It used to be that summer was a desolate wasteland, at least when it came to original television. The networks, like teachers, pretty much took the season off and cable was still in its infancy, struggling to find a way to quench that particular thirst. But these days, summer is just as viable for original programming as the fall and midseason, and this year is no different.
We've decided to run down the biggest premieres from the hottest networks (in alphabetical order), making sure to note the starriest, sexiest, most interesting new and returning programs for you to watch at the end of a long, hot summer day. It's enough to make you wonder how anyone ever survived the summer without shows of this caliber popping up. Dog days, indeed.
While there certainly seems to be some promising things coming down the pike for ABC, including a series based on the Peggy Carter character from sister studio Marvel's "Captain America" films, that doesn't mean that the Disney-owned channel is resting on its laurels this summer. While the program most associated with ABC's summer slate, "Wipeout!," will indeed be back, there are a number of additional new series set to make their debut, the most tantalizing of which, "The Astronaut Wives Club," based on the best-selling true story of the NASA wives, by Lily Koppel (and developed by "Gossip Girl" co-head Stephanie Savage), arrives in late July. Also, "Rookie Blue" is celebrating the premiere of its fifth season. Who knew?
"Extreme Weight Loss"
"Bachelor in Paradise"
While ABC Family doesn't have the kind of critical clout that some of the other boutique networks do (at least while it keeps canceling gems like stellar comedy/drama "Bunheads" and the way-before-its-time "The Middle Man"), it is sort of the perfect summertime alternative, and returning series like the insanely popular "Pretty Little Liars" and "Switched at Birth" know that they've doing something right. There are a couple of intriguing new shows this season, too, first and foremost "Mystery Girls," which reunites "Beverly Hills 90210" stars Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth for a half hour comedy involving a pair of detective show stars who are brought together to solve a real life mystery.
"Pretty Little Liars"
"Switched at Birth"
"Young & Hungry"
Slowly but surely NBC seems to be bouncing back, and this summer they're continuing their mixture of tried-and-true and more stunt-oriented programming, beginning with this weekend's "Rosemary's Baby" miniseries anchored by "Avatar" star Zoe Saldana (in the role made famous by Mia Farrow). Later this month is perhaps the thing we're most excited about all summer for: "The Maya Rudolph Show," a one-hour variety special that, we hope and pray, could lead to a regular series for the former "Saturday Night Live" break out. (Hey, "Up All Night" could have been... something.) Besides that, expect a mixture of new (John Malkovich plays Blackbeard the pirate in "Crossbones!") and old from the network.
"The Maya Rudolph Show"
"Last Comic Standing"
"Welcome to Sweden"
"Working the Engels"
Last year, CBS bet big -- on a pricey, direct-to-series order of a series based on a recent, highly beloved Stephen King novel "Under the Dome" -- and it paid off. "Under the Dome" was a summer series that everyone was talking about. Not only is the network bringing the show back for a second season (with a season premiere written by King himself), but they're attempting to replicate that formula in their direct-to-series order of a still mysterious, hugely expensive Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi series starring Halle Berry called "Extant," in which Berry plays a female astronaut who returns to Earth altogether transformed. Oh, and there's another season of "Big Brother" coming. Of course.
"Under the Dome"
Fox has already gotten into the summer series spirit with the premiere of "24: Live Another Day," a "limited series" take on the beloved TV series, with the thrills, chills, and Kiefer Sutherland's growly line delivery remain intact. The rest of Fox's summer slate is mostly stuffed with reality shows, from the familiar "So You Think You Can Dance," to the absurdly bizarre "I Wanna Marry Harry," in which contestants are tricked into believing that they are vying for the chance to marry Prince Harry. Some people will believe (and watch) just about anything.
"24: Live Another Day"
"I Wanna Marry Harry"
"So You Think You Can Dance"
There's pretty much everything (and anything) you could want thanks to The CW's summer line-up, including returning series "Beauty and the Beast," a fresh reboot of improv show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (tell your dad, he'll probably be excited), a Canadian comedy called "Seed," and not one but two shows about magic: "Penn & Teller: Fool Us" and "Masters of Illusion."
"Beauty and the Beast"
"Famous in 12"
"Penn & Teller: Fool Us"
"Masters of Illusion"
Fox's cable channel, FX, has some of the most exciting original programming of the summer, including the TV version of the Guillermo del Toro/Chuck Hogan vampire novels "The Strain" (the pilot was, naturally, directed by del Toro himself) and "Tyrant," a drama set in the Middle East. Besides "Louie," though, which just premiered, there aren't any firm dates for any of these series. So take a wait-and-see approach, and keep an eye peeled to those teasers they play during the excellent "Fargo."
TNT keeps doing what TNT does best: moderately handsome dramas that are highly watched (hell, "Franklin and Bash" is starting its fourth season). This year there are some returning favorites, like "Rizzoli & Iles" and "Falling Skies," plus new shows like the "Taken"-ish "Legends" (starring "Game of Thrones" king Sean Bean) and "The Last Ship," a Michael Bay-produced action series about a warship tasked with discovering (and stopping) a deadly virus from wiping out mankind. (There's also a new drama from hit TV show-generating machine, Steven Bochco, "Murder in the First," starring the incomparable Taye Diggs.) Overall, the season looks pretty strong. TNT, keep doing you.
"Murder in the First"
"Rizzoli & Isles"
"The Last Ship"
"Franklin & Bash"
HBO, everyone's favorite premium cable channel, seems to be duplicating the formula that made last summer so much bloody fun to watch: anchor the summer with a TV movie that everyone will be watching (in this case, it's "The Normal Heart," starring Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo, directed by Ryan Murphy and produced by Jason Blum) and following it up with a mixture of returning favorites (the last season of vampire soap opera "True Blood") and exciting new content ("The Leftovers," based on the novel by Tom Perotta and developed by "Lost" producer Damon Lindelof). It's not TV, after all, it's HBO.
"The Normal Heart"
Cinemax might be known as HBO's soft-core sister, but this summer it's about to get an injection of prestige courtesy of "The Knick," the only new show on the slate (and pretty much the only show period). What makes it so special? Well, this series, which takes place in a real-life turn-of-the-century New York hospital, stars Clive Owen as a frazzled doctor dealing with primitive equipment, and all 10 episodes were directed by Steven Soderbergh, legendary filmmaker behind "Traffic" and "Ocean's Eleven." Quite frankly, if we could only watch one show this summer, it would probably be "The Knick."
While Showtime might not have the clout and critical approval of HBO, it's getting there, slowly but surely. There are only a handful of programs on Showtime this summer: the returning series "Ray Donovan" and "Masters of Sex," and a brand new series, "Penny Dreadful," from the "Skyfall" team of writer John Logan and director/producer Sam Mendes. We've seen the "Penny Dreadful" pilot and can tell you that it's a Victorian-era scream: a bunch of characters, including Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray, intermingle in increasingly sexy and violent ways. It's a fun, deeply beautiful romp, and should nicely fill the hole that the vacating "True Blood" is leaving, at least when it comes to premium cable monster mashes.
"Masters of Sex"
Again, Starz only has one real show this summer, but it could be a doozy. "Power" comes from "The Good Wife" creator Courtney Kemp Agboh and executive producer Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson," and concerns the dual worlds of New York City's glamorous club scene and the brutal drug trade that sometimes fuels and overlaps with it. Expect a sprawling melodrama of the highest order that could end up being one of the summer's more delectable treats.
Characters are always welcome at USA, and this summer the network welcomes a few more: "Rush" is about a titular physician who does covert practices for Los Angeles' richest, most famous clients. With a pilot directed by "Warm Bodies" filmmaker Jonathan Levine, it could be a cut above. Also coming to the USA network is "Satisfaction," a contemporary drama about adult relationships, which is unusual for a network that usually requires some kind of additional, catchy hook. Joining the two original series this summer is network mainstay "Covert Affairs." Because you've got to have your "Covert Affairs."
It seems that AMC is at a critical juncture in the network's status, with "Breaking Bad" having concluded the previous summer and "Mad Men" wrapping for good next spring. The hunt is on for the next big, super popular, critically adored series in the network's history, and this summer they have a single contender: "Halt and Catch Fire," an awkwardly titled series built around computer pioneers in the 1980's.
"Small Town Security"
"Halt and Catch Fire"
"Hell on Wheels"
MTV knows what its audience wants, and it's giving it to them, in force -- the WTF-worthy reality show "Catfish," about gullible youngsters duped on the internet, and supernatural soap opera "Teen Wolf" will both return for new seasons this year. MTV used to be a go-to channel in the summer because at least music videos were something to watch. Now the network has ditched the music videos but still remains vital for summer viewing.
"Catfish: The TV Show"
Syfy continues to diversify and stretch itself into new territories, even if it has yet to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was "Battlestar Galactica" (say all you will about "Caprica," but it didn't come close). This summer is no exception: "Defiance" returns, along with two new series: "The Wil Wheaton Project," centered around the former "Star Trek: The Next Generation" star (and self-proclaimed biggest nerd around) and "Dominion," a baffling TV spin-off of "Legion," which itself was an angels-and-demons story derivative of "Terminator." Syfy is also home to the most hotly anticipated (and rightfully so) TV movie of the season, "Sharknado 2: The Second One," which features returning cast members Tara Reid and Ian Ziering as they face off against the toothsome weather anomaly, this time when it hits New York City.
"The Wil Wheaton Project"
"Sharknado 2: The Second One"
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