By Miki Turner
Special to Page 3

Every fall, there are usually one or two surprise shows on network TV that are strong enough to make even sports fans pull away from a game on game night, or at least switch the channel during halftime.

Chris Rock
The cast of "Everybody Hates Chris"
Last year, a quirky dramedy about housewives living on a cul-de-sac and desperate for attention was all the rage. It helped that Terrell Owens spiced things up a bit for the show when Nicollette Sheridan grabbed our attention by dropping her towel in a Super Bowl commercial. The cleverly written and edgy ABC show was a hit.

This year, "Everybody Hates Chris," a comedy loosely based on the childhood of comedian Chris Rock, is generating a similar buzz. Some critics claim the UPN comedy is undoubtedly the funniest and most imaginative sitcom to hit the air since "All in the Family." Other than "Everybody Hates Chris," however, the pickings seem pretty slim.

When you can only rave about one of the 34 new shows this season, you'll need to invest in a satellite dish or a few premium cable channels as backup for prime time. Without those options, the networks seem to be bombarding us with a lot of "sameness" this season. The multiple clones of "Lost," "CSI" and "Medium" and a mix of lame comedies make sitcom flops such as "Joey" look like Emmy contenders.

Page 3 knows your time as a viewer is valuable. So, our critic Miki Turner endured the sacrifice of previewing some of this season's new shows. Here are her picks of the shows most worth watching. Keep the list safely tucked near your remote. If your NFL team tanks early this season, you might just need it to ease the pain -- or at least as a channel surfing distraction.

Here's how we rate 'em:

  • 5 footballs -- touchdown. Must-see TV.
  • 4 footballs -- first-and-goal. Must-TiVo TV.
  • 3 footballs -- first-and-10 at the 20 with five seconds remaining. Worth watching at least once a month.
  • 2 footballs -- Call for the chains. If there's a good game on, go with the game.

    "Everybody Hates Chris," Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET on UPN
    UPN is hoping this show about a young boy coming of age in Brooklyn will do for it what "The Cosby Show" did for NBC's Thursday night lineup back in the day. Narrated by Rock, the show really shines, with an engaging cast that includes: Tyler James Williams in the title role, former NFL player Terry Crews and Tichina Arnold as Chris' parents; with Tequan Richmond and Imani Hakim as the younger siblings. Rock and his longtime collaborator, Ali LeRoi, are executive producers of the show.
    Premiere: Sept. 22. (5 footballs)

    "The War at Home," Sundays, 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox
    Michael Rapaport stars in this comedy about a desperate dad trying to cope with his rather complex teenage kids. Although there are shades of "Malcolm in the Middle," the parents in the new show are far less dysfunctional and not nearly as over the top as Lois and Hal. This witty sitcom not only bends the envelope but rips it apart by exploring situations usually found only on cable TV. Also starring: Kyle Sullivan, Kaylee Defer, Anita Barone and Dean Collins.
    Premiere: Sept. 11. (4 footballs)

    "My Name is Earl," Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET on NBC

    Jason Lee
    Former skateboarder Jason Lee redeems himself in his new sitcom, "My Name is Earl."
    This quirky new comedy stars Jason Lee as the lead man intent on redeeming himself for all the wrong he has done after losing, then recovering, a winning lottery ticket . He devises a "road map for his new life," and among the folks he needs to apologize to is the nerdy kid he used to bully in high school who has grown into a socially malfunctioning gay man. That's almost enough to send Earl back to his evil ways. Also starring: Jaime Pressly, Ethan Suplee, Eddie Steeples and Nadine Velazquez.
    Premiere: Sept. 20. (4 footballs)

    "Surface," Mondays, 8 p.m. ET on NBC
    You'll see a lot of these sort of paranormal fantasy shows this season. CBS has "Threshold"; ABC's got "Invasion"; and the WB is serving up "Supernatural"; but this one, despite a cast of unknowns, is about the best at getting under your skin. It revolves around a newly discovered underwater creature that is terrorizing seas worldwide. If the plotlines don't grab you, the film footage will. This series stars Lake Bell, Jay Ferguson, Rade Sherbedgia, Carter Jenkins and Leighton Meester.
    Premiere: Sept. 19. (3 footballs)

    "Commander-in-Chief," Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET on ABC
    I'll go out on a limb here and say that, with the Administration's continual blunders, America is probably ready to give a woman a crack at the White House. If that's the case, this show might give us all a hint of what it would be like to have someone like Geena Davis running the country. This is the kind of show that's going to need a little time to build an audience, but it's already a welcome relief from the politically stale "West Wing."
    Premiere: Sept. 27. (3 footballs).

    "Reunion," Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET on Fox
    OK, this is the young-adult, angst-ridden drama you can watch with your girlfriend and not get too terribly bored. It has mystery and pretty girls, and the characters are not nearly as transparent (revealing some dark secrets from their past) as the kids on "The O.C." It's kind of a "Big Chill" for this generation. The show stars some of today's hottest young actors, including: Will Estes, Sean Faris, Dave Annable, Alexa Davalos, Amanda Righetti, Chyler Leigh and Mathew St. Patrick.
    Premiered: Sept. 8. (3.5 footballs)

    Miki Turner is a segment producer for ESPN Hollywood and can be reached at Miki.P.Turner.-ND@espn.com.