Fall TV's Biggest Face-Offs

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The biggest television battles this fall won't be between a girl robot and a guy robot over the future of humanity - instead, they'll be between competing TV shows, struggling for a crucial slice of your eyeballs. In some cases, shows are battling in the same time-slot for the all-important live viewing audience. In others, two way-too-similar shows are fighting to be the one that survives. And in one case, a show is fighting to improve over its own lackluster second season. Which shows will triumph, and which will fail? Our predictions below, with a few small spoilers. Chuck vs. The Terminator The smackdown we promised almost a year ago has finally come to pass. Chuck, the NBC show about a dorky retail nerd with a spy-database in his brain, is airing at the same time as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Monday nights at 8. Will you prefer comedy or drama? Which Firefly alum would you rather watch every week: Chuck's Adam Baldwin or Sarah Connor's Summer Glau? Which whiny boy wins your heart, Chuck or John Connor? Robots or spy gadgets? You decide. Our prediction: It may be a tie. The shows are different enough that they may score different audiences. But Chuck also has to face Big Bang Theory, another funny-nerd show, and that may put Bartowski in a corner.

Fringe vs. Eleventh Hour They're not appearing at the same time, but these two new shows have some striking similarities. They're both about abuses of science, and they both have scientist main characters who help to uncover the truth, with a cute blonde woman at their sides. Not only that, but both shows make a big point of featuring scientific oddities that are believeable, according to today's science. Fringe is all about "fringe science," and creators J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have said they're focusing on stuff that's happening now. The writers of Eleventh Hour have said similar things about its storylines featuring clones and genetically modified foods. In Fringe, an blonde FBI agent (Anna Torv) teams up with a mad scientist and his son to investigate science crimes. In Eleventh Hour, a scientist (Rufus Sewell) teams up with a blonde bodyguard (Marley Shelton) to stop abuses of science at the "eleventh hour" before they turn into disasters. Do we have room for two evil-science shows? Our prediction: Fringe has mega-buzz, Eleventh Hour has almost none. This fight is Fringe's to lose. Eleventh Hour vs. Life On Mars: Meanwhile, Eleventh Hour actually does have a scheduling rival: it's on at the same time as Life On Mars. Both shows are remakes of cult British shows that never achieved much recognition in the U.S. (In other words, neither show is like The Office or anything.) The Eleventh Hour remake is from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and looks pretty sensationalistic. Life On Mars, meanwhile, is a remake of a show about a cop who gets in a car accident and finds himself back in 1973. The Mars remake had an awful pilot from David "Ally McBeal" Kelley, but it's been totally reshot with a new cast, including Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli (Sopranos) and Gretchen "Bettie Page" Mol. Plus we've gone from 1973 L.A. to 1973 New York, and it looks grittier. It's automatically going to be a million times better, but will it be enough? Our prediction: Mars wins, at least at first, because everybody's going to want to see Harvey Keitel play another bad lieutenant. (Okay, not really.) Both shows are on at the same time as E.R., but that show has half the ratings it used to.


Heroes season three vs. Heroes season two: If I had a superpower for every time a star of mutant soap-opera Heroes has said this season will be less boring than season two, I'd be omnipotent. And based on the action-packed first episode that was shown at Comic-Con, we're convinced. The show will be better than its sophomore slump. But season three doesn't just have to be a little better than season two: it has to pummel season two ruthlessly, into a bloody pulp. And that may be a tall order, especially since a lot of the hints we're hearing about the new season take the "soap opera" theme to new heights. (Spoiler alert: Everybody's related to everyone else.) Our prediction: Heroes will relaunch with millions of extra viewers, curious to see if it's really bounced back. And then it'll lose some of them. The only question is, how many? Knight Rider vs. Bones: The more I learn about NBC's Knight Rider remake, the dumber it feels. I've read large chunks of several scripts at this point, and the show's main pleasure seems to be laughing at the idiotic dialog and bad science. Plus, it's trying way too hard to jump onto every other pop-culture bandwagon. (KITT the super car is a "Transformer". KITT has a KITT-Cave.) And the revamped Knight is going head-to-head with Bones, one of Fox's biggest non-reality hits since 24. Bones is sometimes schlocky, but does feature real science instead of science-babble, and the characters feel like grown-ups. (Also on Wednesdays at 8: America's Next Top Model, some sitcoms and Pushing Daisies.) Our prediction: Rider may just be dumb enough to win over people who want to switch off their brains for an hour. Plus people who want to laugh at its utter inanity. And take a drink everytime someone says "KITT-cave."


The Sci Fi Channel vs. you having a life: Once again, the Sci Fi Channel is putting its only worthwhile content on Friday nights. (Eureka is going on a break soon.) But instead of a bloc featuring Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who, we're getting the last batch of Stargate Atlantis episodes. And the first batch of episodes of Amanda Tapping's new show Sanctuary, which started out as a web series. (Spoiler alert: Amanda Tapping is 150 years old and she tries to help mutants and monsters, but the show seems to be mostly about her crazy ex-boyfriend and their psycho daughter.) Is anybody going to stay in on a Friday night for Stargate and Sanctuary? Anyone? (Sure, you can TiVo it, but it appears that Stargate's ratings are based on "live plus same day" viewings. Meaning next-day viewings don't count. How far into Saturday morning counts as same-day? Not sure.) Our prediction: Stargate's ratings are actually up from season five, and doing better than Battlestar's last few episodes.