Not long ago, the words "summer TV" inspired dread in the hearts of television junkies and executives alike, but no more. Now it can be argued that the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day deliver the best that television has to offer, period.
Here is our list of 16 new and returning shows arriving in the weeks to come, listed in order of premiere date. As you'll see, there's so much good stuff to choose from this summer that you might not want to lift your carcass off the couch until September.
Airs: Thursdays at 12 a.m. ET on Adult Swim (debuted June 2)
This late-night parody series, now entering its third season, has all of the elements of a dream sitcom, including "Mad Men" actor Jon Hamm in a recurring role as a female doctor who is actually a dude and "Daily Show" vet Rob Corddry playing a surgeon who practices medicine while wearing Gacy-esque clown makeup. At just 15 minutes a pop, "Childrens Hospital" deserves a small sliver of your time this summer, especially if you're the type of person who believes in the healing power of laughter.
Airs Mondays at 11 p.m. ET on MTV (debuted June 5)
The 1985 lycanthropy-themed comedy "Teen Wolf" has contributed much to the pop-culture pantheon: Michael J. Fox's Scott Howard growling "Give me a keg of beer…" in wolf voice; his irritating pal Stiles' iconic van-surfage to "Surfin' USA"; and an impressive YouTube video that totals the stats Fox rings up, sans wolf garb, in the movie's climactic basketball game. But MTV messes with all that by rebooting the franchise as an angsty "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"-style teen drama — which actually doesn't sound half bad.
Airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on TNT (debuts June 19)
When Steven Spielberg is listed as executive producer on any TV show, you have to take notice. But even without the marquee name at the helm, "Falling Skies" — which stars "ER" vet Noah Wyle as the leader of a band of humans rebelling against the extraterrestrial overlords who have all but conquered Earth — would send our geek flags flying. In Spielberg terms, think "War of the Worlds" rather than "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," but the two-hour pilot episode is addictive enough to compel you to carve mountains out of your mashed potatoes.
"Countdown With Keith Olbermann"
Airs weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on Current TV (debuts June 20)
No preview episode needed: Olbermanns' new Current TV offering bears the exact same title and mission statement as his MSNBC show, which he left suddenly in January. Now that the frequent thorn in the sides of conservatives and corporate boobs has buddied up with Al Gore's network, the nightly rift in the time-space continuum should provide plenty of fodder for political bloggers and pundits — if they can even find where Current TV is on their dial.
Airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on USA Network (returns June 23)
USA Network pretty much owns summers now, and it's a safe bet that the cable giant will dominate again, what with the returns of its huge hits "White Collar" (June 7 at 9 p.m.) and "Royal Pains" (June 29 at 9 p.m.), and the debut of new series "Suits" (about hot lawyer dudes) and "Necessary Roughness (about a psychotherapist hired by a professional football team). But as always, our main concern is the fifth-season return of "Burn Notice," because it co-stars Bruce Campbell. As always, the B-movie poobah plays Sam Axe, a boozy, babe-chasing former Navy SEAL working with (and stealing scenes from) Jeffrey Donovan's slick Michael Westen on private investigation jobs in Miami.
Airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX (debuts June 23)
In the “Lord of the Rings” films, Elijah Wood was saddled with a sidekick who followed him around like a dog. On this half-hour FX comedy, a remake of an Australian series, he gets a sidekick who is literally a dog — only one that Wood's character, a depressed suburbanite, sees as a grown man in a canine costume. Something tells us Gandalf wouldn't approve.
Airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX (returns June 23)
Louis C.K. — or at least his depressive TV alter ego — should probably just stay indoors and hide in a closet. Whenever the divorced and awkwardly dating father of two young girls left his humble abode in the first season of this FX comedy, he seemed to get a figurative whuppin' — from the ladies, from the guys, from his kids and, most humorously, from himself. Season two should bring more of the self-deprecating wit that has made Louis C.K. one of the country's most successful stand-up comics.
Airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO (returns June 26)
Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and her fanged and furry friends will be up to their usual hijinks this summer, of that we can be certain. How? Because HBO's season-four teaser trailer has everything the series has become known for: gratuitous nudity, buckets of blood and sweaty closeups of the world's most attractive people. What's not to like? HBO will tease the first eight minutes of the show following the surely stunning "Game of Thrones" finale on June 19.
"Torchwood: Miracle Day"
Airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Starz (debuts July 8)
Despite being a significant hit for the BBC, "Torchwood" — a "Doctor Who" spin-off named for a secretive British organization that protects Earth from extraterrestrial threats — needed outside funding to secure a fourth season. Enter Starz, which has reinvigorated the series for American audiences, in part by casting U.S. favorites Mekhi Phifer (as a CIA agent), Bill Pullman (as a heinous criminal) and Lauren Ambrose (as a public-relations wiz).
Also Read: Starz Brings 'Torchwood' Across the Pond
The bonkers plot concerns an inexplicable phenomenon that has eliminated death from the human equation — a thorny problem that might imperil mankind were it not for immortal, bisexual con artist Captain Jack Harness (John Barrowman) and his merry band of cronies from the Torchwood institute. Starz will tease the series with a web-only animated spin-off called "Torchwood: Web of Lies," which will star "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alum Eliza Dushku — well, her voice anyway.
"Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO (returns July 10)
It seems like eons ago that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" wrapped up its seventh season with a (fictional) reunion episode of "Seinfeld." Re-teaming with Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer must have sent Larry David on quite a nostalgia trip, as this fresh batch of 10 episodes sends our favorite balding curmudgeon to New York City to menace Michael J. Fox, restaurateurs and every other East Coast resident stupid enough to get in his way.
Airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT (returns July 11)
Kyra Sedgwick’s highly rated detective drama takes one last trot around the glue factory, but does so in super-sized fashion, with a whopping 21 freaking episodes beginning July 11. "The Closer" helped usher in the concept that summer television belongs to cable networks when it debuted in 2005, but the hype surrounding the launch of its final season is ironically being muffled by the many other notable programs coming down the pike. We doubt Nielsen households will leave TNT's farewell high-five to the series hanging, however.
Airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX (returns July 13)
Another summer cable stalwart goes down! Denis Leary's acclaimed fireman saga "Rescue Me" will end its run after its seventh season — and in fitting fashion, too. Given that the series follows the personal and professional lives of New York City firefighters, a major theme has been 9/11; the show will bow out September 7, four days before the 10-year anniversary of the tragedy. Break out the hankies — looks like it could be a tearful ta-ta.
Airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on DirecTV's 101 Network (returns July 13)
Fans of this mind-bending but low-rated legal drama who are without access to DirecTV may wish to sue for damages relating to the trauma of not being able to watch the former FX series' fourth season as it airs. But good things will come to those who can wait for the DVD — or who have the option to make the switch to DirecTV — as "Damages" has always featured some of the best acting on television. John Goodman, Griffin Dunne and Judd Hirsch are all joining regulars Glenn Close and Rose Byrne for a season that delves into a wrongful military death suit.
Airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC (returns July 17)
You'll be tuning in for the long-awaited fourth season of AMC's Emmy juggernaut and everyone knows it. Sympathetic characters who also happen to be meth dealers don’t grow on trees, you know.
Airs Tuesdays at 11 p.m. ET on Showtime (debuts July 19)
Like Rob Corddry with "Childrens Hospital," Lisa Kudrow concocted this shtick-y series about an impatient therapist for internet audiences only. But the digital shorts — which pits Kudrow's Fiona Wallice against the patients she treats via improvised video chats — won just enough fans and involved just enough celebrity wattage (e.g., Jane Lynch, Courteney Cox, Julia Louis-Dreyfus) that Showtime ponied up to cobble them into half-hour episodes. After the announcement, Kudrow shot episodes with Meryl Streep, who gamely played a sexual orientation therapist.
Airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO (returns July 24)
OK, so the final season of "Entourage" might not make us salivate as much as the other shows we've mentioned — or even as much as some of the new and returning programs that didn't make the cut. Indeed, the last rodeo on Rodeo Drive for Turtle, et. al (well, unless that feature film creator Doug Ellin has been planning becomes a reality) can't compete in our minds with the upcoming reboots of "Thundercats" (Cartoon Network, July) and "Beavis and Butt-head" (MTV, sometime this summer); the fresh seasons of "Futurama" and "Ugly Americans" (Comedy Central, June); or the launch of Syfy's "Heroes"-esque drama "Alphas" (July). But, hey, our tag line is "Covering Hollywood."