Here are Wednesday's most anticipated shows this season

By EW Staff
September 07, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Animal Practice
New Comedy

Premieres Sept. 26, 8-8:30 p.m., NBC

Sigh. Another comedy in which a gifted veterinarian with a simian sidekick works for his ex, who just inherited the disorganized animal hospital he runs? ”We’re taking a big swing with this one,” says Justin Kirk, a.k.a. Dr. George Coleman. ”If it’s dumb, then it will just go away, but if it’s smart, weird, and funny — and I think it’s going to be — then we’ve got something new.” Look for barbs and sparks to fly as his people-pleasing ex Dorothy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) tries to reform misanthropic George. ”It’s a turf battle,” says exec producer Scot Armstrong. ”But there’s definitely a chemistry there.” Kirk assures us that all wildlife is ”extremely well” cared for, adding: ”I just found out that I don’t get to park anywhere near my trailer, so you tell me who’s being treated well.”

The Middle
Returning Comedy

Premieres Sept. 26, 8-8:30 p.m., ABC

On the heels of last season’s dishwasher saga, Middle co-creator Eileen Heisler has queued up season 4’s domestic gag: an unsightly wall that needs to be re-wallpapered. ”Literally, the arcs are dishwashers and walls on The Middle,” says Heisler with a laugh. ”Inflatable footbaths come back! We try to bring back all the little silly things we do.” When they’re not dealing with the hideous wall, Frankie (Patricia Heaton) starts thinking about a new career and Mike (Neil Flynn) focuses on getting Axl (Charlie McDermott) into college, while Sue (Eden Sher) learns to drive and Brick (Atticus Shaffer) develops yet another tic.

Survivor: Phillippines
Returning Reality

Premieres Sept. 19, 8-9 p.m., CBS

There are a lot of familiar faces in season 25 of Survivor, from The Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel and former baseball MVP Jeff Kent to the three returning medically evacuated players (Mike Skupin, Jonathan Penner, and Russell Swan). But host Jeff Probst thinks some of the other people vying for a million dollars could be worth keeping an eye on. ”I love Zane,” says Probst. ”He’s got a funky haircut, he’s got crazy tattoos — tattoos that make no damn sense at all. And he’s a tire treader who talks funny.” This year’s location, the Caramoan Islands, will lead to lots of water challenges as well as lots of something else: ”It rains all the time,” he says. ”So you are very likely to have a downpour happen in the middle of a challenge.” Their pain is our gain.

Guys with Kids
New Comedy

Premiers Sept. 12, 10 p.m., 8:30-9 p.m., NBC

Late-night host Jimmy Fallon clearly didn’t have the old showbiz adage ”Never work with children or animals” in mind when he co-created this sitcom that tracks the parenting travails of a working dad, a stay-at-home dad, and a divorced dad. ”There are children everywhere, and baby wranglers, baby parents — it’s insane,” says Fallon’s producing partner Amy Ozols of the chaotic set. ”But there’s a necessary sort of improv energy to working with [babies]. You can’t always get them to do what you want.” Anthony Anderson, who stars as the stay-at-home dad, appreciates the unpredictability of not only his young costars but also Tempestt Bledsoe (The Cosby Show), who plays his wife. ”Tempestt gets a little carried away when she kisses me,” he jokes. ”She goes a little overboard when she gets close to me. You can print that.”

The Neighbors
New Comedy

Premiers Sept. 26, 9:30 p.m., 8:30-9 p.m., ABC

When the Weavers move into a New Jersey gated community, it seems like The Neighbors might be just another middle-American family sitcom. And it is…until the family of five — mom Debbie (Jami Gertz), dad Marty (Lenny Venito), their three kids — realize the new neighbors are actually green aliens hiding in human skins, led by Larry Bird (Simon Templeman) and his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye). Yes, the aliens are all named after American sports stars — and they cry a weird green substance from their ears and use an intergalactic communication device called a Pupar. Creator Dan Fogelman is quick to defend the eyebrow-raising concept. ”It’s very rare that you have something where the conceit scares people,” he says, ”but I feel very strongly that I accomplished what I set out to do.” The goal is to tell traditional sitcom stories — like those on The Cosby Show and Family Ties — and filter the comedy through the human-alien lens. ”In the long run, it has to be about connection to relationships,” says Venito. ”It can’t just be ‘Oh, look! The alien did a funny thing again!”’

The X Factor
Returning Reality

Premiers Sept. 12, 8-10 p.m., FOX

Simon Cowell could kick himself for announcing that any audience smaller than 20 million for the U.S. version of his smash U.K. show The X Factor would be a disappointment. ”If I had kept my mouth shut, I would have been a hero,” says Cowell, 52, who managed to lure 12.7 million viewers — an impressive number, yes, but one that paled in comparison to his goal. ”I was so cocky. Then I realized this was not going to happen overnight.” Once the first season ended, Cowell also realized that drastic changes needed to be made. That’s why when X Factor returns, pop stars Britney Spears and Demi Lovato will be sitting in the chairs once occupied by spineless judges Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul, while two new emcees will take the place of host-bot Steve Jones. (Front-runners for the job include Khloé Kardashian, Kelly Osbourne, and Glee‘s Kevin McHale.)

Q&A with X Factor‘s Simon Cowell

Critics of The X Factor called it bombastic and overproduced, even soulless. Is any of that fair?

I think it was a lot to take in. It was something that had evolved over seven years [in the U.K.]. So it came with a crash, bang, and a wallop. It all looked big and it was very over-the-top. It was the right thing to do — otherwise, it would have looked too much like Idol. But when you describe it as soulless, I kind of agree with that. And I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Are you saying the new season will be scaled back? Not so many backup dancers, perhaps?

I think they should be there for a reason, rather than you have to have them for every performance. There’s a big difference between an artist working with dancers and an artist having to work with dancers.

How are your new judges working out?

Britney is taking it very seriously. She was very vocal about what category she wanted [to mentor], so I didn’t feel that this was someone just taking a check. In the auditions, she couldn’t care less about saying no to someone. Over time that shyness, which was there at the beginning, started to go away. We’ll find out how good she is or isn’t when we go into the live shows. Demi, to me, has been a revelation. She’s hilarious. It’s like having a bratty younger sister.

This year The X Factor and The Voice will air concurrently for the first time. Why should fans choose your show?

It’s the more interesting format — it’s just got so many more layers. We had a massive punch-up with them in England when they launched. For three weeks they were beating us. But we just made better shows in the end, and we reversed it and won the war. That’s how I’m approaching this.

So what rating will make you happy for season 2?

Anything more than we had last year. I’m being much, much more cautious this time!

Criminal Minds
Returning Drama

Premiers Sept. 26, 9-10 p.m., CBS

Paget Brewster’s exit may have left a void in the BAU, but the team won’t be down a member for long. Jeanne Tripplehorn joins the cast as a linguistics expert — a role that will be something new, both for her and Minds‘ fans. ”After doing Big Love for so long, [where] my character was all heart and emotion, I kind of like the idea of playing a character who’s [cerebral],” she says. Also new in season 8: a love interest for Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and an UnSub who will plague the team all season. Teases exec producer Erica Messer, ”He’s replicating crimes that we’ve already solved, so the writers’ room is calling him ‘The Replicator.”’

Law & Order: SVU
Returning Drama

Premiers Sept. 26, 9-10 p.m., NBC

What happens after you wake up next to a dead hooker? SVU’s Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) will find out when the show returns to wrap up its stunning season 13 cliff-hanger. And Cragen won’t be alone in weathering shock waves: Having just overcome losing her partner of 12 years, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) will now have to confront doubts about Cragen. ”[Olivia’s] last pillar in her life is her captain,” says Hargitay. ”The rug gets pulled out, and her foundation is shaken so deeply…by [his apparent] secrets.” Adding to the unit’s trust issues, a bevy of new faces includes an interim captain (Adam Baldwin) and a DA investigator (Paget Brewster). Says exec producer Warren Leight, ”There’s a little room for suspicion.”

Modern Family
Returning Comedy

Premiers Sept. 26, 9-9:30 p.m., ABC

Still reeling from last season’s revelation that Gloria (Sofia Vergara) is preggers? Sit back and enjoy the fallout. ”Manny [Rico Rodriguez] is pretty sure he’s going to have to be the responsible one, so he’s reading the books, he’s going to the classes himself,” says co-creator Christopher Lloyd. Claire (Julie Bowen) also takes a keen interest in Gloria, but for different reasons. ”It’s always in the guise of being concerned and offering support,” hints Lloyd, ”but she cannot get enough information about what’s going on with Gloria’s body.” Also coming up in season 4: When tomboy Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) scrapes with a classmate, Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) prepare for a confrontation with the boy’s lesbian parents. And Phil (Ty Burrell) not only transfers his passion for magic to Luke (Nolan Gould), he transforms a racquetball game into an ”accidental gay date.”

Supernatural
Returning Drama

Premiers Oct. 3, 9-10 p.m., The CW

A few seasons ago, Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) spent nearly 40 ”hell years” with Lucifer himself on Supernatural, so what effect could a measly year in purgatory possibly have? ”I would say it’s a life-altering experience,” teases exec producer Jeremy Carver. Exactly what happened while Dean was trapped in purgatory — like, where Castiel (Misha Collins) went when he ditched his friend in the season finale, what monster had a hand in helping Dean escape, and how Sam (Jared Padalecki) spent his time alone (hint: it involves a very ”meaningful relationship” with a woman) — will all be explained through a series of flashbacks throughout season 8. The first few episodes will introduce new nuggets of mythology that Carver says will drive ”this season and beyond.”

Suburgatory
Returning Comedy

Premiers Oct. 17, 9:30-10 P.M., ABC

Well, at least one show won’t tease us about the identity of a mother for eight seasons (ahem, a certain CBS sitcom). Malin Akerman will guest-star in Suburgatory‘s Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes as Alex, the free spirit who abandoned daughter Tessa (Jane Levy) and husband George (Jeremy Sisto) when Tessa was a baby. ”It’s really important to me that the mom is not a villain,” says exec producer Emily Kapnek. ”Even if you don’t identify with her, you could have empathy for her state of mind.” Another season 2 highlight: George and Dallas (Cheryl Hines) have a three-way! Okay, not exactly, but she does bring her life coach when the pair finally embark on their first date. And Dallas and Noah (Alan Tudyk) wage an epic Kramer vs. Kramer-esque custody battle…over a housekeeper.

Chicago Fire
New Drama

Premiers Oct. 10, 10-11 p.m., NBC

Is there room on TV for a straightforward tale of firefighters, paramedics, and heroism? Exec producer Dick Wolf is betting on it. In fact, Wolf, the man behind the Law & Order franchise, thinks the character-based story and no-frills approach are Fire‘s greatest assets. ”I’m naive enough to think that if you build it they will come,” he says. It was certainly the type of show Jesse Spencer was looking for after spending eight years spewing medical jargon on House. ”It was time to do something in the opposite direction,” says the actor, who plays firefighter Matthew Casey. ”And running around in [heavy] gear for 14 hours [a day] seemed like the thing to do.”

CSI
Returning Drama

Premiers Sept. 26, 10-11 p.m., CBS

”This is one of the first years in a long time that we haven’t been saying goodbye or hello to someone,” says exec producer Carol Mendelsohn, referring to the near-revolving door that’s seen Elisabeth Shue replace Marg Helgenberger and Ted Danson take over for Laurence Fishburne. ”We have our team and cast intact. Creatively it’s very exciting to now craft great stories and not worry about having to say goodbye midseason to someone!” Among the planned plots for season 13: Former undersheriff McKeen (Conor O’Farrell) will rue the day he invaded D.B. Russell’s (Danson) home; Morgan (Elisabeth Harnois) will finally make peace with her father; and Nick’s (George Eads) decision to declare, ”I’m out” in front of Sara (Jorja Fox) and Greg (Eric Szmanda) will have a ripple effect on the team. In addition, ”Hodges [Wallace Langham] last season was speaking Italian and talking about a trip to Italy,” says Mendelsohn. ”We’ll find out about that.”

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