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!

Jerry Bruckheimer, who created CSI, offers Cold Case, a drama for Sunday night's. It's action and intrigue. It's also been done, but it's Jerry Bruckheimer.

My favorite of the CBS lineup has to be Joan of Arcadia, about a girl who converses with God. Her parents are played by Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen. I wonder if she talks to the Big Man Upstairs about her parents or about the pressure of trying to fill the time slot vacated by Touched by an Angel?

Coming Soon on Fox

Snagging another idea from the Brits, Fox presents The Ortegas. Based on The Kumars at No. 42, the award-winning comedy from England, the Americanized version features a Hispanic family (the Kumars were Asian). Also, this show was developed for U.S. TV by NBC, but they passed and Fox took the banana … or should we say plantain.

Here's another formula for prime time: Take seven siblings, let them turn 16 and see what happens. Septuplets is based on the Wilde children, four boys and three girls who live in a Southern California hotel run by their folks. The interesting thing will be to see how they found seven kids who look enough alike to convince people they're related.

My love from the Fox lot is 30 Seconds of Fame. It's "Star Search Meets the Egg Timer," as contestants must show off their skills in a half-minute before a group of judges and a studio audience. The winner picks up $25 grand. Not bad for less than a-thousandth of a day's work! Coming Soon on NBC

This network seems to have juice with several big-name celebs taking the helm of their own shows, including Rob Lowe, Alicia Silverstone, Whoopi Goldberg and John Larroquette.

Silverstone co-stars with Ryan O'Neal in Miss Match, a Friday night comedy. She plays a legal eagle by day and busybody by night, trying to hook up her friends and family. For the unfortunate few who are washing their hair on Friday nights, this might be a godsend.

Although the Peacock Network is losing Friends after next season, this fall they're gaining Coupling, a show they snagged from the BBC. It's like Friends, but they're in their 30s, and it'll have biting English humor. Hard to say if this will be a winner since we know Sweet'N Low can never take the place of sugar.

There's another big name to add to the mix — Donald Trump. In The Apprentice, a reality show, 16 people vie for the job of Trump's personal assistant. As there are sure to be women in the mix, I'm guessing looks count. Notes on UPN and WB

Worth mentioning on UPN: Might Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith be TV's next Rob and Laura Petrie? They're the force behind All of Us., but they're executive producers, not stars. What you do get is a guy, his ex-wife, his soon-to-be wife and his little boy. That sounds a bit like what you got when Will and Jada first came together. So what's the hook? Frankly, I don't get it.

Worth mentioning on the WB: Put a guy in a loincloth in downtown Manhattan and whaddya have? Just another Saturday night in Greenwich Village? Actually, you have Tarzan and Jane. This time, the ape-man ends up fighting crime in NYC. Every Tarzan has his Jane, and this one is a cop who's torn between her intended and the new swinging single in town.

So, there you have it, a sampling of the television buffet that awaits you. Break out your nut crackers and dig in. Just remember, the shell may look good on the outside, but only one in a million oysters yields a pearl.

Heidi Oringer is director of entertainment programming at ABCNEWS Radio.