A Look at the Fall TV Lineup

Summer's almost here, allegedly. You'd never know it from this strange and dangerous brew of weather we've been having, but sunshine and warm temps are lurking around the corner.

I love summer because it means two things — no socks and lots of shellfish. Yep, those are my passions: sinking my feet into the sand and feasting on oysters, lobsters and mussels.

As much as I look forward to dangling my digits and consuming crustaceans, however, there's always the threat of an unsavory seafood experience.

Consume one bad mussel and you'll be tempted to shave your own tongue and switch to tofu. But if you love them like I do, you just can't. Eventually you end up trying them again. That's the way I feel about the fall television season.

I look forward to it, but the first rotten show spoils the experience. I start swearing I won't watch another bad sitcom or lame drama. Then they bait me with a catchy title or an actor I admire and whammo! I'm in front of the screen saying, "Ten minutes and that's it." An hour later, I'm thinking, "Gee, 60 minutes of my life shot to a plot I could see coming like a breakup with Joe Millionaire.

So why talk about fall TV when we're getting ready for beach volleyball?

Well, it's because the networks have just give us their "up fronts." Now, if you're thinking, "My, that sounds rather provocative and somewhat painful if not done properly," you'd be right.

Actually, up fronts are the glitzy events where networks parade their new fall shows and midseason replacements to critics and media folks. We get to see what's on the roster and then we tell the folks who are expected to watch these things.

I'll give you the "tree tops" as they say, which are basically the ones worth mentioning, and those break down into two categories: The ones that just might succeed and the ones that seem like instant garbage. Let's take a look:

Coming Soon on ABC

Hot momma Kelly Ripa stars in Hope and Faith, a comedy co-starring Faith Ford (Murphy Brown). Ripa plays a soap opera actress who gets killed on her show and goes to live with her sister's family. Ripa's got Midwest housewife appeal, and that's a sizeable demographic. Ripa and Ford could end up to being a pretty version of Rhoda and Brenda (Valerie Harper and Julie Kavner from Rhoda) without the rough edges.

A one-hour drama and called Threat Matrix could be called "Salami Matrix" and it would still be a potential hit, given that Matrix mania is sweeping the country. This show's rooted in current events. A Homeland Security task force, assembled like a millennium A Team, sets out to find the enemies, including al Qaeda operatives. You won't recognize any of the cast, but co-star Mahershalalhashbaz Ali will stand out for having the biggest name in show business — at least in terms of letters.

It's All Relative — a comedy about an Irish Catholic guy whose fiancée is a Harvard grad with two dads — could just as easily be called The Birdcage on The Boob Tube. The gay thing may work if it's handled as wittily as it is on Will & Grace, but the premise is so clichéd, it may already be doomed.

Coming Soon on CBS

Joey Pants (Joe Pantoliano from The Sopranos, for those out of loop) heads to network television in The Handler, in which he plays an undercover FBI agent training other FBI undercover agents. Let's just hope he doesn't teach them how to dress!

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