenage boy—who is able to see spirits known as Fades—caught in a war between the living and the dead.
The Finder (Fox, Thursdays at 9p starting Jan. 12) Watch trailer
A spinoff from Bones set in the Florida Keys, quirky procedural The Finder revolves around the character of Walter Sherman (Geoff Stults)—a former Iraq War soldier with a brain-damage-induced gift for locating people and things—introduced on a Bones episode last spring and based on The Locator books written by Richard Greener. The 13 episodes will temporarily displace its parent show from Fox's schedule, though Bones will resume in the spring, and at least one Bones star (John Francis Daley) will show up on the spinoff.
GCB (ABC, Sundays at 10p starting Mar. 4)
A drama based on the book Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin, GCB centers on a single mother who returns to her hometown Dallas community -- where, as a "mean girl" in high school, she would terrorize her lesser classmates -- to re-start her life after the death of her husband following his highly publicized arrest for running a Ponzi scheme. Off the Map's Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts will serve as showrunners; the adaptation comes from Steel Magnolias playwright Robert Harling and producer Darren Star (Sex and the City). Leslie Bibb, Kristin Chenoweth, and Annie Potts star.
Inside Comedy (Showtime, Thursdays at 11p, starting Jan. 26)
Steve Carell produces and David Steinberg hosts this new weekly talk show which will find some of comedy's greats (including Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Mel Brooks, Garry Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Robin Williams, Steven Wright, and Don Rickles) discussing their craft.
Life's Too Short (HBO, Sundays at 10:30p starting Feb. 19) Watch trailer
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant return with yet another mockumentary-style dark comedy, this time centering on 3'6" actor Warwick Davis, who plays a fictionalized version of himself. Other real-life actors will also pop up throughout the season (as in Extras), including Johnny Depp, Liam Neeson, and Gervais himself. Reviews out of the U.K. (where the show already aired on BBC2) were middling, with critics finding Davis' character far too reminiscent of Gervais' David Brent in The Office, though critics seemed to enjoy the series more as it progressed. It has already been renewed for a second season.
Lilyhammer (Netflix, starting February 6) Watch trailer
The first and probably least essential of several upcoming Netflix Original Series follows a gangster (played by The Sopranos' Steven Van Zandt) who rats out his boss and is sent by the federal witness relocation program to live in Norway, where he has trouble fitting in. All eight episodes of the dramedy will be available immediately for streaming on February 6th.
Lost Girl (Syfy, Mondays at 10p starting Jan. 16) Watch trailer
When Bo accidentally kills her first boyfriend during a moment of intimacy, she realizes that she is actually a succubus who feeds off sexual energy, and she must navigate a path in between humans and others like her known as the Fae. Anna Silk (The Ghost Whisperer) stars in this Canadian supernatural drama that will air at least two seasons on Syfy.
Napoleon Dynamite (Fox, Sundays at 8:30p starting Jan. 15) Watch trailer
A brief (six-episode) addition to Fox's Animation Domination lineup, Napoleon Dynamite is based on the cult hit movie of the same name and is voiced by the film's cast, including Jon Heder, Tina Majorino, and Efren Ramirez.
On Freddie Roach (HBO, Fridays at 9:30p starting Jan. 20)
Famed Hollywood boxing trainer Freddie Roach is the subject of a documentary series produced by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights).
Remodeled (The CW, Tuesdays at 9p starting Jan. 17) Watch trailer
This reality show follows a group of hundreds of small-town modeling agencies who unite under the guidance of a fashion industry veteran to see if they can compete against the industry's major players.
Rob (CBS, Thursdays at 8:30p starting Jan. 12) Watch trailer
For some reason, CBS really wants to be in the Rob Schneider business, sticking with the comedian's new sitcom even after its first pilot impressed no one. The slightly retooled series (also known, hilariously, as ¡Rob!) finds Schneider marrying into a tight-knit Mexican-American family that includes Cheech Marin.
Unsupervised (FX, Thursdays at 10:30p starting Jan. 19) Watch trailer
Following FX's other primetime animated series (Archer) will be this new cartoon from the producers of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Unsupervised follows two teenagers with minimal parental guidance, and features the voices of Justin Long, Kristen Bell, Romany Malco, Fred Armisen, and Kaitlin Olson.
Work It (ABC, Tuesdays at 8:30p, started Jan. 3)
The race for 2012's (the decade's?) worst new show got off to an early start this week with this detestable new sitcom about a pair of unemployed guys who dress in drag to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps. (Because, you know, it's much easier for women to find jobs these days.) Bosom Buddies, it's not.
The best returning shows
30 Rock Watch trailer
(NBC, Thursdays at 8p starting January 12)
If there's any consolation for fans mourning the (temporary?) loss of Community from NBC's schedule, it's the belated return of 30 Rock, which takes over the former's 8pm Thursday timeslot beginning next week. The sixth season of the Tina Fey/Alec Baldwin comedy—the show's first since co-star Tracy Morgan's off-screen troubles—will find the folks at TGS visited by guests such as James Marsden (who will recur as Liz Lemon's new love interest), Kristen Schaal, Kelsey Grammer, Denise Richards, and Will Arnett. The writers will also have to come up with a way to deal with the real-life death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (played on the show by Margaret Cho), since, as fans of 30 Rock know, he played a part in a still-ongoing storyline involving a recurring character played by Elizabeth Banks. A full 22-episode season will air, which means virtually no repeats between now and May.
Downton Abbey Watch trailer
(PBS, Sundays at 9p starting January 8)
Originally intended as a miniseries, last year's Emmy-winning British period drama Downton Abbey 92 proved so popular with viewers and critics (even securing the Guinness World Record for "highest critical review ratings for a TV show," which we don't understand, either, even though it's based on our Metascore) that it has been turned into a recurring series, with an expanded seven-week, 10-hour second season launching on PBS this weekend and a third season confirmed for next year (or this fall, if you live in the U.K.). Season 2, which takes place from 1916 to 1919, shows the effects of World War I on England and the residents of Downton Abbey in particular. It might be soapy, but the cast is terrific and the writing strong, though, as always, the best lines are saved for Maggie Smith.
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret Watch trailer
(IFC, Fridays at 10:30p starting January 6)
David Cross returns as hapless corporate nobody-turned-foreign business executive-turned-accidental criminal Todd Margaret in season 2 of IFC's dark comedy, which also airs in Britain, where it takes place. Will Arnett returns as Margaret's arrogant but clueless boss, while Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners) is back as his sole subordinate, who delights in escalating Margaret's problems. Joining them this season is Jon Hamm, who will appear in five of the six episodes. If you missed the first season, you can catch up with this awesome animated recap.
Justified Watch trailer
(FX, Tuesdays at 10p starting January 17)
What can Justified do to top a brilliant season 2? That might be an impossible task—especially without the Emmy-winning Margo Martindale—but season 3 will introduce a pair of new bad guys: a Detroit mobster (Neal McDonough) seeking to become a major player in Harlan County, and a local troublemaker played by Mykelti Williamson. Meanwhile, the town will get a new marshal on loan from Washington D.C. (Carla Gugino) who shares a past with Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). Walton Goggins and Jeremy Davies also return.
Portlandia Watch an entire new episode
(IFC, Fridays at 10p starting January 6)
Probably TV's best sketch comedy series at the moment, the Oregon-set Portlandia is created by and stars SNL vet Fred Armisen and musician Carrie Brownstein (Wild Flag). The extended second season will include the Battlestar Galactica-themed "One Moore Episode" (streamable now at the link above), the return of Kyle MacLachlan as Portland's reggae-playing mayor, and visits from guests such as Jeff Goldblum, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Eddie Vedder, Andy Samberg, Penny Marshall, Johnny Marr, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ed Begley Jr., Miranda July, and Mary Lynn Rajskub.
Spartacus: Vengeance Watch trailer
(Starz, Fridays at 10p starting January 27)
The second official season of the R-rated gladiator drama (last year's Gods of the Arena was a mere prequel) finds Australian actor Liam McIntyre replacing the late Andy Whitfield as the title character. Producers had a much larger budget to work with this time around, so expect a more epic season that deals with the growing slave rebellion led by the recently escaped Spartacus.
American Idol (Fox, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8p starting Jan. 18/19)
Stability is the theme here: Judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler all return for the 11th season of Idol.
Archer (FX, Thursdays at 10p starting Jan. 19) Watch trailer
After a brief three-episode teaser last fall, season 3 of FX's animated spy comedy kicks off in earnest with a 13-episode run beginning January 19. Burt Reynolds will guest as himself in the opener.
Breaking In (Fox, Tuesdays at 8:30p starting Mar. 6)
Returning for a second season despite actually being canceled last spring (it's the second time it has come back from the dead), the Christian Slater workplace comedy has 13 new episodes on the schedule and a new full-time cast member in Megan Mullally. Odette Annable is also expected to return despite having joined the House cast in the interim.
Californication (Showtime, Sundays at 10:30p starting Jan. 8) Watch trailer
The fifth season of the Showtime comedy finds bad boy writer Hank Moody (David Duchovny) hired by a rap mogul (RZA) to pen a screenplay, with events taking place two years after those of season 4. Drea de Matteo, Eric Stoltz, and Peter Berg are among the guests lined up for the 12 episodes, while Rob Lowe and Stephen Tobolowsky will also return.
The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC, Sundays at 9p starting Feb. 12)
Remember, Donald Trump opted out of becoming our next President so that we wouldn't be deprived of another Apprentice season. Thanks to his selfless decision, we'll be able to watch the likes of Arsenio Hall, Dee Snider, Tia Carrere, Debbie Gibson, Adam Carolla, George Takei, and Lou Ferrigno attempt to overcome the handicap of being a C-list celebrity and succeed in the business world (or a facsimile thereof).
Eastbound & Down (HBO, Sundays at 10p starting Feb. 19) Watch trailer
The third and final season of the Will Ferrell-produced comedy finds Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) joining the Myrtle Beach Mermen, a South Carolina minor league team. Ferrell and Matthew McConaughey will guest, while Jason Sudeikis will appear as a regular in the eight-episode season.
One Tree Hill (The CW, Wednesdays at 8p starting Jan. 11) Watch trailer
The CW's long-running drama (a holdover from the WB) returns for a ninth and final season of 13 episodes. Expect one final appearance by the departed Chad Michael Murray.
Project Runway: All Stars (Lifetime, Thursdays at 9p starting Jan. 5) Watch trailer
Project Runway's first-ever All Stars edition brings back your favorite non-champion contestants from seasons past, including Mondo Guerra, Austin Scarlett, and Rami Kashou. Unfortunately, Tim Gunn, Michael Kors, and Heidi Klum were not invited to participate in this edition; they'll be replaced by Joanna Coles, Isaac Mizrahi, and Angela Lindvall, respectively.
Shameless (Showtime, Sundays at 9p starting Jan. 8) Watch trailer
Showtime's Chicago-set dramedy—which ranges from raunchy to tragic—returns for a second season with the struggling Gallagher clan led by William H. Macy's alcoholic single father Frank.
Southland (TNT, Tuesdays at 10p starting Jan. 17) Watch trailer
Lucy Liu will appear throughout the fourth season of the Los Angeles-set cop drama.
Survivor (CBS, Wednesdays at 8p starting Feb. 15)
Shot in Samoa, the 24th edition of the reality competition has a "One World" theme that will find the two tribes living together in a single camp from the very start.
The Voice (NBC, Mondays at 8p starting Feb. 6; special premiere on Sun. Feb. 5 at approx. 10p ET)
NBC's hit singing competition will kick off its second season with a special episode airing immediately following this year's Super Bowl.
The Walking Dead (AMC, Sundays at 9p starting Feb. 12) Watch trailer
Fans are hoping there is more walking and less talking in the second batch of season 2 Dead episodes that arrives on February 12. These will be the first episodes shot under the guidance of new showrunner Glen Mazzara.
On the next pages ...
Continue reading for our full calendar of winter premiere dates, and a look ahead to key shows (Mad Men! Game of Thrones!) debuting in the spring and beyond.