Remember when summer meant there was nothing new on TV? Back then, three networks broadcast reruns of their fall offerings and that was it. No new comedy, no new drama, no reality at all. Well, no more. Now there are dozens of shows to steal you away from a sultry summer night. We've picked 12 you shouldn't miss.
See also: Summer movie reviews.
1. Falling Skies, TNT, Sunday: Even if you are not a sci-fi fan, this series, led by ER veteran Noah Wyle, comes with executive producer Steven Spielberg's trademark and the promise of real human drama amid the creatures and explosions. It's six months after aliens have taken over the earth, and resistance fighters outside Boston, including Wyle's history professor character, are forming bonds, contending with grief and rising to the occasion — or not. It starts June 19.
Steve Wilkie/USA Network
2. Covert Affairs, USA, Tuesday: Piper Perabo's character, Annie Walker, would never get hired at the real CIA but, go ahead, suspend disbelief. This is just a summer kick. Paired with the equally light White Collar (see next), it's two hours of escapism to break up the workweek. It started June 7, but you can jump right in anytime.
Robert Ascroft/USA Network
3. White Collar, USA, Tuesday: The impossibly handsome and sophisticated Neal Caffrey (played by the impossibly handsome Matt Bomer) is a con man turned FBI consultant. Again, suspend disbelief and go with the fun. Diahann Carroll's recurring role as the soigné and savvy widow who is Caffrey's landlord is a bonus treat.
4. Men of a Certain Age, TNT, Wednesday: Men, you will relate to Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher. Ladies, you may find it enlightening to hear the issues on their minds. All of you, don't miss this cast of excellent actors doing some of the best work of their careers. New episodes began this month; you'll catch right up.
5. Rescue Me, FX, Wednesday: Serious grownup stuff goes on here — death, disaster, drugs and alcohol, as well as love, friendship, redemption — and it all ends this season. Co-creator Denis Leary wanted to go out with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — the event that has driven every compelling season of this wild and honest show. Watch the first six seasons on DVD and iTunes if you can, but don't let lack of background keep you from seeing Leary's portrayal of flawed firefighter Tommy Gavin for who he is today. The final season begins July 13.
6. The Big C, Showtime, Monday: It doesn't get more adult than dealing with cancer. Laura Linney shows us the many ways. In the first season, it was denial. This season her character moves to anger on the grief cycle as she battles her stage 4 melanoma. British film star Hugh Dancy and independent film queen Parker Posey guest-star on the acclaimed comedy (yes, it's a comedy — mostly) this season, along with returning guest star Alan Alda. It starts June 27.
7. The Closer, TNT, Monday: This drama is about the LAPD's major crime unit but, really, it always has been about family dynamics — the family of detectives, that is. Creator James Duff gives each season a theme. For the final year, it's "love and lost," and we're feeling a little wistful already. Kyra Sedgwick has created one of TV's strongest women in Georgia transplant Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. She will be missed. Starts July 11.
8. Breaking Bad, AMC, Sunday: Bryan Cranston's journey to the dark side as Walter White — a high school chemistry teacher inspired by his own terminal illness to raise money by making methamphetamine — has been fascinating to watch for three seasons. This season, there will be a shocking death. After that, Walter will be increasingly disenchanted with the world of meth production and want out. But it's not so simple. Begins July 17.
Courtesy of Showtime
9. Web Therapy, Showtime, Tuesday: Lisa Kudrow, brilliant in The Comeback, moves her Web show on to cable TV. Here Kudrow portrays a self-centered, sometimes bored, self-professed psychotherapist who treats patients played by Jane Lynch, Steven Weber and fellow former Friend Courteney Cox via webcam. The stars show off their improv skills, as the sessions are all ad-libbed within a scripted framework. Lily Tomlin and Victor Garber play Kudrow's mother and father. Begins June 19.
Courtesy of TVLand
10. Hot in Cleveland, TVLand, Wednesday: For us, this is all about Betty White. She's our celebrity member, and we love her spunk. When we left off with Betty's wayward character, Elka, last March, things had not gone well in her trial for hiding stolen goods. As new episodes began, Elka is on the lam and winds up in Amish country. A new special someone is in her future as well. The show is also chockablock with favorite guest star names. Coming up: John Mahoney, Doris Roberts, Buck Henry, Dick Van Patten and Cedric the Entertainer, to name a few. Started June 15.
11. Finding Sarah, OWN, Sunday: Who doesn't want to see a fallen royal pick herself up and carry on? This six-part series about the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, is totally a guilty pleasure — and also an indication of the kind of program we'll see on Oprah Winfrey's new network. Fergie gets life management assistance from a team ranging from Dr. Phil and Suze Orman to a shaman, a personal trainer and — a horse whisperer. Jump in now; it started June 12.
12. Leverage , TNT, Sunday: It has Timothy Hutton, who really is the grownup in the pack of interesting partners. Add brisk dialogue and a dash of Robin Hood-esque motivation (they give bad guys their comeuppance running super cons), and you've got a great caper series. You need not have watched earlier seasons to enjoy, though it's good to know that Hutton and Gina Bellman (as super grifter Sophie Devereaux) must deal with the aftermath of having satisfied their longtime sexual attraction at the end of last season. Begins June 26.
BONUS: Friday Night Lights, NBC, Friday: There is no better grownup married relationship on TV than the one portrayed by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton on this unsurpassed drama. If you are a fan, savor the finale. If you are not already an FNL fan, DO NOT WATCH the finale on July 15. Instead, get all five seasons on DVD (even this final season is available because it ran on DirectTV in the fall), and give yourself a summer treat. Watch one episode a night, and soon you may find yourself racing home to see what happens next in this small Texas town where high school football is king.