By Samuel Dent–

The television landscape is more akin to a war zone of never-ending conflict. Strategies, platoons and weapons in the form of scheduling and scripts are developed every year to gain the populace’s attention in hopes of winning big ratings and crushing competitors into the dust. With an increasingly fragmented audience that is able to get their television elsewhere, both through licit and illicit means, a season that was once a typical dumping ground for shows considered not quite good enough to make the fall slate is now essentially a second shot at glory.

Among returning fanfavorites, many new shows are thrust forward into the void; a launch of mortars without knowing how or if they’ll even fall into the fabled lands of Big Ratings or Critical Adoration. For now however, details will follow on the callow rookies and grizzled veterans being deployed in the coming weeks and months. Several midseason shows have already premiered, but the following will detail some of the intriguing shows that will appear on your set.

For NBC, any and all hope of rescue vanished long ago and they have sunk into the quicksand of fourth place in the Nielsen ratings system. However, they are placing high hopes on “Smash,” (Feb. 6) a Broadway focused story that features music, dancing and a young woman hoping to make it big. Think “Glee” but substitute the tortures of high school with the tortures of the big leagues.

“The Voice,” (Feb. 5) a reality singing competition from last year, returns directly after the Super Bowl.

Sci-fi drama “Awake” does not have a release date yet, but already the pilot episode has been drawing early critical acclaim for its intelligent writing and performance of its leading man, Jason Isaacs. A detective experiences a car crash with his family that splits his existence into two realities. In one reality, his wife died in the crash but his son survived. In an opposite reality, vice versa.
With these bold, brash moves, hopefully NBC can be rescued from peril.

ABC is struggling in the trenches too, trying to find a way out of third place. Here are some programs they hope will provide more ammo for next season.

Mysterious horror drama “The River” (Feb. 7) is presented in the found footage format; one of the executive producers happens to be Oren Peli of “Paranormal Activity” fame. The show details a documentary crew going with a group down the Amazon in search of a famous explorer who disappeared and was presumed dead, if it weren’t for his distress beacon suddenly sending out help months later.

Strange, spooky things besiege the crew.

Those who take stock in more soapy or traditional dramas might find “GCB” (March 4) to be more their liking, with interpersonal drama “Scandal” (April 5) and mystery drama “Missing” (March 15) also in the reserves. “GCB” is adapted from a book “Good Christian Bitches” by Kim Gatlin and features a woman who must return to her hometown of Dallas after her marriage ends in scandal, having to face the people she once wronged many years ago. “Scandal” is producer Shonda Rhimes’s (“Grey’s Anatomy”) latest foray into human drama. It deals with crises both public and personal at a firm set up by an ex-public management official from a White House administration. “Missing” chronicles an ex-CIA mother’s search for her eight-year-old son when he disappears overseas in Europe. Only time will tell if one of these stick the landing.

Meanwhile, CBS is content to remain dominant. According to the Nielsen system, CBS leads in total viewers overall. New sitcom “¡Rob!” (Jan. 12) details the inevitable clashes that come when actor Rob Schneider’s titular character quickly falls in love and elopes with a woman, only to meet her none-too-happy Mexican-American family.

Second-place Fox is content to let “American Idol” return and do its gig but is hoping sci-fi drama “Alcatraz” (Jan 16) from mega-producer J. J. Abrams will help fuel the geek fandom fires. When a group of prisoners in the 1960’s disappeared from the prison and reappear in the present day, it’s up to an elite team of agents to track them down and figure out what is happening and why.

“Touch” (March 19) by “Heroes” creator and producer Tim Kring also tells a mysterious story about an autistic boy who can see patterns in the world, time and space. His father, played by Kiefer Sutherland (“24”) tries to make sense of his son’s strange behavior and visions. Add a “Napoleon Dynamite” (Jan. 15) cartoon based on the cult film sensation from 2004 and you have an ambitious if odd mix.

In the battlegrounds of cable, FX has irreverent, animated spy comedy “Archer” (Jan. 19) and the cowboy-cop drama “Justified” (Jan. 17) also primed and ready. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is set to return on Feb. 12. HBO’s new horseracing drama “Luck,” (Jan. 29) from “Deadwood” producer and writer David Milch, stars Dustin Hoffman and will attempt to carry the network’s banner of prestige.

The television wars may never draw to a close as it’s up to the viewers to determine the winners. Strong numbers mean a strong staying time. Perhaps one of these shows will break through and survive the end of winter before spring rolls around.

Of course, in the words of HBO’s current fantasy drama “Game of Thrones,” (April ?), the weather may be rolling the other way. For some shows, “winter is coming.”

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Photo courtesy FX Productions