Just when the summer network schedule seemed glutted with game shows, talent contests and reality competitions, the CW zigs where others zag and offers viewers the new and involving teen melodrama/mystery "Hidden Palms" (7 p.m., CW).
Taylor Handley stars as Johnny Miller, a bright and ambitious teen whose nose-to-the-grindstone attitude seems to bother his drunken dad. But this generational conflict ends rather quickly, and with a bang to boot, when dad blows his brains out right in front of our hero.
Flash forward one year. Johnny's just out of rehab, and his mom (Gail O'Grady) has married another man (D.W. Moffett) and transplanted them to Palm Springs, Calif., a place better known for retirees and golf courses than teen-centric action.
Johnny finds himself intrigued by a mysterious girl named Greta (Amber Heard), whose secrets may be as sad as she is beautiful. In fact, John's awkward new friend Cliff (Michael Cassidy) blurts out that Greta's last boyfriend is no longer among the living.
The brainchild of Kevin Williamson ("Scream," "Dawson's Creek"), "Palms" teems with hyperarticulate teenagers who toss off brittle bon mots like hand grenades. One of Johnny's new pals dismisses their town as filled with "Grays, gays and streets named after dead people." Ouch.
But tonight's best line belongs to Sharon Lawrence ("NYPD Blue"), who plays Cliff's plastic-surgery-obsessed mother. Praising her latest bout of rhinoplasty, she exults, "It looks like the nose two noses ago."
In a world without new episodes of "The O.C." and a summer to go before "Desperate Housewives" resumes, viewers may flock to "Palms" just to enjoy dialogue like that.
¢ "The Next Big Thing" (7 p.m., ABC) gives celebrity impersonators a chance to shine. Look for a virtual Las Vegas of mimicry. ABC promises us a summer filled with 12 Elvis Presleys, 11 Michael Jacksons, 10 Britney Spears, nine Marilyn Monroes, eight Johnny Depps, seven Paris Hiltons, six Chers, five Angelina Jolies - and the Partridge Family in a pear tree.
¢ If A&E can dedicate two seasons to Gene Simmons, certainly History can hire Meat Loaf. It only seems fair. The "Bat out of Hell" singer hosts "History Rocks: The 70s" (9 p.m., History), a roundup of the decade that brought us pet rocks, macrame, Kent State and Jonestown.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ The "Ghost Hunters" (6 p.m., Sci Fi) glances back at their favorite jobs.
¢ Feet move briskly on "So You Think You Can Dance" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ A prank has serious consequences in the pilot episode of "Traveler" (8 p.m., ABC). In a second episode (9 p.m.), Jay and Tyler escape to the Fog mansion to find it enshrouded in mystery.
¢ An arsonist targets sleeping families on "Criminal Minds" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ A murder roils a political banquet on "CSI: NY" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ The ghost of a murder victim rejects Allison's intervention on "Medium" (9 p.m., NBC).