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Summer TV Preview: Forget the Beach, Cable Is The Place To Be

May 30th, 2008 8:30am EDT
Law and Order CIWhile the cable networks still lag far behind the broadcast networks in the ratings department (well, four of them anyway), they have made great strides in terms of matching, and often times exceeding, the big dogs when it comes to quality original programming.

At no time of the year is this trend more evident than in the summer. While the broadcast networks are unsurprisingly going with a bevy of unscripted fare (including entirely too many reality competition shows), the cable networks are once again proving to be the place to turn for quality, original, SCRIPTED programming.

Now, with that being said, the cable networks also have their fair share of reality trash scheduled for this summer. That is one of many reasons why there will be no further mention of networks like MTV or VH1 and their "programming" in this preview. There are too many quality shows out there in cableland to focus on downers produced by those two very, very horrible excuses for a network.

What to expect from cable TV this summer:

1.) MONDAY

ABC Family: ABC Family is hoping to continue its summer success from years past with "The Middleman," a new drama series based on the graphic novel series created by former "Lost" writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach. The intriguing series chronicles the adventures of a hero who does battle with strange, evil creatures and other such threats to the greater populace. Said hero, known only as The Middleman, is a part of a larger organization dedicated to finding and supporting him (or her). The position of middleman, similar to that of the slayer in the "Buffy" universe, is not a static one. It is filled by a succession of "lucky" individuals. All of them fighting the good fight. The series premieres June 14, and is definitely worth a look.

The CloserTNT: TNT will be going with a combo of returning series' "The Closer" and "Saving Grace" on Mondays, a lineup that is sure to attract viewership numbers that put the CW to shame. "The Closer," entering its fourth season, is one of the highest rated original series on basic cable, and for good reason. The series, about homicide detective Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) is fantastic. Sharply written, gripping, and boasting an impressive cast, it is not to be missed. Its companion, the less established "Saving Grace," isn't quite on the same level, but if you are going to watch one series about a successful yet flawed female law enforcer, you might as well watch two.

Showtime: Let's hear it for the "other" premium cable network. HBO was dominant with original programming back in the late 90s and early 00s, but as the 21st century rolls on, it becomes more and more clear that Showtime has eclipsed HBO in the television programming department. Whereas HBO has produced almost nothing of significance in the past few years, Showtime has countered with quality programming such as "Queer as Folk," "Dead Like Me," "Dexter," "The Tudors" and "Weeds."

"Weeds," the offbeat comedy about the thriving drug business of a suburban, middle-aged housewife, returns for its fourth season in June. It will be followed by "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," an intriguing new comedy about a seemingly normal, well respected legal secretary who moonlights as…a call girl. It's set in London, so you know it is probably going to be awesome. At the very least, it is bound to be better than "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer."

2.) TUESDAY

ABC Family: ABC Family has more original programming set to go on Tuesdays. "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" (so many secrets this summer!) is a relationship drama about a large ensemble of family and friends. It's a relationship based drama, and those are pretty much always interesting, plus it has a cast that includes Molly Ringwald and Ernie Hudson. What more can you ask for?

FX: "30 Days," an unscripted series from Morgan Spurlock (he of "Supersize Me" fame) returns for its third season on FX. More interesting than most reality fare, it has a simple yet enjoyable premise. In "Supersize Me," Spurlock ate only McDonald's for a 30 day period. In "30 Days," he challenges others to adopt a different way of life or otherwise challenge their beliefs for a month. It's not quite as riveting as watching someone gain weight for an hour and a half, but its fun.

EurekaSci-Fi: Want to watch something a little less traditional? Try "Eureka" on Sci-Fi. The returning series, which will be beginning its third season in July, is all about a crazy, top-secret town that is filled to the brim with all sorts of eccentric geniuses. Wackiness and cool inventions can be found in abundance.

3.) WEDNESDAY

History Channel: "Monsterquest" began its second season a few weeks ago and will continue on through the first part of the summer. This fascinating series uses part scientific evidence and part eyewitness accounts to provide the most in depth analysis yet on the possible existence of strange creatures and mythical beasts. Hey, what else are you going to watch Wednesdays at 9, "Celebrity Circus?"

Sci-Fi: If you prefer ghosts and the paranormal to Bigfoot and Nessie, then check out "Ghost Hunters International" on Sci-Fi. This spinoff of "Ghost Hunters" follows an all new team of paranormal experts as they investigate things that go bump in the night.

If you are a real trooper, then stick around for "Scare Tactics," which will be airing its third season after "Ghost Hunters." For those that are unfamiliar, "Tactics" is a "Punk'd" style show for non-celebrities that puts them into terrifying situations, takes a few years off of their lives, and then tells them that it is all a joke. It says something when Stephen Baldwin, who hosted last season, feels he is too good for a show and bolts. It's that bad.

TV Land: Isn't "TV Land" supposed to be the home of classic television? One wouldn't know it based on the Wednesday night lineup this summer, which includes two horrendous-looking new reality shows. The first, "She's Got the Look," is yet another modeling competition. The catch? This one is only for people over 35. It looks like "The Sopranos" compared to "Family Foreman," a new reality series that gives viewers an unwanted look into the life of former heavyweight champion George Foreman. At least it doesn't look as bad as "Hogan Knows Best."

4.) THURSDAY

Bravo: Season 4 (4!) of Kathy Griffin's "Life on the D-List" will be coming your way this summer on Bravo. We get it Kathy, you're a D-Lister, you hate every other celebrity, and you lead a boring life. You don't need a whole series to tell us that. Why don't you just make like all of the other D-Listers and appear on "Wanna Bet?"

Reno 911Comedy Central: Comedy Central has a trio of goodies scheduled for this summer. "Reno 911," the hilarious "COPS" spoof, recently began its fifth season and is well worth watching. Still to come are "Reality Bites Back" and "The Gong Show with Dave Attell." "Reality Bites Back" is the ultimate reality TV spoof. Each week, a group of comedians will take part in parodies of all of the terrible reality television out there. Well, not all of it, because that would require thousands of episodes, but enough of it to satisfy the haters out there.

CBS isn't the only network bringing back a retro game show series. Comedy Central has a little gem of their own. "The Gong Show with Dave Attell" is an updated version of the classic talent competition where mostly crazy acts are judged by a celebrity panel.

TBS: Sitcoms "The Bill Engvall Show" and "My Boys" will shift to Thursday nights for their sophomore seasons on TBS. "The Bill Engvall Show" is a fairly unspectacular family comedy, although one of the main character's buddies is played by Steve Hytner (Bania from Seinfeld!). "My Boys" is slightly better. It focuses on a twentysomething woman who has masculine sensibilities and interests, along with a boatload of male friends. Naturally, this causes problems in her romantic life. It's funnier than it sounds.

Burn NoticeUSA: "Burn Notice," one of the highest quality summer series', returns for its second season this year. The spy series follows Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) a former spy who has become blacklisted and tries to start life anew in Miami, all the while trying to find out what exactly happened to him. It co-stars the always excellent Sharon Gless. Definitely a must watch.

5.) FRIDAY

Sci-Fi: One of the most intriguing new series' to premiere this summer is "Charlie Jade," on Sci-Fi. The series, which is filmed in "South Africa," follows a private detective from a dystopian world, dubbed the "Alphaverse." It is a world that is dominated by multinational corporations. His adventures eventually take him through two other parallel universes, the Betaverse," which is much like our present day world, and the "Gammaverse" a what-if world where the inhabitants made smart use of natural resources. Multi-universe intrigue ensues. Check it out.

Sci-Fi is also premiering another season of "Stargate Atlantis," which is not nearly as exciting. The Stargate series has gotten quite stale, and with no MacGyver, there just isn't really any reason to watch.

MonkUSA: In the name of stability, USA is bringing back its time tested duo of "Monk" and "Psych." Nothing too flashy here, but both shows are still enjoyable. Tony Shalhoub still rocks.

6.) SATURDAY

BBC America: It's no "Robin of Sherwood," (but then again, what is?) but "Robin Hood" on BBC will certainly satisfy those of you craving further adventures of The Hooded Man. Once Robby's season ends mid-summer, it will be replaced by new series "Primeval," which looks quite enjoyable. Temporal rifts cause dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures to suddenly appear in the modern world. Dedicated to kids everywhere who wished that dinosaurs still existed (but don't let them watch it).

7.) SUNDAY

Two CoreysA&E: Not everything on the cable networks is worth your time. Aside from the programming on The Networks That Shall Not Be Named, there is other garbage that will be wasting your precious hours like "Gene Simmons' Family Jewels" (see Gene get plastic surgery on his jowls!) and "The Two Coreys." Ok, so maybe "Coreys," the faux reality series starring Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, is worth watching if you really, really miss the duo's film collaborations. On second thought, just Netflix "License to Drive," or "The Lost Boys" instead. Heck, even "Blown Away" would suffice.

Lifetime: Lifetime has had a few decent original series' in its lifetime, and "Army Wives" is one of them. Note - decent means decent, not spectacular. Still, the ensemble drama about wives (and husbands) going about their lives while their spouses serve overseas is worth checking out.

Spike TV: Spike TV is premiering its first original comedy series, "The Factory," in late June. The series is a workplace comedy, but as the name might entail, it is not of the office variety. Just about four hardworking buds putting in long hours over at the factory. Hilarity ensues.

USA: Craving fresh installments of "Law & Order?" USA to the rescue! The network will be airing the second half of the current season of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" Sunday nights. Chris Noth might get all the press coverage about his role of Big in "Sex and the City," but he was Mike Logan first. And Mike Logan is awesome.

"CI" will be followed by a new drama series, "In Plain Sight." It is about the hazardous life led by Federal Marshalls who work in the witness protection program. Somehow, we get the feeling that it won't have quite as many laughs as the Steve Martin/Rick Moranis witness protection comedy "My Blue Heaven."

Related Article:
Summer TV Preview: ABC, CBS, NBC & Fox

What cable shows will you be watching this summer. Comment below!

Story by Derek Krebs
Starpulse contributing writer