(NBC, Thursday, premieres Sept. 23, 10 p.m.)
WHEN WE LAST SAW THEM Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) and girlfriend Kem (Thandie Newton) had lost their baby, Abby (Maura Tierney) had become a doctor, and just enough other stuff was happening to keep us from switching to ”Without a Trace.”
WHAT’S CHANGING Shane West, pictured (”Once and Again,” ”A Walk to Remember”), signs on as Ray Barnett, a charming (and hot) new intern. Meanwhile, Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) leaves the show.
WHY WE CARE Face it: ”ER” has been in dire need of a heartthrob transplant since George Clooney ditched County General. Sorry, but Carter is too nerdy and Luka (Goran Visnjic) is too tortured to be much fun.
(The WB, Monday, premieres Sept. 13, 8 p.m.)
WHEN WE LAST SAW THEM Matt (Barry Watson) was experiencing marital woes, Mary (Jessica Biel) had a baby, and Lucy (Beverley Mitchell) was a mostly happy newlywed.
WHAT’S CHANGING Simon (David Gallagher) is the first Camden to have (gasp!) premarital sex! The lucky girl: his new college girlfriend, Gloria (Rheagan Wallace, pictured with Gallagher). Lucy has a baby of her own. And watch for some revolving-door casting: Pop warbler Aaron Carter signs on as Harry, a new love interest for Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman). Gallagher and Watson, who had been recurring cast members, are back full time. And gone are Dr. Chandler Hampton (Jeremy London) and cop Roxanne Richardson (Rachel Blanchard).
WHY WE CARE Didn’t you hear us? Simon has premarital sex! This holier-than-most series has never skirted big issues, so we expect the Reverend Camden to have real insights — as well as a massive coronary.
Law & Order
(NBC, Wednesday, premieres Sept. 22, 10 p.m.)
WHEN WE LAST SAW THEM Det. Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) had waved goodbye to the precinct after 12 seasons.
WHAT’S CHANGING Dennis Farina, pictured (Det. Joe Fontana), steps into Orbach’s shoes as the newest grumpy detective. Elisabeth Rohm (Assistant D.A. Serena Southerlyn) also has one foot out the door, though she’s committed to appear in at least 13 episodes this season.
WHY WE CARE We loved Lennie, but we have high hopes for Farina, who wowed us in 1995’s ”Get Shorty.” And wooden Rohm, the series’ fifth A.D.A., can’t be gone soon enough.
Will & Grace
(NBC, Thursday, premieres Sept. 16, 8:30 p.m.)
WHEN WE LAST SAW THEM Karen (Megan Mullally) and Lyle (John Cleese) had tied the knot in Vegas, Jack (Sean Hayes) had finally graduated from nursing school, and Grace (the pregnant Debra Messing) was mostly MIA.
WHAT’S CHANGING Plenty. Chronically underemployed Jack lands a cushy job at a gay-themed cable network. The girls’ romantic relationships are on the rocks (and not the way heavy drinker Karen might like): Grace and Leo (Harry Connick Jr.) break up for good, and Karen’s marriage to Lyle hits the skids. Ironically, the non-commitogenic Will’s relationship with Vince (Bobby Cannavale of ”Six Feet Under,” pictured) sails along smoothly.
WHY WE CARE For those who’ve been hoping globe-trotting Dr. Leo would catch a lethal virus in the third world, his exit could be a shot in the arm.
Joan of Arcadia
(CBS, Friday, premieres Sept. 24, 8 p.m.)
WHEN WE LAST SAW THEM After being diagnosed with Lyme disease, Joan (Amber Tamblyn, pictured) suspected her conversations with God have all been illness-induced hallucinations.
WHAT’S CHANGING As you might expect, Joan’s a little leery when God tries to get back in her good graces. Mom Helen (Mary Steenburgen) starts going to church, much to the chagrin of her disbelieving husband, Will (Joe Mantegna). And look for Sprague Grayden (”Six Feet Under”) to pop up for five episodes as Joan’s new summer-camp buddy.
WHY WE CARE We’re curious to see if Grayden can be less annoying than her ”Six Feet Under” character, Anita. More importantly, we want to see if Joan is susceptible to dark forces while God is on her bad side. A girl’s gotta have some fun sometime, right?