Summer TV sheds rerun image

The TV lineup for the next few months boasts more fresh fare than usual. With cable proffering bright alternatives, the networks are forced to follow through on their promise of year-round programming rather than going dark during the warm months.

For summer 2008, a number of new shows are bubbling up, some very good, some cheesy enough to appeal to less refined hot-weather tastes.

Cable once again has the bulk of the more enlightening dramatic entries while broadcast TV has a few meaningful efforts —- plus an array of bottom-feeding, fall-in-the-mud "reality" games.

For those whose favorite summer activities don't involve insect repellent, here's what's coming.

The best and brightest

AMC's "Mad Men," the most riveting series to debut in the past year, returns July 27 to the world of advertising circa 1960 and the messy life of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), an ad exec with a hidden past.

Come for the pre-feminist atmosphere, incessant smoking, booze, skirt-chasing and skinny ties; stay for the intricate character studies. The second season skips ahead slightly in time.

The proudly illicit

Speaking of drugs, Showtime's "Weeds," starring Mary-Louise Parker, started Season 4 on Monday. As the season begins, Nancy Botwin (Parker), aka the "baroness of bud," has relocated to the border in search of a new life. Albert Brooks is terrific in a guest role as her in-law in the first few episodes. Together they offer a vicarious high that suits the season.

The cattiest

"Project Runway" on Bravo returns for a fifth season July 16 with its future destination (Lifetime?) still in question and subject to litigation.

Professionally wacky

"I Survived a Japanese Game Show," on ABC beginning June 24, sends 10 Americans to Tokyo to compete in beyond-goofy physical stunts. Seven episodes are planned, and that may be enough.

Give us strength

On ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," debuting July 1, a young Christian couple prays for help with abstinence. Classmates dismiss them as "Jesus freaks." This prominent nod to prayer and Christianity seems to be a trendlet of summer.

Doing unto others

"Spies don't get fired, they get burned." On "Burn Notice," returning for a second season July 10 on USA Network, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) has been disavowed by the government but uses his special-ops training to help others.

One degree of separation

USA's "In Plain Sight" is another in cable's line of strong female protagonists (consider Holly Hunter in "Saving Grace"). Here's another quirky workaholic whose dedication to solving crime gets in the way of her personal life, as she curses from case to case. In this case, it's a lukewarm show starring Mary McCormack playing Mary Shannon, tough chick of the federal witness protection program. Thursdays.

Playing house

"The Baby Borrowers," on NBC starting Wednesday, translates the British reality show to the United States. Five couples, ages 18-20, must care for a succession of babies, toddlers, tweens, teens and the elderly over six episodes. Wouldn't you like to meet the real parents who volunteered their offspring as reality-TV bait?

Call it a docu-miniseries

"Hopkins," Thursday on ABC, returns to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for six installments to update the network's summer 2000 series, "Hopkins 24/7," an excellent up-close and personal work. This time, we get a closer look at the personal lives of the doctors (ABC hopes it performs like a "Grey's Anatomy" for the news division).

Say what?

"Green Porno" —- the title is as eye-catching as the subject matter. Sundance Channel offers eight short and clever films, art pieces really, about the sex lives of insects, snails, spiders and such, written by and starring Isabella Rossellini. "If I were an earthworm ..." she begins seductively from inside a worm costume. Coming July 22.

An Iraq Miniseries?

What has David Simon, writer-creator of HBO's brilliant "The Wire," done for us lately? He's given HBO perhaps the most serious offering of the summer: a gritty seven-part miniseries called "Generation Kill," about Marines in the first 40 days of the Iraq war, known then as "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Premieres July 13.

Most fervently fit

For the middle-age body-conscious, Holly Hunter is always posing and flexing on TNT's "Saving Grace," a series that questions the character's lack of faith. Unclear whether she puts her faith in acting or Pilates. Returning July 14.

J.J. to the rescue

Fox will launch a new serial from J.J. Abrams ("Lost") on Aug. 26. "Fringe" is a dark paranormal hour on the order of "X-Files," launching with a two-hour pilot.

The swingin'est

CBS is pushing the limit, spicing its stodgy reputation with a steamy look at wife-swapping suburbia in the '70s. "Swingtown," already on the air on Thursdays, is a fun return to the bad clothes, eight-track tapes, rampant recreational drug use and other confusion of the period.

The doggiest

CBS has 12 teams of dogs and owners competing for the title of "Greatest American Dog," premiering July 10. Both pageant winners and regular dog lovers compete. Go schnauzers!

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