Tube Talk: Summer series can be surprisingly good

There was a time when summer was a dumping ground for repeats and series that just weren’t quite good enough for the regular season. In the pre-DVD age, networks had to air episodes multiple times to get their money’s worth in ad sales. Today, the logic is shifting, led by strong DVD sales for complete seasons of popular series (as well as downloadable episodes). The fact that basic cable networks proved people not only watch, but crave, new programming during summer months, didn’t hurt much, either.

Fox was probably the first to succeed with a summer launch way back in 1990 with Beverly Hills 90210, but today’s summer shows tend to be less beach-y and more Emmy-worthy. At least that’s true of returning shows such as Rescue Me, The Closer and The 4400.

FX got a jumpstart on the summer season May 30 with the third season of Denis Leary’s acclaimed fire fighter drama Rescue Me. June 29 marks the second season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—which is a bit of a rarity: a summer sitcom. These shows are not without a little extra star power this summer, either. Susan Sarandon guest stars in a sizzling story arc on Rescue Me, while Danny DeVito returns to his sitcom roots on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

USA has perhaps the most ambitious summer slate. On top of sci-fi favorites The 4400 and The Dead Zone, which returned June 11 and 18, respectively, a new show, Psyche, will debut alongside USA’s long-running Monk July 7.

Last year’s No. 1 cable drama, The Closer, returns to TNT June 12, along with the new medical procedural drama, Saved. With one of the best supporting casts on TV—J.K Simmons, G.W. Bailey and Tony Denison, to name but a few of the fine actors going toe-to-toe with star Kyra Sedgwick—The Closer is not to be missed. The only danger is after one episode, you’re bound to start craving sweets while finding new and sarcastic ways to say thank you.

NBC’s heavily promoted Windfall—co-starring Luke Perry, who knows a thing or two about summer debuts, thanks to his days on 90210—started June 8 and looks very promising. But ABC Family’s stab at sci-fi, Kyle XY, premiering June 26, seems like one of the iffier summer series (although I’m sure teen and ’tween girls will tune in to see blue-eyed pretty boy Matt Dallas as Kyle).

I admit I’m addicted to Rescue Me, The 4400 and The Closer, but there’s another summer series I always look forward to: PBS’ History Detectives.

History Detectives isn’t a scripted show. I’d describe it more as an investigative documentary-style series that makes research exciting. Average people ask the “detectives” to track down the history behind specific objects. Could the baseball said to have been autographed by Dizzy Dean during a 1944 game against fellow pitcher Satchel Paige prove integration on the infield first occurred earlier than we thought? Watching the detectives travel the country delving through evidence and dusty records as they piece together the truth behind each case is fascinating, as are their final reports. I especially love when an unassuming item is shown to have historical significance.

There’s obviously no shortage of new programs to keep you entertained this summer. You probably won’t want to watch all of these shows, but do yourself a favor and give a couple of them a try. You might be surprised how good summer series can be.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy Magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications including American Bungalow, SatelliteORBIT, and TV Guide.

From the June 28-July 4, 2006, issue

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