Fall TV Preview

Fall TV First Impression: Hart Of Dixie Serves Up Rachel Bilson, Southern Comforts

The broadcast networks will debut more than 30 shows this fall, including Charlie’s new Angels, Spielberg’s dino-mite Terra Nova, and no less than two series set in the ’60s. To help you prep, TVLine is offering First Impressions based on the not-for-review pilots. Next up…

THE SHOW | The CW’s Hart of Dixie (Mondays at 9/8c, premiering Sept. 26)

THE COMPETITION | ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, CBS’ Two and a Half Men/Mike & Molly, Fox’s House and NBC’s The Sing-Off

THE CAST | Rachel Bilson (The O.C.), Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights), Jaime King (Sin City), Cress Williams (Friday Night Lights) and Wilson Bethel (Generation Kill)

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THE SET-UP | Dr. Zoe Hart had it all figured out: After her graduation from med school (where she delivered the commencement speech, no less), she would toil at some fancy New York City hospital, then with lightning speed become a world-class cardiothoracic surgeon and join her father’s esteemed practice. Instead… the Chanel-clad cutie winds up in Blue Bell, Alabama aka “the last stop on the Gulf Coast,” effectively setting up a catfish-out-of-water tale. Porter plays good ol’ boy George Tucker, King his Steel Magnolia of a fiancée, and Bethel the resident scalawag. Williams is Lavon Hayes, a former NFL great who parlayed his “local kid makes good” fame into the job of mayor, while JoBeth Williams (Private Practice), Tim Matheson (Fletch) and Nancy Travis (The Bill Engvall Show) guest-star as Zoe’s mom, begrudging medical practice partner, and “Mrs. H.,” respectively.

More of TVLine’s First Impressions: NBC’s Up All Night and The Playboy Club, Fox’s Terra Novaand New Girl, ABC’s Pan AmOnce Upon a Time and Charlie’s Angels, The CW’s The Secret Circle and Ringer, CBS’ 2 Broke Girls and Person of Interest

THE GOOD | Like The Secret Circle, though much more akin to early-era WB fare, Hart of Dixie is another fastball down the middle for the fifth network. Beautifully filmed with warm, cozy tones, the Southern setting utterly envelops the glowing Bilson. Yes, it’s hard to swallow the early frames that position Zoe as some Cristina Yang-like supersurgeon (the NYC boss who boots her claims she has “the best hands I’ve seen in 30 years”!), but soon enough Porter — in smiley FNL versus wily Good Wife mode — shows up to win us over and make you forget that clunky intro. Also of note among the cast: Williams, having played assorted degrees of unlikeable on Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break and FNL, changes things up as a charming politician with a surprising “connection” to one of the townsfolk. While a bit generous with the rom-com clichés, the pilot is super-efficient at introducing us to those who will be the key players in Zoe’s story, laying the framework for storytelling places to go.

THE… COULD-BE-BETTER | Travis is full of warm welcome, sage advice and even a big reveal as Zoe’s receptionist(/nurse?), but will be written out a couple of episodes in (now that she is starring opposite Tim Allen on ABC’s Last Man Standing); that’s gonna be jarring. Save for an illuminating scene toward the end of the pilot, King’s character — privately prickly town sweetheart Lemon Breeland — is a little expected. Take a drink every time Zoe reacts to a display of down-home folksiness with a disbelieving, “Wow.”

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THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | Given the competition — the always formidable DWTS, CBS’ sure-to-be-noisy Men and a possibly noisy season of House — this time slot is not what the doctor ordered for Bilson’s TV comeback. (In an ideal world, Hart of Dixie leads out of One Tree Hill, while fellow newbie Ringer gets paired with the similarly NYC-based Gossip Girl.) But hopefully The CW gives this charmer time to breathe, because it is, if anything, full of… you know… heart.

Watch a video preview for Hart of Dixie, then vote in our poll below.

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