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Fall TV Preview: Thursday

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Prime Suspect

New Drama

10-11 p.m., NBC

In the opening sequence of the Prime Suspect pilot, Maria Bello, playing New York City cop Jane Timoney, attempts to jog around the Central Park reservoir only to wind up a coughing, loogie-expelling mess. Great acting? Not exactly. The scene was shot on the actress’ 44th birthday. Bello celebrated the event with pizza, a hot dog, some chocolate cake, and ”about 500 cigarettes,” after director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) told her that she would only be required to jog the distance of a block. ”I ran the entire reservoir before they called ‘Cut!”’ says Bello. ”I was about to smash him in the face when I saw him.”

Bad habits. Good work ethic. The threat, even in jest, of physical violence against a larger, male-ier person. It isn’t hard to see why Bello was the first choice to play Jane, a straight-talking homicide detective who must deal with hostility from both perps and her XY-chromosome-possessing colleagues while simultaneously trying to have a romantic life (and quit smoking). ”She has no filter,” says Bello of her character. ”She isn’t trying to get acclaim — she is just trying to win.”

Prime Suspect is a reworking of the much-loved, Emmy-lauded, Helen Mirren-starring British TV show whose first miniseries-length tale was broadcast here by PBS way back in 1992. The good news for fans of the original is that this adaptation is being shepherded by one of their own, executive producer and pilot writer Alexandra Cunningham. Cunningham spent six seasons working on Desperate Housewives, but prior to that she was a writer on NYPD Blue, and she is a huge fan of the original Prime Suspect. ”I saw it on TV, then I saw it on VHS, then I saw it on DVD, then I saw it on the collected DVDs,” she says. ”I thought, Either no one will ever [remake] it, or maybe at some point I’ll get a chance to put my hat in the ring.”

Cunningham almost didn’t get that chance. In September 2009, NBC announced that it had bought the Prime Suspect format and that the network had placed the adaptation in the hands of Without a Trace creator Hank Steinberg. Steinberg approached Bello about playing the lead, but the actress declined the offer so she could focus on her charity work in earthquake-stricken Haiti. Around a year ago NBC recruited Cunningham to get Prime Suspect back on track. She joined forces with Berg — who had overseen both the movie version of Friday Night Lights and the subsequent TV show — and his producing partner, Sarah Aubrey. Then, after Cunningham wrote a new pilot script, the trio reapproached Bello. Of course, this time the actress said…no, again. The former ER star, who has a 10-year-old son, explains she was concerned about returning to the grueling work schedule of a weekly TV show. ”Then Peter and Sarah sat me down and said, ‘We don’t work like that,”’ recalls the actress. ”They said, ‘Call [Friday Night Lights star] Kyle Chandler.’ I did, and he said [working on the show] was the most creative experience of his life and he was home with his family for dinner many nights.” The production team also acquiesced to Bello’s request that the show be shot mostly in L.A. ”I wouldn’t move to New York with my kid, because his dad [Eagle Eye coscreenwriter Dan McDermott] lives here as well,” she says. ”I had to be in L.A.”

With Bello on board, Cunningham set about larding the cast with familiar faces such as Legends of the Fall star Aidan Quinn, Peter Gerety (Homicide, The Wire), Kirk Acevedo (Oz, Fringe), and Brían F. O’Byrne (Brotherhood, Mildred Pierce). Quinn plays Jane’s boss and, like Bello, is thrilled by the show’s brisk shooting pace. ”When you’ve done as much work as both of us have, you like to just roll,” he says. ”Turn the friggin’ camera on and let’s go!” One face viewers won’t be seeing is British thespian Toby Stephens (Die Another Day), who played Jane’s boyfriend in the original version of the pilot but was subsequently replaced by The Shield‘s Kenny Johnson. ”That was certainly not Toby’s fault,” says Berg. ”That was on us. He was probably just a bit too English, in the sense that we couldn’t figure out what these two characters had in common.”

Other tweaks involved making Suspect — which will face off against CBS’ hit The Mentalist — more of an American-style procedural. Whereas Mirren’s Tennison took an entire miniseries to solve a crime, Bello’s Jane will wrap up her cases in a single episode. Then there is the small matter of the jaunty hat Bello wears on the show, which, oddly, angered many journalists at the recent Television Critics Association press tour. ”It really made me laugh,” snorts Bello, who fielded several questions about the ”distracting” hat at TCA. ”So many iconic detectives had some sort of a hat. But suddenly I have one and it’s, like, a controversy! I mean, it’s not in every scene. She’s not f–ing with a hat on. To be honest, I could give a s–.” Boys, consider yourselves warned. (Sept. 22)Clark Collis

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The Big Bang Theory

Returning Comedy

8-8:30 p.m., CBS

Even the superbrained characters on Big Bang will have trouble making sense of May’s awkward cliff-hanger, in which Raj (Kunal Nayyar) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) woke up together after a drunken night. Things will become even more complicated in season 5 as Penny struggles with lingering feelings for Leonard (Johnny Galecki), while he tries to sustain a bicontinental relationship with Priya (Aarti Mann). ”He might end up with two women and no sex whatsoever,” Galecki jokes. Sheldon (Jim Parsons) will continue his pleasantly odd relationship with Amy (Mayim Bialik); Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) will plan their nuptials, though trouble looms. Says exec producer Bill Prady, ”The question is, Which is the greatest problem for Howard: that Bernadette doesn’t get along with his mother, or that she does?” (Sept. 22)

Charlie’s Angels

New Drama

8-9 p.m., ABC

Exec producer Leonard Goldberg (who shepherded the original Angels) has teamed with the Smallville creators to pen a reboot about three ex-bad girls — Eve (Minka Kelly) the car thief, Abby (Rachael Taylor) the cat burglar, and Kate (Annie Ilonzeh) the corrupt cop — who find a new mission in life working as private detectives for an unseen financier named Charlie. (Robert Wagner was originally tapped to voice the mystery man but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. The role has yet to be recast.) As for Bosley (Ramon Rodriguez), ”we made him young and hot,” laughs exec producer Alfred Gough. Producers plan to pay tribute to the original by keeping alums like Jaclyn Smith in mind for cameos and having their new angels strike the iconic praying pose for publicity photos. ”There was a lot of laughing going on during those shoots,” says Kelly. ”You can’t take it too seriously.” (Sept. 22)

The Vampire Diaries

Returning Drama

8-9 p.m., The CW

As season 3 begins, Tyler (Michael Trevino) and Caroline (Candice Accola) are on their way to becoming a supernatural Romeo and Juliet — mostly because exec producers Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson ”want to see some hot werewolf/vampire sex,” Plec admits. Elena (Nina Dobrev) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder) are still searching for Stefan (Paul Wesley), who’s reluctantly on the road with Klaus (Joseph Morgan) piling up a body count. It’s not until the third episode that brooding Stefan becomes a guilt-free ripper, which Wesley embraces. ”Because Stefan doesn’t have the sarcasm, people assume he’s less of a threat. There’s a lot of hidden darkness people will be pleased and surprised to see,” he says, adding with a laugh, ”I’m kind of sick of always doing the right thing.” (Sept. 15)

How to Be a Gentleman

New Comedy

8:30-9 p.m., CBS

Based on the 1998 male etiquette guide, this sitcom finds self-avowed gentleman and magazine columnist Andrew (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s David Hornsby) reconnecting with abrasive old high school classmate Bert (Entourage‘s Kevin Dillon). The pair move in together and attempt to learn from each other — but mostly yield Odd Couple-style hilarity. ”The notion of the series is Bert helping me take the gentle out of the gentleman a little bit and me adding a little gentle to his man,” says Hornsby, who created the series. Meanwhile, after wrapping up eight seasons on Entourage, Dillon was planning for a break from work but says he couldn’t pass up Gentleman‘s script. Explains the actor, ”I was hoping for six months off and I ended up getting none. But that’s a good problem to have, I guess. That’s what I call ‘Cadillac problems.”’ (Sept. 29)

Parks and Recreation

Returning Comedy

8:30-9 p.m., NBC

Caught in a political pickle, Leslie makes a big decision about whether to run for office or date her supervisor, Ben (Adam Scott). ”She attacks the problem from every angle and comes to this conclusion that there’s no way to have a relationship and to follow her dream of running for office,” reveals exec producer Mike Schur. ”The first half of the year is about her living with that decision and trying to imagine the road not taken.” Also coming up in season 4: Ann (Rashida Jones) asks Chris (Rob Lowe) to manage a project that spirals out of control; new Entertainment 720 mogul Tom (Aziz Ansari) changes up his wardrobe (think jaunty yachting caps); and Ron (Nick Offerman) not only encounters ex-wife Tammy 1 (Patricia Clarkson), he teaches a scout troop survival strategies in the wilderness. Hints Schur, ”It is not fun and games for the kids.” (Sept. 22)

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Bones

Returning Drama

9-10 p.m., Fox

Fans knew star Emily Deschanel was pregnant in real life, but few expected producers to write it into the show as a way to work around the Moonlighting curse. When Bones returns for an abbreviated seventh season — six episodes in the fall and seven in the spring, after it lends its time slot to spin-off The Finder — Brennan (Deschanel) will be in her second trimester, and she and Booth (David Boreanaz) will have yet to move in together. ”This won’t be easy,” warns exec producer Stephen Nathan. ”Their relationship is still as contentious as it’s always been.” Also unchanged: ”We are still primarily a crime show,” he promises. ”We still have revolting murders, and Booth and Brennan are still catching the bad guys. So much of the fun comes from the fact that now she’s pregnant doing this.” (Nov. 3)

Grey’s Anatomy

Returning Drama

9-10 p.m., ABC

After a chilling season that found the doctors of Seattle Grace broken and leaning on one another post-mass shooting, Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes promises that ”everyone’s standing on their own two feet this season.” In a word: independence! ”Our residents are in their fifth year, and they’re going to be alone in the ORs,” Rhimes explains. ”Part of it is about that, part of it is about them just growing up.” Right away Cristina (Sandra Oh) makes her decision about whether to keep her baby, and Kepner (Sarah Drew) has trouble as the new chief resident, which balances the drama with some laughs. Rocky times are ahead for star couple Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) after he left her — and adopted baby Zola — in the season 7 finale. ”People think that two people split up and that’s the end of them. And it’s not,” Rhimes insists. ”This is just a hard patch — a really hard patch.” (Sept. 22)

Community

Returning Comedy

8-8:30 p.m., NBC

Get ready for some new big men on campus in season 3: Ex-con/biology professor Marshall Kane (The Wire‘s Michael K. Williams) will lock horns with Jeff (Joel McHale), and is ”the opposite of the Community tradition of professors,” says creator Dan Harmon. ”He is all too qualified to teach the class he’s teaching — and all too intense.” Vice Dean Laybourne (John Goodman), who lords over the Air Conditioning Repair Annex, will be a ”brute, omnipotent, impersonal cosmic force” who has Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) under his thumb. Troy (Donald Glover) gets an apartment with Abed (Danny Pudi); Annie (Alison Brie) gets a type-A rival; and Chang (Ken Jeong) gets a new job…as a security guard. What kind of a guard is he? ”Not the kind that makes the campus more secure,” says Harmon. ”The kind that makes it a more dangerous place to be.” (Sept. 22)

The Office

Returning Comedy

9-9:30 p.m., NBC

What’s Out: As everybody knows, star Steve Carell exited the show, leaving a Dundie-size hole in our hearts. What’s In: Robert California, the new CEO of Dunder Mifflin, played by the singular James Spader. As introduced in the season 7 finale, Robert has oddly persuasive, Jedi-like powers. Unlike Kathy Bates, who showed up occasionally as the company’s CEO last season, Spader will appear in 15 episodes and spend far more time wreaking havoc inside the Scranton branch (challenging the manager to double sales, for starters). While producers are keeping mum on who will get the manager post, don’t expect an outsider to take the gig anytime soon. ”No one else has been hired to be a regular character on the show except myself,” says Spader. ”They didn’t just want to bring in a new Michael Scott.” Why You Should Still Watch: ”We’re the same Office, but we’re taking advantage of this great new talent and throwing him into the mix,” says exec producer and costar Paul Lieberstein (Toby), who reveals that the season also features the warehouse staff winning the lottery and quitting, and Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim (John Krasinski) having a second baby (to accommodate Fischer’s real-life pregnancy). As for Robert, the character is an enigma not only to viewers but to Spader as well. ”What I know most about him is that I don’t know a great deal about him, and I’ve been urging [the writers] to continue that,” Spader says. ”He’s a strange guy, and his enigmatic qualities are a good thing.” (Sept. 22)

The Secret Circle

New Drama

9-10 p.m., The CW

In this twisty tale from Vampire Diaries exec producer Kevin Williamson, newly orphaned Cassie (Britt Robertson) learns she’s a teen witch who must reluctantly bind powers with five classmates and uncover what happened to their parents 16 years ago — when many of them, also witches, died — so they can protect themselves. Naturally, there’s forbidden love: Cassie and already attached Adam (Thomas Dekker) are ”written in the stars,” though Robertson cautions, ”That doesn’t mean exactly what you may think.” And two parents (Natasha Henstridge and Queer as Folk‘s Gale Harold) have an agenda that will get a little bloody. ”This is how I want to see this man,” Williamson says of Harold. ”I want to see him be devilish and delicious again.” (Sept. 15)

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Whitney

New Comedy

9:30-10 p.m., NBC

Whitney Cummings doesn’t want to put a ring on it. ”I grew up only seeing marriages fail,” says the 29-year-old comedian, whose stand-up inspired this sitcom. ”Even Sandra Bullock got cheated on.” As a result, Cummings’ onscreen alter ego would rather live in nonwedded bliss with her boyfriend, Alex (Chris D’Elia). There’s just a few issues they have to tackle: Are they having enough sex? Should they adopt a dog? Are their friends judging them? ”This show feels like every dinner-party conversation I’ve had with my friends,” says exec producer Scott Stuber. Judging by the sexy nurse costume Cummings wears in the premiere, she’s giving them plenty to talk about. Quips Cummings, ”My jokes used to be like, ‘I’m a single slut talkin’ about balls,’ but I’m in a relationship now.” (Sept. 22)

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Returning Comedy

10-10:30 p.m., FX

To play Mac this season, Rob McElhenney gained 50 pounds, just because he thought it would be funny. ”In sitcoms, people get better-looking as years go by,” explains the exec producer and star. On Sunny, ”we want to take the glamour out of entertainment.” Lots of ugly stuff will happen in season 7: Dee (Kaitlin Olson) holds a (fake) funeral for a baby; Dennis (Glenn Howerton) goes sociopathic at his high school reunion; and Frank (Danny DeVito) pulls a Pretty Woman. Says Howerton, also an exec producer: ”She’s not so much a hooker with a heart of gold as a hooker who bangs dudes and smokes crack.” (Sept. 15)

The Mentalist

Returning Drama

10-11 p.m., CBS

Last season’s cliff-hanger saw Simon Baker’s supersleuth Patrick Jane shoot his archnemesis, Red John, then celebrate with a cup of tea. Next stop: jail! The season 4 premiere finds Jane charged with murder and will explore the question fans have debated all summer: Was that the real Red John? ”I can assure the audience that we’re not playing games,” says exec producer Bruno Heller, who promises no ”it was all a dream” cop-outs. ”But it evolves in ways that the audience isn’t expecting.” Lighter episodes will follow that introduce a young new boss (Melrose Place‘s Michael Rady) and offer more peeks into Jane’s huckster past. (Sept. 22)

Private Practice

Returning Drama

10-11 p.m., ABC

Season 5 picks up just minutes after the May finale, in which Pete (Tim Daly) suffered a devastating heart attack. ”It affects everybody in different ways,” teases creator Shonda Rhimes. Will his wife, Violet (Amy Brenneman) — with whom he was feuding — rush back from her book tour? This fall will also focus on the new practice being formed from the ashes of Oceanside Wellness, and, of course, Addison’s (Kate Walsh) love life, which is muddled by her recent rekindling with Sam (Taye Diggs) and the return of fertility doctor Jake Reilly (new series regular Benjamin Bratt). ”I don’t know if it’s a love triangle,” Rhimes says. ”But their relationship is going to be very, very complicated.” (Sept. 29)

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Person of Interest

New Drama

9-10 p.m., CBS

Someone out there is watching you. That’s the message behind the much-anticipated new crime drama from exec producers J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight). And it’s also a lesson that Nolan learned even before he produced the first episode: He and his crew were scouting set locations around New York City when they started to feel the phantom weight of a stranger’s gaze. ”Suddenly this Google Earth car pulls up next to the crew, with a camera pointed right at us,” he recalls. ”Everybody just started laughing.”

Conspiracy theorists might say this wasn’t a coincidence: Person of Interest follows eccentric gazillionaire Finch (Lost‘s Michael Emerson) and operative-turned-homeless guy Reese (The Prisoner‘s Jim Caviezel), who team up to prevent crimes by using cutting-edge surveillance technology. The idea is that sometime after 9/11 Finch created a pattern-recognition system that collects information — through computers, cell phones, and cameras on the street — to predict who will become involved in violent crimes. Years later he hires Reese, a presumed-dead CIA agent, to help him stop those crimes before they occur. There’s just one problem: Homicide detective Carter (Date Night‘s Taraji P. Henson) is also tracking Reese. Meanwhile, Reese is starting to investigate Finch’s past. And Finch? He’s got his eye on everyone. ”This story is about that fine line between paranoia and protection,” says Abrams. ”9/11 changed the way we looked at ‘the others.’ Now everyone’s a suspect.”

Emerson says he was drawn to the role of Finch because he’s more vulnerable than the quick-stepping Benjamin Linus. ”For so many years I played a character who is always in control,” says the actor. ”I like better the idea of a character who’s hurtling along toward events that he’s not altogether in charge of, on a mission that he may even question.” To prepare for the role of Reese, Caviezel trained with Navy SEALs in Coronado, Calif. ”I’d take a shot, and a guy would shoot a bullet through my bullet hole, flip [the gun] over to his other hand, and shoot it again with his pinkie,” marvels Caviezel. His aim pays off in the pilot, when Reese stands in the middle of the road, grenade launcher in hand, and fires directly through the windshield of a distant SUV. So what samurai master taught Reese to use that grenade launcher? In a hat tip to Lost, each character’s backstory will be revealed in flashbacks. ”All three of them have some kind of secret past,” says Henson. ”As far as I know, my character could’ve been born a man.”

Stranger things have happened. After all, Emerson points out that Finch’s software was inspired in part by the Total Information Awareness system, a domestic spying project developed after 9/11 by the U.S. government and killed by Congress in 2003. ”It’s not science fiction,” he insists. ”It’s closer to science fact. For all I know, the system that we’re portraying in the show is a real system somewhere in the deep, dark bowels of the American government.” Could we all get red-flagged just for watching Person of Interest? Nolan laughs. ”If you stare uneasily at your cell phone at the end of an episode,” he says, ”then we’ve done our job.” (Sept. 22)Melissa Maerz

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