Tonight’s 9 o’clock battle is an event, indeed

I can’t remember a night in recent fall launches where so much was at stake in one hour.

Tonight’s 9 p.m. timeslot is one of the most competitive of recent memory and, not to hype the battle any more than necessary, but one network, in particular, is holding its collective breath.  Ritter

A two-hour “Dancing With the Stars” will grab a handful of female demos and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” will have the guys watching pigskin. Those are the no-brainers. 

The real intrigue is between CBS, NBC and Fox, with the Eye offering a pair of comedies. “Two and a Half Men” — now entering its eighth season — should act as a solid lead-in to Chuck Lorre’s newest laffer, “Mike & Molly.” As when “The Big Bang Theory” followed “Two and a Half Men,” the delightful “Mike & Molly” will get plenty of sampling and, because it’s good, those who watch early on during the season will probably stick around. If there’s anything as a sure thing anymore in broadcast television, this seems a likely candidate.

The real battle, however, clearly stands between NBC and Fox. NBC has “The Event,” and kudos to Adam Stotsky and the Peacock marketing crew for gaining huge awareness of the show that’s about, well, something big. The pilot doesn’t give it away, but what it does convey is that Jason Ritter is as likeable as they come, and there are many rooting for both him and “The Event” to do well.

Lonestar If “The Event” gets off to a poor start, however, there will be chatter that a good PR campaign wasn’t able to make up for a show that may not deliver creatively. There will be plenty of gloom and doom in Burbank, Universal City and 30 Rock if tonight’s ratings are subpar.

While “Lone Star” doesn’t have nearly as much recognition as “The Event,” what it does have is clearly a better lead-in — “House” vs. “Chuck,” though in the DVR age it’s difficult to quantify the value of lead-ins anymore — and a better pilot. There’s much to like here, especially James Wolk doing a tricky dance between two women he loves, and a criminal life he wants to escape, all the while not without hurting many people along his road to redemption.

The feeling here is that both “The Event” and “Lone Star” will be neck-and-neck tonight and journos won’t be able to declare a winner for weeks, if not months. The hope is that “The Event” doesn’t go the way of “Heroes” or “FlashForward” and that “Lone Star” focuses more on character than plot, so that we actually care about them more than the oil that makes their Texas town tick.