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New TV Season: Previously On…

As our favorite TV hits make their way back after a seemingly endless summer, we struggle to recall: Where exactly were we, and where were we headed?

Here we catch up with a dozen top series:

House

Returns: Sept. 21, 8 ET/PT, Fox
Season: 6

Notable guest: Andre Braugher as a savvy psychiatrist going head-to-head with the institutionalized House (Hugh Laurie) in the two-hour premiere. "House is definitely a hard patient to treat," executive producer Katie Jacobs says. "It's got to be somebody who commands his respect with both intelligence and strength."

After realizing his tryst with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) was a hallucination, the Vicodin-addicted House checked into a psychiatric hospital.

In an atypical season opener, House is a patient and almost all series regulars are absent. "He's off the Vicodin, but he's also sort of being an ass or child or both," Jacobs says. The big question, which follows him back to Princeton-Plainsboro, is whether he can make deeper changes. "Could it be a different House?" she asks. "If House went into that hospital with a big, fat hole in his center, he doesn't come out full. Maybe one piece is there that wasn't there before."

Any change in House will affect other characters. Who will run the diagnostics department? Foreman (Omar Epps) is ambitious, Jacobs says. "If Foreman runs the team, what will it look like?" And Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), the oncologist who has been House's anchor, faces his own struggles after dealing for years "with patients he can't cure," she says.

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Grey's Anatomy

Returns: Sept. 24, 9 ET/PT, ABC
Season: 6

Notable guests: Hector Elizondo comes back as Callie's (Sara Ramirez) father, who couldn't abide his daughter's relationship with a woman. Amy Madigan returns as Dr. Wyatt, as does Debra Monk as George's mother.

Just-married Izzie (Katherine Heigl) and about-to-deploy George (T.R. Knight) each were at death's door, she from cancer and he from a bus accident. Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) married in their own unique ceremony. And Bailey (Chandra Wilson), who had been the one stable, married woman, now "is the only one who is single," creator Shonda Rhimes says.

Izzie lives, George dies. The first hour of the two-hour premiere includes George's funeral. "The theme is the five stages of grief," Rhimes says. The doctors seek distraction as they deal with their colleague's death. Despite deep sadness, "some really funny things happen that are fairly laugh-out-loud. I think different things are funny when you're grieving."

The rest of the season will have a lighter tone. "We've been talking about some darker subjects, so we're planning to have fun this season," Rhimes says. And while Heigl will be gone for five episodes to shoot a film, there are no specific plans for the pregnant Pompeo to miss episodes. "Ellen is being an amazing trouper. She's shooting a bunch of her stuff ahead of time."

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The Big Bang Theory

Returns: Sept. 21, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT, CBS
Season: 3

Notable guests: Laurie Metcalfe returns as Sheldon's (Jim Parsons) mom; comedian Lewis Black visits in Episode 2 as an entomology professor, recruited to settle a bet over a species of cricket. "There's a great deal on the line," teases executive producer Chuck Lorre. "Lots of comic books could be exchanged."

Leonard (Johnny Galecki) received a grant for a three-month expedition to the North Pole and invited Sheldon, Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) to join him. There was some waffling. "Nobody was too excited to spend three months on an ice cube with Sheldon," Galecki says. Leonard left wondering if he could handle separation from crush Penny (Kaley Cuoco) for that long (and vice versa, though he was unaware).

Where we're headed: The boys return from the North Pole sporting Paul Bunyan beards. (The actors actually stopped shaving over summer hiatus, but their August growth was deemed "not masculine enough" by the makeup team, shaved and replaced by fake facial hair.) Leonard and Penny will struggle to overcome their differences. "We're looking at a relationship between a theoretical physicist and a waitress/wannabe actress," Lorre says. "The stories are going to involve them overcoming obstacles of their own making." And how will Sheldon, who clings to routine, react to the changing dynamic in their apartment? Galecki says Leonard often kowtowed to Sheldon in smaller arguments, but "now he has to stand up for himself."

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Fringe

Returns: Thursday, 9 ET/PT, Fox
Season: 2

Notable guests: Meghan Markle has a recurring role as a junior FBI agent; John Savage (The Deer Hunter) guests as a doctor-recluse. And Leonard Nimoy returns as Massive Dynamics founder William Bell.

FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) was finally granted her meeting with Bell - in an intact World Trade Center tower, tipping off viewers she was in an alternate dimension. Also an apparent Bizarro World native: Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), who died as a child in our dimension, and was replaced by his doppelgänger, who crossed over from the other world and grew to adulthood.

Executive producer Jeff Pinkner hints that lovable mad scientist Walter (John Noble) will taste freedom this season, with less supervision from son Peter and FBI minder Astrid (Jasika Nicole). Father and son will also exhibit a greater sense of maturity. "Via insanity, Walter gained humanity," Pinkner says. "And Peter is growing up and choosing sides."

This season, viewers also can expect to gain a little more insight into what makes Olivia's intense FBI boss, Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), tick. "You learn what his background was before the Fringe Division, how deep his relationship with it goes and its connection to the government," Reddick says. "Some of it you'll learn right off the bat, but that just opens up more questions." He also promises that our pale, bald friend The Observer will be back. "I'm sure he'll be an integral part of the series as long as we're dealing with alternate dimensions."

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The Mentalist

Returns: Sept. 24, 10 ET/PT, CBS
Season: 2

Notable newcomer: Just Terry Kinney, as Sam Bosco, agent Teresa Lisbon's (Robin Tunney) ex-boss and mentor. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," says creator Bruno Heller.

The California Bureau of Investigation looked into the murder of teenager Emma Plaskett and the abduction of Emma's twin sister. Patrick Jane (Emmy nominee Simon Baker) didn't think the girls were random targets, and Lisbon (Tunney) felt the case was a setup to trap Jane by the Red John serial killer, who had earlier killed Jane's wife and daughter. Checking out a Red John connection, Jane is held at gunpoint by Sheriff Hardy, who later comes close to killing Lisbon before he's shot by Jane. Hardy's death represents a lost potential lead in finding Red John.

Where we're headed: Bosco takes over the Red John case as the head of a rival CBI unit. His by-the-book approach sharply contrasts with Jane's unorthodox methods. "He wants Jane out of the CBI altogether," says Heller. But Red John wants Jane back on the case. "He enjoys the hunt, which will cause some tragedy later on," Heller says. The series will also delve into the back stories and lives of the central characters, including the budding relationship between Van Pelt and Rigsby (Amanda Righetti and Owain Yeoman).

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Desperate Housewives

Returns: Sept. 27, 9 ET/PT, ABC
Season: 6

Sopranos star Drea de Matteo as Angie Vitale, sexy matriarch of an Italian family from New York City, with landscaper husband Nick (24's Jeffrey Nordling) and high-strung son Ben (Beau Mirchoff). "I wanted someone who didn't seem suburban, who has a tough, blue-collar exterior," says creator Marc Cherry of de Matteo. His inspiration for the new Wisteria Lane clan? "When I was growing up in Huntington, Calif., two Italian families from the Bronx moved in across the street. We were so WASPy, so middle American. They had their own ethnic identity. It was an interesting juxtaposition." De Matteo says Angie "is less of a housewife than the rest of them. She's a real broad."

Where we left things: Edie (Nicollette Sheridan) met a shocking end after learning husband Dave was using her to get to Susan (Teri Hatcher) and Mike (James Denton), in revenge for the deaths of his wife and daughter in a car crash. The attack reignited the Mike/Susan spark, complicating Katherine's (Dana Delany) plans with Mike. Bree (Marcia Cross) found herself in the arms of Susan's ex-husband, Karl (Richard Burgi); Lynette (Felicity Huffman) is pregnant with twins; Gaby (Eva Longoria Parker) and Carlos (Ricardo Chavira) had their 16-year-old niece (Maiara Walsh) living with them.

"In the premiere, one of our housewives gets married, another has a nervous breakdown," Cherry says. "Lynette struggles with her pregnancy. Bree continues her affair. Gabrielle has trouble handling the manipulative Ana. Also, one of our beloved original castmembers gets strangled." And John Rowland (Jesse Metcalfe), Gabrielle's hunky gardener, returns.

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Gossip Girl

Returns: Monday, 9 ET/PT, CW
Season: 3

Hilary Duff joins for a multi-episode arc in Episode 4 as Olivia Burke, a Twilight-esque film star in search of a normal college experience. Burke ends up rooming with Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) at NYU and becomes Dan's (Penn Badgley) love interest. Duff's "character is an actress, much in the vein of Emma Watson, and of course she's famous to everyone except Dan, who has never seen Vampire Knights," says creator Josh Schwartz.

Where we left things: The royalty of Upper East Side graduated from private schools Constance Billard and St. Jude's in the season finale. Chuck (Ed Westwick) finally declared his love to Blair (Leighton Meester), and Serena (Blake Lively) set off in search of her biological father. Blair crowns Jenny (Taylor Momsen) as the school's Queen Bee, ready to reign when the new school year begins. Serena's mom, Lily (Kelly Rutherford), and Dan's dad, Rufus (Matthew Settle), finally become engaged, and their out-of-wedlock son, presumed to be dead, appears. Mystery blogger Gossip Girl sends out a notice that she's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Where we're headed: With high school behind them, the elite teens head off for higher pursuits. "There was a natural propulsion with last season, with the kids graduating, and a lot of momentum driving the season forward," Schwartz says. "We have a core group at NYU that will be Dan and Vanessa and Blair. In the second episode, where we actually started at college, we'll see Blair's roommate." As for the others, Serena is off to Brown, Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford) heads uptown to Columbia, and billionaire heir Chuck sets out for real-life experience. "I think Gossip Girl grows up this year, but it remains as naughty as ever," says Schwartz. "Maturity has not made the show any more well-behaved." As for Chuck and Blair, "they're definitely sticking together as a couple, but they're going to find ways to define the relationship . . . see what it means (for them)," says co-creator Stephanie Savage. "And given Blair's personality, she's going to try and reshape NYU so it fits in with her."

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30 Rock

Returns: Oct. 15, 9:30 ET/PT, NBC
Season: 4

Notable guests: Will Arnett returns as Devon Banks, Jack's rival at GE. Executive producer Robert Carlock promises story lines for Chris Parnell (as the incompetent Dr. Leo Spaceman) and Dean Winters (Liz's nightmare of an ex-boyfriend, Dennis Duffy). And we might hear the first words from Cathy Geiss (Marceline Hugot), 30 Rock's answer to Maggie Simpson.

Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) discovered his father was a college professor suffering from kidney failure and organized a telethon to find him a match. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) got a taste of "low-grade stardom" as writer of TGS' popular "Dealbreaker" relationship advice sketch. Tracy Jordan (Emmy nominee Tracy Morgan) reconnected with his past by speaking to his school's graduating class.

Where we're headed: Jack and Liz will look to capitalize on the popularity of Dealbreaker, but they're worried about focus-group data that show Tracy and TGS co-star Jenna Maroney (fellow Emmy nominee Jane Krakowski) don't play well in flyover country. So Jack sends Liz on a scouting trip to Georgia to check out a ventriloquist (Jeff Dunham) and orchestrates Jenna's Jessica Simpson-esque foray into country music. Tracy, more interested in getting in touch with real New Yorkers, stages a Candid Camera-like scene in which he stands in Rockefeller Center and shouts, "Who wants to hold hands with a black millionaire?" Tracy also figures prominently in 30 Rock's first Halloween episode, playing on the "celebrities always die in threes" rule and his fear of being the third. "He may try to kill some other famous people to escape the curse," Carlock says.

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The Office

Returns: Thursday, 9 ET, NBC
Season: 6

Inept but loyal leader Michael Scott (Steve Carell) left to start his own paper company with receptionist-turned-saleswoman Pam (Jenna Fischer) and self-destructive temp-turned-executive Ryan (B.J. Novak). When Michael threatened to steal major clients, Dunder Mifflin bought out his company and the three returned. The season finale, at the company picnic, saw Michael pining for his ex Holly Flax (Amy Ryan), and Pam discovering she's pregnant.

It's all about Pam and Jim (John Krasinski), and their little bundle of joy, this fall. The longtime loves will tie the knot and welcome a baby, which pushes Jim to secure his family's future. "He's going to try to advance at Dunder Mifflin, and that's going to threaten Michael," says producer Paul Lieberstein, who also plays chronically downtrodden HR guy Toby Flenderson. Dunder Mifflin also will find itself on the verge of collapse, providing plenty of fodder for a good old-fashioned Michael Scott freak-out. As for Pam and Jim's wedding, co-executive producer Mindy Kaling (who plays Kelly Kapoor) says to expect plenty of antics. "I was watching the Ross and Rachel episode of Friends where he said her name accidentally at his wedding (to Emily), so I know NBC has this rich tradition of wedding episodes."

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Bones

Returns: Thursday, 8 ET/PT, Fox
Season: 5

In the season premiere, Angela (Michaela Conlin) introduces Brennan (Emily Deschanel) to her psychic (guest Cindy Lauper), who gives Booth (David Boreanaz) and Brennan leads on a case. "She tells us where some bodies are," Deschanel says. "Of course we don't believe she's psychic, so we think she has some reason to know where these bodies are buried, and there's some other reasons we believe she is connected to these multiple murders."

Where we left things: The season-ending cliffhanger showed an alternate reality where Booth and Brennan were married and owned a nightclub. In the last scene, Booth awakened on a hospital gurney with Brennan beside him, having monitored him during a post-brain-surgery coma. He asks her, "Who are you?" That, Deschanel says, "is essentially meant to be, 'Are you the Brennan I know from life?' or 'Are you the Brennan from this experience I just had where we owned a nightclub together?' "

Booth is seeking reinstatement to the FBI; Brennan has returned from a six-week dig in Guatemala. "I think it was a little too much for her and she just left," Deschanel says. "She had business to do there, but she was happy to leave." The sexual tension that has built throughout the series has new dimensions. The "L word" crops up in the season premiere, but Booth is not quite himself and struggles with his memory, "his idea of who he is and who we are together," she says. "It is a challenge for him to get back to the Booth we know and love." And the relationship between Angela and Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyne), which seemed to be resurfacing, is affected as a new person enters one of their lives. "I don't know how it is going to end," Deschanel says.

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Private Practice

Returns: Oct. 1, 10 ET/PT, ABC
Season: 3

Where we left things: In the harrowing cliffhanger, a deranged patient (Amanda Foreman) was about to cut open pregnant psychologist Violet (Amy Brenneman) and take her baby while friend Cooper (Paul Adelstein) was feet away, unaware of her peril.

Practice picks up about 20 minutes after, dealing with questions of whether Violet will be saved, whether her baby will survive and how colleague Pete (Tim Daly), who loves Violet, will handle the fear of losing her. Early in the season, Practice and Grey's Anatomy will cross over again, with Bailey (Chandra Wilson) of Grey's coming to Practice with a woman who needs a transplant from her sister. "She ends up butting heads with Sam (Taye Diggs)," says creator Shonda Rhimes, a big fan of transplant stories. Also this season, "Addison (Kate Walsh) is going to be painfully and comically celibate for a while," and the Oceanside Wellness shake-up continues after Naomi (Audra McDonald), who once led the practice, joined rival Pacific Wellcare.

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Medium

Returns: Sept. 25, 9 ET/PT, CBS
Season: 6 (but the first on CBS)

Notable guests: Natalie Zea (Dirty Sexy Money) and Pruitt Taylor Vince (Deadwood) are in the premiere; look for Oded Fehr (Sleeper Cell), Martha Plimpton and Fisher Stevens on later episodes. And David Arquette, star Patricia's brother, makes a return engagement to direct several episodes.

Allison (Patricia Arquette), needing surgery for a brain tumor, delayed the operation until she could use her psychic ability to figure out how to protect her husband Joe (Jake Weber) and children. She collapsed from the tumor and had the surgery, but suffered a stroke.

Where we're headed: Though the first scene has her still in the hospital, Allison survives - as has the series. Even with the move from NBC, fans "can look forward to more of what we've been doing the past five seasons, an unusual mix of family life along with the sort of macabre supernatural world Allison lives in," says creator Glenn Gordon Caron. Daughter "Ariel (Sofia Vassilieva) is 16. She drives. She's into boys. Bridget (Maria Lark) is in sixth grade. She's growing older. And Marie (twins Miranda and Madison Carabello) is growing older. You'll feel that, and it reflects the girls in real life." As for the series' future being in doubt last spring, "The truth is every year for us has been a near-death experience. We've never been sure that we'd be back."

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