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The Window Opens

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 4, 2006

My heart's still pounding from the end of the Rose Bowl, won by Texas in thrilling fashion. (I watched the early part on ABC, then listened to the later stages on ESPN Radio, where the drama kept me from drifting off to sleep.) But those of you who don't care a fig about football should care that the game is done, because it means we get back to regular television.

The big bowls have delayed the start of lots of fresh television several days into the new year, since few progammers want to waste their good stuff against football games likely to draw big audiences. Now that's done, so Thursday night we will see, among other things, a new season of ''Dancing With the Stars'' on ABC and NBC's move of ''My Name Is Earl'' and ''The Office'' into a Thursday comedy block with ''Will & Grace'' and the new (and not noteworthy) ''Four Kings.''

I have seen two upcoming episodes of ''The Office,'' so I can warn fans to expect a big plot turn that will add to the show's poignancy. Also some additional humanizing of the characters, which may make this acquired-taste show more palatable to new viewers sampling it on Thursday. And some very funny scenes. I have seen 1 1/3 new episodes of ''Earl'' -- since my review disc from NBC froze early in the second episode on it -- and this show is very much on its game.

Viewers, though, will have to stay sharp when it comes to keeping track of the TV schedule, since this window of viewing opportunities may not be open long. The college football season is over, but we're heading into the NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl and -- in February -- many, many hours of Winter Olympics.

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