A funny thing happened on the way to the fall season: The networks rediscovered comedies.
After last fall saw the introduction of just three half-hour sitcoms, the new season that officially kicks off Monday offers up nine hours a week of new comedy. Ten if you count the feel-good musical hybrid "Glee," and it seems like Fox does.
Granted, five hours of that is NBC's nightly "The Jay Leno Show," but still.
And while it's great that the networks are trying to make viewers laugh again, it's downright stunning that -- in at least a handful of cases -- they're succeeding. In addition to "Glee," that group includes ABC's uproarious duo of "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town" and NBC's "Community," an offbeat mash-up of "The Breakfast Club" and "Stripes," which last week's first episode thoughtfully acknowledged.
Otherwise, most networks are playing it safe, trotting out three or four new series each and relying on familiar concepts: medical shows (NBC's "Trauma" and "Mercy," CBS' "Three Rivers"), spinoffs (CBS' "NCIS: Los Angeles," Fox's "The Cleveland Show") and familiar titles (The CW's "Melrose Place," ABC's "V" and "Eastwick").
Of the 22 new series, though, a staggering eight of them are on ABC, which is staring into the final season of "Lost" and seems determined to find a replacement in either the time-trippy "FlashForward" or the aliens-among-us "V," working current and former "Lost"-ees into each: Dominic "Charlie" Monaghan and Sonya "Penny" Walger in the former, Elizabeth "Juliet" Mitchell in the latter.
Overall, it's a much stronger crop of new shows than last fall's, of which only four -- "The Mentalist," "Fringe," "Gary Unmarried" and "90210" -- were renewed.
Granted, five hours of that crop is "The Jay Leno Show," but still.
Here's a look at the fall's new series, all of which start this week unless otherwise noted. And, as always, times and dates are subject to change.
"THE CLEVELAND SHOW"
8:30 p.m., KVVU-TV, Channel 5 (starts Sept. 27)
What it is: Seth MacFarlane continues his gradual takeover of all things television -- he even turns up in a small role in ABC's "FlashForward" -- with this "Family Guy" spinoff. Griffin neighbor Cleveland Brown takes his son, Cleveland Jr., home to Virginia where he marries his high school sweetheart and becomes a dad to her two kids.
What it's like: "Family Guy," minus most of the laughs. Cleveland? Check. Random pop culture references? Check. Foul-mouthed little kid? Check. "See, this is exactly why I'm leaving," Cleveland complains to the Griffins. "Nobody ever asks anything about what Cleveland's got going on." That's not likely to change.
9 p.m., KLAS-TV, Channel 8 (Oct. 4)
What it is: Dr. Andy Yablonski (Alex O'Loughlin) heads up an organ transplant team at a Pittsburgh hospital.
What it's like: Who knows? The original, uninspired pilot episode was thrown out, and the new version, with some different actors and a different story, wasn't made available.
"ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE"
8:30 p.m., Channel 8
What it is: A movie critic (Jenna Elfman) has a fling with a boy toy, gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby. And the boy.
What it's like: Elfman traded the Dharma role -- freewheeling, immature, fun -- for the Greg -- solid, responsible, not so fun. It just doesn't work, though, as she has zero chemistry with her young co-star (Jon Foster). But as her best friend, "Ugly Betty's" Ashley Jensen is a hoot. And as her ex-lover and current boss, Grant Show is charmingly clueless. But he should run screaming back to "Melrose Place" while they're still hiring.
9 p.m. KVBC-TV, Channel 3 (Sept. 28)
What it is: Executive producer Peter Berg takes the lifesaving out of the hospital and into the streets of San Francisco with this drama following paramedics in ambulances and air rescue.
What it's like: Two words kept coming to mind: "adrenaline" and "swagger." The characters aren't terribly well-developed, but Cliff Curtis is fun as Rabbit, the damaged, daredevil chopper pilot. And the first episode feels like a Clooney-era "ER" sweeps stunt, which is almost never a bad thing.
"THE JAY LENO SHOW"
10 p.m., Channel 3 (already airing)
What it is: Exiled from "The Tonight Show," Jay Leno interviews celebrities and hosts musical guests five nights a week.
What it's like: "The Tonight Show," only 90 minutes earlier ... and more insufferable. Same monologue. Same band. Same bits. Yes, he's added more pretaped segments, but aside from "Jaywalking," those were never his strong suit. It just goes to show Leno's definitely not ready for prime time.
8 p.m., KTNV-TV, Channel 13 (Nov. 3)
What it is: Aliens led by the beautiful Anna (Morena Baccarin) appear over 29 major cities, talking peace and prosperity but hiding a nefarious goal, in this reimagining of the 1980s miniseries (and short-lived series).
What it's like: A photogenic leader comes out of nowhere, becomes an international celebrity while talking about embracing "change" and offering "complete medical services to all," but ultimately turns out to be evil? Fox News is going to have a field day with this. "V" feels a little Stephen King-y, but while it's definitely sci-fi, it's not so much so that it should be relegated to the fan boys and basement dwellers.
9 p.m., KVCW-TV, Channel 33 (already airing)
What it is: Seven new 20-somethings, some with ties to past tenants, live, love and commit various felonies in the famed apartment complex.
What it's like: The original "Melrose" around season three -- after Heather Locklear showed up, but before the wheels flew off. Unlike last year's "90210" reboot, the new characters create enough drama that this update doesn't really need any of the original cast members. But it sure is nice to see Thomas Calabro's Michael and Laura Leighton's Sydney, and Josie Bissett's Jane and Daphne Zuniga's Jo are on their way. The newcomers, though, already have been involved in high-end art theft, prostitution and murder, and that was just the first episode.
"NCIS: LOS ANGELES"
9 p.m., Channel 8
What it is: Special Agents G. Callen (Chris O'Donnell) and Sam Hanna (LL Cool J) lead the undercover Office of Special Projects in this "NCIS" spinoff.
What it's like: "NCIS," only sunnier. Even though it combines scripted TV's most annoying trends, spinoffs and crime procedurals, it's still a solid, if unspectacular, hour. As they say, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like. But I still don't understand why the team works out of what appears to be an abandoned '80s-era Banana Republic.
10 p.m., Channel 13
What it is: A group of amateur investigators, led by former detective Alex Donovan (Christian Slater), work to solve the murders of unidentified victims in Jerry Bruckheimer's latest drama.
What it's like: Soon to be forgotten. The series is burdened with inane voice-overs from the deceased and a particularly lame whodunit to kick things off. And you have to wonder what's wrong with Chicago police when they can't solve crimes that are easily unraveled by random people off the street.
"THE GOOD WIFE"
10 p.m., Channel 8
What it is: When Eliot Spitzer -- I mean State's Attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) -- resigns amid a prostitution scandal and is sent to prison, his wife (Julianna Margulies) resumes her law career after years as a stay-at-home mom.
What it's like: A 1970s movie of the week. There's nothing really wrong with "The Good Wife," it just seems like kind of a relic by suggesting that single moms really can re-enter the workplace.
8 p.m., Channel 3
What it is: Nurse Veronica Callahan (Taylor Schilling) is just back from combat duty in Iraq and knows more about medicine than most of the hospital's doctors. Her fellow nurses (Jamie Lee Kirchner, Michelle Trachtenberg) aren't too shabby, either.
What it's like: Showtime's "Nurse Jackie," only 98 percent less bleak. "Mercy's" trio of nurses are funny, feisty and unapologetically blue-collar. And at least two of them would gladly kick the pretty backsides of every single doc on "Grey's Anatomy."
8 p.m., Channel 13 (Sept. 30)
What it is: Hank Pryor (Kelsey Grammer) is forced out as CEO of his sporting goods company and moves his family from Manhattan to his rural Virginia hometown.
What it's like: An executive said, "The economy's in the toilet -- do something with that." Grammer is in full-on bluster mode, but it never feels authentic. One problem: The house the Pryors move into now that they're "poor" is as nice or nicer than what a good chunk of the audience calls home. Another: With its repeated gags and the forced nature of the premise, "Hank" feels more like it was written after reading a textbook about sitcoms than with any real passion.
8:30 p.m., Channel 13 (Sept. 30)
What it is: Frankie and Mike Heck (Patricia Heaton, Neil Flynn) raise three less-than-normal kids in less-than-normal Orson, Ind., home of the world's largest polyurethane cow.
What it's like: Half of a good idea. There are some truly funny moments. "Scrubs" veteran Flynn is always good for a laugh. And youngest son Brick (Atticus Shaffer) is quite possibly the weirdest little kid in the history of TV -- his teacher says he's quirky, "maybe clinically quirky." But most of Heaton's gosh-it's-tough-being-a-mom antics land squarely, well, in the middle.
9 p.m., Channel 5 (already airing)
What it is: The social pariahs of McKinley High's glee club fight for respect and acceptance from the jocks and cheerleaders in a small Ohio town.
What it's like: More "American Pie" than "High School Musical." The writing is smart and wickedly funny, and musical-phobes can rest easy: The characters don't burst into song to express their feelings; they mostly just cover contemporary pop songs, almost always in a rehearsal setting. Although while you can't help but root for "Glee's" lovably odd chronic underachievers, there's something strangely satisfying about seeing star-in-her-own-mind Rachel (Lea Michele) being repeatedly hit in the face with Slurpees.
"THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE: TBL"
9 p.m., Channel 33 (already airing)
What it is: A gaggle of young models at various stages of their careers live together in New York.
What it's like: Almost as ridiculous as its distracting title. Somewhat reminiscent of MTV's "Undressed," "TBL" features acting of a caliber rarely seen outside of a Mentos commercial. And last week's premiere got pretty repetitive with four -- count 'em, four -- of the models expected to trade sex for a career boost. Yet it still has a certain goofy charm that's hard to deny.
9 p.m., Channel 13
What it is: A documentary crew follows three parts of an extended family: Phil and Claire (Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen), married 16 years and raising three kids; Jay and Gloria (Ed O'Neill, Sofia Vergara), married six months and raising her 11-year-old son; and Mitchell and Cameron (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet), together five years and new dads.
What it's like: Far better than the premise ever could make it sound. "Modern Family" is basically three sitcoms in one, all of which are outstanding, as it bounces among the households. O'Neill is in fine form, and Ferguson ("The Class") and Bowen ("Ed," "Boston Legal") finally may have found their signature roles. The jokes range from so-subtle-you-might-miss-them to so-broad-you-could-see-them-from-space, and a few of them still had me doubled over with laughter the fourth time I heard them.
9:30 p.m., Channel 13
What it is: In this comedy from "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence, recent divorcee Jules (Courteney Cox) re-enters the dating world, awkwardly, clumsily looking for love -- beginning with a much younger man -- as her horrified teenage son (Dan Byrd) looks on.
What it's like: Kind of a "Sex in the Suburbs." Throw in Jules' best friends (Busy Phillips, Christa Miller), her playboy neighbor (Josh Hopkins) and a few others, and the laughs go seven characters deep. But it's clearly Cox's show. She's wildly inappropriate -- in a good way -- and seems to have found a happy medium between her squeaky-clean Monica from "Friends" and Lucy Spiller, her sex-starved ice queen from FX's "Dirt."
10 p.m., Channel 13
What it is: Devilish stranger Darryl Van Horne (Paul Gross) moves to the idyllic New England town of Eastwick and helps three new friends (Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price, Jaime Ray Newman) discover their witchy ways in this new take on both the novel and movie "The Witches of Eastwick."
What it's like: Not at all believable. At times, Gross seems to be playing Jack Nicholson playing Van Horne. Plus, it's bursting at the seams with lame innuendo: Roxy wants a man with a really huge ... appreciation for art, and it goes on from there. There's nothing magical about this "Eastwick."
8 p.m., Channel 13
What it is: Everyone on the planet simultaneously loses consciousness for two minutes and 17 seconds and has visions -- some great, some terrible, some mundane -- of what they'll be doing at 10 p.m. on April 29.
What it's like: Vast, sprawling and dense. It's perfect for the kind of obsessive fans who will follow it to the ends of the Internet. And it looks fantastic, even in the square, low-tech online video player ABC uses instead of sending out DVDs. One problem, though: What happens after April 29?
"THE VAMPIRE DIARIES"
8 p.m., Channel 33 (already airing)
What it is: Still reeling from the deaths of her parents, 17-year-old Elena (Nina Dobrev) finds herself torn between warring vampire brothers Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder).
What it's like: Writer Kevin Williamson combines his two greatest successes, "Dawson's Creek" and the "Scream" movies. The teen drama should appeal to the rabid, shrieking "Twilight" fan base, even though "Diaries" beat it into bookstores by 14 years. Others probably will be drawn in as well, as the series starts off strong. But if it follows the path paved by the books, hoo boy! That story falls apart faster than Sarah Palin's resignation speech.
9:30 p.m., Channel 3 (already airing)
What it is: After his degree is revealed to be a fake, lawyer Jeff Winger ("The Soup's" Joel McHale) enrolls in the "school-shaped toilet" known as Greendale Community College. Despite barely speaking the language, he passes himself off as a "board-certified Spanish tutor" and inherits a study group of outcasts, all to impress pretty coed Britta (Gillian Jacobs).
What it's like: The Community College of Misfit Toys. It's smug, snarky -- smarky, you might say. McHale's channeling a "Fletch"-era Chevy Chase. Chase, meanwhile, is onboard channeling himself in pretty much everything since "Fletch." "What, so this is a game to you?" Britta asks Jeff. "You put human beings into a state of emotional shambles for a shot at getting in my pants?" "And why," Jeff replies, "can't you see that for the compliment that it is?"
8 p.m., Channel 5
What it is: A former NFL star (Michael Strahan) moves home to be near his family (CCH Pounder, Carl Weathers, Daryl Chill Mitchell), but finds retirement anything but peaceful.
What it's like: If you or someone you love is gap-toothed, paralyzed or brain damaged -- or, God forbid, all three -- then "Brothers" is a must-see, as roughly 85 percent of the jokes land in one of those areas. For everyone else, there are gags about male genitalia, which Weathers keeps referring to as "widdlydoos." Yes, really.
With the exception of Fox's "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted," the networks stopped airing new series on Saturdays years ago. And if "Brothers" is the best they can offer, Fridays may be the next to go.
Christopher Lawrence's Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.