''Once Upon A Time,'' ''Boardwalk Empire,'' and more

By EW Staff
September 13, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Once Upon A Time
Returning Drama, 8 p.m., ABC
Once upon a time there was a fairy-tale show that everybody watched, but then it got super-complicated and its Sunday-night spell began to fade. In season 3, Once will be more focused, with the core cast on a mission in a new world. ”You can jump right in,” says exec producer Adam Horowitz, who offers this pithy summary: ”It’s fairy-tale Avengers on Captain Hook’s boat going to Neverland to rescue a kid from Peter Pan.” (Yes, Once‘s Peter Pan has a dark streak.) Oh, and the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) gets a love interest, and a mermaid named Ariel (JoAnna Garcia) shows up. Fingers crossed for a talking crab. Sept. 29

The Simpsons
Returning Comedy, 8 p.m., Fox
Season 25 opens with a different kind of Homer: He returns from a nuclear workers’ convention acting so weird that Lisa calls the FBI. ”He doesn’t eat pork, he doesn’t drink beer,” says exec producer Al Jean. ”It’s creepy to see him behave that way.” Speaking of creepy, this year’s ”Treehouse of Horror” features a couch gag courtesy of Guillermo del Toro and a parody of the 1932 cult movie Freaks. (”Barney is the legless guy, and the most hideous freak of all is just normal Moe,” hints Jean.) In other episodes, Homer delivers a baby in an elevator and Sideshow Bob pops up as a food scientist. Also, Comic Book Guy finds love with a Japanese woman. Notes Jean, ”He’s so excited, he says, ‘Is it too early to give you flowers and a Hulk hand?”’ Sept. 29

Boardwalk Empire
Returning Drama, 9 p.m., HBO
Coming into season 4, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is finding that maybe it ain’t all that good to be the king. The boardwalk emperor won the war against hotheaded mobster Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), but it’s a Pyrrhic victory: His wife (Kelly Macdonald) has left him and he’s keeping a lower profile. ”The carnation’s gone and with that, I think, so is the glad-handing and the politicking,” says Buscemi. ”He’s more behind-the-scenes now, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with.” There are new forces out there as well, including Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), a highly educated Harlem gangster. ”He’s a very different threat than Gyp was,” says showrunner Terence Winter. ”He’s much more of a chess player, very manipulative and Machiavellian.” In other words, Nucky had better watch the throne. Premiered Sept. 8

Family Guy
Returning Comedy, 9 p.m., Fox
The Griffin family’s adventures begin this season when Peter finds a clue for a treasure…on a kids’-menu place mat. ”Everyone thinks he’s an idiot until he discovers there’s a buried clue — one clue leading to the next,” says exec producer Steve Callaghan. ”It’s either going to be one of our highest-stakes or lowest-stakes episodes.” Speaking of high stakes, in a separate outing ”one of the Griffins meets his or her maker,” Callaghan teases. ”We will replace them with another character.” Also on tap for season 12: Quagmire counsels Meg when she’s being bullied at school, Cleveland returns, and Peter has a twin growing out of his neck. ”The family ends up liking him better than Peter,” explains Callaghan, ”so there’s a rivalry between Peter and his vestigial twin.” Sept. 29

Returning Drama, 9 p.m., ABC
In the first 60 seconds of the season 3 premiere, Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) is shot at her wedding and falls into the ocean. But per Revenge tradition, we’ll have to wait for the pieces of the puzzle to come together. One thing exec producer Sunil Nayar — who takes over for outgoing creator-showrunner Mike Kelley — promises about the new season: ”The stories are still going to have their wonderful twists and turns, we’re just going to be telling fewer of them,” he says. That means less Initiative-related hoo-ha and more time with the main characters. VanCamp, for one, is excited about what’s to come, especially between Emily and Jack (Nick Wechsler), who now knows Emily’s big secret. ”It’s going to be a really intense ride for those two,” she says, adding cryptically, ”and kind of a sad one, really.” Sept. 29

New Drama, 10 p.m., ABC
In an effort to bring a ”cable sensibility” to a new drama with a very ABC title, exec producer David Zabel is keeping Betrayal short and not so sweet. The first season — and any subsequent seasons — will run just 13 episodes. ”Since we don’t have to do 22,” says Zabel, ”we can pull out all the bells and whistles. Each one feels monumental.” Based on a Dutch series, Betrayal starts off with a meet-cute between a photographer (Hannah Ware) and a high-powered attorney (Stuart Townsend). Problem is, they’re married to other people, and their secret affair gets further complicated by murder and a legal battle that involves both of their families. ”I did have some apprehension about playing a female protagonist who’s a cheater — not that I really give a s— about how people perceive me,” says Ware, formerly of Starz’s Boss. ”The key to the show — whether it lives or dies — is whether you relate in some degree to Jack and Sara and, in a perverse way, root for them.” Sept. 29

Crazy Cliff-Hanger!
The Good Wife
Returning Drama, 9 p.m., CBS
Where we left off after Peter (Chris Noth) won the election, Alicia (Julianna Margulies) phoned someone to meet her at her apartment. When the door opened, it wasn’t Will (Josh Charles) but Cary (Matt Czuchry), who had asked her to leave Lockhart/Gardner to start a firm with him. Her answer? ”I’m in.”
What’s next Alicia and Cary are still plotting their exit in season 5, because creators Robert and Michelle King know the period between deciding to cheat and actually doing it makes for juicy storytelling. Meanwhile, Diane (Christine Baranski) pursues a judgeship, leading to a recurring conflict at the firm. Teases Robert, ”Is Diane doing something to work for her confirmation or doing something for the firm?” Margulies says viewers should expect fireworks. ”I saw this scene — Alicia stands there while Diane and Will go at each other. It was devastating to watch.” Sept. 29

Eastbound & Down
Returning Comedy, 10 p.m., HBO
Eastbound & Down appeared to end definitively last year, with a finale that saw Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) leave baseball behind to be with his family. After a surprise renewal, this fourth and final season finds a Kenny who’s ”living in the suburbs, is married, has a normal job,” explains exec producer Jody Hill. ”And he’s pretty miserable.” Once again, he embarks on a quest for fame and fortune — one that involves new cast member Ken Marino (Childrens Hospital, Burning Love) as a successful ex-athlete. (The creators are mum about potential guest stars, although Lindsay Lohan filmed a cameo.) So is Eastbound definitely finished now? Well… ”Kenny Powers is the sort of character that, five years from now, we could explore where he’s at,” says McBride. ”For everything he learns, he forgets six other things.” Sept. 29

Masters of Sex
New Drama, 10 p.m., Showtime
A little historical and a whole lot steamy, this new period drama about the early days of the sexual revolution — featuring Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) and Lizzy Caplan (Party Down) as pioneering researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson — has all the ingredients of the perfect cable drama. Exec producers Michelle Ashford (The Pacific) and Sarah Timberman (Justified) tell the story of how Masters, a gynecologist, teamed with his spirited secretary at Washington University in St. Louis in the ’50s to research human sexual response. Hence the on-camera nudity (and then some). ”It’s not that we have an excuse to show people having sex. That would be utterly beside the point,” argues Timberman. ”Every scene that deals with sex is dealing with a very complex set of relationships.” That’s not to say the material hasn’t made for some giddy moments on the set — especially when it comes to a see-through dildo dubbed the ”Ulysses,” which Masters designed to help gather data about the female orgasm. ”The potential merchandising for this show!” jokes Sheen. ”So many opportunities.” Sept. 29

Hello Ladies
New Comedy, 10:30 p.m., HBO
Stephen Merchant dreamed up both the original U.K. version of The Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais, but he co-created this new sitcom about Los Angeles-dwelling singletons with U.S. Office scribes Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. ”Ricky has been in a happy relationship since he was 21 or something,” says Merchant, explaining the project’s Gervais-lessness. ”The dating world isn’t really something he’s experienced.” Merchant stars as a horny but hapless Web designer named Stuart, who is helped, and hindered, in his lady-hunting by sad-sack pal Wade (Nate Torrence) and his tenant Jessica (Christine Woods). Ladies was inspired by Merchant’s stand-up show of the same name — and in case you were wondering, ladies, the comedian is currently single. Still, Merchant says he’s not really playing himself: ”Stuart’s glasses are more square than mine.” Sept. 29

Also on Sunday
The Amazing Race
Returning Reality, 8 p.m., CBS
Season 23’s teams will paraglide over Chilean sand dunes, take an icy plunge in Norway, and race cars in Abu Dhabi. Planning the globetrotting staple means producers spend a lot of quality time in airports. ”I’d rather go to the dentist than sit in an airplane,” groans exec producer Bertram van Munster. Spin-off idea: The Amazing Root Canal! Sept. 29

Bob’s Burgers
Returning Comedy, 8:30 p.m., Fox
The only thing the Belcher clan loves more than working at the restaurant is not working at the restaurant. ”The family goes camping in the [season 4] premiere,” says creator Loren Bouchard. ”But it ends poorly for them,” adds H. Jon Benjamin, who voices Bob. ”Diarrhea is involved.” Sept. 29

American Dad
Returning Comedy, 9:30 p.m., Fox
The 10th-season premiere features Steve and Snot trying to lose their virginity…via cloning. ”It backfires when the girls come out of the cloning machine as infants, so Steve and Snot have to spend the summer raising these girls,” says exec producer Mike Barker. ”By the time they’re ready for prom, Steve and Snot have developed paternal feelings.” Sept. 29

The Mentalist
Returning Drama, 10 p.m., CBS
After seeing pictures of seven possible baddies in the season 5 finale, fans just want to know one thing: Who is Red John? ”A lot of the stories we’ve been following are coming not to their conclusions but to their climaxes,” says creator Bruno Heller. If that sounds elliptical, this isn’t: CBS announced that we will learn who killed Patrick Jane’s (Simon Baker) family by year’s end. Says Baker, ”The writers aren’t wasting much time this season.” Sept. 29