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Summer’s TV eye

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Maybe one reason May is called "sweeps" month is because old diehards that have outlived their usefulness are pushed under the carpet to make room for promising new hopefuls. It's the month when TV seasons end, long-running series conclude, and the major networks unveil their upcoming fall schedules.

It also used to signal the kind of long, dull primetime summer that could leave cobwebs on your remote control. But that was then.

As cable networks continue to expand their original programming and the necessity for year-round "alternative" programs becomes more valuable, June is bustin' out with fresh viewing options.

Not that May hasn't been a historic one — far from it. America welcomed its first Hispanic U.S. president: Jimmy Smits. (Wonder about his immigration policy?) Malcolm has been accepted at Harvard, and a nation is stunned. And those wacky, aging Wisconsin teens finally bid goodbye to the 1970s.

Of course, we're talking about the series-ending episodes of The West Wing, Malcolm in the Middle and That '70s Show, respectively. The typecast-shattering sitcom Will & Grace also tendered a weepy farewell, leaving once-invincible NBC with virtually no robust returning hits that don't have "Law," "Order" or "Earl" in their names.

All of them lasted at least seven seasons, all of them helped to define an era in prime-time TV — and now all of them have been shown the door. As have PrimeTime and Commander in Chief on ABC (maybe America isn't ready for a woman president, Hillary), Conviction and E-Ring on NBC, and the Sunday night movie franchise on CBS.

However, now that 24's Jack Bauer has again proven himself the biggest badass on the block, Meredith Grey has shared parts of her Anatomy with Dr. McDreamy and America worships its newest Idol tonight, it's time to usher in some summer premieres to keep the evenings interesting when it's too hot to venture out.

Here, in descending order of their anticipated cool, are five new productions specifically created to combat June swoon.

Broken Trail, 8 p.m. June 25-26, AMC: American Movie Classics is mounting the largest marketing push in its history to promote its first-ever original film, a sprawling, unconventional four-hour Western in the Lonesome Dove range. Broken Trail (no brokebacks here) stars Oscar winner Robert Duvall and Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church (Sideways, Wings) as two cowpokes who rescue Chinese women from slave traders. Filmmaker Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Deadwood) directs.

Saved, 10 p.m. June 12, TNT: Think Grey's Anatomy in an ambulance. TNT's new hour-long medical series (presented commercial-free on its premiere night) casts Tom Everett Scott (Boiler Room) as Wyatt Cole, a freewheeling med school dropout and compulsive gambler who signs on as a paramedic in Portland and conceals his character flaws within the breakneck pace of his job. Newcomer Omari Hardwick (Sucker Free City) rolls as his EMT sidekick.

Blade, 10 p.m. June 28, Spike TV: Can a guy named Kirk "Sticky" Jones make comic book fans (or women, for that matter) forget the rippling sensuality of Wesley Snipes as the half-man, half-vampire of the hugely successful movie trilogy? Spike, the man channel, hopes Jones doesn't bite it in this TV adaptation, its first original scripted drama.

America's Got Talent, two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. June 21, regular time slot 9 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC: Regis Philbin and Simon Cowell both make my skin crawl, but they do know how to give good TV. Together, their upside may be limitless. Philbin hosts this logical extension of American Idol, produced by Cowell, which features "singers, dancers, comedic performers and novelty acts of all ages" (according to the network) competing before a panel of celebrity judges for a $1 million top prize. Hey, it's got to be better than Steve Harvey's Big Time Challenge.

The Closer, 9 p.m. June 12, TNT: Kyra Sedgwick, who has fewer degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon than anyone, returns for a second season as quirky, irritatingly effective Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, who really does have ways to make you talk. Omnipresent character actor J.K. Simmons (OZ, Law & Order) co-stars.

Other notable returns for summer running in June are HBO's Entourage (9 p.m. Sundays) and Deadwood (10 p.m. Sundays, both premiering June 11), USA's The 4400 (9 p.m. Sundays, June 11) and The Dead Zone (10 p.m. Sundays, June 18) and FOX's Hell's Kitchen (9 p.m. Mondays, June 12).

Jim McFarlin writes about the boob tube for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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