BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. As you know if you've turned on the TV lately, there's nothing much on. But there will be. And soon — starting with the excellent Mad Men (10 p.m. Thursday), AMC's first original series, set inside an advertising agency in 1960.
Last week, PBS and the cable channels came out here to show what they have planned for the next several months. Here's what look to be the best of those offerings.
War's on: Ken Burns' The War, a sobering 15-hour, seven-night film about World War II that's guaranteed to have you in tears, debuts Sept. 23 on WFYI (Channel 20). Meanwhile, HBO and James "Used to Be Tony Soprano" Gandolfini introduce you to the most recent vets in Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq (Sept. 9). It's an apolitical film, but if you thought you hated the war before, just wait. And CNN's Christiane Amanpour looks at religious fervor and its relationship to politics in God's Warriors, which airs Aug. 21-23 in two-hour segments.
Just for laughs: HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm returns for a sixth season Sept. 9 with a great episode in which Larry and Cheryl take in a family displaced by a hurricane. Orlando Jones and Ali LeRoi (Everybody Hates Chris) team up for BUFU, an animated sketch comedy series that bows in October on BET. And PBS plans an animated version of Car Talk in spring 2008.
Thought-provoking: Coming this fall on the PBS series Nova are a couple of supremely interesting episodes: "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial," about the Dover, Pa., court case in which a federal judge struck down the teaching of Intelligent Design in the local high school, and "Marathon," in which a group of ordinary people train to run the Boston Marathon. BET will unveil the town hall-style discussion Hip Hop vs. America in the fall, and PBS offers a six-hour, three-night documentary called The Jewish Americans in January.
If thrills are what you're after, try Damages (10 p.m. July 24, FX), starring Glenn Close as a hard-charging lawyer chasing a CEO played by Ted Danson. Spike TV unveils The Kill Point (9 p.m. July 22), an eight-episode hostage drama with John Leguizamo as the bank robber and Donnie Wahlberg as the cop who tries to get him to surrender. TNT brings us Holly Hunter in Saving Grace (July 23), about a hard-living police detective. (Anything with Kenneth Johnson — Lem from The Shield — is worth a look, right?) Also on TNT: The Company, about the CIA, KGB and the Cold War (Aug. 5).
Real-life oddities: The National Geographic Channel will show you what Steve Tyler's vocal chords look like (hint: very similar to his outer appearance) and how they work in Incredible Human Machine (October), but for a real freak show, don't miss NGC's Taboo (August), which journeys across the globe to show rites and rituals that we consider freakish but other countries practice. We're talking stuff (mitts of fire ants, anyone?) that makes the Jackass guys look like wusses. Finally, the Discovery Channel presents Storm Chasers (Oct. 16), a frightening look at people who try to go inside tornadoes.
Feeling nostalgic?: TV Land will spend August paying tribute to Elvis Presley by running his movies, concert specials, documentaries and a new special, Myths and Legends: Elvis (Aug. 16). In October, VH1 Classic will air a series called Seven Ages of Rock, which will rekindle the debate over whether music is as good as it used to be. Answer: It is. It's just harder to find. Speaking of great music, WFYI will air Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story at 9 p.m. Aug. 1.
The Hoosier angle
• Tom Brokaw said Robert Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis will be a big part of his documentary 1968 with Tom Brokaw, which will air this fall on the History Channel. That April 4 speech helped quell tensions in the inner city following the assassination of Martin Luther King.
"It was a moving and eloquent speech and very courageous," Brokaw said.
"Indianapolis was the only place that didn't go up [in flames], by the way."
• You can see Jason Priestly in the new Lifetime drama Side Order of Life. You won't see him on a race track anymore, though. Five years after he hit the wall going 180 mph at the Kentucky Speedway, Priestly says his days as a professional driver are over.
"A year after the accident, I was in negotiation with a couple of teams to go back to running the Infiniti Pro Series again," Priestly said. "And that's when Tony Renna died in that tire-testing accident at the Speedway [Oct. 22, 2003]. I went to Tony's funeral in Indianapolis. Just being there at Tony's funeral, it became very clear to me that I'd had my time and it was time to hang it up."
• Tim DeKay, who was Jerry Seinfeld's direct opposite in the classic Seinfeld episode "The Bizarro Jerry," got his start playing Wykowski in Biloxi Blues at the Indiana Repertory Theatre in January-February 1991.
"I'll never forget," said DeKay, who's starring in the upcoming HBO series Tell Me You Love Me. "It was one of my biggest moments. I came home and heard on my answering machine, 'We got the offer. You're going to Indianapolis.' I fell in love with Indianapolis. It was freezing, but I just loved the town. More war memorials than I'd seen in a number of towns. Indianapolis holds a dear place in my heart."
• Indianapolis native and reality TV honcho Scott Stone (The Man Show, The Mole, The Joe Schmo Show) has a new one on Bravo: Tim Gunn's Guide to Style premieres Sept. 6.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Yeah, that was pretty fucked up." —a smiling, laughing James Gandolfini, when I asked if he'd seen The Onion story "James Gandolfini Shot By Closure-Seeking Fan"