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Early shakeout

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Less than two weeks in seems awfully soon to start judging the new fall TV season. • Until you realize we've already seen one show canceled, three executives fired and graying pop tart Michael Bolton — deservedly — humiliated for trying to win a dancing contest with two left feet. • Here's my short list of who's winning and losing during the most competitive fall TV season in memory:

Losers

Lone Star: What does it say that the most critically lauded new fall show — admittedly like being the slimmest kid at fat camp — is the first program canceled, as Fox's con man drama was yanked after two low-rated airings? Perhaps that morally ambiguous heroes can't draw big enough crowds on network TV to stay alive?

Middle-aged TV executives: It's tempting to see a trend in the departure this month of three long-criticized TV executives: CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein, NBC Universal chairman Jeff Zucker and ABC News head David Westin. Each guy had major, painfully public mistakes (CNN and NBC's tanking prime time ratings, for instance) and critics carping for their jobs years before they lost them. Maybe an industry in serious need of massive, positive change is just starting at the top.

Syndicated TV: Looks like Oprah's getting out just in time. This corner of television, in which shows are sold to individual stations across the country, had some of its lamest debuts in years this fall — from Winfrey acolyte Nate Burkus' blindingly boring talk show to a program with crime TV harpy Nancy Grace as a "mediator" over small claims-level cases (like swatting flies with a blond-haired bazooka). Even Winfrey's grand show seems to be straining for relevance in its final season, featuring the host exploring the death of homophobia in Williamson, W.Va., and letting supermodel knucklehead Naomi Campbell spin her various missteps.

Winners

CBS: The most traditional TV network also has the best new show batting average so far. Five of its neophyte series were the top-rated new programs of the fall season's first week: Hawaii Five-O, Blue Bloods, The Defenders, Mike and Molly, and $#*! My Dad Says. The lesson: In a tumultuous time with lots of choices, TV comfort food with established names or stars is always a good bet.

Premium cable: If you aren't watching Showtime or HBO, you haven't seen the two best shows of the fall season, the Atlantic City crime drama Boardwalk Empire and the serial killer saga Dexter. Both shows bowed to record, if select, audiences the past two Sundays and review raves (Boardwalk even scored a second-season pickup after its first episode aired). The only problem: This highlights the increasing quality gap between expensive premium cable channels and the free broadcasters.

Fanboy geeks: Some of the strongest-performing new shows are close to comic book fanboy hearts: ABC's family-with-superpowers drama No Ordinary Family bowed to more than 10 million viewers Tuesday, while the CW's sleek spy drama Nikita is holding more than 90 percent of the audience from tween hit Vampire Diaries on Thursdays. Now if they could just get that guy on Smallville to put on the blue tights and red cape …

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Tivo or Ti-No

Caprica, debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday on Syfy: This ambitious prequel to fanboy favorite Battlestar Galactica too often gets treated like a poor cousin, but the second half of its first season shines as a grab bag of commentary on religion, capitalism and the titanic burden of grief. In this universe, monotheists are ruthless terrorists, hoping to use a new computer technology to build a virtual heaven for fallen followers. The genius who created the tech, Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), hopes to use it to take back the industrial company he lost, resurrect a dead child and win back a grieving wife. Somewhere in the middle of all this, the sentient machines are built who become Galactica's bad guy Cylons. TiVo for sure.

The Promise, debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday on HBO: Boss-o-philes rejoice! The long-awaited documentary about the making of Bruce Springsteen's classic 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town is finally here, and it delivers. Rare footage of the man calling the shots in the studio and jamming with his E Street bandmates is salted with recent interviews of all involved, showing an artist struggling to maintain his working class muse after becoming a rock superstar and suing for independence from manager Mike Appel. TiVo if you've ever pumped a fist to a Springsteen song.

Early shakeout 10/02/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 2, 2010 8:41pm]

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