EW Staff
January 05, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Sopranos
HBO // April 8 // 9 p.m.

Since The Sopranos began in 1999, creator-writer David Chase has at different times declared that his gangster saga would go no longer than three, four, then five seasons, and each time, it was stated with the definitiveness of a Mob-ordered hit. So when he maintains that the latter half of the HBO show’s sixth and final season (which resumes after a 10-month intermission) will be it, one can forgive the cast — and fans — for suspecting he may again show mercy and keep Tony in therapy forever, like a sociopathic Woody Allen. But this time it really is over, and the conclusion is even enough to drive Dr. Melfi to the couch. ”I’m not excited at all for the end,” states Lorraine Bracco firmly. ”I think we’re all going to need some kind of therapy.”

Chase has said that he’s known for four years how he’d wrap up the series, but the notorious spoilerphobe will barely say how this nine-episode run begins, let alone finishes. What he will reveal is that the story picks up a year after the June 2005 finale. Tony (James Gandolfini) thought he calmed his feud with acting New York chief Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent), who suffered a heart attack. Now Tony will see his nemesis emerge from semiretirement. ”Their long-simmering animosity really starts to fester,” says Chase. He also teases that lazy seed AJ (Robert Iler) ”goes through what you might call serious growth pains. He has to grapple with or face up to his heritage, and changes somewhat.” As for Michael Imperioli’s Christopher? He gets his ”Saw meets The Godfather” horror movie off the ground, although unlike last season’s roundhouse to guest star Lauren Bacall, he doesn’t have to clock any more grandes dames to do it. ”Who else [could we do]?” jokes Imperioli. ”Maggie Smith, Judi Dench. I’m open to punching out the legends of cinema.”

However the series ends, it’s unlikely to be tidy. Chase is uninterested in the traditional demand for TV closure; he’s still perplexed that people keep asking him what happened to the Russian who escaped from Christopher and Paulie in the Pine Barrens way back in season 3. ”It’s not in our interest to do a morality tale, which, of course, the gangster film has always lent itself to,” he says. ”It is in our interest to show that there are certain ways that we all spend our lives, and that as adults, we decide our fate, we make our own bed, and we lie in it. That to me is not the same, hopefully, as saying crime doesn’t pay, or bad people are punished. Free will exists.” Oh, sure, that’s easy for him to say: It’s his free will that’s ending the show. — Josh Wolk

CBS // FEB. 21 // 8 P.M.

We’ve mostly seen the small Kansas town after the apocalypse, but the surprise hit returns with flashbacks to those days when it was sweetly naive about its fate. ”You see the world alive — with music and beauty — before the bomb,” says executive producer Carol Barbee. ”It’s wild, refreshing, and fun.” In real time, Hawkins’ (Lennie James) secrets surface as he battles the organization he tried to quit, and the nuclear whodunit is overshadowed by two looming uncertainties: winter and a nefarious neighboring burg. Says Barbee: ”There aren’t enough supplies for everyone to survive, and the other town has dark intentions.” — Tanner Stransky

Top Design
BRAVO // JAN. 31 // 11 P.M.

Twelve designers, four judges, one host, and challenges sprinkled with quirky rules. Sounds familiar, right? Bravo continues to exploit marquee hit Project Runway with this spin-off of sorts that echoes its big sister’s style right down to those menacing sound effects. The big makeover: Design trades gowns for interiors, and the wide-ranging challenges touch on bedrooms, beaches, and backyards. Host and mentor Todd Oldham, who comes off like a Heidi Klum-Tim Gunn mash-up, says the designers’ confidence (or lack thereof) is key: ”It’s really fun seeing who soars and who bombs.” If the clunky Chinese wedding bed in episode 1 is any indication, bombs away! — Tanner Stransky

The Shield
FX // March

Remember the time when Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) pressed that baddie’s face right into a scorching hot grill? That was nothing compared with what’s about to go down this year. Enraged over the surprise murder of fellow detective Curtis ”Lemonhead” Lemansky in season 5, the über-brute takes a break from playing corrupt cop to hunt down Farmington’s biggest threat yet. Little does he know that he’s after his own buddy, Shane (Walton Goggins), who thought Lem was about to lay bare the Strike Team’s crooked ways. ”This season boils down to Vic looking for the monster who killed Lem,” says creator/ executive producer Shawn Ryan. ”It’s a hunt.”

In the season opener, Shane learns Lem never intended to betray his friends after his arrest by Lieut. Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker, back for two episodes), which means he didn’t deserve to die. (By grenade, no less!) ”All the grief comes crashing down,” says Goggins. ”You’re going to see the aftermath of a train wreck.” Lem’s death ”sucked so much oxygen out of these 10 episodes,” says Ryan, that he persuaded FX to give him a seventh and final season — likely airing in 2008 — to extinguish additional fires. Those include Claudette’s (CCH Pounder) power struggles as captain and former captain David Aceveda’s (Benito Martinez) near-maniacal quest to bury Mackey for good. ”The core characters take a backseat this season, which isn’t an appropriate way to end the series,” says Ryan. “We’ll address where [they’ve] all gone in those last 13 episodes.” Killer idea. — Lynette Rice

The Sarah Silverman Program
COMEDY CENTRAL // FEB. 1 // 10:30 P.M.

The controversial comedian is describing her same-named alter ego, who’s at the center of this new series: ”She genuinely thinks she’s a good person, but she’s a selfish ass—-.” Harsh? Actually, fair: In one episode, ”Sarah” takes in a homeless man, only to force him to reside in his cardboard box. In her laundry room. Expect a cameo from Silverman’s (real-life) boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel, but you’ll have to pay special attention since he’s playing a woman named Joan. ”We did it very not drag,” explains Silverman. And how, pray tell, did you pull that off? ”No makeup, just a little bit of blush.”— Tim Stack

The Winner

”I would see my married friends,” says creator Ricky Blitt (Family Guy), ”and wonder if I had more in common with their kids who weren’t getting much action. Like myself.” Therein was born the story of 32-year-old Glen Abbott (The Daily Show‘s Rob Corddry), who has never held a job, still lives at home, and has gotten less nooky than Stewie Griffin. Well, one piece of nooky: a furtive kiss at age 14 from girl next door Alison. But when Alison (Erinn Hayes) returns with her own 14-year-old in 1994, Glen decides to redo adolescence by getting a job at the video store, making new friends, and dating. Video stores as retro plot point? We feel old. — Adam B. Vary

HBO // Jan. 14 // 9 p.m.

The fall of Rome happened far too quickly. Critical acclaim and a healthy audience of 7.4 million viewers during its dense first season weren’t enough to justify the multimillion-dollar price tag of this sumptuous historical drama, so HBO announced in September that these 10 episodes will be the last. Surprisingly, the actors found the news liberating — as should fans wondering if they want to bother with another trip down Appian Way. ”It gave us license to really go for it with the stories,” says Kevin McKidd, who plays disillusioned centurion Lucius Vorenus. ”We could get to the heart of stuff. It’s quite visceral.”

Picking up after Caesar’s death, season 2 begins with the ruler’s most trusted ally, Mark Antony (James Purefoy), forging a temporary truce with backstabbing Brutus (Tobias Menzies) — and then immediately testing his relationship with Atia (Polly Walker) by making eyes at Lyndsey Marshal’s Cleopatra. (Player maximus!) Meanwhile, Caesar’s ambitious great nephew Octavian (Max Pirkis) starts plotting his eventual rise to power as the first Roman emperor, an attractive slave domesticates Pullo (Ray Stevenson), and Vorenus works through grief over losing his family by becoming a raging underworld boss. ”We poured everything into these episodes,” says co-creator Bruno Heller. ”We knew we weren’t going to get another crack at this.” That said, he adds, ”Our aim was to make people feel like it could go for another season.” Even though it won’t. So arrivederci, plebeians. — Lynette Rice

The Black Donnellys
NBC // March

TV may be this year’s prom queen, but it still teases its hair and touches up its lipstick when filmmakers decide they want to flirt. For in-demand Academy Award winners Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (Crash), NBC has committed to airing one of the grittiest and most ambitious series to hit broadcast television in years.

The rough-and-tumble story of four Irish naïfs-turned-mobsters, Donnellys weaves threads of a Canadian crime family of the same name with sketches from Moresco’s own Hell’s Kitchen upbringing; it all plays out like The Departed — with commercial interruptions. ”[Paul] called me up one day,” recalls Moresco, sitting in a dressing room on the drama’s Brooklyn soundstage, ”and he said, ‘Hey, I wanna do your life story — you wanna do it with me?’ I said, ‘Damn right, because you’ll do it without me if I don’t.”’

That was 1997. Haggis and Moresco wrote the show — and sold it to another network — but it never moved past preproduction, and they eventually moved on. Eight years later, NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly asked if the pair would like to return to TV (they’d produced the similarly scorched EZ Streets for CBS in 1996). It just so happened that they still had a story to tell.

To boost the show’s authenticity, the men hired relative unknowns to portray the brothers Donnelly: artist Tommy (Jonathan Tucker), inveterate lug Jimmy (Tom Guiry), gambler Kevin (Billy Lush), and lovable slut Sean (Michael Stahl-David). As the boys trip over themselves turning misdemeanors into felonies, they enter a world for which they are painfully unprepared. And it’s all explained by narrator Joey Ice Cream (Keith Nobbs), a pathological liar who spins their tale from his prison cell and brazenly inserts himself into the action — in fact, the series was originally titled The World According to Joey Ice Cream. (”I ask Bobby, What’s he in prison for?” says Nobbs. ”Bobby goes, ‘I got no friggin’ idea.”’)

But this is no pretender to Tony Soprano’s throne, and these twentysomethings don’t morph into street toughs overnight. “That’s what’s cool, they don’t know how to do this!” says Stahl-David. And just as the Donnellys were stumbling through gangland, Moresco was learning what it meant to be an Oscar winner — he and Haggis nabbed statuettes for Crash shortly after the pilot wrapped. Turns out ”nothing changed,” says Moresco, who’s ”hoping I can stay with [the series] as long as I can. The only reason Paul or I wouldn’t [is if] somebody decides to fire us.” Hey, Bobby: TV’s popular, but it ain’t that popular. — Alynda Wheat

The Riches

FX has cooked up this ”family show” about the Malloy clan, who are unwittingly involved in a car accident that kills the titular family and decide to bury the brood’s bodies, assume their identities, and move into their brand-new gated-community home outside Baton Rouge, La. Oh, and that’s after con-artist dad Wayne (Eddie Izzard) picks up his secretly meth-addicted wife, Dahlia (Minnie Driver), once she’s completed a two-year prison stint. ”Well, it is a family show [in that] it’s about a family,” chuckles creator Dmitry Lipkin. ”I’d describe it as a cross between The Sopranos and The Beverly Hillbillies.” Bada…bling! — Adam B. Vary

The L Word
SHOWTIME // JAN. 7 // 10 P.M.

Time warp! The sapphic soap is zooming back to 1987 — at least where casting is concerned. Marlee Matlin and Cybill Shepherd join as a sculptor and a sexually confused college chancellor drawn to Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Alice (Leisha Hailey), respectively. Mucking up matters? Bette now works at that college. ”The last thing Bette wants is her boss sleeping with her flaky friend,” says co-creator Ilene Chaiken. Meanwhile, reliably nutso Jenny (Mia Kirshner) alienates her friends with a bitter, poorly veiled roman à clef. Teases Chaiken, ”We’re letting her be as evil as everyone thinks she is.” Who knew the devil was a lesbian? — Tim Stack

Hidden Palms
The CW // March

Kevin Williamson famously tweaked teen angst with Dawson’s Creek and Scream. Now he’s fused them into this freaky-frothy soap; freakier yet, he’s put an actor who played one of the most reviled TV characters ever at its center — and asks us to sympathize with him. Palms follows 16-year-old Johnny (Taylor Handley, formerly The O.C.‘s icky, much-hated Oliver), a recovering alcoholic who moves to Palm Springs with his mom, Karen (NYPD Blue‘s Gail O’Grady), after witnessing his father’s suicide. ”This show is about secrets,” says Williamson. ”And everyone has a secret.” Where to start? Tomboyish neighbor Liza (Ellary Porterfield) experiments with explosives in her garage. New buddy Cliff (The O.C.‘s Michael Cassidy) acts like a friendly buckaroo, but Williamson warns he’s really a ”brooding psychopath.” And crush Greta (Amber Heard) has a dead ex who used to inhabit Johnny’s bedroom. (Awkward!) ”It’s not your straightforward teen romance,” laughs Williamson. We’ll say: Sharon Lawrence (another beloved NYPD Blue alum) drops in as Cliff’s dewy mom, while Will & Grace‘s Leslie Jordan gussies up as — no lie — Johnny’s cross-dressing AA sponsor, Jesse Jo.

If this all sounds reminiscent of a certain Fox show or even Creek itself, Williamson doesn’t argue. ”I’m going to get the O.C. comparison no matter what,” he sighs. ”[And] yes, we have the girl across the street pining for Johnny, but it’s not Joey — it’s creepy garage girl!” — Hannah Tucker


The boys return for more high jinks, but where’s Jeremy Piven’s recently sacked Ari? ”Around town, seeing if there’s room to weasel his way back in,” reveals creator Doug Ellin. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) woos a sneaker-loving girl, while Eric (Kevin Connolly) and Vince (Adrian Grenier) — who’s hired a sexy deal wrangler (Carla Gugino) — pursue an old project. Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) learns the fate of his series, eyes a part in Rush Hour 3, and clashes with Ultimate Fighting champ Chuck Liddell. Says Ellin, ”They get in an argument over a parking space at the mall.” — Dan Snierson

The Search for the Next Doll

They boast five hit singles, album sales of more than 2 million, and the bodies of Bratz. Nonetheless, the Pussycat Dolls are looking for yet another member (their seventh), and they’re putting nine wannabes through everything from choreography sessions to costume-design challenges. The winning vamp is chosen by three judges — exec producer/Dolls founder Robin Antin, Geffen Records chairman Ron Fair, and, fresh from a stay at the Philadelphia Detention Center (drumroll, please!), Lil’ Kim. ”It’s about finding your inner Doll,” says Antin. And that means what, exactly? ”Finding your confidence [and] sexiness, and being comfortable in your everyday life as opposed to just on stage.” Still betcha they had to know how to work a stripper pole. — Tim Stack

The Knights of Prosperity

Hotel janitor Eugene Gurkin (Donal Logue) sees Mick Jagger showing off his offensively luxurious New York apartment on TV and hatches an idea: Why not assemble his blue-collar buddies (including Kevin Michael Richardson and Sofia Vergara) and rob the sucker? Each week, his gang inches closer to pulling it off and, yes, grows a little, too. After an unforgettable cameo in the pilot, Jagger hasn’t yet committed to another appearance, but Kelly Ripa and Regis Philbin, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, and — Lord help us — Dustin Diamond pop in. Yet no matter whom Eugene’s crew encounters, says Logue, ”these fumbling people go through crazy machinations for the tiniest little thing. There’s so much comedy in playing them against the everyday a–holes of the universe.” Hey, if it works for The Office… — Jennifer Armstrong

The Tudors
SHOWTIME // APRIL 1 // 10 P.M.

Creator Michael Hirst (Elizabeth) hopes to work history buffs into a lather with a soapy take on King Henry VIII. The much-married monarch is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who had some practice in the 1999 film Titus. This intricate portrait of his politics and passions covers Henry’s split with the Catholic Church, Entourage-like antics with buddies, and that romance with Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer, who had some practice in the 2005 film Casanova). Says Hirst: ”You’ll care desperately for just about every character, especially Henry. He’s a rock star.” — Tanner Stransky

Fox // April

Tim Minear has developed a reputation in the television industry for being an extraordinarily talented writer-producer with extraordinarily bad luck. After stints on The X-Files and Angel, Minear helped launch Firefly and Wonderfalls — heralded, high-concept programs that succumbed to premature deaths. Luck seemed to shift his way in 2005. That’s when Fox paired him with writer Ben Queen to produce Drive, a Lost-esque crypto-drama about a diverse group of ordinary folks who — either by choice or by force — compete in an illegal cross-country car race with a shady history and a $32 million jackpot. Minear dug the premise: He saw Drive as a storytelling machine, and within each vehicle he envisioned a world of possibilities. ”A car can be funny,” he says. ”A car can be sad. A car can be scary. Or fast, or slow, or ironic — every one of them could have a different tone but exist in the same world.” His bottom-line summary: Drive is ”two parts Cannonball Run and one part The Game,” the reality-blurring 1997 thriller starring Michael Douglas. ”And four parts Magnolia, too.”

Racing against time to get the show ready for Fox’s 2006-07 season, Minear and Queen produced an ambitious pilot last summer. It began with a continuous, four-minute shot — utilizing cutting-edge F/X seen in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds — that introduced the 12 main characters by zooming in and out of their vehicles. As it would be too expensive and too complicated to take the actors on the road and shoot them in moving cars, most of the driving was filmed against a greenscreen, ”which was great, because I suffer from terrible motion sickness,” says star Kristin Lehman (Judging Amy), who plays Corinna, a secretive woman whose parents were killed in the race 28 years ago.

Drive seemed to be cruising. But then karma slammed on the brakes. ”The network decided they could save time by canceling me before ever picking me up,” says Minear. Yet the premise had its admirers at Fox, and in October, Minear was asked to revamp Drive with a mostly new cast; Lehman remains, and Firefly‘s Nathan Fillion (recently seen as Kate’s cop husband in Lost) steps in for Ivan Sergei as male lead Alex, a landscaper searching for his missing wife. Minear and Queen rewrote much of the pilot to more clearly establish why each character entered the race. And that epic opening sequence? Now just a minute. Yet Lehman promises the stop-start sputter to the small screen will ultimately prove worth the trouble: ”We’ve had time to fine-tune it. That’s a luxury most shows don’t really have.” — Jeff Jensen

Rules of Engagement
CBS // FEB. 5 // 9:30 P.M.

This sarcastic sitcom follows two couples — fiancés Adam (Oliver Hudson) and Jennifer (Bianca Kajlich) and long-married neighbors Audrey (Megyn Price) and Jeff (Patrick Warburton) — along with lothario buddy Russell (David Spade), who snipes from the sidelines. Whoa, hang on. Doesn’t Fox already air this show? And isn’t it called ‘Til Death? It seems so, but creator Tom Hertz (Spin City) swears that Rules won’t mirror what he calls ”married guys are miserable” sitcoms. ”A lot of shows that tackle marriage are pretty black-and-white,” he says. ”Hopefully, this show exists in the gray area.” And a much, much funnier one. — Michael Endelman

Grease: You’re the One That I Want
NBC // JAN. 7 // 8 P.M.

The folks behind this year’s stage revival of Grease have their hearts set on you to find the next Danny and Sandy. After last fall’s open casting call and the ”Grease Academy” boot camp, the field narrows, Idol-style, to 12 finalists. Viewers choose the victors based on weekly live performances. Besides the sure-to-be-awesome ”Born to Hand Jive” episode, why does exec producer Al Edgington think you’ll watch? ”It’s based around something real that people care about. Everyone has played Danny, Sandy, Rizzo, or Frenchy.” (Or, sigh, the principal.) Also, he expects cohost Billy Bush to dance. — Mandi Bierly

Battlestar Galactica
Sci Fi // Jan. 21 // 10 p.m.

Buckle up, fanboys and girls: Battlestar Galactica is jumping to Sunday to escape a threat more deadly than genocidal Cylons: declining ratings. ”It’s a good move,” says executive producer David Eick, adding that going up against the fall armada of broadcast-network premieres for the first time ”proved too much to overcome.”

When the politically charged, spiritually angsty drama returns from its winter hiatus, the emphasis shifts from those sneaky Cylons to the Earth-searching, spacefaring humans. For starters, Adama (Edward James Olmos) faces a choice no man should have to make: Obliterate a planet to keep the Cylons from getting their synthetic mitts on the Eye of Jupiter, which holds a clue to Earth’s location — or leave it be, since the blowout would kill his son Lee, a.k.a. Apollo (Jamie Bamber)?

We assume Adama finds a crafty solution, since Eick discloses that Apollo is slated to serve as a defense attorney in the war crimes trial of Cylon sympathizer Gaius Baltar (James Callis) and continue his adulterous romance with Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff), who’s also married. Cracks Sackhoff: ”I don’t know any other job where you get paid to make out with two different good-looking men and not be called a ho.” Actually, we may soon call her ”Starchild”; revelations about Starbuck’s abusive upbringing and her ”cosmic destiny” prompt a dramatic life change. Starbuck’s unfolding saga and a story line involving the identities of the final five Cylons, says Eick, combine for Galactica‘s ”biggest cliff-hanger ever.” We can’t resist: Holy frak! — Jeff Jensen

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