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ABC tries to reinvigorate summertime Sundays with new/noteworthy The Gates and Scoundrels

Willful women: Rhona Mitra and Virginia Madsen of The Gates and Scoundrels. Both summer dramas premiere Sunday night. ABC photos

Both Scoundrels and The Gates fall into the "not bad, not bad at all" category.

And when you're talking summertime scripted hours, that's a pretty big endorsement. On the Big Four broadcast networks, most hot weather fare is of the cost-efficient, light as a feather "reality" genre.

But ABC bracingly is trying something quite different in what could be a new way to program Sunday night with a year-long menu of serial dramas.

First of all, it bears repeating that serial dramas do not repeat well. That's why ABC's two Sunday night mainstays -- Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters -- are not part of the summer mix while reruns of "procedural," self-contained crime dramas such as the CSI franchise and The Mentalist are very much a part of CBS' year-around programming strategy.

But what if ABC decided to keep Scoundrels and The Gates in play for say, 13 new episodes each summer after DH and B&S finish their runs? Cable networks do this all the time, with TNT alone starting fresh seasons of The Closer, Leverage and HawthoRNe in June/July while also launching a pair of new dramas -- Memphis Beat and Rizzoli & Isles.

Couldn't ABC do the same? Or would it follow the traditional broadcast pattern of immediately earmarking one or both summer dramas as midseason replacements if they create a stir in the ratings?

Scoundrels, starring Virginia Madsen in showy and effective form, premieres at 8 p.m. (central) on Sunday, June 20th in the DH slot. The Gates, with a breakout performance by Rhona Mitra as a seductive vampire, follows at 9 p.m. in place of B&S.

It initially was supposed to be the other way around, but ABC wisely decided to move The Gates back an hour to keep it from directly competing with HBO's vampire hour, Season 3 of True Blood.

ABC has heavily promoted both series. So perhaps you've seen Madsen's clarion call -- "C'mon!" -- while she's in bed with her criminally minded husband. It's also been hard to miss Mitra sinking her fangs into an unsuspecting male meal on those spots for The Gates.

The Gates turns out to have a bit better opening episode, even if you think you've seen it all where vampires are concerned. The title refers to a well-sculpted suburban community where workaholic cop Nick Monahan (Frank Grillo), wife Sarah (Marisol Nichols) and their two kids have come to get a fresh start.

The Gates is supposed to be a walk in the park for the new police chief. But it's instead infested by vampires who so far have managed to work around the community's virtually all-seeing surveillance cameras.

Claire Radcliff (Mitra) is married to fellow vamp Dylan Radcliff (Luke Mably), who's been striving to make her walk the straight and narrow. Instead bad things happen when a salesman has a car accident outside their home. He's bleeding, she's lusting and that's not a good thing for his neck. Monahan is soon investigating and obsessing again, setting up an interesting double dynamic of very different discontented spouses.

Sarah Monahan upbraids her husband for already showing signs of reneging on their "second chance." She implores him to be a husband and father -- "not just a cop."

Claire blames her husband for stifling her urges and making her subsist on blood he brings home from a lab. He says that their "little girl upstairs" needs them to be an anchored, well-behaved family. "You always blame me," Claire retorts. "You never take responsibility. Never. You did this to me. You made me who I am."

This is pretty good stuff. And by the end of the hour, it's also a hard-to-resist invitation to come back for more.

Scoundrels also has some major family issues. The Wests are thieves specializing in home invasions and sales of the property they steal. But Wolfgang "Wolf" West (David James Elliott) is headed off to jail for what he thinks will be a very short time. It's not. This leaves Cheryl West (Madsen) to ostensibly run the family business on her own. Instead she's determined to get out, taking her four children along for this uncertain ride into a life shorn of crime.

ABC saves on cast costs by tabbing Patrick Flueger to play both disheveled, long-haired Calvin "Cal" West and his straight arrow brother, Logan, who's being sworn in as an attorney. There's also nubile, vacuous Heather West (Leven Rambin), who aspires to be a scantily clad model and lately has been compiling a portfolio.

"When I told you to get off your butt, I did not mean to put it on exhibit," mom barks.

Younger sis Hope (Vanessa Marano) is a far brainier high school con artist who tries to calm fears that she'll end up like her sister.

"It's too late," she says. "I've already read more than one book."

The overriding reason to watch, though, is Madsen, who commands this opening hour with a vivid, take-charge performance. She's easy too root for, whether dressing down the kids or briefly weeping after belatedly discovering that her jailed husband isn't quite the man she's loved all these years. In that respect, Scoundrels has elements of CBS' The Good Wife, with a duplicitous, wrongdoing husband behind bars while his spouse strikes out on her own.

Carlos Bernard, best known as the ever-swervy Tony Almeida on 24, also has a regular role as a police sergeant intent on busting the Wests. His presence in the opener is minimal, but likely to grow now that Wolf West is incarcerated.

Whatever their ratings fates, both Scoundrels and The Gates register as much more than summer throwaways that weren't good enough to make the regular season cut. Maybe a new way of programming is dawning at ABC. It's long past time for that.

The Gates -- B+
Scoundrels -- B