Hot summer nights

EMPIRE FALLS
Where: HBO
Who: Paul Newman, Ed Harris, Helen Hunt
When: May 28 (Part 1), May 29 (Part 2)
What: Two-part miniseries directed by Fred Schepisi, based on the book by Richard Russo.
Why it’s cool: Any time the reclusive, Oscar-winning Newman reappears on the screen — big or small — it’s not to be missed.
Why go fishing instead: Asking for viewers’ attention for four hours might be difficult.

HELL’S KITCHEN
Where: Fox
Who: Superchef Gordon Ramsay
When: May 30
What: Ramsay oversees a group of 12 chefs who have dreams of opening their own restaurant but they must endure culinary boot camp first.
Why it’s cool: America’s passion for food runs deep — ask Rachel Ray or Emeril Lagasse — and that enthusiasm may rub off here.
Why go fishing instead: Though it did come back for a second season, NBC mostly failed with “The Restaurant,” as even the suave Rocco DiSpirito couldn’t serve up a sizable enough audience to qualify as a hit.

BEAUTY AND THE GEEK
Where: WB
Who: Fourteen slightly less-than-perfect contestants
When: June 1
What: Seven pretty women of questionable intelligence and seven men with IQ’s Einstein would be proud of but are incapable of having a conversation with a pretty girl are matched up.
Why it’s cool: When nerds and beauties mingle, there’s sure to be moments of awkwardness, which, of course, make for great television.
Why go fishing instead: Those with enough dating dilemmas of their own aren’t intrigued by others who can’t connect with the opposite sex.

THE 4400
Where: USA Network
Who: Billy Campbell, Joel Gretsch, Jacqueline McKenzie
When: June 5
What: Questions from last year’s highly successful miniseries continue to be asked: Why have these people suddenly reappeared on Earth and who’s behind it all?
Why it’s cool: Well-done sci-fi is always intriguing and there’s little reason to think that those who tuned in last summer won’t return.
Why go fishing instead: Those who didn’t watch may feel like it’s too late to see what all the fuss is about.

CLOSER
Where: TNT
Who: Kyra Sedgwick, J.K. Simmons, Corey Reynolds
When: June 13
What: When the LAPD is thisclose to a confession, it brings in detective Sedgwick to seal the deal.
Why it’s cool: It’s rare to find a woman in this type of historically male-dominated role and Sedgwick can break new ground here.
Why go fishing instead: Cop dramas are a dime a dozen these days and the creators behind this series will need to prove early on why this one is different.

I WANT TO BE A HILTON
Where: NBC
Who: Fourteen aspiring contestants, with Paris’ mom, Kathy Hilton, playing ringmaster.
When: June 21
What: A bevy of ladies are split into two teams and the ultimate winner will be pampered like a wealthy Gotham socialite for a year. Weekly contests deal with world-changing issues: fashion, culture and art.
Why it’s cool: It’s kind of ironic to see how far some women will work to pursue a lifestyle of doing nothing.
Why go fishing instead: Catty woman may be fine in small doses but over a dozen hours this may be a bit much.

EMPIRE
Where: ABC
Who: Jonathan Cake, Santiago Cabrera, Emily Blunt
When: June 28
What: The Alphabet’s expensive six-hour look back at Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavius, who is forced into exile after Caesar’s assassination, and the fictional disgraced gladiator, Tyrannus, sworn to protect him.
Why it’s cool: It’s a pre-emptive strike before HBO’s “Rome” starts up in the fall and anything and everything on ABC these days seems to come up big.
Why go fishing instead: Sword-and-sandal dramas on the feature-film side (“Alexander,” “Troy,” “Kingdom of Heaven”) have, for the most part, underperformed in the U.S. Is there a reason to think this will do better?

ROCK STAR
Where: CBS
Who: Budding musicians ready to take center stage
When: July 11
What: A combination of “American Idol” and “Big Brother,” contestants will live together in a house, perform on Tuesdays and then be voted off on Wednesdays — a la “Idol” — and on Mondays a look at how they’re all getting along.
Why it’s cool: For the same reasons “Idol” works. America loves to pick its own stars, and now we even get to see at-home bickering as well.
Why go fishing instead: Less than two months after the “Idol” finale, is there enough enthusiasm for the same type of competish?

OVER THERE
Where: FX
Who: Erik Palladino, Josh Henderson, Luke MacFarlane
When: July 27
What: Steven Bochco moves from “NYPD” to Iraq, where a group of soldiers bunker down in the desert and contemplate both why they’re fighting and what they’re missing back home.
Why it’s cool: It’s the first scripted skeins to use Iraq as a backdrop and it’ll be interesting to see if there’s entertainment value there.
Why go fishing instead: The violence and bloodletting is extreme for basic cable and those who are squeamish may get turned off.

WEEDS
Where: Showtime
Who: Mary-Louise Parker, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Nealon
When: Aug. 10
What: Parker is a suburban mom who sells pot to help her family’s finances after her husband dies.
Why it’s cool: Parker is always compelling. Whether as Brad Whitford’s g.f. in “The West Wing” or as Patrick Wilson’s neglected wife in “Angels in America,” she’s hard to ignore.
Why go fishing instead: The marijuana storyline may leave some a bit uneasy, especially those whose lives have been affected by drug use.

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