If comedy has a queen of humiliation, it is Debra Messing. The "Will & Grace" star has made a career of surviving cringe-inducing situations with good looks, great outfits and slapstick timing. She's like Lucille Ball trapped in Myrna Loy's body, and I mean that in all the nicest ways.
Messing stars in "The Starter Wife" (8 p.m., USA), a new cable comedy based on a miniseries of the same name debuting tonight in a movie-long episode. The show, like the movie, is based on a novel of the chick-lit variety by Gigi Levangie Grazer, a tale of Hollywood princess Molly Kagan (Messing) being dumped, feeling low and then getting her groove back.
These comedies proceed with a certain geometric predictability. A scorned wife like Molly needs company even more brittle and insecure than herself, so Molly forms a triangle of mutual support with Joan (Judy Davis), a cranky recovering alcoholic, and Rodney (Chris Diamantopoulos), a fussy interior decorator who sees every potential relationship through the prism of sixth-grade humiliations.
Over the course of the series pilot, Molly attends a writer's workshop and wows a hot writing teacher with her witty journal entries consisting of biting intimate observations about members of the Beverly Hills set. My, how Carrie Bradshaw of her.
It would be easy to dismiss "Starter" as just another "Sex and the City" clone. While it does ask us to share a deep concern for name-dropping, designer wear and expensive shoes, at the end of the day, "Wife" is a whole lot less vulgar and pretentious than "Sex." The focus here is more on status and power than bedroom activities and the kind of horrible double-entendres that passed for wit on the HBO series.
"Wife" is not without annoying excess. Molly dreams in movie parody scenes "starring" herself and her pals. These appear to be time-consuming and expensive to produce, but they add very little to the narrative and - like many elements of "campy" humor - are more obvious than clever.
¢ "Most Haunted Live" (7 p.m., Travel) spends seven consecutive hours documenting the search for ghosts in Gettysburg, Pa.
Call me a crank, but shouldn't some places be off limits to paranormal shenanigans? Lincoln's Gettysburg address used words like "consecrate" and "hallow" to evoke a sense of the sacred about the battlefield and the men who "gave the last full measure of devotion" to their nation.
A ghost hunt in Gettysburg straddles the line between tasteless and obscene. What's next, a trip to a concentration camp? Ground Zero?
Tonight's other highlights
¢ "Degrassi: The Next Generation" (7 p.m., The N) enters its final season.
¢ Anakin's adventures continue on "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Cartoon Network).
¢ A lazy lover has become a fitness enthusiast on "The Ex List" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ A bank machine withdrawal proves fatal on "Numb3rs" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ Scheduled on "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC): an interview with famous divorced man Peter Cook; the economy; John Stossel doesn't want the vote rocked.
Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish star in the bleak 2006 Australian romance "Candy" (8:30 p.m., The Movie Channel).