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October TV: From the awful to the awesome to the aw shucks

October already. Excuse me, but how the heck did that happen? Why, only the other day I was complaining about the heat, the humidity and thinking that a 14-pint night might be the answer. The day before that, it feels like, I was in Kiev for the soccer and struck by the hedonism of Eastern Europe on nights of 30-degree swelter. Nobody watching TV except for the soccer and then carousing in the streets.

Now then: Chill winds, the leaves turning and falling. You, me and the neighbours wondering what's on TV because it's time to get interested in that. October is a big month. Whatever you need, you're probably going to get it. From the abominable-but-compelling to the politics of the U.S. presidential race to the politics of aw-shucks country crooners in Nashville. Carouse as you like, watching what makes you cozy or crazy. Here's a short list.

The 2012 U.S. Presidential Debate Schedule. The first debate is this Wednesday, Oct. 3 (multiple U.S. channels, 9 p.m. ET) with President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney tackling domestic policy. The moderator is Jim Lehrer of PBS NewsHour. The vice-presidential debate is on Oct. 11 and the final presidential debates are on Oct. 16 and 22. The Super Bowl for political junkies.

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Frontline: The Choice 2012. Likely the most in-depth, sober profile of the two candidates running for the presidency, this two-hour Frontline airs Tuesday, Oct. 9. One focus is on what the two men share – an achievement in health-care reform. The program promises to "investigate how each man approached the hot-button issue, and what it says about how they governed."

The War of 1812: Been There, Won That. The serious matter of marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812 gets a droll, comic twist in this special, coming this Thursday, Oct. 4, on CBC. Peter Keleghan is our guide on a wacky journey through "the myths and mysteries, mayhem and marvels of this 'forgotten' war." Says CBC anyway. It is genuinely informative and slightly mad.

Nashville. Starting on ABC on Wednesday, Oct. 10, this is by far the strongest drama pilot of the new TV season. Connie Britton of Friday Night Lights is an aging country-music queen who fights back when her record company diminishes her stature to favour an ambitious, Taylor Swift-type country-pop star (Hayden Panettiere, who is deliciously snarky). Delightful soap-opera antics and fine country music galore.

Half-Ton Killer? This is one of those TLC shocker-specials that garners a huge audience and much media attention. Airs Oct. 10. As with so much TLC does, it's gross while it's gripping. It's a reality-TV pseudo-documentary about Mayra Rosales, a 1,100-pound woman who was accused of killing her two-year-old nephew in 2008, by sitting on him. Listen here, people – TLC's recent Honey Boo Boo series was an astonishing ratings success. There's an audience for TLC's material about the underside of life in the United States.

The Walking Dead. Season 3 starts on AMC on Sunday, Oct. 14, and there are 16 episodes split into two parts. The second batch of eight episodes will begin in February. When we last met that band of survivors in a zombie-filled world, the farm where they had found refuge was overrun by the critters. In this season, we are promised, they find a new home in a prison and a major new character in the prison governor, played by British actor David Morrissey. Scariest show on TV. Okay, maybe not as scary as Half-Ton Killer?

American Horror Story: Asylum. The second season of last year's most twisted, perplexing series starts on FX Canada on Oct. 17. This one is in some ways entirely different – a new setting, new characters and new storyline. The setting is a Massachusetts asylum. It's 1964 and Briarcliff Manor is a home for the criminally insane. Plus ghosts, of course. The cast list is stellar. The good news is that Sister Jude, the scary nun who runs the joint, is played by Jessica Lange, who recently won an Emmy for her work in the first season. Also along for the paranormal high jinks are James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes and Chloë Sevigny, who plays "a nymphomaniac whose sexual urges have led to her confinement." Oh lordy.

Call the Midwife. This splendid new British series started on some PBS stations last Sunday and will air on others during October. (The Buffalo PBS station serving Southern Ontario airs it starting next Sunday, Oct. 7.) It follows a group of midwives and nuns in 1950s East London. While a synopsis makes it seem slight and slushy, it is solid, smart and addictive drama, gorgeously made. It has been a huge hit in the U.K., with viewing numbers matching those for Downton Abbey. While it has great charm, it amounts to a startling look at poverty and deprivation in postwar England.

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All times ET. Check local listings.

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