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As the five major networks prepare to do battle for your eyeballs this fall season, it's time to see what they've got on their rosters. We've broken down their lineups into star players worth your attention, optimistic rookies preparing to sink or swim, and fading stars of yesteryear who may have lost that cutting edge.
Star Players: "Lost" (Wednesdays, 9 p.m.) will once again have everyone's attention. What do the numbers mean? Massive ratings. The "Grey's Anatomy" (Thursdays, 9 p.m.) cast will continue to fraternize heavily between health-care crises, while the high-priced litigation continues in "Boston Legal" (Tuesdays, 10 p.m.).
Rookies: Hostage flashback drama "The Nine" (Wednesdays, 10 p.m.) will air immediately after "Lost," which can only help. "Ugly Betty" (Thursdays, 8.pm.), a small-screen "The Devil Wears Prada," has earned rave reviews and could match the success of its Colombian original.
Fading Star: Though it's still a relatively young show, the "Desperate Housewives" (Sundays, 9 p.m.) were already looking old (metaphorically speaking) in their second season. The Wisteria Lane ladies have something to prove.
Star Players: "Prison Break" (Mondays, 8 p.m.) is out of the big house and on the run for its second season. "House" (Tuesday 8 p.m.) survived his gunshot wounds and returns to solve more medical mysteries. "King Of The Hill" is out injured, but will return to the lineup in early 2007 (Sundays, 7:30 p.m.)
Rookies: Kidnap drama "Vanished" (Mondays, 9 p.m.) has an intriguing, over-arching conspiracy mystery, "Standoff" (Tuesdays 9 p.m.) promises weekly hostage situations, and "Justice" (Wednesdays 9 p.m.) will see how many expensive explosions Jerry Bruckheimer can cram into a legal drama.
Fading Stars: "The O.C." (Thursdays, 9 p.m.) may struggle after losing Mischa Barton, (pessimistic FOX has only ordered 16 episodes) while painful but true "The Simpsons" (Sundays, 8 p.m.) isn't what it used to be.
Star Players: The original police procedural franchise "Law & Order" (Fridays, 10 p.m.) returns for a 17th (count 'em) season, with spinoffs "Criminal Intent" and "Special Victims Unit" dominating Tuesday nights (9 p.m., 10 p.m. respectively.) "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" are making Thursday night comedy a quirky little pleasure zone. (8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., respectively).
Rookies: "Heroes" (Monday, 9 p.m.) might well grow into the "Lost" style marquee name NBC execs are hoping for. They've also innovatively recycled "Saturday Night Live," with "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip" (Mondays, 10 p.m.) looking like it could be "the new West Wing" and "30 Rock" (Wednesday, 8 p.m.) giving Tina Fey the sit-com equivalent of auteur status. In a missed scheduling opportunity, the "Friday Night Lights" movie spin-off will air on Tuesdays nights (8 p.m.).
Fading Stars: Two dinosaurs on the team are E.R. (yes it's still going, Thursdays, 10 p.m.) and "Saturday Night Live" (not telling which day, 11:30 p.m.). The former will never recapture its George Clooney glory days, while the latter is gambling on a massive personnel overhaul.
Star Players: The stylized gruesomeness of "CSI" (Thursdays, 9 p.m.) will attract droves of masochistic viewers. "CSI: Miami" (Monday, 10 p.m.), "CSI: NY" (Wednesdays, 10 p.m.) "Cold Case" (Sundays 9 p.m.), Without A Trace (Sundays, 10 p.m.) and others complete a police-procedurals-heavy locker room, with Charlie Sheen comedy "Two And A Half Men" (Mondays, 9 p.m.) providing much-needed laughs.
Rookies: Movie star James Woods is a lawyer turned prosecutor in "Shark" (Thurdays, 10 p.m.); movie star Ray Liotta leads an all-star gang of thieves on weekly heists in "Smith" (Tuesdays, 10 p.m.); and borderline movie star Skeet Ulrich is one of the possible nuclear holocaust survivors in "Jericho" (Wednesdays, 8 p.m.)
Fading Stars: Criminal investigations are in vogue right now, but if and when they fall out of fashion, CBS is going to have some serious programming problems.
Network: The CW
Star Players: "Gilmore Girls" (Tuesdays, 8 p.m.) creator Amy Sherman-Palladino jumped ship at the end of last season, so Lorelai and Rory's mother-daughter banter is now in David S. Rosenthal's hands. "Veronica Mars" (Tuesdays, 9 p.m.) heads for college in season three, while "Smallville" (Thursdays, 8 p.m.) is heading toward a Clark, Lex, Lana love triangle. Chris Rock's teenage alter ego will continue to be tortured for our amusement in "Everybody Hates Chris" (Sundays, 7 p.m.).
Rookies: "Girlfriends" (Sundays, 8 p.m.) spin-off "The Game" (Sundays, 8:30 p.m.) and Donnie Wahlberg vehicle "Runaway" (Mondays 9 p.m.) are the only new shows The CW has created, rather than inherited from the WB/UPN merger.
Fading Star: "7th Heaven" (Mondays, 8 p.m.) doesn't quite mesh with The CW's youthful demographic target, but narrowly survived cancellation after the intended final episode drew impressive ratings. SClick here for more Arts & Culture