Summer TV: Pot, Pitchmen and Prostitutes

Maybe you're not so happy with TV. And who can blame you? The three-months-long writers strike took scripted shows off the air and cut short seasons once they returned. "Lost" lost episodes, "The Office" went out of business, "24" won't dawn again until January.

TV wants to make it up to you this summer — specifically, cable TV.

"In terms of broadcast, a lot of what they're doing — reality, game shows — is pretty painful looking," said David Bianculli, who reviews TV for NPR's "Fresh Air" and on his own site, "This is when you expect cable to pick up the slack."

Two returning hits and one new show are trying to turn up the heat on cable this season: "Weeds," "Mad Men" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." Below, get to know the shows that will be fueling the buzz around the barbeque this summer.


Unless your head has been in the weeds for the past three years, you've heard of this show. The half-hour Showtime series stars Mary-Louise Parker as a widowed soccer mom who delves into pot-dealing to keep up with the Joneses. Hilarious and dark, "Weeds" has been a critical darling since it premiered in 2005.

"It's incredibly on the edge. The humor and sexuality is very racy, very controversial. It's everything a cable show should be," said Andrew Wallenstein, deputy editor of The Hollywood Reporter. "Mary-Louise Parker is tailor-made for that role. The whole premise of suburban pot dealer, you're sold right then and there."

"Weeds" returns to Showtime June 16.

Bianculli predicts that now that the show has an established fan base, it'll try to push the envelope. "I think Mary-Louise Parker's character is going to be crossing some dark moral lines this year," he said. "The marijuana in the suburbs may have just been a gateway drug after all." The fourth season of "Weeds" premieres June 16.

'Mad Men'

On the surface, a show about a bunch of ad executives in the 1960s may not seem Tivo-worthy. But "Mad Men" manages to make Madison Avenue seem as exciting now as it was during its golden age. The show focuses on Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, a high-level exec at the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency who has all the makings of a perfect life but doesn't seem at all satisfied with it — so he cheats, drinks and smokes to get by.

Created by Matthew Weiner, a former producer and writer on "The Sopranos," "Mad Men" carries on the wit and dark undercurrent of that landmark series. It won a warm reception from critics after debuting last summer, put AMC on the map and racked up two Golden Globes.

"Mad Men" returns to AMC July 27.

Where so many period dramas fail, "Mad Men" shines. "Period drama is something that's so easy to do wrong. It's easy to get so caught up in set decoration and music that you forget about the plot," Bianculli said. "But I can't wait to get back to these characters. I would like to live in 'Mad Men' town." "Mad Men's" second season premieres July 27.

'Secret Diary of a Call Girl'

Craving some sex this season? Skip CBS' new "Swingtown" and go for the real deal — Showtime's "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." The half-hour series, brought over to the U.S. from Britain and based on the blogs of London call girl Belle de Jour, follows Belle (day name: Hannah Baxter), a 27-year-old working in London as a high-class escort. It stars British tabloid favorite Billie Piper, who, with her blonde hair and curves, is bound to be as big of a hit here as she is across the pond.

"Secret Diary of a Call Girl" premieres on Showtime July 16.

Robert Greenblatt, Showtime's president of entertainment, initially considered buying the format rights, recasting it and making it American. But Piper won him over, and he decided to broadcast the show unchanged. Besides, he told the International Herald Tribune, "It's very hard to find American actresses who are comfortable doing nudity." American audiences have reason to be intrigued. "That whole situation with Elliot Spitzer gives that show very current buzz," Wallenstein said. "Secret Diary of a Call Girl" debuts June 16.