What's a sure sign that the lazy, hazy days of summer have come to an end? Not the fact that the kids have returned to school or that the Lands' End catalogue is full of colors like "bright fern" and "crimson." It's that all the major networks are rolling out their new shows with the promise that behind every time slot lurks the next "Friends" or "CSI."

In reality what viewers really have to look forward to is the next "The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H." or "10-8," or, perish the thought, "The Mullets." Don't recognize those titles? All debuted last fall only to be swiftly pulled from the schedule. More than two dozen new series will populate prime time in the coming weeks, but only a handful will survive. How can you tell a "Coupling" from a "Cold Case?" We're here to help with a look at this week's new shows.

"The Benefactor"

Airs: Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC

The tagline you'll never see: It's "The Apprentice" with more cash!

The basics: Self-made billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban invites 16 people to live in a mansion and vie for his $1 million prize. (That's the same number of hopefuls "The Apprentice" had in its first season, but imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?) In the pilot episode, Cuban mixes it up by not sticking to a set formula: Someone gets the boot only minutes into the show, and the field is whittled to 13 people by the premiere's end.

The lowdown: Cuban's show will definitely be compared to "The Apprentice," but it has some distinguishing factors. While Cuban calls many of the shots based on business principles he thinks each competitor should have (you know, like making a good first impression), he also has the million-dollar seekers face off over mundane things -- including a game of Jenga.

Reality check: Cuban doesn't have the love-him-or-hate-him lure of Donald Trump. But the guy knows how to have fun, which comes across the small screen in a big way.


Airs: Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC

The tagline you'll never see: It's "Las Vegas" set in an airport!"

The basics: Harley Random (Heather Locklear) and Roger De Souza (Blair Underwood) run LAX, the airport that ferries the well-known and unknown around the globe. In the pilot, the stunningly beautiful duo (is there any other kind in Los Angeles?) are scrapping it out for the hub's top spot, which has them scrambling to deal with bomb threats, rogue pilots and precocious pets.

A previous beneath-the-sheets encounter makes for lots of sexual tension between Harley and Roger.

The lowdown: Will Locklear's magic touch do for an airport what it did for an apartment complex and mayor's office? Her feisty portrayal of Harley Random (where do they get these names?) might remind fans of her roles on "Melrose Place" and "Spin City."

Reality check: Like the randy staff in Sin City the hour before ("Las Vegas" airs at 9 p.m.), "LAX" is ripe for over-the-top storylines that fly off at the end of each episode. Such zany plots just might make avid travelers afraid to fly.

Returning Series:


* Steve Harvey's Big Time: 7 p.m. on the WB

* Charmed: 8 p.m. on the WB


* 7th Heaven: 8 p.m. on the WB

* Las Vegas: 9 p.m. on NBC

* Everwood: 9 p.m. on the WB


* Survivor: Vanuatu, Islands of Fire: 8 p.m. on CBS

* Will & Grace: 8:40 p.m. on NBC


* What I Like About You: 8 p.m. on the WB

* 20/20: 9 p.m. on ABC

* Reba: 9 p.m. on the WB

* Third Watch: 9 p.m. on NBC

* Grounded for Life: 9:30 p.m. on the WB