UNLESS YOU'RE into reruns and "reality" - or can't get enough of those cookie-cutter movies in which men and women discover both each other and the real meaning of Christmas in a snow-filled two hours - this tends not to be the most wonderful time of year to be watching primetime TV.

So get up and wrap something. Read to a child. Talk to a parent.

Enjoy the quiet.

Because January is just around the corner.

And the new year, as television continues to dig out from last season's writers strike, is front-loaded with some long-awaited goodies.

I'm not talking about Fox's "American Idol," though the No. 1 show on TV will be back for an eighth season on Jan. 13, its own internal dramas no doubt intact.

No, I'm talking about scripted television, the kind that requires actual writers and actors to pull off and exists in a Rose Ceremony-free zone where discarded suitors only pretend to cry and so-called "real people" go to relax, not to compete.

(Hi, I'm Ellen, and, yes, I'm a drama junkie.)

Whether you're excited about the return of ABC's "Lost" or the premiere of A&E's "The Beast," the Patrick Swayze undercover-cop show that puts the cancer-stricken "Dirty Dancing" star in the middle of some very dirty dealings, there's probably something on this list to make you pick up that remote:

Jan. 5: ABC Family's "Secret Life of the American Teenager" returns for the second half of its first season, reportedly with the wedding of a pregnant teenager to her not-the-father boyfriend. Laugh if you want, but this weirdly conceived drama from "7th Heaven" creator Brenda Hampton was one of last summer's few solid hits, with numbers that put the CW's "Gossip Girl" to shame.

Jan. 6: After a nearly 11-month break, FX's "Nip/Tuck" returns for the second installment of Season 5 (don't you love cable scheduling?) with an episode that finds Drs. McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and Troy (Julian McMahon) in need of doctoring of their own. Which, could, yes, describe most episodes of this gory but popular soap.

Also that night: There are doctors in the house, too, on ABC, which takes over "Scrubs" from NBC for what may - or may not - be its final season.

Jan. 7: FX's "Damages" returns with Glenn Close's Patty Hewes keeping at least one of her enemies, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), closer than ever in the aftermath of a case that very nearly killed the latter. William Hurt joins the cast, playing opposite Close for the first time since "The Big Chill," along with Timothy Olyphant ("Deadwood") and Marcia Gay Harden, but what you really want to know is what Ted Danson's still doing there. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Jan. 9: "Flashpoint," the Canadian police drama CBS picked up last summer to beef up a strike-damaged schedule, proved so popular it's being brought back. It stars Enrico Colantoni ("Just Shoot Me") and Amy Jo Johnson ("Felicity").

Also that night: USA's "Monk" and "Psych" return with new episodes.

Jan. 11: Fox's "24," which thanks to the strike, skipped last season altogether, returns for Season 7 with the usual two-night, four-hour premiere. But will the 12 million or so viewers who seemed glad to have Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) back for a couple of hours in the November prequel "24: Redemption" have the stamina to stick with him through yet another of his Very Bad Days?

Jan. 12: ABC Family's "Kyle XY" is back for a third season starring Matt Dallas as the boy with no belly button.

Jan. 15: A&E's "The Beast" premieres with Swayze as undercover FBI agent Charles Barker, whose new partner, Ellis Dove (Travis Fimmel), may be learning things Barker never intended to teach him. Viewers, meanwhile, may show up to see how Swayze looks - every bit as haggard as his character should be and possibly even more energetic - and stay for his performance, which is compelling.

Also that night: Fox moves "Bones" to Thursdays.

Jan. 16: After a seven-month hiatus, the Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica" resumes its fourth and final season, leading up to a series finale that's scheduled for March 20 in which we can only hope that all will be explained.

Also that night: NBC premieres the third season of "Friday Night Lights," two days after the season finale airs on DirecTV's 101 Network.

Jan: 18: Nearly 18 months after the end of its second season, HBO's "Big Love" returns for a third, with the polygamous Henrickson family still trying to make it in a world that's never going to completely understand why a man who already has three wives might want a fourth.

Also that night: the second-season premiere of HBO's hilarious "Flight of the Conchords" and the premiere of the sixth and final season of Showtime's "The L Word."

Jan. 19: Fox's "House," one of the few shows on network TV whose ratings don't seem to suffer much from its being moved from place to place, shifts to 8 p.m. Mondays.

Jan. 21: ABC's "Lost" returns in a two-hour season premiere in which, if the promos are to be believed, the castaways who escaped the island last season will attempt to go back.

Also that night: Fox's "Lie to Me," in which Tim Roth stars as a guy who could probably tell me whether those ABC promos should be believed, because he's a kind of human lie-detector. No word yet on whether he'll be doing crossovers with Fox's "Moment of Truth."

Jan. 26: Bound to be confused with "Lie to Me," TNT's "Trust Me" stars Eric McCormack ("Will & Grace") and Tom Cavanagh ("Ed") as partners in an ad agency whose relationship's strained when one becomes the other's boss.

Also that night: TNT's "The Closer" resumes its fourth season, with its first original episode since September.

Jan. 28: ABC's "Life on Mars," one of the two best shows you're probably not watching (the other being NBC's "Life"), moves to a new time slot, after "Lost." *

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