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ABC's Fall schedule, night by night: 13 shots at greatness!

ABC announced it will launch 13 new shows, and the network needs all the new blood and experimentation it can afford. The network is stuck in two primary styles – the nighttime soap (Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy) and the family sitcom (Modern Family, The Middle), with Dancing With the Stars its always-potentially-wobbly sure-thing. (That is to say, yes, people will tune in, but their weekly commitment depends on each season’s casting.)

New entertainment president Paul Lee comes from ABC Family, where the primacy of engaging narratives has proven a niche success. Lee seems to possess a bracing realism about what ABC should do immediately to roust itself from third place – get some familiar names back on the network (whether it’s a person, like Tim Allen, or a brand, like Charlie’s Angels), and offer fresh variations on the soaps and the sitcoms. Oh, and like everyone else in network TV, try to take a bite out of AMC’s Mad Men (coming to a runway near you: Pan Am).

Seven of the new shows ABC has ordered will premiere in the fall.

Monday: Sticking with what works; ABC’s only secure night: Dancing With the Stars and Castle. 

Tuesday: Last Man Standing offers Tim Allen in a concept that sounds about as close to Home Improvement as possible: Allen as a manly man in a wimpy world. This time around, his wife is played by the ever-charming Nancy Travis, and… oh, who cares about other co-stars and plot-lines: This show will be a big hit or a big bomb based entirely on  the quality of the jokes, Allen’s delivery, and the chemistry between Allen and Travis.

Somewhere out there in TV-making-land, someone is bound to make a new hit out of the couples-hanging-out sitcom beyond How I Met Your Mother, and after recent attempts such as Traffic Light, Mad Love, Happy Endings, and the killed-too-soon Perfect Couples, Man Up is the latest to try and crack what could be a very profitable code. Anything that carries the credit of Better Off Ted’s Victor Fresco as executive producer has my attention.

Wednesday: The always-good Jeremy Sisto gives his all in the sitcom Suburgatory, a change of pace for this usually-stern dramatic actor. He plays a single dad moving from Manhattan to the suburbs with his teen daughter (Jane Levy), and struggle to adapt. The clip I saw, featuring Cheryl Hines among its co-stars, was one of the few new-show glimpses that made me laugh.

Revenge is a soap set in the Hamptons, where Emily Van Camp’s swan-like neck and charming sense of privilege should fit right in among the rich and the polite back-stabbing. From the writer-producer who brought you the misbegotten Swingtown, Mike Kelley, Revenge will have to make its melodrama distinctive for it to stand out at 10 p.m.

Thursday: Charlie’s Angels will lead off the night. (Sample dialogue: “You don’t look like cops.” “We’re not – we’re angels.”) As an 8 p.m. mass-audience seeker, it may actually do well, initially, against the first-class but always low-rated Community and Parks and Recreation. But the folks behind Angels would do well to look closely at the current Hawaii Five-O: It’s not enough to take a famous title and cast it with good-looking people; you have to create distinctive characters. Does Angels have a personality that will pop as quickly and precisely as Scott Caan’s has? Given that the guys behind this include Smallville’s Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, I’ll certainly give it the benefit of the doubt.

Friday: Clearly, a night that needs fall repairs, with mostly-junk like Extreme Makeover, Shark Tank, and 20/20.

Saturday: Nothin’ new.

Sunday: Once Upon A Time is an alternate-world fairy-tale series that switches from our times to fantasy world, with House’s Jennifer Morrison as a bounty hunter who may be the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. You have to give the show some immediate credit for its casting alone: Robert Carlyle plays Rumplestiltskin; Raphael Sbarge is Jiminy Cricket.  From two Lost producers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz.

Christina Ricci will be a draw for some viewers in Pan Am; seeing how her dark-hued broodiness contrasts with this sunny-colored look at 1960s stewardess life should be intriguing (shades of Boeing Boeing). With producers including director Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing) and Joack Orman (ER), you can’t dismiss it on the basis of its concept – could prove to be more than cloudy fluffiness.

Among the most promising mid-season shows is the sitcom Apartment 23 (I’ll watch anything with Breaking Bad’s Krysten Ritter, even a sitcom with James Van Der Beek).

Twitter: @kentucker

Originally posted May 17 2011 — 1:05 PM EDT

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