Returning shows: Broadcast networks
(NBC, Mondays 8p, returning Sunday Jan. 10)
TV critics have grown increasingly fond of this action-comedy about an accidental government agent, and so have its die-hard fans, who successfully lobbied NBC to bring the show back for a third season. There are even some encouraging signs: despite a decline in ratings for season two, the network increased its third-season order to 19 episodes, and "Chuck" will get a prominent two-hour Sunday night season premiere before settling into its normal Monday timeslot. Expect Chuck's antics this season to be less goofball and more heroic.
(Fox, Tuesdays 8p, returning Jan. 12)
The ninth season of this little-known singing competition (well, it did drop in the ratings last year) brings a few changes when it returns in mid-January. The number of semifinalists has been returned to its traditional 24 (12 men and 12 women, to be revealed on February 17th) after the show experimented with a higher number last season. And judge Paula Abdul is out, replaced -- beginning in February once auditions are complete -- by Ellen DeGeneres. Guests judges for the audition rounds include Neil Patrick Harris, Mary J. Blige, Shania Twain, and a Jonas brother.
(Fox, Mondays 9p, returning Sunday Jan. 17)
He keeps trying to get out, but they keep pulling him back in. For "24's" eighth (!) season, the action shifts to New York City, where an ostensibly retired Jack Bauer has yet another terrible day battling a never-ending stream of terrorists. (It's hard to explain in greater detail without sounding like we are describing Season 7. Or Season 6. Or Season 5. ...) One of the series' all-time great villains, President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin) returns to aid current President Taylor (Cherry Jones), and Katee Sackhoff, Mykelti Williamson, and Freddie Prinze Jr. are among the new cast members.
(ABC, Tuesdays 9p, returning Feb. 2)
Eighteen episodes are all that stand between now and a total understanding of everything that has come before. (Well, the "18" part is true.) Details are scant about this final season of ABC's groundbreaking drama, but producers have hinted that season six will be a departure in storytelling from previous years, with an end to the time travel, flash forwards, and (eventually) even the flashbacks. Many of the actors who play "dead" characters (we use that term loosely) are scheduled to appear in multiple episodes, but what that means is anyone's guess (and trust us, they're guessing). Although we'd appreciate answers to as many questions and mysteries as possible, we'd settle for just about any ending other than a black screen.
(CBS, Thursdays 8p, returning Feb. 11)
"Survivor" celebrates its 20th season with an all-star "Heroes vs. Villains" edition, bringing back some of the most memorable contestants from previous years (although not Season 1's Richard Hatch, who is under house arrest).
The Amazing Race
(CBS, Sundays 8p, returning Feb. 14)
It's hard to remember that there was a time when "The Amazing Race" was close to cancellation. Now entering it's 16th season, this seven-time Emmy-winning reality competition returns in February with a cast that is rumored to include two former "Big Brother" contestants.
(ABC, Thursdays 8p, returning
Mar. 4 Mar. 18)
The freshman series returns after a three-month break with its 14 remaining episodes, including one set for April 29, 2010 -- the date on which the events viewed in each person's "flash forward" take place. All but the first three of these episodes will feature a new showrunner -- "FlashForward" co-creator David Goyer, who takes over from the departed Marc Guggenheim. Whether that behind-the-scenes move -- and the promise of plenty of answers and revelations on screen -- is enough to shake off persistent criticism of the promising but flawed drama remains to be seen.
The Celebrity Apprentice
(NBC, Sundays 9p, returning March 14)
This trainwreck of a reality series returns for a third season with "celebrity" contestants including disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, former troubled baseball slugger Darryl Strawberry ("Dar-ryl! ... Dar-ryl!"), former chart-topper Cyndi Lauper, and former reality show star Sharon Osbourne. You could watch the full series, or do what we do and wait for the good bits to appear on "The Soup."
(ABC, Tuesdays 10p, returning Mar. 30)
It's not exactly the textbook way to win fans: hold back your new program until late in the fall season, show only four episodes, then yank it off the air for four months. But ABC's alien-invasion drama will finally return with eight new episodes at the end of March. Whether viewership -- which had been surprisingly high to start, although it tapered off after the first few weeks -- returns as well is as big a mystery as the aliens' plans for Earth. Like "FlashForward," "V" will feature a new showrunner (Scott Rosenbaum, from "Chuck") when it returns.
(Fox, Tuesdays 9p, returning Apr. 13)
Where the rollout of "V" seemed unusual, Fox's treatment of "Glee" has been a success. Debuting the pilot after the "American Idol" finale last spring ensured a fairly strong audience for its return in September, and music from the program -- including a soundtrack album -- has sold well. The concluding nine episodes of the musical-comedy's first season will air beginning in April, and the run will include an episode featuring all Madonna songs, and another with brand-new music written specifically for the show.