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Cover story: Fall TV looks familiar

By Mekeisha Madden Toby, Special to CNN
updated 4:23 PM EDT, Thu September 8, 2011
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ioan Gruffudd star in The CW's
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ioan Gruffudd star in The CW's "Ringer."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Naturi Naughton, who guest starred on "Mad Men," is co-starring on "The Playboy Club"
  • Look for more cloning with ABC's weak remake of "Charlie's Angels"
  • "Ringer" was originally slated to air on CBS, but the network gave the show to The CW

(CNN) -- Eddie Cibrian is a handsome actor.

But for all his charms he is no Jon Hamm. This doesn't stop Cibrian, 38, from channeling his best Hamm impersonation on the new NBC drama "The Playboy Club" right down to the seductive smile, Shellac-ed black mane and Rod Serling cadence.

An undeniable clone of AMC's Emmy-winning, Madison-Avenue series, "Mad Men," the Peacock's version is just one of a handful of copycats invading the airwaves this fall.

ABC's 1960s stewardess drama, "Pan Am," appears to be another "Mad Men" copy. But duplicate dramas and comedies aren't the only trends of note this TV season.

Viewers can also look forward to the return of big names such as Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kelsey Grammer and Ted Danson as well as a hair-raising revival of small-screen horror shows.

And for those addicted to the ever evolving battle of the sexes, there is a surge in shows about weak men and more offerings about -- you guessed it -- strong women.

Fall television premieres

Read on to learn more about each of these fall TV trends.

Copycats

While "Mad Men" hasn't been a ratings blockbuster, the two-time Emmy-winning AMC show, which doesn't return for its fifth season until 2012, is a darling of the critics and has a strong fan base. Perhaps ABC and NBC would like a piece of that "Mad Men" mojo, if only for a season.

In a strange twist of fate, actress Naturi Naughton, who guest starred on "Mad Men" as a Playboy bunny, is co-starring on "The Playboy Club" as a "chocolate bunny," as her character Brenda so dreamily says in the pilot, making us all long for Easter.

Despite such obvious similarities, Ian Biederman, one of the executive producers behind "The Playboy Club," said his NBC show has very little in common with "Mad Men."

"The comparison to 'Mad Men' sort of ends at the era," Biederman said at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour held in August. "This is a much different show with a much different energy."

ABC's "Pan Am" is less obvious in its mirroring and the biggest similarities aside from the era, is the show's nod to the women's sexual revolution.

Look for more cloning with ABC's weak remake of "Charlie's Angels" and NBC's British rip-offs of "Prime Suspect" and "Free Agents." Buddy comedies about polar-opposite women are hot too as shown with CBS' "2 Broke Girls" and ABC's midseason sitcom "Apartment 23."

Both ABC and CBS are also serving up comedies about weak men with "Man Up!," "Last Man Standing" and "Work It!" all on the Alphabet, and ""How to Be a Gentleman" on CBS.

Big names make a comeback

Sarah Michelle Gellar will always be Buffy to her fans. After an eight-year hiatus from TV, Gellar is hoping to change that with her new show "Ringer."

On it, the 34-year-old wife and mother pulls double duty by playing the role of twins. When one twin gets into trouble and assumes the identity of the other, she learns that her life wasn't so complicated after all. "Ringer" was originally slated to air on CBS but that network passed and gave the show to its younger-skewing sister network, The CW.

Other big names to watch out for this fall include Ted Danson ("Cheers" and "Damages"), who will be replacing Laurence Fishburne on CBS' "Crime Scene Investigation: CSI," and Ashton Kutcher who will be replacing Charlie Sheen on "Two and a Half Men."

And Danson's old "Cheers" co-star, Kelsey Grammer (also of "Frasier" fame), will play the corrupt mayor of Chicago on Starz's "Boss." In the meantime, Christina Applegate ("Married with Children" and "Samantha Who?") is back to co-star in the parenthood comedy "Up All Night," with Will Arnett ("Arrested Development") and Maya Rudolph ("Saturday Night Live") and "Home Improvement's" Tim Allen and ABC have reunited for the family sitcom "Last Man Standing."

Hair-raising horror shows

File this one under "copycats light," but the success of AMC's zombie drama "The Walking Dead" has created a flurry of interest in things that go bump in the dark.

"When the economy is bad, people like to be distracted and scared," said Bryce Johnson, who co-stars on MTV's goofy zombie take, "Death Valley," which airs 10:30 p.m. Mondays.

The scream-happy should also be pleased with FX's scary offering "American Horror Story." That series comes from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk of "Nip/Tuck" and "Glee" fame and follows a family that unwittingly moves into a haunted house with a history of death and carnage.

Think "The Shining" meets "The Amityville Horror" with stars Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott and Oscar-winning actress Jessica Lange, who steals every scene she can.

Look out also for BBC America's "Bedlam" -- about a luxury high rise that used to be an insane asylum -- and "The River," a ghostly series slated for ABC's midseason.

Weak men and strong women

Although the so-called "man-cession" is coming to an end in the workforce, ABC felt like it had to jump on men's economic insecurities with not one but three sitcoms.

"It's the job of television, and has been since we started, to look at the plight of men," said Paul Lee, ABC's president of entertainment. "And I think we look at it in very different ways."

First up is "Man Up," a mediocre comedy about three middle-age friends who wish they could fight in a war instead playing "Call of Duty." Over on the aforementioned "Last Man Standing," Tim Allen plays a husband and father outnumbered by his wife and three daughters. To make matters more emasculating, his wife, played by the lovely Nancy Travis ("Three Men and a Baby" and "The Bill Engvall Show"), starts making more money.

There's also ABC's midseason comedy "Work It" about two disenfranchised men who start cross dressing in order to get jobs, and CBS' "How to Be a Gentleman."

The latter stars Kevin Dillon ("Entourage") as a former bully who learns how to be refined and teaches his former victim (David Hornsby, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") how to be more masculine and assertive.

At the same time, Maria Bello is kicking butt and taking names on the NBC remake "Prime Suspect" and Poppy Montgomery is using her incredible recall and agile trigger finger to do the same on CBS "Unforgettable."

As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun.

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