TV Eye

In with the old, in with the new

<i>The Sopranos</i>
The Sopranos

If you were bored with the Olympics and aren't into American Idol – which has the distinction of being the first prime-time program to surpass the Olympics in head-to-head ratings – you probably spent most of February miffed that your favorite shows were off the air. Maybe you tripped around the cable channels to see what was going on there. Or, maybe you read a book! Well, television comes back to life with a splash of returning and new offerings sure to appeal to a broad range of viewers.

Returning favorites: First and foremost, the long overdue return of The Sopranos (HBO, March 12). Fan appetites are whet with 12 episodes, another annoying break, and then the final eight episodes in 2007. When we return to our cuddly New Jersey mob family, Tony and Carmela (James Gandolfini and Edie Falco) are reconciled but confronting empty-nest issues. Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) is in prison, meaning that the relations between the New Jersey and New York families are more tense than ever. Guest stars for the new season include Tim Daly, Frankie Valli, Ben Kingsley, Julianna Margulies, and Rob Liebman.

The ridiculously addictive Prison Break (Fox) returns March 20. Media watchers feared that the lag between its first set of episodes and the concluding ones would lose viewers. I predict that fans will return in droves, desperate for their fix (I know I will). The secret of the series is not just the jaw-dropping twists and turns and the superb ensemble, it's that Prison Break, like other cult series, develops and faithfully follows its own internal logic. Appointment TV at its best.

The media trades said that the days of Everwood (the WB) were numbered. Now that UPN and the WB have married to become the future CW network, the series (along with 7th Heaven) might have an extended life. Everwood returns on March 20 with a special two-hour episode.

New Stuff: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin star in Big Love (HBO), the first of the new family dramas with an emphasis on "new." One business, three wives, three houses, seven children, and one strange father-in-law keep Paxton's Bill Henrickson the very busy husband in a family of polygamists. The new HBO drama seeks to represent the ordinary lives of an extraordinary living situation that some might find intriguing and others exhausting. Bruce Dern, Grace Zabriskie, and Harry Dean Stanton also star. Big Love premieres after The Sopranos March 12.

Another look at family comes in the new series Sons & Daughters (ABC). Part improv, part scripted, the comedy promises a sober look at marriage, child rearing, and blended families in the suburbs. The acerbic previews are probably fair warning that this is not going to be a knockoff of the warm Once and Again. Sons & Daughters stars Fred Goss and Gillian Vigman and premieres March 7.

The lovely Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns to prime time in a new comedy, The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS). I thought Louis-Dreyfus was swell in the woefully short-lived Watching Ellie a few seasons back, but I have a sense this new series will stick. This time, she plays a recently divorced wife and mother who maintains an amicable relationship with her ex, until he finds a new girlfriend – also named Christine – who is so likable it's annoying. Premieres March 13.

Now, I have an aversion to procedurals, but the premise of The Evidence (ABC) intrigues me. Rob Estes and Orlando Jones star as detectives and friends in the San Francisco Police Department. So far, same old. But the difference in this case is that the evidence is presented to viewers early. The mystery of each episode is discovering if and how all the pieces fit together to solve the crime. Martin Landau and Anita Briem also star. Premieres March 22.

Dennis Haysbert may have lost his job as President David Palmer on 24, but he returns to life in a new action-adventure series on CBS, The Unit. Now, instead of being leader of the free world, he leads a pack of elite Special Forces operatives, working undercover, saving the world from evil while their patient wives keep the hearth fires burning. Inspired by the book Inside Delta Force, the premiere is helmed by playwright and series creator David Mamet. Be prepared for a heavy dose of testosterone. Regina Taylor, Scott Foley, and Robert Patrick also star. Premieres March 7.

Check local listings for air-times.

Not to be missed: Grizzly Man airs on the Discovery Channel Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 25-26. Werner Herzog's documentary offers a portrait of Timothy Treadwell, a passionate (some would say obsessed) advocate for grizzly bears who was killed by the beasts he sought to protect. Original footage from Treadwell's video diary are featured in Diary of a Grizzly Man, which follows the documentary.

Last, but not least, the 78th annual Academy Awards ceremony airs Sunday, March 5, on ABC. Jon Stewart hosts.

As always, stay tuned.

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The Sopranos, Prison Break, The Unit, The Evidence, Grizzly Man, Sons & Daughters, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Big Love

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