Four rookies take part in weeknight tussle

There was a time not long ago when comedy ruled Tuesday night, with two or three — and at one time four — broadcast nets going head to head with sitcom blocks.

This fall, though, the two half-hour comedies on the night — in fact, they’re the only comedies on all of the Tuesday broadcast sked — are both newcomers and have a clearer path to success since they are unopposed by other laffers.

But it’s interesting to note the comedy that has seeped into other shows on the night, ranging from CW’s lighthearted reality show “Beauty and the Geek” and its new comedic drama “Reaper” to ABC’s “Boston Legal” at 10. Even CBS, whose crime dramas can get pretty dour, lightens up some at 8 with the oft-humorous “NCIS.”

Sure, the comedy genre is challenged unlike any time since the early ’80s, but auds will always be looking for laughs on a night that has been home in the recent past to the likes of “Home Improvement,” “Frasier” and “Will & Grace.”

And while ABC’s new comedies (“Cavemen” and the promising “Carpoolers”) are far from sure things, they will get a chance to bloom in a not-so-hostile environment.

They’re two of four new shows on Tuesday nights this fall, along with CBS family-business drama “Cane” starring Jimmy Smits and CW’s “Reaper.”

Overall, Tuesday — in the fall, at least, before “American Idol” shakes things up in January — is up for grabs, with a new hit perhaps changing the balance of power.

Here’s a look:

8-9 p.m.

Established skeins on CBS (“NCIS”), Fox (“Bones”) and NBC (“Biggest Loser”) should be in a tight battle for the demo lead, with “Loser” perhaps the winner in 18-49 and “NCIS” in 25-54. And CW will draw one of its most balanced auds with the social-experiment series “Beauty and the Geek.”

The hour’s real alternative is on ABC, where the high-concept “Cavemen” will certainly get auds to sample, but will they stick around? Its first episode wasn’t available for preview, as ABC opted to use its original pilot later in the season and shoot a new premiere seg to better set up the plight of the modern-day title characters.

It’s the 8:30 comedy “Carpoolers,” though, that’s worth keeping an eye on.

ABC has been unable in recent years to transition from traditional domestic laffers like “My Wife and Kids” and “According to Jim” to more sophisticated fare.

And while some of the net’s strides have been too long (think “Sons & Daughters” and “Knights of Prosperity”), “Carpoolers” is more of a baby step in the right direction. Even if it doesn’t work initially, the net should practice patience with a show that has a great cast and relatable premise.

9-10 p.m.

Fox’s “House,” which achieved new ratings highs last season, will win the hour in key demos, although, without “Idol” as a lead-in in fall, it should be a tight battle with ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” results show for the lead in total viewers.

NBC, which had originally scheduled a first-year drama for this hour, smartly changed course by extending “Biggest Loser” by a half-hour to 9:30; some fans of the weight-loss skein will bail at 9, but enough will stick around to make the Peacock competitive. Don’t expect much from “Singing Bee” at 9:30, however, as the karaoke contest faded this summer after a hot start and likely won’t hold up to regular-season competition.

CBS’ “The Unit” isn’t the hit it looked to be early in its run, but it’s about the best the net could hope to do against a dominant drama and a reality show that does well among the 35-plus aud drawn to the Eye. It also makes for a good male-friendly pair with “NCIS.”

And “Reaper” — in which a young slacker becomes the devil’s bounty hunter — is a nice blend of wackiness and wit that makes for a perfect lead-out from “Beauty and the Geek.” It’s a great alternative for the 18-34 crowd that isn’t into “House.”

10-11 p.m.

After a string of clunkers in this hour (think “Love Monkey,” “3 Lbs.” and “Smith”), CBS figures to have a better shot with “Cane,” which sees Smits return to his old “NYPD Blue” timeslot.

The Eye is out of its comfort zone here, being the serialized newbie opposite entrenched dramas, including the crime procedural that has ruled the hour for five years, NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU.” And a sudser about a Cuban-American family isn’t an easy sell — Smits or no Smits.

There’s enough of a crime hook, though, to reel in core CBS viewers, and others may be drawn to some of the younger, fresh faces on the cast. It also would be a big help if “Cane” could bring along some men from its lead-in, “The Unit,” as both “SVU” and ABC’s “Boston Legal” skew fairly heavily female.

So while still something of a long shot, it’s the best Tuesday-at-10 effort for the Eye since “Judging Amy,” and it should do better than “Smith,” which was yanked after three episodes last fall despite passable ratings. That would leave CBS battling “Boston Legal” for second place, with both looking up at “SVU.”

Bottom line

Fox and NBC will battle for the night’s demo lead in the fall, though ABC and CBS could both show improvement.

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