Once upon a time, watching television in the summer meant a diet of leftovers — dollops of reruns and thrown-together burn-offs of failed series. Not anymore: As networks move closer and closer to year-round scheduling, this summer is shaping up as a veritable feast.
Among the most-hyped events are TNT's delectable Dallas relaunch, which puts spurs to haunches on June 13, and NBC's London Summer Olympics coverage, which begins July 27. Viewers can also expect the usual menu of reality TV fare, and political convention coverage — the GOP in Tampa Bay, Fla., in August, the Democrats in Charlotte, N.C., in September — will provide late-summer digestifs to the season. Expect your viewing plate to be full for the next few months. Here are 10 new summer entrees — er, entries — we think will be worth sampling:
1. The Newsroom, HBO, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET, beginning June 24
Aaron Sorkin's gift for snappy dialogue has earned him major movie award love recently — he won an Oscar for 2010's The Social Network and was nominated for last year's Moneyball. He's no stranger to TV, having penned series such as Sports Night and The West Wing, and now he's turning his attention back to the small screen and to the ever-evolving world of TV news. Jeff Daniels stars as an anchor trying to keep up in the new media environment ("I have a blog?") and Jane Fonda takes a nice, against-type role as the conservative head of the network (because whenever you think of Rupert Murdoch, you think of Jane Fonda, right?). Sam Waterston, Emily Mortimer and Dev Patel also star.
Next: Longmire, A&E, Sunday. »
2. Longmire, A&E, Sundays at 10 p.m ET, starting June 3
Television drama at its finest, with Robert Taylor of The Matrix as laconic, knowing, contemporary Big Sky Country Sheriff Walt Longmire — a man getting a tough job done despite being in the throes of grief over his wife's death. Costarring Lou Diamond Phillips, Longmire — the series adaptation of Craig Johnson's best-selling mystery novels — is smart summer storytelling.
3. The Great Escape, TNT, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET, starting June 24
Ron Howard masterminded this reality offering, which plops contestants right into action movie-style predicaments and dares them to wrest free: Save yourselves from a sinking ship! Fight vicious medieval foes in a castle! Break out of prison! Even TV snobs can admit it: This sounds like a blast.
4. Queen & Country/Michael Wood's Story of England, PBS, Sundays at 8 p.m. ET, starting July 1 (Queen), Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET, starting July 3 (Story of England)
Speaking of TV snobs … With these two very British, brand new, four-part series, PBS provides the perfect London Olympics prep for those wishing to indulge their inner Anglophile before the games get under way. Queen & Country focuses on Queen Elizabeth and her long reign, while historian Michael Wood gives a commoner's-eye view of British history in Story of England.
5. Perception, TNT, Mondays, starting July 9
Straying far from his Will Truman (Will and Grace) days, Eric McCormack stars as a genius professor who can see beyond the normal boundaries of reality. Haunted by schizophrenia he barely keeps in check, Dr. Daniel Pierce (McCormack) also has unique crime-solving abilities that aid the FBI in cracking cases. TNT, usually good for at least one new summer hit each year, could have another good one here.
6. Political Animals, USA, premiering July 15
Sigourney Weaver takes on her first regular series role, as a former first lady-turned-secretary of state. Any resemblance to Hillary Clinton is, of course, purely coincidental. The producers have great Grownup TV pedigree, with ABC's Brothers and Sisters and 2010's hit movie Julie and Julia on their résumés. Political Animals blends family drama and political intrigue — and sports a stellar cast in addition to Weaver, including Ellen Burstyn, Carla Gugino and Adrian Pasdar as the president.
7. Major Crimes, TNT, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET, beginning Aug. 13
Kyra Sedgwick's wonderful seven-season run as The Closer's cagey, sweets-loving interrogator Brenda Leigh Johnson will end when the show signs off for good this summer after its final run (which begins July 9). Brenda will be missed, but this spin-off, which retains most of the other major characters and will center around Captain Sharon Ryder (Mary McDonnell), should keep the show's fans satiated.
8. The Franchise, Showtime, Mondays at 10 p.m. ET, starting June 11
If ever a Major League Baseball manager seemed a perfect fit for reality TV, it would be Miami Marlins skipper Ozzie Guillen. No doubt the chatty Guillen, whose five-game suspension earlier this season for professing his "love" for Fidel Castro was just the latest of his public gaffes, will provide lots of Ozzie-being-Ozzie moments in this summer's installment of the Showtime series that follows a ballclub through the trials and tribulations of an entire season. The Marlins have Guillen, a shiny new ballpark, a revamped, pricey roster and even a new location, kind of — they officially changed from Florida to Miami this year. Expect lots of hardball drama inside and outside the lines.
Next: Copper, BBC, Sunday. »
9. Copper, BBC America, Sundays at 9 p.m., starting Aug. 19
Writer/producer Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz, Borgia) is a master at gritty drama, and it's hard to imagine a grittier setting than New York City in the middle of the 1800s. Copper is about policemen working the streets of the notorious Five Points neighborhood in Lower Manhattan in the 1860s — yes, the same crime-infested, feral area made famous in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. With Fontana and Barry Levinson on board, hopes are sky high for the first scripted series on the BBC America network.
10. Hatfields & McCoys, History Channel, Saturday, June 2, 6 p.m. ET
The History Channel blasted into the miniseries fray on Memorial Day with a three-part, six-hour depiction of the notorious family feud and it got stunning ratings: 17 million viewers the first night, more than any network show that week. Kevin Costner produces and stars as "Devil Anse" Hatfield. Bill Paxton is nemesis Rand'l McCoy. Directed by Costner's old Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves mate Kevin Reynolds, the series sports superb acting from a cast that also boasts Tom Berenger and Powers Boothe. But be warned — it's extremely bloody and not for everyone. Mare Winningham (Sally McCoy) looks at it this way: "I thought it was devastating in a way you would want violence to be ... an incredibly powerful anti-violence statement that no good comes of this." The entire six hours re-airs June 2, or watch online.
You may also like: 2012: Summer of Grownup Blockbusters.
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