Back in the old days, there were two TV seasons: fall and summer.

But, over the past decade or so, winter has become the most important for network executives as TV has moved into year-round mode.

Fox always launches its Number 1 show, American Idol, in the winter. Series, such as Lost and Grey’s Anatomy were launched after the new year had started.

I’ve seen advance episodes of three of the most anticipated series of the winter season.

Of the three, Fox’s Alcatraz, which premieres next Monday, January 16, is the most intriguing, coming from JJ Abrams and many of the Lost writing staff.

Like Lost, it has a lot of the same tricks: unexplained phenomena, time jumps and a larger, overall mystery, but does it on a smaller scale.

It stars Sarah Jones as Detective Rebecca Madsen, investigating the murder of a former Alcatraz warden. The case is quickly taken over by a federal investigator (Sam Neill), but Madsen has an important piece of evidence–fingerprints in the home belonging to an Alcatraz prisoner who seemingly died 40 years ago.

She enlists the help of a professor (Jorge Garcia) to delve deeper into the case, and uncovering something far bigger than she could have imagined.

Alcatraz leaves the viewer with a lot of questions, but the type of questions that are meant to be answered (hopefully) over the span of the season, and possibly seasons beyond.

Also arriving in the winter season–it had it’s pilot episode last night–is Showtime’s House of Lies, starring Don Cheadle as a corporate management consultant, who runs a team that includes Kristen Bell.

Much in the same vein of the network’s Californication and Shameless, House of Lies focuses on a much-flawed, oversexed man in his 40s and his various misadventures.

I was a little bored with the first half of House of Lies, but the episode was saved as Cheadle and his team try to pitch a way that a big bank can keep its corporate bonuses despite public outcry.

House of Lies didn’t overwhelm me, but I’ll probably tune in for a while to see if it improves.

The biggest disappointment of the winter shows (so far) for me has been Luck. The pilot aired in December, and episodes are scheduled to continue in February. The HBO series features an all-star cast headed by the likes of Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, and is centered in the world of horse racing.

However, there were so many characters with so little backstory in the pilot that I was often at a loss to know what was happening, and got bored by the whole thing pretty quickly. The whole thing isn’t helped by being set in the world of horse racing, a world which the average person isn’t well acquainted.

The series was created by Deadwood’s David Milch, who seems to have hit (NYPD Blue) and miss (John From Cincinnati) record when it comes to his TV work.

Despite its excellent cast and high production values, I’m not sure how long I plan to stick with Luck, particularly with so many other great options right now.

What shows are you watching during the winter TV season?

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