Summer always means big stars, and this year is no different; think names like Kevin Costner, Nicole Kidman, Clive Owen, Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels, Russell Brand, Richard Dreyfuss, and Glenn Close. It's just that this year, those stars on on TV, not the big screen. Our Summer TV Preview takes a look at the best that the coming months have to offer, including series, miniseries, and TV movies featuring these and other top actors. On this page, we look at 20 of the top new shows as well as the most anticipated returning programs; on page 2, you'll find a full calendar of summer premiere dates, including information about additional new programs.
The 20 most noteworthy shows, specials, and miniseries
Anger Management Watch trailer
FX, Thursdays at 9p starting June 28
Charlie Sheen's much heralded return to series television (following his little-publicized departure from hit Two and a Half Men) finally launches in June with the premiere of Anger Management, a new sitcom based loosely on the 2003 movie starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. Sheen takes on the Nicholson role of a former athlete who has overcome his anger management issues and now works as a counselor for others. The cast also includes Brett Butler, Selma Blair, and Shawnee Smith, and you can expect Charlie's dad Martin Sheen to play his on-screen father in the season finale. If these first 10 episodes do well, FX has the option to renew the series ... for 90 additional episodes. (Now that would be winning.)
Awkward. Watch trailer
MTV, Thursdays at 10:30p starting June 28
Don't know Awkward? Critics certainly do; last year, the debut season of MTV's high school dramedy earned an impressive 74 and appeared on multiple critic top 10 lists at the end of 2011. The show centers on social outcast Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards, in a much-praised role), and it became a surprise hit for the network last summer even though it's not really like anything else on MTV. This second season will bring a dozen new episodes.
Breaking Bad Watch behind-the-scenes featurette
AMC, Sundays at 10p starting July 15
Co-star Aaron Paul reports that the upcoming season 5 of television's best drama is "hands down the craziest [season]" yet, which is saying something given all that's happened in recent years on Breaking Bad. Otherwise, little has been leaked about the coming season—the show's last—though we know the 16-episode season will be split into two halves, so you'll have more Breaking Bad to look forward to next summer.
Comedy Bang! Bang! Watch sneak preview Watch another clip
IFC, Fridays at 10p starting June 8
Scott Aukerman (Mr. Show, Between Two Ferns, Comedy Death-Ray) brings his popular Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast to television mostly intact. His new weekly IFC sketch/talk show of the same name blends interviews, comedy, and filmed segments featuring A-list guests like Zach Galifianakis, Jon Hamm, Amy Poehler, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Adam Scott, Ed Helms, and more. Aukerman will also be joined by recurring guest Paul F. Tompkins and music leader Reggie Watts.
BBC America, Sundays at 9p starting August 19
No longer content to merely rebroadcast British series for American audiences, BBC America has taken the plunge into original programming. And it isn't starting small; the network's debut series is the ambitious and gritty period drama Copper, which will find itself on TV's most crowded night of quality programming (Sundays) this August. Set in 1860s New York City, Copper comes from Homicide: Life on the Street producers Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson and Monster's Ball screenwriter Will Rokos, and centers on an Irish-American cop played by Tom Weston-Jones. The cast also includes Franka Potente (Run Lola Run), Kyle Schmid, and Anastasia Griffith.
Dallas Watch trailers
TNT, Wednesdays at 9p starting June 13
Yes, it's that Dallas, and it's not a remake. Picking up a generation after the events depicted in the classic primetime soap that aired on CBS from 1978–1991, TNT's Dallas—which has surprisingly good buzz—continues the story of the Ewing clan, centering on characters (John Ross Ewing III and Christopher Ewing, played by Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe, respectively) who were kids in the original, as well as some newcomers (including Jordana Brewster and Brenda Strong). But longtime fans will also be able to welcome back some of their favorites, including the famously shot J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby (Patrick Duffy), and Sue Ellen (Linda Gray). The June 13 premiere features two back-to-back episodes.
DirecTV, Wednesdays at 9p starting July 11
July brings your final chance to check out Glenn Close in one of her best roles; her legal drama's fifth season (and second on DirecTV after originating on FX) will be its last. Close returns as scheming attorney Patty Hewes, who will finally face off in court against her one-time protégé, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), in a case involving insider trading. And, as is typical for Damages, which has been able to draw big name stars willing to commit to just a single season of TV, the episodes ahead bring an enviable roster of new regulars, including Ryan Phillippe, Jenna Elfman, Janet McTeer, John Hannah, Chris Messina, Judd Hirsch, M. Emmett Walsh, and Victor Garber.
The Eric Andre Show Watch trailer
Adult Swim, Sundays at 12:30am starting May 20
These days, describing any of Adult Swim's live-action offerings as "surreal" seems redundant, but that is the word the network itself is using to describe its new talk show (or rather, deconstruction of a talk show). "Chaotic" is another word to describe The Eric Andre Show, which features "inept and bipolar" host Eric Andre and his "apathetic" sidekick Hannibal Buress (a stand-up comedian and writer for 30 Rock) on a set straight out of public access television as they interview both real and fake celebrities while the show falls apart around them. It sounds like it will fit right in on the network that gave us Loiter Squad and Awesome Show.
Falling Skies Watch the first three minutes of the premiere
TNT, Sundays at 9p starting June 17
In its fairly well received debut season last summer, Falling Skies proved to be a more enduring hit than that other, more expensive Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi series that also launched last season, ranking as basic cable's top-rated new series in 2011. The series stars Noah Wylie as the leader of a group of survivors after an alien invasion of Earth results in the elimination of much of the planet's human population. This season, which picks up immediately where last year's finale left off, will feature a new mechanic character played by Brandon Jay McLaren (The Killing), while Lost's Terry O'Quinn will have a key guest-starring role in the final few episodes.
Hatfields & McCoys Watch trailer
History, miniseries begins Monday, May 28 at 9p
America's most infamous (and possibly most bloody) family rivalry, the long-running feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys comes to the History channel in an original three-part miniseries that kicks off on Memorial Day. Kevin Costner, who also produces, stars as the head of West Virginia's Hatfield clan, while Bill Paxton plays his former Civil War buddy turned Kentucky rival Randall McCoy. Tom Berenger, Powers Boothe, and Mare Winningham also star, and the series is directed by frequent Costner collaborator Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld).
Hemingway & Gellhorn Watch trailer
HBO, airs Monday, May 28 at 9p
Consider it catnip for Emmy voters (well, if Emmy voters were cats). HBO's latest star-studded original film depicts the up-and-down romance between writer Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman) in the 1930s and '40s, including their time spent covering the Spanish Civil War together. Directed by Phillip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and co-written by Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight), Hemingway & Gellhorn also stars Parker Posey, David Strathairn, Molly Parker, Peter Coyote, and Tony Shalhoub. Oddly, despite taking place in Key West, Spain, Cuba, and China, it was filmed entirely in and around San Francisco.
Johnny Carson: King of Late Night Watch trailer
PBS, movie airs Monday, May 14 at 9p
Before we had Letterman and Leno, the late night talk show scene could be summarized by just one name: Johnny Carson, arguably the greatest host the medium has produced. (He was certainly the most popular, with double the number of viewers that Letterman and Leno have today, combined). To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Carson succeeding Jack Paar as host of The Tonight Show, PBS will air a two-hour documentary about his career as part of its ongoing American Masters series, narrated by Kevin Spacey. In addition to footage from The Tonight Show, you'll get plenty of interviews with those who knew him or were influenced by him, including Doc Severinsen, Dick Cavett, Conan O'Brien, and more.
Louie Watch trailer
FX, Thursdays at 10:30p starting June 28
What will Louis C.K.—who has spent his hiatus period being named to Time's list of the 100 Most Influential People for 2012, winning a Webby award, and making bank online selling his own stand-up specials—be up to during the third season of his critically acclaimed comedy series? Not even the folks at FX know; the network continues to give the talented comedian unprecedented creative control over his eponymous series (the benefits of having a miniscule budget), and he shows up with a finished product. In the past, C.K. has used that freedom to kill off guest characters, visit Afghanistan (in one of the show's most daring and memorable episodes), and experiment with the format and tone of his show from week to week, making for one of TV's most original shows. One thing he won't be doing anymore in season 3 is editing the episodes; he's hired a professional after filling those duties himself (in addition to directing, writing, and starring) over the previous two years.
TNT, Mondays at 9p starting August 13 at 10p
After seven seasons, TNT's high-rated cop drama The Closer is drawing to a close, but stepping up to take its place on the network's schedule is spin-off Major Crimes. The new show centers on the character of by-the-book LAPD Captain Sharon Raydor (played by Mary McDonnell), who was introduced on the The Closer during season 5. Many of the detectives from the latter show will also be making the jump to Major Crimes (which will focus on how a resource-limited justice system "approaches the art of the deal"), including characters played by Tony Denison, G. W. Bailey, Raymond Cruz, and Michael Paul Chan. The premiere episode follows The Closer's series finale at 10p on August 13th, with subsequent episodes shifting to 9p.
The Newsroom Watch trailer #1 Watch trailer #2
HBO, Sundays at 10p starting June 24
HBO's high-profile drama series (not to be confused with the great Canadian TV comedy of the same name) is the first cable endeavor for Emmy- and Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and the screenwriter of films such as The Social Network and A Few Good Men. Like two of Sorkin's previous series, The Newsroom is a television show about television—in this case, the behind-the-scenes workings of fictitious 24-hour news network ACN—but let's hope it's more Sports Night than Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It doesn't hurt that he's assembled a top-notch cast that includes Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston, Olivia Munn, and Jane Fonda (in a role based on her ex-husband, Ted Turner), or that EGOT winner Scott Rudin is a producer. You can also expect an appearance from Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg in an early episode.
Perception Watch trailer
TNT, Mondays at 10p starting July 9
Eric McCormack, the Emmy-winning star of Will & Grace, returns to series television (after his last outing, 2009's Trust Me, failed to catch on) in TNT's quirky new procedural Perception, in which he plays an eccentric neuroscientist who assists the FBI with their toughest cases. Rachael Leigh Cook co-stars as his FBI handler and former student, while LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) will have recurring roles. (The series was created by Star Trek vets Kenneth Biller and Mike Sussman, which explains all the sci-fi casting.)
USA, Sundays at 10p starting July 15
This six-hour "event" (i.e., miniseries) from Brothers & Sisters creator Greg Berlanti is shaping up to be USA's most promising original program in some time. Making her first regular television appearance, Sigourney Weaver stars as a Hillary Clinton-esque former first lady turned politician who loses her party's primary to the man who eventually becomes president (Adrian Pasdar), but joins his cabinet as Secretary of State. The drama, which follows the inner workings of the administration amidst various crises, also stars Carla Gugino, James Wolk, Ellen Burstyn, and Ciarán Hinds. If it scores with viewers, Political Animals could return in the future as a regular series.
Sherlock Watch trailer
PBS, Sundays at 9p starting May 6
The BBC's acclaimed, modern-day retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories is back for a second run of three, two-hour episodes, airing on PBS' Masterpiece series on consecutive Sundays beginning this weekend. (It also arrives on DVD on the 22nd). Sherlock stars the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, next year's Star Trek sequel) as the brilliant but drug-addled detective, while Hobbit-sized Martin Freeman (The Office) is his friend and co-investigator Dr. Watson. This time, the mysteries are drawn from Doyle's stories "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Hound of the Baskervilles," and "The Final Problem," and a third season will follow next year.
Tron: Uprising Watch trailer
Disney XD, Thursdays at 9p starting June 7 (special preview on May 18)
Would you believe that a cartoon on Disney XD (yes, that's a network) is generating some of the best buzz of any new summer series? The show in question is Tron: Uprising, a new animated sci-fi series that is set in between the events of the 1982 film Tron and its disappointing 2010 sequel Tron: Legacy. Elijah Wood voices the new character of Beck, a young "program" who becomes the leader of a revolution inside the computer world known as The Grid. Also lending their voices to the stylishly animated characters are Mandy Moore, Paul Reubens, Lance Henriksen, Nate Corddry, Tricia Helfer, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and, reprising his role as Tron, Bruce Boxleitner. A commercial-free, 30-minute prequel entitled Tron: Uprising, Beck's Beginning, will air on the regular Disney Channel (not XD) on Friday, May 18 at 9:30p, and if the trailer is indicative of future episodes, Uprising looks like the best thing to happen to the Tron franchise since the Tron arcade game.
True Blood Watch trailer
HBO, Sundays at 9p starting June 10
Season 5 of HBO's hit vampire drama will bring many new (and old) faces to the cast, including those of Christopher Meloni (of Law & Order: SVU fame, here playing an "ancient, powerful vampire"), Felicity vet Scott Foley (introduced in last season's finale as Terry's war buddy Patrick), Cougar Town's Carolyn Hennesy (playing Texas vampire Rosalyn Harris), My Name Is Earl's Dale Dickey (as the mother of late werewolf Marcus), and Denis O'Hare (last seen in season 3 as one-time vampire king Russell Edgington). It will be creator Alan Ball's final season as showrunner for the series even if True Blood is renewed for a sixth season; he's moving on to other projects, including a new series (Banshee) for Cinemax.
On the next page ...
Continue reading for our full calendar of summer premiere dates and details about other new and returning shows.