Fairy tale characters, vanishing prisoners, 1960s flight attendants and Playboy bunnies populate the broadcast networks’ eclectic 2011-12 schedules. A neurosurgeon sees a ghost, a teen gets in touch with her inner witch and a family goes back to dinosaur time in just a few of the dramas that attempt to ditch the same old doctor-lawyer-cop formula.
But some of the best new shows on the networks’ fall schedules aren’t actually on the fall schedules. You’ll have to hang on for midseason for my only four-star pick, NBC’s musical-drama “Smash,” and for Fox’s riveting “Alcatraz.” And although a few new comedies are both fresh and funny, an alarming number revisit the worn-out “war between men and women” genre.
Only two new unscripted shows are scheduled this fall. “The X Factor,” the singing competition from Simon Cowell, premieres Wednesday on Fox. And the CW has “H8R” in which Mario Lopez introduces people to celebrities they really dislike, on the chance that the celebrities can win them over.
Here’s a look at the new scripted offerings, including the best of midseason. Look for season-premiere dates of returning shows in an accompanying list.
“Once Upon a Time,” ABC, 8 p.m. Sundays; Oct. 23 1/2
Looking for something different? Maybe magical? Try this eccentric thriller from two producers of “Lost” in which fairy-tale characters are cursed to live in our time, with no memory of their identities. The rich ensemble cast includes Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”) as Snow White and Jennifer Morrison (“House”) as an outsider — or is she?
“Suburgatory,” ABC, 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays; Sept. 28, 1/2
Single father George (Jeremy Sisto) moves his precocious 16-year-old daughter Tessa (Jane Levy) from Manhattan to the suburbs, where the culture is as alien as if they’d landed in Timbuktu. Cheryl Hines plays one of the women ready to snap George up.
“New Girl,” Fox, debuting 9 p.m. Tuesday
After a bad breakup, adorably awkward Jess (adorable Zooey Deschanel) moves into an apartment with three guys who don’t understand her but soon come to love her.
“Up All Night,” NBC, 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Will Arnett and Christina Applegate are besotted but overwhelmed first-time parents, trying to keep their lives on track as stay-at-home dad and working mom.
“Pan Am,” ABC, 10 p.m. Sundays; Sept. 25
In 1963, stewardesses and pilots for Pan Am fly the world, enjoying the glamour days of air travel while also struggling to maintain relationships, hew to the rules (girdles and stockings for the “girls”) and occasionally do some spying.
“A Gifted Man,” CBS, debuting 8 p.m. Friday 1/2
A neurosurgeon (Patrick Wilson) gets cozy with his ex-wife (Jennifer Ehle) again — only she’s dead. Is he losing his mind, or is this a sign from above to change his life? “A Gifted Man” will work only if viewers fall heavily for Wilson.
“Grimm,” NBC, 9 p.m. Fridays; Oct. 21 1/2
The Brothers Grimm weren’t making stuff up, a young cop (David Giuntoli) discovers when he learns he’s descended from a long line of monster hunters. The pilot to “Grimm” is dark and occasionally violent, but the series itself is described as a police procedural with a twist.
“Unforgettable,” CBS, debuting 10 p.m. Tuesdays 1/2
Poppy Montgomery is a police consultant whose rare memory condition allows her to relive every day of her life in detail, which helps with solving crimes but not, so far, in figuring out who killed her sister.
“2 Broke Girls,” CBS, debuting 8:30 p.m. Monday
Max (Kat Dennings) is a hard-working, tough-talking waitress in a Brooklyn greasy spoon; Caroline (Beth Behrs) is the daughter of a disgraced financier, forced to fend for herself. Max takes her in, and — bolstered by quirky supporting characters and snappy pop-culture references — they build a dream of opening a cupcake shop.
“The Playboy Club,” NBC, debuting 10 p.m. Mondays 1/2
The problem here isn’t that “The Playboy Club” is sexist; the female characters (aka Bunnies) are well-developed, and the drama attempts to show all sides of the Playboy Club experience in the 1960s.
“Terra Nova,” Fox, 8 p.m. Mondays; Sept. 26 (preview), Oct. 3 (premiere) 1/2
Jason O’Mara is the patriarch of a family that flees a dying Earth, returning to the past; Stephen Lang is the stern leader of the camp. Yes, there are dinosaurs, but special effects can’t carry a drama this high-profile without better storytelling.
“Person of Interest,” CBS, debuting 9 p.m. Thursdays
One of the bigger disappointments of the new season, this not-quite-thriller from the J.J. Abrams shop pairs Michael Emerson (Ben on “Lost”) and Jim Caviezel (Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ”) as an inventor and his muscle, toiling to stop crimes before they happen. But the premise is muddled and the execution is dreary.
“Revenge,” ABC, debuting 10 p.m. Wednesday
This dark soap is about a young woman seeking the destruction of the people who ruined her father.
“The Secret Circle,” CW, 10 p.m. Thursdays; debuted Sept. 15
A teenage girl (Britt Robertson of “Life Unexpected”) discovers a dark family history when she moves to her late mother’s hometown in a supernatural drama that seems like a lot of other shows.
“Ringer,” CW, 10 p.m. Tuesdays; debuted Sept. 13
Sarah Michelle Gellar, “Buffy” all grown up, returns to TV in a thriller about identical twin sisters, each with dangerous secrets. Unfortunately, the pilot is overly melodramatic and unnecessarily dark and confusing, and Gellar is mostly wasted.
“Free Agents,” NBC, 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays Hank Azaria, crushed by a recent breakup, hooks up with colleague Kathryn Hahn, who can’t get over her late husband. But unlike some new comedies, “Free Agents” has an inkling of promise.
“Charlie’s Angels,” ABC, debuting 8 p.m. Thursday
One of this season’s unnecessary remakes, “Charlie’s Angels” updates the 1976 original mainly by referring to them as “young women,” not “little girls.” The capers, in which the “angels” use their hotness for good, are standard-issue; the dialogue is cheesy and the chemistry seems forced.
“Prime Suspect,” NBC, debuting 10 p.m. Thursday 1/2
Why, why, why? The BBC original, with Helen Mirren, was riveting drama; in this remake, Maria Bello is so annoying, it’s almost impossible to root for her in her dated struggles with sexist fellow cops.
“Hart of Dixie,” CW, 10 p.m. Mondays; Sept. 26 1/2
Rachel Bilson (“The O.C.”) stars as a heart surgeon named Hart who relocates to a small Southern town after her aspirations are dashed; there she meets colorful characters and saves lives.
“Whitney,” NBC, debuting 9:30 p.m. Thursday 1/2
The best to be said about “Whitney,” starring Whitney Cummings, is that it isn’t as obnoxious as the promos NBC has been running for it.
“Man Up!” ABC, 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays; Oct. 18 1/2
Three men struggle to be manly while having their spirits mangled by women in a completely forgettable sitcom.
“How To Be a Gentleman,” CBS, 8:30 p.m. Thursdays; Sept. 29 1/2
An oh-so-cultured magazine columnist (David Hornsby) needs to save his job by getting hip, and his pal the personal trainer (Kevin Dillon, late of “Entourage”) pitches in.