By Shirley Brady When we mentioned to Sunflower Broadband general manager Patrick Knorr that we were sifting through cable’s fall offerings for this issue, he said something plenty of busy operators can identify with: "Don’t tell me what’s on—tell me what’s good." First, Patrick, the bad news. The disappointing trend continues in which cable and broadcast resemble each other due to the glut of reality shows. This fall’s cable schedule is so heavy with reality shows, it prompted San Francisco Chronicle TV critic Tim Goodman to say of cable’s TCA presentation: "Pretty much all we’re seeing are reality offerings. Or, in other words, cable channels are rolling out their lack of ideas." Fortunately it’s not quite that bad. There are plenty of great programming ideas coming up on cable, particularly on the scripted side. After all, that’s where cable tends to sweep the Emmys and garner the most attention and viewers. So, Patrick, with that in mind, here’s what you and your subscribers should be watching this fall (all times ET/PT unless otherwise noted). Bodies
BBC America
dramatic series; Sept. 29, 9 p.m. ET
What It’s About: A gripping but unsettling look (leavened with black humor) at the pressures facing Rob Lake, a new Ob/Gyn doctor in a large British hospital who quickly learns that mistakes happen (often), politics can’t be avoided and cynicism overrides compassion for some of his colleagues. Why You Should Watch: While we loved BBCA’s new musical drama Viva Blackpool (Oct. 23), Bodies likely will prove more accessible to fans of ER and other medical dramas. It’s raw and unflinching, and the acting is superb. The Boondocks
Cartoon Network
animated comic series; Oct. 2, 11 p.m.
What It’s About: Based on Aaron McGruder’s popular comic strip, the action revolves around 10-year-old Huey, whose move from the inner city to the suburbs sparks story lines about what African-Americans really think of pop culture and race relations in America. Why You Should Watch: The Boondocks brings an opinionated and audacious point of view to Cartoon Network plus (potentially) millions of fans of the comic. Also, it should attract a more diverse audience (African-Americans, Latinos and women) to CN’s already hot Adult Swim block. Bound for Glory
ESPN
reality series; Sept. 20, 10 p.m
What It’s About: The eight-part series tracks the Bad News Bears-like transformation of the Montour Spartans, a high school football team in small-town Pennsylvania. NFL legend and former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus takes over coaching duties, while the team’s facilities and uniforms are made over in a bid to boost morale. Why You Should Watch: Yes, we know there’s too much reality programming on cable, yet we couldn’t resist this series’ feel-good concept. Producer Ben Silverman (Date My Mom, Blow Out, The Restaurant and The Apprentice) teamed with producer R.J. Cutler (30 Days, The War Room) to track the Spartans’ transformation. The Colbert Report
Comedy Central
mock news/talk show; Oct. 17, 11:30 p.m.
What It’s About: The Daily Show‘s Stephen Colbert lets newsmakers know what he really thinks. Why You Should Watch: Comedy Central is investing in late night because more young adults are tuning in later—primarily to rival Adult Swim. Comedy plans to capitalize on The Daily Show‘s solid ratings this fall by giving that show’s break-out star Colbert his own vehicle, which airs after Stewart & Co. David Spade (reprising his Saturday Night Live shtick poking fun at Hollywood) leads in with The Showbiz Show, a weekly series that will run Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. starting Sept. 15. Human Trafficking
Lifetime
dramatic miniseries; Oct. 24/25, 9 p.m.
What It’s About: Mira Sorvino stars in this two-part, four-hour look at international sex trafficking, portraying a Russian immigrant employed by U.S. Customs and Immigration to fight this scourge. Why You Should Watch: A stellar cast—including Donald Sutherland—and a seasoned producer (Robert Halmi Sr.) tackle this global crisis that sees 1 million people sold into sexual exploitation yearly (80% of those victims are girls and women). Sorvino passed on a feature film to accept this part, and will be involved in Lifetime’s related public affairs initiative for this project. Kath & Kim
Sundance Channel
comic series; December
What It’s About: Australian comedians Gina Riley and Jane Turner portray 40-something Melbourne housewife Kath and her shallow married daughter, Kim. Why You Should Watch: A ratings hit just about everywhere except the U.S., this comedy about a "daggy" (Aussie for tacky) duo every bit as self-absorbed and hilarious as The Office‘s David Brent was overlooked when Trio ran its first two seasons. Looking beyond indie films and documentaries, Sundance reintroduces the cult classic starting with its third season, featuring Kylie Minogue, Rachel Griffiths and Geoffrey Rush. The Reading Room
Hallmark Channel
dramatic movie; Thanksgiving
What It’s About: Honoring his dying wife’s request, a widower (James Earl Jones) opens a literacy center in a lower-income neighborhood. Why You Should Watch: This is what Hallmark does best—family pictures pegged to the holidays—and it’s a delight to see the perfectly cast Jones returning to the small screen. His co-stars include Georg Stanford Brown (who also directs) and Joanna Cassidy (Six Feet Under). Rome
HBO
series; Aug. 28,10:30 p.m.
What It’s About: The fall of the republic of Rome—and the rise of an empire. Why You Should Watch: A co-production with the BBC, Rome is HBO’s mammoth event this fall—and its biggest original series ever. Riveting, bloody and lusty, the political intrigue features some of Britain’s premier actors, including Ciar�n Hinds as Julius Caesar. Filmed on location, the series’ directors include Michael Apted (for the first three episodes) and HBO’s favorite directors from The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Deadwood and its other signature originals. The Triangle
Sci Fi Channel
miniseries; December
What It’s About: A motley group (including Sam Neill, Lou Diamond Phillips, Catherine Bell and Eric Stoltz) is driven to confront the dangers of the Bermuda Triangle. Why You Should Watch: With Sci Fi on a ratings and creative roll, it’s not a coincidence that a slew of science fiction projects (including Lost) are taking over network television. Sci Fi’s year-end TV "event" teams producer Dean Devlin (Independence Day, Stargate), director Bryan Singer (X-Men) and producer/writer Rockne O’Bannon (Farscape). Weeds
Showtime
comic series; Mondays, 10 p.m.
What It’s About: Mary-Louise Parker plays a widow who sells marijuana to support her affluent suburban lifestyle while keeping her two sons in the dark. Why You Should Watch: Sophisticated, smart and subversive, it’s better than Desperate Housewives (the inevitable, but sudsier, comparison) and so good that we’re including it in our fall programming preview, even though it premiered this month (it wraps up Oct. 10). Weeds is less about the drug dealing than how the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. A great cast, including Elizabeth Perkins and Kevin Nealon, adds to the fun. And Bear in Mind… Extras (HBO, Sept. 25) Ricky Gervais’ follow-up to The Office about wannabe actors is a hoot when guest stars (Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller) spoof themselves. The Flight That Fought Back (Discovery, Sept. 11) Heartfelt tribute to the heroes of downed Flight 93, pegged to the fourth anniversary of 9/11. Go, Diego, Go! (Nick, Sept. 7) Dora’s gadget-loving, eco-conscious cousin should be a huge hit with preschoolers (it was with my niece and nephew). High Stakes With Ben Mezrich (Court TV, October) Insider’s look at illegal gambling dens in New York’s Chinatown and at other down-and-dirty dealings. Knights of the South Bronx (A&E, December) Ted Danson as a teacher/chess master who inspires a love of chess (and life); acclaimed filmmaker Allen Hughes directs. Movies 101 (AMC, Sept. 30) NYU prof Richard Brown—the thinking actor’s James Lipton—interviews Martin Scorsese, Daniel Day-Lewis and others. Rock School (A&E, fourth quarter) Original doc about Paul Green, the real-life counterpart to Jack Black’s character in the movie School of Rock. Stories of the Innocence Project: Confessions of an Innocent Man (Court TV, Oct. 13) DNA evidence helps overturn yet another wrongful conviction. TransGeneration (Sundance, Sept. 20) Eight-episode docu-series (co-produced with Logo) follows four college students undergoing sex changes. Yesterday (HBO, November) Poignant, Oscar-nominated film about a young South African mother with AIDS. Returning Favorites… Big Break IV (Golf, Sept. 13) It’s USA vs Europe as the competition reality series heads to Scotland. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, Sept. 25) Larry David is back where he belongs: serving up cringe-worthy comedy on Sunday nights. Nip/Tuck (FX, Sept. 20) Last season’s cliff-hanger ending saw Christian (Julian McMahon) being sliced by the masked "Carver." Project Runway (Bravo, fourth quarter) More haute couture wizardry and chicanery as a new crop of aspiring fashion designers hits New York. Raw (USA, Oct. 3) WWE’s flagship series moves to USA. 24 (A&E, Labor Day) Viewers who missed the series on Fox or on DVD will get hooked on the thrilling real-time travails of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). Ratings: Another Sizzling Summer for Cable Cable networks enjoyed a blistering summer while broadcasters wilted. Television viewing has never been higher, driven by ad-supported cable networks this summer that once again beat broadcast, says Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner. "Cable was 57% [of household share] last summer and 61 this summer, while broadcast had 36 last summer and 32 this summer," he says. "That’s a 4-point gain for cable and 4-point loss for broadcast, that’s the largest difference in five years." Viewers overall spent more time with ad-supported cable, while broadcast retained older demos but lost young viewers, including 17% of adults 18-34. "Total TV viewing is up about two and a half hours despite the fact that broadcast is down two and a half hours," Wakshlag says, comparing summer 2005 with summer 2001. "Cable viewing is up three and a half hours, so that’s driving the increase in TV viewing."

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