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What to watch this winter: A guide to midseason TV

January 9, 2012 |  5:45 am

Smash megan hilty katherine mcphee

A new year ushers in the premiere of many new TV series, not to mention the return of many old favorites.

To help you keep track, our Midseason TV Preview offers a guide to new shows by critic Robert Lloyd, a catch-up session reminding us where we left off with a few beloved shows returning this winter, a look at new reality TV series and Mary McNamara's essay on the changing nature of the TV narrative.

One of the most anticipated shows of the season is NBC's "Smash," from Steven Spielberg and veteran playwright/TV writer Theresa Rebeck, chronicling the backstage drama behind a fictional Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe. "In a lot of ways, it doesn't matter that this is the theater world," Rebeck said. "The way I think of the show is as "The West Wing" — an adult workplace drama, only they're not in the White House."

What if a bunch of supposedly dead Alcatraz prisoners returned to wreak havoc in modern-day San Francisco? The premise was immensely tempting to "Lost" co-creator J.J. Abrams. He says of his new Fox series "Alcatraz": "As soon as I was pitched the idea, I was desperate to make it happen. How could there have never been a show called 'Alcatraz'?"

The crew behind the ABC series "GCB" also has a great pedigree, with "Sex and the City" creator Darren Star and plawright Robert Harlin as executive producers. But its original title -- "Good Christian Bitches" -- caused some problems. "I can certainly understand why, initially, people might assume it's going to go to an abusive or inappropriate arena," Harling say. But, he insists, "These characters want to do the right thing .... The humor is watching them attempt it."

Don Cheadle takes on an edgy role as a management consultant in Showtime's "House of Lies" -- foul-mouthed, cutthroat and sometimes ... naked. "Well, it even caught me off guard," Cheadle quipped about his nude scene. "I don't want to see that again."

Don Draper will not be the only period hero on TV dramas this season -- the new Starz series "Magic City" is set in Rat Pack-era Miami Beach. But creator Mitch Glazer argued that there's little comparison to "Mad Men": "We have sexier clothes and more hugging."

Kiefer Sutherland returns to Fox in the new series "Touch," in which he plays the single dad of a very special boy able to detect patterns and relationships between people and events. "I knew I had to do it because it hit me on a spiritual level," Sutherland said, adding that the show isn't as physical as "24" but "the emotional demands are much greater."

In a profile of Liam McIntyre, who takes over the role of Spartacus in Starz's new "Spartacus: Vengeance," the young actor admits to the terror of stepping into the iconic role originated by the late Andy Whitfield. "Here I am about to start the biggest role of my life. I had like 15 people telling me what to do. It was a bit overwhelming."


 NBC's Bob Greenblatt: 'We had a really bad fall'

J.J. Abrams won't get lost in 'Alcatraz'

Where We Left Off with 'Mad Men,' 'Downton Abbey' and more


-- Joy Press

Photo: Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty in "Smash." Credit: Mark Seliger/NBC.