Nine to watch for in '09: TV's fan favorites and new series premiere

When it comes to midseason TV, this year's new and returning shows are a decidedly mixed lot. Some look like sure bets (welcome back, Joss Whedon!), while others seem doomed from the start (does America really need more Howie Mandel?). Some are coming back with a roar (its fans can't wait to find Lost all over again), while others seem like they're limping to the finish line (does anyone even notice that Friday Night Lights is returning to prime time?).

Realizing that, in TV, there's no such thing as a sure bet, and being fully prepared to be surprised (both pro and con), here's a list of nine shows to look for in '09.

* 24, Fox (Season 7 premiere today, 8 p.m.): Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, pictured at left) returns, once again with only one day to save the world. This time, Jack, about to stand trial (for murder, torture, unlawful detainment and about a dozen other examples of nastiness-under-duress), is called on when an old friend seems to have turned traitor. Here's betting that, by season's end, new President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) will be glad ol' Jack is still around.

* Lost, ABC (Season 5 premieres Jan. 21, 8 p.m.): So many questions. Why is Sayid (Naveen Andrews) apparently working for Ben (Michael Emerson)? Just how do the Oceanic Six get off that island? Has Hurley (Jorge Garcia) gone insane? And is that really Locke (Terry O'Quinn) inside that casket?

* Friday Night Lights, NBC (Season 3 network premiere Friday, 9 p.m.): Those never-say-die Dillon Panthers are back on network TV for tonight's Season 3 opener. Of course, those of you with DirecTV have already seen this season (which ends with Wednesday's season finale), but please don't spoil things for the rest of us.

* Dollhouse, Fox (series premiere Feb. 13, 9 p.m.): Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Whedon returns with this eerie series starring Eliza Dushku (who played the dark Buffy, aka Faith) as Echo, one of a group of "actives," individuals who have had their minds swept clean and can thus be programmed to be whomever - or whatever - the programmer desires. Two problems: The FBI wants to close this whole illegal operation down, and Echo's memory hasn't been wiped as clean as everyone thought.

* CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CBS (major cast change Thursday, 9 p.m.): After nine seasons and 191 episodes, William Petersen's Gil Grissom heads out the door. Good thing Laurence Fishburne's Raymond Langston is on hand to fill his shoes, right?

* The Beast, A&E; (series premiere Thursday, 10 p.m.): Patrick Swayze, whose valiant, well-publicized battle against pancreatic cancer continues, plays a maverick FBI agent with his own unorthodox way of doing things, forced to take on a rookie partner.

* Howie Do It, NBC (premiered Friday, 8 p.m.): As if his omnipresence on Deal or No Deal wasn't enough. Here, Mandel, a long way from his days on St. Elsewhere, cons unsuspecting marks into thinking they're on a reality show, or auditioning for a film or TV role. Did anyone in the vast TV audience really ask for this show?

* Trust Me, TNT (series premiere Jan. 26, 10 p.m.): Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) and Tom Cavanagh (Ed) are partners in a Chicago ad agency. Could this prove to be a 21st-century version of AMC's Mad Men? And have the creators of this series met the creators of ...

* Lie to Me, Fox (series premiere Jan. 21, 9 p.m.): Maybe. But despite the similarities in title, this is not another series about ad types. Tim Roth plays a guy who studies facial movement and body language to determine whether or not someone is telling the truth, and uses his skills to help law enforcement.

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