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New shows: 2010 Winter TV preview

”Human Target,” ”Caprica,” and ”Parenthood” are set to debut this season

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Human Target
Fox | 8-9PM | Jan. 17 | Action Thriller
What it’s about
Based on the DC Comic — not to mention a 1992 ABC series featuring Rick Springfield — about a bodyguard/private detective who injects himself into his clients’ lives to draw out a threat and eliminate it, Target stars Fringe‘s Mark Valley as Christopher Chance, a man who doesn’t exactly put safety first. ”I don’t think he necessarily has a death wish,” explains Valley. ”There’s just a certain high he gets out of saving people.” Fortunately, he has a behind-the-scenes support team (Pushing Daisies‘ Chi McBride and Watchmen‘s Jackie Earle Haley) to keep him on the right side of death’s door.

What to expect
Whether trying to prevent a plane from crashing or knowing precisely when to jump from a speeding train that’s about to slam into a wall, Valley’s character has to use his brain as well as his fists to battle baddies. Explains exec producer Jonathan Steinberg (Jericho), ”For any bodyguard, as soon as someone takes a shot at a client, that’s a failure. Here, Chance is not just protecting them, he’s solving a problem — though sometimes, those things are at odds.” — Lynette Rice

Life Unexpected
The CW | 9-10PM | Jan. 18 | Dramedy
What it’s about
After bouncing around Oregon’s foster-care system since birth, spunky 15-year-old Lux (Swingtown‘s Britt Robertson) tracks down her biological parents, Cate (Roswell‘s Shiri Appleby) and Baze (Kristoffer Polaha), so they can emancipate her from the state. But the young pair — who conceived Lux during a one-night stand in high school and haven’t been in touch since — are quickly ensconced in their daughter’s life when the court grants them temporary custody.

What to expect
A sweet but sharp family series, in the vein of old WB shows like Gilmore Girls and Everwood. ”It definitely is a relationship drama,” says exec producer Liz Tigelaar, ”but less about romantic relationships and more about triangles of platonic relationships.” The most complex being the four-way tug among Lux, Cate, Baze, and Cate’s fiancé, Ryan (Dawson’s Creek‘s Kerr Smith), who have to figure out how to make this new life together work while dealing with mountains of personal baggage. ”As the series progresses, you see where Lux was deeply affected by everything that happened,” says Robertson. ”She’s still having to deal with the fact that they gave her up and never checked in. It’s hard to watch sometimes.” — Tanner Stransky

The Deep End
ABC | 8-9PM | Jan. 21 | Law Drama
What it’s about
After being accepted into one of L.A.’s most prestigious legal firms, five young, attractive, and intelligent law associates must dig deep to survive working — and dating — in a ruthless business. Think Grey’s Anatomy with lawyers, ”but funnier,” says exec producer and former lawyer David Hemingson, who based the series on his own experiences.

What to expect
”I like to think of it as a reboot of the law show,” says Hemingson. ”We have very strong, topical, emotional stories, but there are also sexy interpersonal stories.” Cases in point: Two associates (newcomer Ben Lawson and Life Is Wild‘s Leah Pipes) struggle with an on-again, off-again romance, while another (Jack & Bobby‘s Matt Long) pursues a paralegal, who is also bedding a partner (Billy Zane), who himself is married to another partner (Soul Food‘s Nicole Ari Parker). But Deep End‘s not all about love connections — the associates also tackle cases about charged issues like medical marijuana and sexting. ”It definitely plucks at your heartstrings,” says Mehcad Brooks (True Blood), who plays Malcolm, a headstrong associate balancing work with raising his 13-year-old brother. ”But it’s quick-witted, glib, slightly arrogant, and very inspirational. It’s some of the funniest stuff I ever read in my whole life.” — Kate Ward

Syfy| 9-11PM | Jan. 22 | Sci-Fi
(Battlestar Prequel!)
What it’s about
If you ever wondered how the robotic Cylons from Battlestar Galactica were born, this prequel series from Battlestar exec producers Ronald Moore and David Eick serves as a sexy, soapy origin story. Set on the eponymous planet 58 years before Battlestar, the sci-fi family drama follows two tragedy-stricken patriarchs: Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) — a Mob lawyer who’s mourning the death of his wife and daughter in a terrorist bombing while raising a young son who will grow up to be BSG‘s Admiral Adama — and Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), a Bill Gates-like technology genius whose daughter died in the same attack and whose efforts to resurrect her lead to the creation of those frakkin’ toasters.

What to expect
As Eick colorfully puts it, Caprica is ”Dallas with artificial intelligence instead of oil.” Stoltz goes even further: ”I don’t see much science fiction in it at all. [Caprica] is not much different than our world today.” Both men insist you don’t need to be a BSG fan to dig into Caprica, but Eick promises many ”Easter eggs” for the Battlestar faithful. ”It’s sort of like when you saw that Claymation cartoon Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” he says, ”and you go, ‘Oh! That’s why he wears the red suit!”’ — Adam B. Vary

Spartacus: Blood and Sand
STARZ | 10-11PM | Jan. 22 | Period Drama
What it’s about
In this retelling of the classic story of a Roman gladiator who leads a massive slave rebellion, Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) is a soldier who’s forced into slavery at a gladiator training camp after disobeying orders. The first season tracks his rise within the camp, overseen by its ambitious owner (John Hannah) and his steely wife (Lucy Lawless).

What to expect
With its 300-inspired heightened visual style, profuse sex, and graphic violence, this definitely isn’t Kirk Douglas territory. ”Starz always pushed us to go further,” says exec producer (and Lawless’ husband) Rob Tapert (Legend of the Seeker). ”There is both male and female [nudity] — something for everybody.” The upstart paycable network did occasionally draw the line, though. ”There was a particular scene with an orgy, a woman, a guy, and a soup ladle,” says Tapert. ”I’ll leave it at that.” — ABV

Undercover Boss
CBS | Time TBA | Feb. 7 | Reality
What it’s about
The title pretty much explains it all, but we’ll let the exec producer break down Boss, which scored the coveted post-Super Bowl slot: ”Each week, the boss of a big American company goes undercover on the front line of their business,” says Stephen Lambert, who was also behind the similar-themed reality show Secret Millionaire. ”Because the companies are large enough, the workers don’t know what the boss actually looks like. They’re not dressed in a suit — they’re dressed like all the other workers. This gives the boss an opportunity to see the way things are.”

What to expect
In the surprisingly moving premiere, the president of refuse giant Waste Management cleans portable toilets, sorts recycling, and picks up garbage with his employees. ”In the end, it’s more of an emotional drama,” says Lambert, pointing out that the experience usually leads to the president or CEO changing unsatisfactory conditions for the benefit of the laborers. ”It’s primarily for the drama of a boss going on a journey where they discover more about their company, more about themselves, and more about their workforce. It’s also the drama of the employees finding out the boss has taken the time to identify them, ultimately thanking them, and often rewarding them.” — Tanner Stransky

NBC | 9-10PM | March 1 | Family Drama What it’s about
Loosely based on the 1989 Ron Howard film Parenthood (also the inspiration for a short-lived 1990 series of the same name), this one-hour dramedy focuses on the amusingly flawed Braverman clan, including the parents (Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia) and their four grown children (Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Erika Christensen). The series had been set to debut this past fall but experienced a delay when original star Maura Tierney had to drop out after being diagnosed with breast cancer; Graham stepped in to play single mother Sarah. Despite the difficult circumstances, executive producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) says the transition has been smooth: ”Lauren walked right into this role like she was born to play it.” Choosing Parenthood as her first post-Gilmore Girls series was simple, says Graham: ”I read [the script] and it made me cry.”

What to expect
Graham’s Sarah and her teenage kids will move back into her parents’ house in the premiere, while Krause’s Adam will discover his son has Asperger’s and that his older daughter is dabbling in drugs. Explains Katims, ”The whole show is about expectations. Your children are never the people you expected them to be.” — Tim Stack

The Marriage Ref
NBC | 8-9PM | March 14 | Reality
(Seinfeld’s reality show!)
What it’s about
From executive producer Jerry Seinfeld comes this game-show/talk-show/comedy hybrid that seeks to do the near impossible: settle an argument between a married couple. A husband and wife present their case to a panel of ”experts” (including some celebrities), and after deliberation, the yet-to-be-cast Marriage Ref decides on a winner. (Sample dispute-related prize: a garage makeover.) Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica, came up with the idea after they had a squabble and he asked a friend to decide who was in the right. (Winner: Jessica.) ”I thought, ‘This is the way marriage should be,”’ explains the comedian. ”’If you could have access to a ref in your home, you wouldn’t have these endless arguments.”’

What to expect
Tiffs we’ll be seeing involve everything from a husband wanting to keep his motorcycle in the living room to a wife who annoys her mate by interrogating waitresses while ordering coffee. ”You’ll see the same mindset of things in this show that I found interesting in my last TV series,” says Seinfeld. ”The issues are silly. And if we say he wins, it doesn’t mean anything. We haven’t retained Blackwater to do any behind-the-scenes handling.” — Dan Snierson

FX | March TBA | Crime Drama What it’s about
Based on Elmore Leonard’s short story ”Fire in the Hole,” this drama follows Stetson-topped deputy U.S. marshal Raylan Givens (Deadwood‘s Timothy Olyphant) as he’s reassigned to his native Kentucky, where he confronts some bad guys — and his own personal demons, natch.

What to expect
The sharpshooting Givens chases down a white supremacist in the pilot, but rassles with plenty of other foes throughout the season, including his outlaw father (Raymond J. Barry) and a fugitive-turned-dentist (Alan Ruck). ”Givens is a true-blue hero,” says exec producer Graham Yost (Boomtown). ”He’ll pull his gun if he has to, and when he does, he’s generally lethal with it. But he’s not a screaming cop. He’s macho in a quiet way. There’s a little bit of the old spaghetti-Western Clint Eastwood in that.” That’s exactly what attracted Olyphant to the role — not to mention the fact that Leonard is on board as an executive producer. ”There’s a wit to it,” Olyphant says. ”[With] Elmore’s writing, you kind of feel a little twinkle in his eye.” Yost, who borrowed some of Leonard’s dialogue for the pilot, is confident he can bring Givens’ charm — and fashion sense — to the small screen, thanks to their leading man. ”Tim was in Deadwood,” Yost says, ”so we knew he could wear the hat.” — KW