May 17, 2010 at 06:42 PM EDT

What does it mean that I was more entertained by the pre-taped Alec Baldwin/Jack Donaghy monologue that began NBC’s up-front presentation today than I was by almost any of the shows from which the network showed clips? Having Baldwin’s Donaghy bad-mouth other shows while staying true to his 30 Rock persona — as when he dismissed Fox’s House by saying, “[Hugh Laurie] is faking being from this country, like our President” — was better than all of Baldwin’s recent SNL hosting gig.

NBC is working hard to give the impression that things are moving right along in its prime-time hit-factory, thereby avoiding the fact that it’s had no hits and a lot of Jay Leno to deal with over the past year. But that’s all changed! They’re opening their wallets and their minds! They’re willing to let J.J. Abrams work his magic on a romantic-spy-adventure show, Undercovers, that, if it works, will implant the term “sex-pionage” into the language:

If the byplay is cutesy, the leads, Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, are a convincing married couple capable of derring-do, and I’d never underestimate the powers of TV-makers such as Abrams and co-exec-producer Josh Reims (Brothers and Sisters).

As for the other trailers:

The Event: Starring Jason Ritter (see, I told you not to get used to seeing him in Parenthood, fans), Blair Underwood (as the President of the United States), and ER‘s Laura Innes, among many others, in a big-canvas conspiracy thriller that’s clearly intended to soak up the Monday-night-at-9 audience after 24 leaves us. With a show as intentionally complicated as The Event means to be, a clip can’t convey quality, but the acting was pleasantly less florid than the recent seasons of 24.

Chase: A cop show whose chief distinguishing trait is that it’s about a U.S. Marshal who’s not on basic-cable TV (Justified, In Plain Sight). Touted by NBC exec Jeff Gaspin today as producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s “next hit franchise,” I’d say Bruckheimer and NBC should make sure this one works properly before they think about expanding to a franchise. Starring Kelli Giddish, who was by far the best thing about the Fox bomb Past Life.

Outlaw: Jimmy Smits as a Supreme Court judge who doffs his robes to get back into private practice to help the accused innocent and the underrepresented. After his fine but anguished turn on Dexter, it’s nice to see Smits smiling again — his character, Cyrus Garza, likes to play blackjack and flirt a lot.

Law & Order: Los Angeles: The original Law & Order was shoved off the schedule so fast, and this new Dick Wolf-produced entry pencilled in so fast, all NBC had time to do was cobble together some stock news footage of crime scenes in L.A. and mock up a fake Hollywood sign that spelled out “LAW & ORDER.” I miss Sam Waterston already.

Outsourced: “Hilarious culture clash” is the way NBC’s press release describes the action in this sitcom about an American novelty company that decides to use a work-force in India. Expect lots of sight gags as non-American characters dance to Beyonce hits and try to sell fake-dog-vomit via phone to peeved Americans. This one will live or die on the strength of its performances and in fine-tuning its tone, which could prove quirky-funny in a Community way (and thus Outsourced‘s inclusion on NBC’s Thursday night comedy block) or silly-offensive.

Love Bites: Inter-connected tales of “love, sex, marriage, and dating” (NBC somehow manages to make those sound disconnected from each other) from Sex and the City producer Cindy Chupack. NBC showed a lengthy scene starring Greg Grunberg flirting with Jennifer Love Hewitt. Grunberg looked so light-hearted, as though so vastly relieved of the angst that Heroes became, that all his Felicity-era charm was instantly back in full effect.

All in all, I wouldn’t go so far as to call this slate ambitious as much as it seems unexpectedly shrewd for NBC. No big dumb two-hour reality shows on the horizon (they’ve still got The Biggest Loser). And since NBC acted as though the returning Parenthood was a long-running favorite of the entire country instead of what it is (a quality freshman series we hope will continue to become even better), you know the network can still be what it hasn’t been in a long time: an idealistic dreamer.

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