If the big broadcast networks are looking more like cable channels every day — with dipping viewership, shrinking program hours and more cloning of shows — then it only makes sense that some cable channels would return the favor.
TNT, in particular, is creating enough original programming to fill a Fox network, with a string of successful premieres including Holly Hunter's spiritual crime drama Saving Grace to NYPD Blue creator Steven Bochco's legal drama, Raising the Bar.
Turns out, Monday will be another big day for the channel, with two high-profile debuts on tap: A show that birthed the channel's strategy for new programming returns with five episodes to goose viewership for an ambitious newbie that offers a peek at the future.
Let's see how the old school and the new school stack up against each other:
Old School: The Closer (new episodes, 9 p.m. Monday)
Why it works: In a word, characters. Outlandish as some plots may be — in Monday's episode, Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson investigates a death that looks like a suicide but may be something more — it's the way this quirky work family navigates it all that proves so compelling. Movie star Sedgwick in the lead role is sweet icing, assuring press and awards attention, which cable series crave.
Where we are: As the episode opens, we discover whether Detective Sanchez died when he was shot multiple times at the end of last season. We also see Johnson's boss, Chief Pope, struggling with official disdain over the shooting incident, and Johnson herself dealing with wedding preparations made by her well-meaning, if overbearing, mother. Grade: A-
New School: Trust Me (debuts, 10 p.m. Monday)
Why it works: This drama-tinged comedy starts with an awkward pilot, but improves. Former Will & Grace star Eric McCormack is a straitlaced advertising art director with a loose cannon partner played by Ed alum Tom Cavanagh. When McCormack's Mason McGuire gets promoted over his old pal, the bromance faces trouble.
Where we are: There's loads of potential here, with character actors Griffin Dunne and Monica Potter in key roles, joining two stars beloved by fans of traditional series TV. Life on Mars star Jason O'Mara even makes a cameo as a brutish executive who meets an untimely end. But the scripts must sharpen to make us care about another fictional ad agency when AMC's Mad Men is a DVD player away. Grade: B+