''Fringe,'' ''A Gifted Man,'' ''Chuck,'' ''Rules of Engagement,'' and more

By EW Staff
Updated September 02, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

This fall, Friday night will play host to a time-slot scrum of monstrously freaky proportions. Call it Survival of the Geekiest! A Rumble in the Cult Pop Jungle! Genre-geddon! The 9 p.m. hour will see two returning rivals — Fox’s Fringe, now in its fourth season, and The CW’s Supernatural, entering its seventh — forced to contend with a new creep-show combatant, NBC’s fairy-tale policer Grimm. Networks have long tried to make Friday night a beachhead for far-out offerings (The X-Files began its rise here), though more have crashed and burned than launched and soared. So who will come out on top? We pit the three against one another in a freak-show showdown.

Returning Drama
9-10 p.m., Fox
Where we left off: A season-long conflict between two parallel Earths that seemed destined for mutually assured destruction concluded with Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) traveling through time to save both worlds…and then mysteriously disappearing.
Freaky factor: What if Peter never existed? That’s the high-concept idea that launches the season, with episodes exploring how Peter’s demented daddy, Walter Bishop (John Noble), colleague/lover Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), and the entire Fringe world(s) would be different. For example: ”No Peter, no baby,” says exec producer Jeff Pinkner, referring to the son Peter had with the ”over there” Olivia. ”Peter was a humanizing influence on Walter,” says Noble. ”Without him, Walter is…well, nuts.” Look for episodes to revisit old cases and other elements of Fringe mythology, like shape-shifters, from a ”no Peter” perspective. But don’t worry, Jackson fans: ”You’re going to see him, but perhaps not in the way you’re anticipating,” says exec producer J.H. Wyman.
On the time-slot battle: The producers believe viewers ”are invested in what happens this season,” says Wyman. That said, Pinkner adds, ”the season is a love letter to the show and fans, but new viewers can follow too.” (Sept. 23)

Returning Drama
9-10 p.m., The CW
Where we left off: Sam’s (Jared Padalecki) memories of hell returned, and angel Castiel (Misha Collins) declared himself the new God, which means the Winchester brothers have found themselves with a friend-turned-Almighty foe.
Freaky factor: Sam and Dean (Jensen Ackles) will continue to fight monsters aplenty in this new season, but their biggest challenge will be going up against Castiel, who is ”unlike anything they have ever faced,” according to exec producer Sera Gamble. ”There’s a real feeling of helplessness.” The brothers’ efforts are further hindered by a lack of funds and resources, and by Sam, who will be dealing with the weight of his recently restored memory. Says Padalecki, ”He has such self-doubt that it’s crippling.”
On the time-slot battle: ”I haven’t given it too much thought,” says Gamble. ”Luckily we live in an age where you can watch us and TiVo the other ones.” Padalecki, who admits to being a Fringe viewer, is similarly unconcerned because Supernatural fans are a passionate bunch: ”I guess you can say, Bring it.” (Sept. 23)

New Drama
9-10 p.m., NBC
What it’s about: Hansel did it! Grimm is a fairy-tale police procedural from writer-producers David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Jim Kouf (Angel) about a detective (David Giuntoli) who discovers he’s descended from a line of hunters known as Grimms who can see past the disguises of creatures of the supernatural and fairy-tale variety. Along with his partner (Russell Hornsby), he investigates cases of legendary stories coming to life.
Freaky factor: The detectives track down mythical villains camouflaged as ordinary criminals. Think along the lines of the Big Bad Wolf as a killer who preys on girls in red (riding) hoodies and you get the idea.
On the time-slot battle: ”I consider it a really lucky spot for a couple reasons,” Greenwalt says. ”The X-Files was there for years. We follow Chuck, which is a great companion piece. And we don’t have to have 40 million people watch us. It’s a great place to launch the show.” (Oct. 21)

Returning Drama
8-9 p.m., NBC
With the much-loved spy series coming to a close after five seasons, co-creator Chris Fedak insists this last batch of episodes will be satisfying and surprising. ”There’s going to be new stuff this season,” teases Fedak. ”It’s going to change the Chuck world. But it’s also a big love letter to the fans and hopefully an epic finale.” The premiere, featuring guest villains Mark Hamill (Star Wars) and Craig Kilborn (Old School), will pick up after May’s game changer, in which Chuck (Zachary Levi) started his own spy agency and Morgan (Joshua Gomez) was turned into a superagent by the Intersect. ”It’s neat to watch Morgan have fun with the Intersect because unlike Chuck, he’s stoked to have superpowers,” says Fedak. ”For Chuck, he has to be like Sarah Walker [Yvonne Strahovski] in season 1. He’s the handler.” That’s not to say everything will be rosy for the team, warns Fedak: ”They may find themselves working with people who are a little more shady than they’re used to.” (Oct. 21)

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Returning Reality
8-10 p.m., ABC
Entering its ninth season, Makeover is practically ancient in TV years. But the show, which moves from Sundays to Fridays, might look a bit younger this year. ”One area we are trying to incorporate a lot of this season is kids,” says exec producer George Verschoor. The show will feature ideas from youngsters about how to creatively design — and demolish — houses. Popular HGTV host Sabrina Soto will also be joining the team, while First Lady Michelle Obama appears in an episode about a North Carolina military family. Recalls host Ty Pennington, ”Just knowing that there was Secret Service hiding in the bushes with M-16s, it was insane.” (Sunday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.)

Kitchen Nightmares
Returning Reality
8-9 p.m., Fox
Even after three seasons, some restaurants still don’t get it. ”It is a frickin’ nightmare,” says chef and host Gordon Ramsay about the flailing eateries the show sets out to rehabilitate. ”If that’s how they perform when they know I’m coming, what the hell was it like four weeks ago?” This season, look for offenders in new locales, including Texas, Georgia, and California — and, if you can stomach it, the most flagrant sin in the show’s history. ”There was a huge f–ing mouse by the [restaurant] entrance,” shudders Ramsay. ”Then they had the audacity to say I brought the mouse. What did they think I was going to do for the main course? Contact Stuart Little?” (Sept. 23)

Returning Drama
8-9 p.m., The CW
The second-season premiere finds Nikita (Maggie Q) and Michael (Shane West) low on cash and on the run. ”They’re living hand to mouth when we first see them,” says exec producer Craig Silverstein. ”They’re pulling robberies, living in motels.” In a neat twist, Nikita’s former charge Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) has replaced Michael as Nikita’s hunter at Division. A new character played by Dillon Casey is a potential love interest for Alex, but, warns Silverstein, ”the key word is potential. He could die. Anybody could die this season.” And expect to see more of the mysterious Russian company Zetrov, the ultimate enemy of both Nikita and Division. ”I always love the idea of a good guy, a bad guy, and a worse guy,” says Silverstein with a laugh. ”It’s a bit of a three-ring circus.” (Sept. 23)

Returning Drama
9-10 p.m., CBS
In a story line inspired by star Gary Sinise, who raised money for a 9/11 memorial, the season 8 premiere flashes back to the day that Det. Mac Taylor (Sinise) lost his wife in the World Trade Center. ”After the attacks, I got very involved in meeting first responders,” the actor explains. ”I wanted to do something for them.” Coming off the anniversary of his wife’s death, Mac’s getting emotional — and he’s not the only one. ”We let the audience into some personal moments this season,” says exec producer Pam Veasey. Newly promoted sergeant Danny Messer (Carmine Giovinazzo) struggles with work/life balance, and Jo Danville (Sela Ward) will delve deeper into the reason she moved to New York City. Hint: We’ll learn more about that rape case she covered in D.C. (Sept. 23)

A Gifted Man
New Drama
8-9 p.m., CBS
Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) is a rich, handsome neurosurgeon running a concierge-style practice in New York City. Life is grand…until he begins to have visions of his dead ex-wife, Anna (Jennifer Ehle). Suddenly, Michael’s arrogance starts to crumble as Anna prods him to help the struggling free clinic she left behind. ”I thought this was an interesting way to pursue questions about healing, faith, and why things happen to people,” says exec producer Neal Baer, a practicing doctor himself who previously worked on ER and Law & Order: SVU. But the drama isn’t confined to the clinics: Michael will also sort out his strained relationship with his New Agey sister (Julie Benz), who believes Anna’s from-the-beyond visits are a ”gift.” Says Baer, ”It’s an emotional and sometimes spiritual journey every week.” (Sept. 23)

Blue Bloods
Returning Drama
10-11 p.m., CBS
On screen, this series about an NYC cop family led by patriarch Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) may have had a successful first season, but behind the scenes was another kind of drama. ”There was some internal chaos,” says new exec producer Ed Zuckerman, who replaced creators Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green in April. ”But it’s a great premise, so there is no design to change the makeup of the show.” This season we’ll see Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) investigated for shooting a cop, Frank butting heads with NYC’s new mayor (David Ramsey), and even Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood singing ”It Had to Be You” at a political fund-raiser. While the addition of Zuckerman, a Law & Order vet, spurred speculation that Bloods will trade its nuanced family drama for standard cop-show fare, the new exec producer insists, ”It’s not turning into a procedural. And I can even tell a joke.” (Sept. 23)

New Drama
10-11 p.m., Starz
Kelsey Grammer’s new TV character would beat the living snot out of Frasier Crane. As power-hungry Chicago mayor Tom Kane, Grammer is set to overwrite his image by playing a guy he describes as ”tenacious, egomaniacal, philanthropic, empathic, vicious, and irredeemable — probably the perfect politician.” The bare-knuckle political drama follows Kane as he navigates backroom dealings while battling the effects of a degenerative brain disorder that threatens to topple everything he’s built. ”It’s got a lot of violence,” promises first-time showrunner Farhad Safinia. ”The show is emotionally bruising.” Which doesn’t mean that Boss doesn’t allow Grammer to employ his comedic chops. Says the actor with relish, ”There’s an almost satanic humor to it.” (Oct. 21)

Rules of Engagement
Returning Comedy
8-8:30 p.m., CBS
Season 6 (!!!) of Rules starts with news of a wedding — but it’s not the bride and groom you’re expecting. ”Russell [David Spade] reveals in the first episode that the ship’s captain married him and Liz [Wendi McLendon-Covey] in a wild drunken evening,” says exec producer Tom Hertz. Unfortunately for perpetual bachelor Russell, Liz is taking the lark a little too seriously. Elsewhere, Jeff (Patrick Warburton) and Audrey (Megyn Price) decide to let their inner party animals out before their baby arrives. But the biggest change of all this season is the show’s new Saturday time slot. ”Maybe people [will] flip over from the Proactiv infomercial and watch us,” Spade jokes. ”If you go out at eight, you’re a loser anyway.” (Oct. 8)

3 Reasons To Watch
David Spade on why Rules deserves a spot on your Saturday-night schedule
1. If you’ve never seen a guy over 40 with feathered hair, this is your chance.
2. If you liked me on Just Shoot Me, this is a very, very similar character. You don’t have to watch that on TBS. I do most of the same jokes.
3. America needs some discipline because they’re a bunch of drunks and need to lock it down on Saturday. Let’s try to stay home for 22 weeks. And as a reward, you can do anything you want the rest of the summer. Right after May sweeps, do whatever you want.