Fall TV: Timeslot Wars! Grey's Anatomy or CSI?

One thing television viewers have to readjust to every fall is having to make tough decisions about which shows to watch as they air live, which to consign to the DVR, and which to forget about completely. Some time slots are so competitive that one almost needs to flip a coin. Here are a few of the more fiercely fought over hours of television this fall.

Monday 8-9 p.m.: Dancing With the Stars (ABC); Chuck (NBC); Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox); Gossip Girl (CW); The Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother (CBS).

This is probably the toughest call of the entire week, as this slot contains both the highest-rated series from last fall (DWtS) and the most prominent series on another network (Gossip Girl). The shows in this slot fall into two categories: the shows that will likely be rerun at some point (Gossip Girl and the CBS sitcoms) and those that likely won't be (Dancing and Terminator). There's another category that both Terminator and Chuck fall into: shows that begin the season already on the cancellation bubble. Both programs hold real promise (though the Terminator season premiere was as maddeningly uneven as ever), so try to give one or the other your support. As far as Dancing goes, you're either watching it by now or you aren't; and Gossip Girl is the first series to become a hit without having any viewers at all, so one doesn't need to feel much guilt about skipping it.

Thursday 9-10 p.m.: CSI (CBS); The Office/30 Rock (NBC); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); Kitchen Nightmares (Fox); Supernatural (CW).

The real battle here will once again be between Grey's Anatomy and CSI. The latter show begins its ninth season as still the highest-rated program on CBS, but it is facing massive transition with two regulars having left last season and William Petersen departing halfway through the current season. Grey's isn't terribly serialized, but it's probably better suited for watching live than CSI, which will always have every episode rerun a bunch of times. The NBC sitcoms will never bring back the Nielsen glory days, but they're guaranteed Emmy bait and networks are increasingly having trouble coming up with shows like that.

Thursday 8-9 p.m.: Ugly Betty (ABC); Survivor: Gabon (CBS); My Name Is Earl/Kath & Kim (NBC); Smallville (CW); Hole in the Wall (Fox).

Let's get Fox out of the way first: I have no idea what they're thinking with Hole in the Wall, which may be the most simplistic program ever devised. Even for summer it wouldn't be an adequate hour-killer. Smallville is likely in its final season, so if you're in the mood to check out its new villains, more power to you. A good strategy with this timeslot might be to dip into Survivor early on to see how the season is progressing, and bail if it appears boring. Of course, if Gabon is anything like the Micronesia season, which dragged in its first half and became unbelievably exciting down the stretch, that strategy won't work. Ugly Betty had a very erratic second season, so it will need to improve to stay as appointment TV. As far as NBC goes, the pedigree for Kath & Kim looks promising, although one wonders how it will do with the male-oriented Earl as its lead-in.

Wednesday 8-9 p.m.: America's Next Top Model (CW); Pushing Daisies (ABC); Bones (Fox); The New Adventures of Old Christine/Gary Unmarried (CBS); Knight Rider (NBC).

This is an odd time slot in that the established shows here, Bones and ANTM, aren't really big hits. Old Christine took advantage of what was likely its last chance and got a full-season renewal; unfortunately, it then got moved to Wednesday as CBS continues in what has been a vain effort so far to build a comedy block on a night other than Monday. And being paired with the male-led Gary Unmarried likely won't help either show. Nostalgia aside, Knight Rider will have to be a lot better than the original for anyone to care about it in 2008. The best bets here will be to stick with Bones or Pushing Daisies, which has a terrific cast but might also have difficulty sustaining its story in the long run.

Sunday 10-11 p.m.: NFL Football (NBC); Brothers & Sisters (ABC); The Unit (CBS); Dexter (Showtime).

This is the rare timeslot where shows of particular interest to men predominate, not that the offbeat psychological approach of Dexter is completely without appeal to women. Dexter didn't set the world on fire during its strike tryout on CBS, but those reruns likely introduced a new audience to the series, and it will be interesting to see if that is reflected in the ratings for the new season (all three scripted shows here have the same premiere date, September 28). The Unit barely survived cancellation and was moved to a timeslot where CBS has typically countered the woman-oriented programming on ABC with a guy show. Brothers & Sisters took a turn to the unbelievable and questionably tasteful late last season and has to be considered on probation; and the NFL game of the week will sell itself if the matchup is good enough. If you want to not be left out of the hot Monday morning conversations, you're probably going to have to go with Dexter.