Series premieres, or why I finally got TiVo

Eight programmable slots on a VCR isn’t very conducive to catching new shows if all eight are occupied by returning shows.

It’s why I didn’t get into Lost till season two. It’s why I didn’t start watching new episodes of Battlestar Galactica till season 2.5. It’s why I waited till The West Wing and Without a Trace went into syndication before I watched either show.

Now that I have TiVo, I can do something I haven’t been able to do till now — catch a series premiere when it premieres.

The only new show to have earned a Season Pass is Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It’s the residual The West Wing mojo of Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme that has me interested in the show. As for other shows starting their freshman season, I’m giving their premieres a chance before I commit to a Season Pass.

I spent today catching up on those premieres. (Hard drive troubles throughout the week kept me from watching the shows at their appointed times.) The impressions thus far:

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, NBC, Mondays, 9 p.m.: The set of a live comedy show doesn’t have the paegentry or urgency as the White House, and the stories on The West Wing felt dramatic because the stakes were always high. But Sorkin has a snappy way with dialogue, and because the setting doesn’t lend itself to being ripped from headlines, perhaps a more personal style of storytelling will emerge. Verdict: Season Pass

Smith, CBS, Tuesday, 7 p.m.: I don’t know why I’ve grown such an attachment to Mike Doyle’s brief appearances on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Perhaps because the CSU jacket and lab coat looking fetching on him. So I was a bit glad his character in the Smith pilot got killed. Yeah, I have a thing for Doyle, so what? Smith is incredibly sleek, and the action felt cinematic. But an entire series out of it? On network TV? The storylines laid down for expansion over the course of the season don’t seem like they could stretch far. Perhaps the producers are going for the demographic that watches 24, but I think they have a better chance with more explicit content on a basic cable network. A 22-episode season out of this show will stretch it thin. Verdict: No Season Pass, if two more episodes don’t convince me otherwise.

Jericho, CBS, Wednesdays, 7 p.m.: This pilot had my attention up until the mayor’s big pep talk at the end. Then it fell on convention, right down to the music. It felt very CBS, ca. early ’90s. Gerald McRaney was delivering the speech, ferchrissakes. But the twists along the way were nice — it’s a bus! But the right one? A character’s mom died mid-phone call! But what city? I’m interested in what happens next. Verdict: Season Pass, if the next few episodes keep me reeled in.

Shark, CBS, Thursdays, 9 p.m.: I think I’ll call it the Gilmore Girls effect — teenage characters that exhibit more maturity than a parental unit. On Desperate Housewives, Julie pretty much bails her mom Susan out of her scrapes. On Eureka, Zoe keeps her dad Jack on his toes, while both are fishes out of water in a town full of geniuses. Now on Shark, another Julie tells her dad, "You need me." What this show needs is a little less obvious. James Woods’ Sebastian Stark is no Gregory House, and the team of misfit ADAs have their personality traits conveniently spelled out for us. The pilot did a lot of exposition, so perhaps this show may go better when it starts focusing on cases. But judging from that start, I see "major derail" in the future. Verdict: No Season Pass, but one more episode to convince me otherwise.

Six Degrees, ABC, Thursdays, 9 p.m.: No Kevin Bacon in sight for this human drama. It’s an interesting premise, and the pilot was well-paced. There was enough ambiguity about everyone’s background to go in many directions, and I certainly would like to see how some of these storylines play out even for half a season. Verdict: Season Pass, if the next three episodes keep my interest.

I’ve already programmed the TiVo to catch the premieres of Heroes, Friday Night Lights, The Nine and Ugly Betty. I’ll weigh in on those premieres later.