Taylor Schilling (left) and Laura Prepon in "Orange is the New Black."

Taylor Schilling (left) and Laura Prepon in "Orange is the New Black."


Network television, once wedded to a September-to-May schedule, saw the error of its ways as cable and online competitors demonstrated a brazen disregard for tradition.

So summer has evolved from a rerun graveyard to the home of lively offerings, with enough choices to threaten your vacation plans - or at least DVR capacity.

That includes returning shows: AMC's North Texas-set Halt and Catch Fire, already underway on Sundays, along with NBC's Hannibal, Thursday; Orange Is the New Black, Netflix, June 12; TNT's The Last Ship and HBO's True Detective, both June 21; Under the Dome, CBS, June 25; and Masters of Sex and Ray Donovan, Showtime, both back on July 12.

The newbies include a mix of scripted series, documentaries and a few reality-genre curveballs - like CBS' The Briefcase (7 p.m. Wednesdays), which tests families' charitable instincts - just as in the old-fashioned TV season. (Tune in June 10 to see Rio Vista couple Matt and Becky Wylie make the big decision.)

One of the higher-profile dramas is Netflix's Friday release Sense8, the first series from sibling filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski of The Matrix fame. The story: Eight people realize they're mysteriously connected and must engage in a life-or-death fight that plays out, travelogue-style, in sundry locations worldwide.

Naveen Andrews  and Daryl Hannah (front) in a scene from Netflix's "Sense8"

Naveen Andrews  and Daryl Hannah (front) in a scene from Netflix's "Sense8"

Murray Close/Netflix

The ensemble cast is equal parts international and includes Daryl Hannah and Naveen Andrews, who found the Wachowskis irresistible. "They're artists, and there are precious few of them," Andrews said.

Also upcoming are two transgender-journey docu-series, one about a celebrity, Bruce Jenner, who just announced the new name Caitlyn Jenner, (8 p.m. July 26, on E!), and another focusing on an average American family in ABC Family's Becoming U (8 p.m. Monday).

More small-screen choices to consider:

An armchair travel experience of a different kind than Sense8 is offered by Discovery's Life Story, a six-part natural history series debuting at 8 p.m. Saturday. Narrated by David Attenborough, Life Story tracks animals as they go about their daily, often perilous routines in locations scattered across 29 countries. Want to see the mating dance of the astoundingly colorful Australian peacock jumping spider? Here's your chance, shot in ultrahigh definition.

If you'd like to cast a chill over your summer, Investigation Discovery is obliging with Serial Thriller, its first scripted series promising to "propel viewers" into a community terrorized by a serial murderer. The approach is based on accounts from those involved; it plays out at 9 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday, June 9. Who is the killer? True-crime buffs may crack the case, the channel said, but others will have to stay tuned to figure it out.

ABC's answer to post-Mad Men 1960s withdrawal is The Astronaut Wives Club, debuting at 7 p.m. June 18. The glossy series is based on Lily Koppel's nonfiction book about Annie Glenn, Rene Carpenter and other women whose close ties helped them cope with their spouses' hero status and its fallout. There was glamour (tea with the first lady!) but hardship and sacrifice as well. The ensemble cast of astrowives includes JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Yvonne Strahovski and Dominique McElligott.

Desmond Harrington and Christina DeRosa in "The Astronaut Wives Club"

Desmond Harrington and Christina DeRosa in "The Astronaut Wives Club"

Cook Allender/ABC

Oh, those annoying celebu-clans and the media attention that makes them possible. But what's a family seeking fame and more fortune to do when it predates TV and blogs? That's the plight of the Bellacourts of swanky Newport, R.I., circa the early 1900s, in the Comedy Central satire Another Period. Created by and starring Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome as misbehaving sisters, the comedy, beginning at 9:30 p.m. June 23, also features Mad Men star Christina Hendricks, Lauren Ash and Michael Ian Black.

Denis Leary, who played a deeply flawed firefighter in FX's Rescue Me, returns to the channel as a deeply flawed musician in Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, which he created. Leary's Johnny Rock was the frontman of a 1990s New York band, the Heathens, that broke up the same day its eagerly awaited debut album was released (Johnny's sexual high jinks were to blame). The hard-luck rocker dreams of a comeback but stands in the shadows as songwriter for young singer Gigi (Elizabeth Gillies). The series, starting at 9 p.m. July 16, features John Corbett as Flash, Johnny's former bandmate.

HBO's miniseries Show Me a Hero, from David Simon (Treme, The Wire) and director Paul Haggis (Crash), dramatizes Lisa Belkin's nonfiction book. Set in Yonkers, N.Y., it examines how residents and the mayor (Oscar Isaac) react to a federal order to build low-income housing in white neighborhoods. The impressive cast includes Catherine Keener, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder and LaTanya Richardson-Jackson in a sharp-edged examination of race and community debuting at 8 p.m. Aug. 16.

Lynn Elber, The Associated Press

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