Fans who like their mob dramas cool, gritty and relatively judgment-free might warm to the atmospheric new series "Line of Fire" (9 p.m., ABC). Produced by Rod Lurie, writer and director of "The Contender," "Fire" unfolds under an eerie eternal twilight, the exhausted light you might find in Stockholm in December.
You'd never guess that the action takes place in Richmond, Va. There, a battle rages between the crime syndicate of Jonah Malloy (David Paymer) and the FBI bureau run by agent Lisa Cohen (Leslie Hope, "24"). The nattily dressed Malloy runs his gang like an efficient CEO. His measured cadences may remind "Godfather II" fans not of Michael Corleone, but of Lee Strasberg's brilliant evocation of Hiram Roth, a man who could send shivers down your spine just cutting his birthday cake. Malloy doesn't mince words, but he does have a stock phrase: "That's that with that." It's used to indicate that a conversation is over and that you'd better not forget it.
None of the good guys at the FBI are quite so compelling. In the pilot episode, Cohen must contend with the death of a young officer and the arrival of new recruit Paige Van Doren (Leslie Bibb, "Popular"), whose gung-ho attitude grates on just about everybody.
While this is at least the millionth police drama to feature a brash new rookie, "Line of Fire" is a cut way above average.
Tonight's other highlights
- Convinced that an "Eastern syndicate" controls the holiday, a bald kid and his beagle look for meaning amidst the tinsel in the 1965 animated special "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (7 p.m., ABC).
- Rory matriculates on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., WB).
- Two rich, spoiled young women (Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie) inflict themselves on an Arkansas farm family on the new reality series "The Simple Life" (7:30 p.m., Fox).
- Kim learns Jack's secret on "24" (8 p.m., Fox).
- Kevin Pollack is host of "Celebrity Poker Showdown" (8 p.m., Bravo).
- A child molester escapes from prison and searches for a former victim on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).
George Clooney and musical guest Merle Haggard are on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Naomi Watts and music by Phil Collins on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).
Al Roker, Shia LaBeouf and The Dandy Warhols are booked on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (12:35 p.m., NBC) ... Omar Sharif is on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (12:37 p.m., CBS).