I don't know whether viewers know or care, but there is a grand experiment under way that may determine the future of TV drama.
Some programmers have concluded that viewers have a problem with repeat episodes, particularly those for shows like "Lost," which unfold sequentially like a novel - or, more to the point, like a soap opera. Viewers have grown used to repeats of stand-alone crime dramas like "CSI" or "Law & Order," but the makers of "Lost" and "Jericho" would rather force their viewers into a hiatus than risk losing them with repeats.
"House" (7 and 8 p.m., Fox) appears to have bucked this trend, forcing viewers to navigate through repeats of the complicated narrative even as the "House" story is reaching a critical juncture.
There are two possible reasons for this choice: Fox has more faith in "House" fans to follow the story, or Fox has suffered such a disastrous fall that it has few programming options.
Last week, we were left watching as the drug-addicted House had just blown his one chance to stay out of jail and avoid having his medical reputation ruined. Then we were told that new "House" episodes would return Jan. 9.
So tonight we have a repeat (7 p.m.) of last year's superior season finale about House getting shot by an angry patient and his haunting sense that he had lost his ability to diagnose patients. This year's season-opener (8 p.m.) follows with a recuperated doctor making up for lost time with a surprising bounce in his step. We'll just have to wait until 2007 to find out whether the cranky genius can stay out of the slammer.
¢ Comedy is also the subject of a prime-time experiment of sorts. This season has not been receptive to original network situation comedies, with shows including "Twenty Good Years" and "Happy Hour" disappearing quickly and others like "'Til Death," "Big Day" (8 p.m., ABC) and "Help Me Help You" (8:30 p.m., ABC) withering on the ratings vine.
Cable network TBS has defied this trend by dedicating its entire schedule to comedy. Granted, this means a lot of old movies and repeats of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Sex and the City," but its new show "My Boys" (9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., TBS) may be a fledgling hit.
"My Boys" stars Jordana Spiro as a female sports writer who keeps a journal of her relationships with her male friends and poker buddies.
What "Boys" lacks in brilliant banter it more than makes up for in likeability and its pleasing sense of boundaries. PJ and her friends resemble adult human beings as opposed to the one-liner-spewing erotic automatons that populate too many sitcoms. The networks should sit up and take notice.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Penn Jillette hosts "Identity" (7 p.m., NBC).
¢ Snoopy and Spike provide holiday mirth in the 2003 animated special "I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ Lorelai realizes (well into her 30s) that her ongoing teenage rebellion against her parents has warped her priorities on "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., CW).