Jonathan Storm | Now, in the winter of our TV year, glimmers

PASADENA, Calif. - Lots of the old, some of the new - all the networks bring different wares to the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

Much more than in the summer version of the tour, they discuss television business and strategy and present stars and executives of successful, ongoing shows.

But still, there are some new series to anticipate.

Rarely, if ever, does any generate the excitement of top fall shows, but as the two-week press tour closed last weekend, a handful of midseason series remained on some critics' minds.

As the days get longer, here are three shows to look for. Only one has an announced premiere date. (For a longer look at what the spring TV season will have to offer, see this Sunday's Inquirer Arts & Entertainment section.)

Hidden Palms. The CW. (Premiere to be announced.) A family show of a different stripe, aimed squarely at the new little network's desired young audience.

But this one - you could call it Desperate Teenagers - has adult appeal as well, in the persons of NYPD Blue's Gail O'Grady and Sharon Lawrence, and with an intriguing continuing mystery.

New kid comes to town (Palm Springs, Calif., home of golden oldies, where the hot youngsters stand out like road flares). He has lots of troubles, which means he fits right in.

He moves into the former bedroom of a guy named Eddie, who died under questionable circumstances in a neighborhood that features a moody beauty, a studious shy girl, and a next-door neighbor who could be a psychopath. Half the cast, it seems, are transfers from The O.C., but newcomer Ellary Porterfield trumps them all, as the science student who wants to shed her shell.

Over the years, we've gotten used to teens with the psychological awareness of grown-ups, so this intriguing crowd, manipulated by Kevin Williamson, who started it all with Dawson's Creek, seems almost normal.

Andy Barker, P.I. NBC. (Premiere date to be announced.). In his last starring sitcom role (we'll agree not to count Fox's woeful Quintuplets), Andy Richter controlled the universe, or at least he tried to.

Now, he's just trying to figure it out.

Richter, formerly the lovable sidekick to Conan O'Brien, goes to work for his boss in a new role. O'Brien and former Late Night head writer Jonathan Groff created this sitcom about an accountant who gets a chance to walk the gumshoe trail.

There's an element of the old Bob Newhart Show here, as Barker gets assistance, of a sort, from some of the businesspeople in nearby offices. Clea Lewis, adorable and ditzy friend on Ellen, plays a big part as Barker's sweet and supportive wife.

Over time, you start to think that sitcoms with roly-poly husbands have to be mean-spirited. Andy will demonstrate not only why that isn't true, but also why nice is funnier.

This American Life. Showtime. March 20. Sounds like somebody's ripping off the title of Ira Glass' beloved public radio program.

It's Ira himself, bringing the show to television, not on PBS ("I feel like public television is terrible," he says), but on Showtime.

With the help of the successful and innovative producer Christine Vachon (Boys Don't Cry, Mrs. Harris) and director Christopher Wilcha, Glass offers new personal stories that are much more than just illustrated radio plays.

Some examples: A man clones his pet bull, a 14-year-old decides never to fall in love, and Polaroid-packing religionists gather monthly to take pictures of God.

The TV camera is used in the same quiet and matter-of-fact method that characterizes the audio of the radio show. Shot after shot shimmers with quiet beauty, but it's not all of a sameness. One show has an animated story.

If anything can persuade TV snobs to sign up for Showtime, this is it.

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