September 02, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

Raising Hope

Returning Comedy

9:30-10 p.m., Fox

From the outside, the ramshackle ranch house where Fox’s Raising Hope shoots exudes domestic tranquillity: Toys litter the tree-filled yard, and a rickety yet inviting porch says that this is the site of one very sweet family comedy. But once inside, it becomes apparent that this very sweet family comedy has one very sick sense of humor, as 85-year-old TV legend Cloris Leachman — who plays the endearingly kooky great-grandmother Maw Maw — is guzzling from a gas hose. It’s all part of a harebrained plan to get her granddaughter Virginia (Martha Plimpton) to dump her husband, Burt (Garret Dillahunt). ”The set’s usually very professional,” Plimpton says with a laugh. ”But when Cloris shows up, everything devolves into a madhouse.”

Hope is all about chaotic charm: The nutty comedy revolves around the down-on-their-luck Chance family — Virginia and Burt, their son, Jimmy (Lucas Neff), Maw Maw, and Jimmy’s 18-month-old daughter, Hope (played by 18-month-old twins Baylie and Rylie Cregut). ”Somebody said it’s twisted,” says Leachman of Hope‘s humor, which she affectionately refers to as ”so stupid” repeatedly. ”But I find the show has a true, honest sincerity, a realness that touches you. [It’s] as funny and cuckoo and twisted as it can be.”

Despite its drawing an underwhelming 6 million viewers in its first season, Fox awarded Hope a full-season order after just three episodes, making it the first new series of 2010-11 to get a pickup. And while most shows had to anxiously await May’s upfronts to learn their fate, Hope got its second-season green light in January, becoming the first live-action sitcom from Fox to survive its premiere season since the critically reviled ‘Til Death did in 2007. With the recent Emmy nods for Plimpton and Leachman, the network is hoping Hope will attract a larger audience in season 2. ”There’s a learning curve with comedies,” explains Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, who thinks Hope could follow the trajectory of The Office, a series he launched on NBC that gained major ratings steam after its first season. ”Sure, sometimes comedies don’t break out. Maybe it won’t happen until season 3? It’s about patience.” Here’s a good sign: Hope already has some fans in high places. ”Helen Mirren loves Raising Hope,” marvels Plimpton, who met the Oscar winner at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January. ”She was like, ‘I love it! I love it!’ Many people have told me they love the show, but she was the one that was most surprising.”

While Hope is receiving ample time to grow, its journey from pitch to series couldn’t have been quicker. In one short meeting, creator Greg Garcia sold Reilly on the story of hard-up Jimmy Chance and his quirky clan. The weird plot twist? Jimmy ended up with baby Hope because her mother (a one-night stand) turned out to be a serial killer and was executed in the pilot. But really, says Dillahunt — who plays Burt as a henpecked husband and doting gramps — the show is about the universality of parenthood. ”In terms of raising a child, we’re all just winging it,” he says. ”We’re doing the best we can, messing up a lot, and Woo-hoo! They’re still alive at the end of the day!”

The focus of season 2 will be on ”expanding the universe,” says Neff. ”We’re going to Vegas!” Adds Shannon Woodward, who plays Jimmy’s love interest, grocery-store clerk Sabrina: ”Yeah, everybody else goes to Hawaii; naturally we go to Vegas. I thought it was going to be Orlando, but they really stepped it up.” The Sin City episode will be filmed on location and centers on the wedding of guest star Amy Sedaris, who reprises her role as Cousin Delilah. Also ahead: Burt will be kidnapped; some ”pretty massive secrets” about Sabrina will come to light, says Woodward; and YouTube sensation Greyson Chance will play young Jimmy in three flashback episodes. Speaking of flashbacks, Garcia plans to use even more of the technique to offer up characters’ backstories — especially Maw Maw’s. ”We really enjoy having Maw Maw lucid in the flashbacks, so we want to do more of that,” says Garcia. ”We found later in the season with her character that we don’t have to have her bats— crazy. We can use Cloris in a better way.”

The now-toddling twins who portray Hope, Baylie and Rylie, will eventually become bigger players too. In the style of Full House‘s Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the baby on the show is set to age naturally. ”Part of the fun of having kids,” Garcia says, ”is there are new challenges and new things as they get older.” Neff thinks that’s all the reason new viewers need to tune in to Hope’s second season. ”We have adorable babies,” he laughs, ”and if we just showed 22 minutes of them sitting in a chair, it would be worth your time.” (Sept. 20)Tanner Stransky

The Biggest Loser

Returning Reality

8-10 p.m., NBC

The weight-loss competition is really playing by the numbers in season 12: Contestants are divided into three age groups — under 30, 30 to 49, and 50-plus. ”We put the question of ‘Does age matter?’ in this weight-loss world to the test,” says exec producer Todd Lubin. Helping Bob Harper challenge the contestants are two new trainers, Dolvett Quince and former tennis star Anna Kournikova (who are replacing Jillian Michaels, Brett Hoebel, and Cara Castronuova). ”Dolvett is like an Army drill sergeant,” explains Lubin. ”Anna is more of a whisperer: ‘We’re going to keep doing this until your legs fall off.‘ You’ve got to figure out what your favorite training method is.” Ours? In front of the TV with a bowl of ice cream. (Sept. 20)


Returning Comedy

8-9 p.m., Fox

After a turbulent summer — Chris Colfer and Lea Michele are out! Wait, they’re getting a spin-off! No, they’re staying on the show! — the kids at McKinley are getting back to singing, dancing, and dominating the charts. Joining the ranks this year are all 700 Glee Project winners, a love interest for Mercedes (Friday Night Lights‘ LaMarcus Tinker), and a wealthy new student named Sugar (American Dreams‘ Vanessa Lengies). The performances have been so extreme, Colfer says he’s gone to the hospital five times already. ”Last week, we were filming a number where the kids try to recruit new members for their club, so we performed for the student body,” he explains. ”I started exotic dancing on a table and hurt my foot. It was crazy.” (Sept. 20)

Last Man Standing

New Comedy

8-8:30 p.m., ABC

In his first TV show since Home Improvement wrapped in 1999, Tim Allen plays Mike Baxter, the manly head of marketing for an outdoor store in Colorado who’s raising three outgoing — and very lippy — kids with wife Vanessa (Nancy Travis). For Allen, the new show hits close to home — just the way he likes it. ”I didn’t want the apple to fall far from the tree,” says the actor. While he’s the father of two girls, he explains, ”the other side of me is about cars and guns.” Being back on a sitcom feels as comfortable as ”an old glove,” adds Allen. ”I’m going right back to craft services every four seconds: ‘Are these bagels fresh?’ It was amazing how quickly I cared about craft service.” (Oct. 11)


Returning Drama

8-9 p.m., CBS

Last time we saw DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), he was clutching a photo of the person suspected to be the leak in the agency. We’ll discover the guilty party in the season 9 opener, along with a new side of DiNozzo. ”I highly recommend fans don’t miss the first few minutes,” teases exec producer Gary Glasberg. ”It will answer a lot of questions.” NCIS will also reopen the team’s family album, with Ralph Waite and Robert Wagner back to reprise their daddy roles to Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and DiNozzo, respectively, and Lily Tomlin as grandma to McGee (Sean Murray). Says Glasberg, ”She’s sharp as a tack, and we’re about to learn some things about McGee’s family that have never been revealed.” (Sept. 20)

Man Up!

New Comedy

8:30-9 p.m., ABC

A generation of demasculinized men have three new mascots thanks to this sitcom that follows a trio of videogame-playing pals — family guy Will (Mather Zickel), manchild Kenny (Dan Fogler), and love-challenged Craig (Christopher Moynihan) — as they search for a balance between old and new male ideals. Zickel has hopes that the man-centric story appeals to more than just dudes: ”I showed the pilot to a couple of friends and my parents, who don’t always like what I do — particularly in comedy — but they liked it.” (Oct. 18)

NCIS: Los Angeles

Returning Drama

9-10 p.m., CBS

With Hetty (Linda Hunt) still on a rogue mission in Romania, season 3 opens with Sam (LL Cool J), Callen (Chris O’Donnell), and the team continuing their search for her. Creator Shane Brennan will confirm that a team member gets shot in the premiere, but he’s mum on who takes the bullet. We’ll also delve into Callen’s backstory, and the childhood he spent in and out of foster homes. ”In the first four episodes, you’ll find out more about him than you have in the first two seasons,” Brennan says. ”It becomes very, very personal, to the point where the audience will go, ‘Why are they taking it this far?”’ (Sept. 20)


New Girl

New Comedy

9-9:30 p.m., Fox

Indie film darling Zooey Deschanel will tickle your TV as Jess, a quirky, naïve, charming, freshly-dumped teacher who moves in with three random dudes, Nick (Jake Johsnon), Schmidt (Mac Greenfield), and Coach (Happy Endings regular Damon Wayans Jr., who’ll be replaced in episode 2 by Lamorne Morris’ Winston). ”She’s trying to connect with these guys, and her version of guys is Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in sailor suits,” notes Deschanel. ”She has a completely different idea of men than what they actually are.” Adds creator Liz Meriwether: ”Ultimately this show is about weirdos living together… Each is at a moment where they’re rebuilding their life or choosing a path. It is that mid-to-late-20s moment where you’re like, ‘Oh, s—. This isn’t cute anymore.”’ (Sept. 20)

Reed Between the Lines

New Comedy

10-11 p.m., BET

Dr. Carla Reed (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a psychologist who balances her busy workload with a happy home life, surrounded by her English-professor husband, Alex (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) and their three children. While much TV family comedy comes from marital conflict, Reed’s main couple are still hot and heavy for each other — not unlike two sitcom parents Warner knew well. ”It’s kind of like Cliff and Clair for the digital age,” says the former Cosby Show son. ”We see this as the show everyone says we need on television — positive family values.” For BET, landing the stars of Girlfriends and The Cosby Show, two of the most popular African-American sitcoms of all time, was a major coup. ”We look for names that connect with our audience,” says the network’s SVP of programming Charlie Jordin-Brooks. ”The chemistry just sparked, and it made total sense. The fact that they’re television icons is the added bonus.” (Oct. 11)


Returning Drama

8-9 p.m., The CW

What’s Out: West Beverly High (since the gang graduated in May) and the kids’ adult supervision, Mr. Matthews (Ryan Eggold) and mama Debbie (Lori Loughlin). (Trevor Donovan’s Teddy will stick around for a short arc.) Unhappy with the changes? Don’t take it up with Rebecca Sinclair, the show’s third exec producer to leave in three years.

What’s In: New exec producers Patti Carr and Lara Olsen (Life Unexpected). And though the whole group doesn’t enroll in California University, they’ll all get to know students Austin (Justin Deeley), a rich Texan who’ll live with Dixon (Tristan Wilds), and Holly (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a queen bee who will be a rival for Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord).

Why You Should Still Watch: There may be new faces in season 4, but the angst remains as entertaining as ever. Explains Carr, ”We loved that idea of forgetting what you thought you were going to be in high school and suddenly having new opportunities that make you wonder if you should follow your dreams.” Jessica Stroup, whose Silver ditches college to be an artist, is feeling positive. ”It’s definitely been an emotional roller coaster on screen and off,” she says, ”but I think it’s finding its grounding.” (Sept. 13)


New Drama

9-10 p.m., The CW

Inspired by movies like Blood Simple, producers Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder (Supernatural) wanted to create a neo-noir saga with a trippy twin twist. ”There’s something really compelling and creepy about twins that’s ripe for conflict and drama,” explains Snyder. To that end, Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Bridget, an ex-stripper hiding from an FBI agent (Nestor Carbonell) and a mobster (Zahn McClarnon) by posing as her wealthy identical sister Siobhan, whom she believes to be dead. (She’s not.) To sustain her ruse, Bridget must avoid assassination by someone who wants Siobhan dead while also managing complex relationships with Siobhan’s husband (Ioan Gruffudd), stepdaughter (Zoe Deutch), best friend (Tara Summers) and lover (Kristoffer Polaha). How does Gellar keep it all straight? With this maxim: ”Bridget is driven by redemption; Siobhan is driven by revenge.” (Sept. 13)

Body of Proof

Returning Drama

10-11 p.m., ABC

Season 2 kicks off with a nod to the other ABC whodunit series that once starred Dana Delany: ”[It’s] an homage to Desperate Housewives,” says Body exec producer Matthew Gross. ”There’s a murder in the cul-de-sac.” Expect medical examiner Dr. Megan Hunt (Delany) to get more help in solving mysteries this season from supporting players like Det. Samantha Baker (The Wire‘s Sonja Sohn). ”So much of the show rests on Dana’s shoulders, but we wanted to spread it around more,” says Gross. As for Megan, romance with an FBI agent is in the cards, as is dealing with her daughter (Mary Mouser) and their fractured bond. ”For a long time, we thought the career woman could have it all, and I don’t think you can,” says Delany. ”I like the investigation of that.” (Sept. 20)


Returning Drama

10-11 p.m., NBC

The Bravermans go time-traveling, picking up five months after season 2’s tumultuous finale. Adam (Peter Krause) is unemployed, though he’ll soon go into business with little brother Crosby (Dax Shepard). Kristina (Monica Potter) is seven months pregnant (and yes, exec producer Jason Katims says the baby will be born this season); Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) helps Drew (Miles Heizer) woo a high school girl; and Sarah (Lauren Graham) has rekindled her romance with Amber’s teacher (Jason Ritter) from season 1. ”I’ve never been so happy to watch a show die,” says Graham about the cancellation of Ritter’s drama The Event. ”Usually I’m rooting for my friends, but this time I was actively rooting against him.” (Sept. 13)


New Drama

10-11 p.m., CBS

”She’s kind of a superhero,” says Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace), who stars as detective Carrie Wells in this crime drama. Carrie’s superpower: a rare condition called hyperthymesia, which allows her to vividly recall any moment in her life. ”If she saw it in the past, she can reexamine it in her memory,” explains exec producer Ed Redlich. That makes Carrie an invaluable addition to the Queens homicide unit, led by her ex-boyfriend Al Burns (Nip/Tuck‘s Dylan Walsh). We’re plunged into Carrie’s mind as she investigates specific memories for possible clues. ”Whereas time erases a lot of things for people, it doesn’t for her,” says Montgomery. ”I was intrigued by how that could be both a blessing and a curse.” (Sept. 20)

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