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Why summer is becoming the prime time for prime-time TV

By Stephanie Goldberg, CNN
updated 3:02 PM EDT, Wed June 6, 2012
This year's summer TV slate is wielding some serious star power. We're counting off new and old shows (with their premiere dates) we'll be checking out at least once over the coming months, including ABC's "Wipeout," the perfect example of breezy summer TV. The show premieres at 9 p.m. ET June 28 on ABC.<br/><br/> This year's summer TV slate is wielding some serious star power. We're counting off new and old shows (with their premiere dates) we'll be checking out at least once over the coming months, including ABC's "Wipeout," the perfect example of breezy summer TV. The show premieres at 9 p.m. ET June 28 on ABC.

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Summer TV: What we can't wait to watch
June 6: 'Royal Pains,' USA at 9 p.m. ET
June 7: 'Take Me Out,' Fox at 8 p.m. ET
June 7: 'The Choice,' Fox at 9 p.m. ET
June 10: 'True Blood,' HBO at 9 p.m. ET
June 13: 'Dallas,' TNT at 9 p.m. ET
June 14: 'Burn Notice,' USA at 9 p.m. ET
June 14: 'Suits,' USA at 10 p.m. ET
June 17: 'Falling Skies,' TNT at 9 p.m. ET
June 21: 'Snooki & JWoww,' MTV, 10 p.m. ET
June 24: 'The Newsroom,' HBO at 10 p.m. ET
June 28: 'Anger Management,' FX at 9 p.m. ET
June 28: 'Louie,' FX at 10:30 p.m. ET
June 28: 'Brand X,' FX at 11 p.m. ET
July 9: 'The Closer,' TNT at 9 p.m. ET
July 9: 'Perception,' TNT at 10 p.m. ET
July 10: 'Covert Affairs,' USA at 10 p.m. ET
July 11: 'Damages,' DirecTV, 9 p.m. ET
July 12: 'Big Brother,' CBS at 9 p.m. ET
July 15: 'Breaking Bad,' AMC at 10 p.m. ET
July 15: 'Political Animals,' USA at 10 p.m. ET
July 23: 'Alphas,' Syfy at 10 p.m. ET
August 12: 'Hell on Wheels,' AMC at 9 p.m. ET
August 13: 'Major Crimes,' TNT at 10 p.m.
August 17: 'Boss,' Starz at 10 p.m. ET
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • HBO's "The Newsroom" will take viewers behind the scenes of a fictional cable news network
  • HBO's "True Blood" has been a summer staple since season 2 kicked off in June 2009
  • Sigourney Weaver will star on USA's "Political Animals" come July

(CNN) -- Summertime has long been associated with pool parties and barbecues. But with so many new programs and series' finales on the way, the TV remote could be just as crucial this season as sunscreen and hot dogs.

It used to be that reruns and reality TV shows were the stars of summer TV. And while reality staples such as "Big Brother" and "Wipeout" still stand, they're now offset by a slew of original dramas and comedies, some of which boast a star power that's relatively new to the summer season.

This shift has been in the works for a while, since innovative cable shows began forcing networks to up the ante about six years ago, said Matt Whitfield, features editor at Yahoo! TV.

"This is the most highly anticipated summer in TV history," he said, adding that the lineup "seems more exciting than the fall TV lineup."

HBO's new series "The Newsroom" will take viewers behind the scenes of a fictional cable news network when it premieres on June 24. It's one of the most buzzed-about new dramas, thanks in part to series creator Aaron Sorkin. The Oscar-winner is known for helming the Emmy-winning drama "The West Wing," which aired for seven seasons on NBC.

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Starring Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Dev Patel, the series "has award winner written all over it already," Whitfield said. HBO is owned by CNN's parent company.

"True Blood" has been a summer staple since season 2 kicked off in June 2009 on HBO. Returning on Sunday, season 5 boasts a new draw -- "Law and Order: SVU" veteran Chris Meloni has joined the cast as a vampire.

Three-time Oscar-nominated actress Sigourney Weaver will also grace the tube this summer on USA's "Political Animals." She'll play divorced, former first lady Elaine Barrish, who now serves as the secretary of state.

Joining Weaver are Ellen Burstyn and Carla Gugino, among other notable stars. The series is set to premiere in July.

The Weaver series is hardly USA's only lure this summer. "Royal Pains," "White Collar," "Burn Notice" and "Suits" will all be back.

Highly anticipated final seasons beginning this summer include AMC's "Breaking Bad" and TNT's "The Closer," which will air additional episodes to prepare for a potential spinoff. Meanwhile, come July 11, DirecTV will take "Damages" into its final season.

Perhaps the summer season's greatest star power can be found on FX. Charlie Sheen's "Anger Management" will debut on June 28. Selma Blair and Shawnee Smith will also appear on the show, which features Sheen as an anger management therapist.

"There's no way that's not going to have huge ratings," said Whitfield, who added that "Two and a Half Men's" ratings haven't been so hot since Ashton Kutcher took over. "People want Charlie," Whitfield continued. "They're going to tune in for Charlie. ('Anger Management') could very well deliver FX's highest rating of all time."

FX also has a notable name behind its new series, "Brand X With Russell Brand." The comedian will star in the late-night series, sharing his take on everything from politics to pop culture.

It's not as easy as it used to be for TV shows to breakout during the summer, said James Poniewozik, a senior writer and TV critic at Time magazine. "(TV) is not as uncluttered over the summer anymore, but it's still easier than launching a show the way the big networks do in the fall -- where 80% of their new shows debut within the same couple of weeks in September."

And though summer is no longer a "the world's wildest police chases and silly garbage," Whitfield said, programs such as "Big Brother" and "So You Think You Can Dance," which he calls "comfort food TV," aren't going anywhere.

Joining the reality competition genre are dating shows such as Fox's "The Choice" and "Take Me Out," which will premiere on Thursday. NBC's "Love in the Wild" kicked off its second season on Tuesday.

And on the cable front of reality TV, MTV will launch "Snooki and JWoww."

If only because people are curious to observe a pregnant Snooki, the new reality series is sure to attract viewers, Whitfield said. "There truly is something for everybody this year."

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