ABC fall line-up: Lots of sitcoms, lots of Shonda, no "Castle" or "Nashville"

This is the crowded time when networks unveil their fall line-ups. The previous blogs looked at NBC and Fox; now ABC is definitely going in a different direction. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Maybe situation
comedies aren't dead after all.

After two networks
set fall line-ups with fewer sitcoms, ABC went the other way. “We
think we have a distinctive brand of family comedies,” said
Channing Dungey, the network's new programming chief.

NBC will have only
two sitcoms this fall, Fox will have four (plus cartoons); ABC will
have 10.

It continues its
four-comedy Wednesdays, but moves “The Middle” to Tuesdays, which
has four more. The two Friday ones stay put; that leaves room to
renew “Real O'Neals”and add:

-- “American
Housewife,” the new title for what was “The Second Fattest
Housewife in Westport.”

-- “Speechless,”
with Minnie Driver raising three children, one of them with special

The comedy emphasis
means “Marvel's Agents of SHIELD” keeps moving later. Originally
at 8 p.m., it went to 9 and now to 10. That may let it “get a
little edgier, maybe a little darker,” Dungey said.

The other Marvel
show, “Agent Carter,” was cancelled, but its star instantly has a
new home. In “Conviction,” Hayley Atwell plays an ex-president's
daughter, avoiding a sentence by working for an office that
re-examines convictions. Dungey calls it “the procedural we've been
looking for.”

That's been a
problem at ABC, which has been strong on serialized dramas –
especially the Thursday ones from producer Shonda Rhimes – but weak
on shows that end a story each episode. Its lone success with that
was “Castle” ... which has now been cancelled.

Also cancelled are
“Nashville,” “The Family” and several quick failures. Also,
“Scandal” will start late, due to Kerry Washington's pregnancy.
With that many drama holes, ABC has “Conviction,” plus:

-- “Designated
Survivor” at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. Keifer Sutherland plays a lowly
cabinet member who suddenly becomes president, after a devastating

-- “Secrets and
Lies” at 9 p.m. Sundays. That's a crime mini-series that's been
waiting a while. ABC showed critics an impressive pilot film in

-- “Notorious,”
at 9 p.m. Thursdays. It's based loosely on the real-life
relationship between a charismatic lawyer and a TV producer.

That last one offers
a surprise – a non-Rhimes show, piercing her Thursday domain. Not
to worry, Dungey said: “Shonda has five shows.” Eventually,
“Scandal” and “The Catch” will return to Thursdays;
“Star-Crossed,” a Rhimes period piece filmed in Spain, may be on
another night.

Like other networks,
ABC is holding back some of its more distinctive shows for
mid-season. That includes two mini-series – the third “American
Crime” story and “When We Rise,” the eight-part gay-rights
drama from Dustin Lance Black, an Oscar-winner for writing “Milk.”

It also includes
“Time After Time,” based on the movie that had H.G. Welles
chasing Jack the Ripper through time. It will fit neatly with “Once
Upon a Time” on Sundays, Dungey said. The fall line-up:

-- Mondays: “Dancing
with the Stars," 8 p.m.; “Conviction,” 10,

-- Tuesdays: “The
Middle," 8 p.m.; “American Housewife," 8:30; "Fresh
Off the Boat," 9; “The Real O'Neals," 9:30; “Agents of
SHIELD," 10.

-- Wednesdays: “The
Goldbergs," 8 p.m.; "Speechless," 8:30; "Modern
Family," 9; "Black-ish," 9:30; “Designated
Survivor," 10.

-- Thursdays:
"Grey’s Anatomy," 8 p.m.; "Notorious," 9; "How
to Get Away with Murder," 10.

-- Fridays: “Last
Man Standing," 8 p.m.; "Dr. Ken," 8:30; ; "Shark
Tank," 9; "20/20," 10.

-- Saturdays:
College football,

-- Sundays:
“America’s Funniest Home Videos," 7 p.m.; "Once Upon a
Time," 8; "Secrets and Lies," 9; "Quantico,"



Fox's new season: No "Idol," few reruns, lots of Satan

Nothing in TV is terribly permanent. Last week, the networks announced their fall schedules and I sent quick-turnaround stories to papers; you can see those stories here.

But one network has already made a switch: Fox moved "Pitch" into its fall line-up, nudging "Bones" and "Prison Break" back; here's the revised version of my story:

By Mike Hughes

Staring at a season
that can't be propped up by “American Idol,” Fox is turing to
some stand-bys – old series, old movies ... and the Devil himself.

Satan will be a
factor in two shows this fall – the returning “Lucifer” and the
new “Exorcist.” Or three or four, depending on how you view
“Hell's Kitchen” and election coverage.

Two old movies --
“Lethal Weapon” (now with Damon Wayans Sr.) and “The Exorcist”
-- will be turned into series. Two past series -- “24” and
“Prison Break” -- will be revived at mid-season; “The X-Files”
is expected to have another short run a year later.

And most of all, Fox
will try sheer quantity. “Ninty percent of our programming will be
original,” said Gary Newman, the network's co-CEO.

That means few
reruns. “Our audience is not interested in repeats,” said Dana
Walden, the co-CEO. “That requires a tremendous amount of

So the moment
“Empire” takes its mid-season break, “Star” -- same producer,
same timeslot, same focus on the music industry – steps in. Queen
Latifah and Ben Bratt are the best-known stars, but Walden said it
“feels very different from 'Empire,'” because it's through the
eyes of aspiring stars.

With that emphasis
on quantity, few major shows were dumped. Some comedies --
“Grandfathered,” “The Grinder,” “Cooper Barrett's Guide to
Surviving Life” -- are gone, but “Houdini & Doyle” is one
of the few drama hours dropped. Even “Scream Queens” returns,
with the same stars in a new setting.

Fox can keep more
shows this year, partly because it has spared one cost: “'Idol' was
a particularly expensive show” in its final seasons, Newman said.

This year continues
the advantage of Sunday football, Walden said, helping promote “some
big, muscular shows” on Mondays. The biggest boost is the Super
Bowl; the new “24” will be the post-game show, then will step
into its Monday slot the next night.

That one has new
stars, led by Corey Hawkins of “Straight Outta Compton.” However,
the revived “Prison Break” and (eventually) “X-Files” will
keep its original stars.

Fans of the long-ago
“X-Files” might feel right at home when its original Friday slot
goes to “The Exorcist,” Walden said. “Here's a great, scary
show with a cinematic quality.”

On Mondays,
“Lucifer” has a sort of charming Satan catch bad guys; on
Fridays, Satan may lose his charm. There's more horror with the
returns of “Scream Queens” and, at mid-season, “Sleepy Hollow.”

Other shows will be
lighter, including two comedies, one on Tuesdays (“The Mick”) and
two on Sundays (the partly animated “Son of Zorn” and the
time-travel “Making History”). There will also be a drama about
the first woman with a shot at major league baseball.

The post-”Idol”
world has fewer reality shows on Fox, but the mid-season “Kicking &
Screaming” will have duos that pair a survivalist with a more
pampered person, Walden said, sort of “'The Simple Life' meets 'The
Amazing Race.'”

After announcing the
line-up, Fox made a quick change: “Pitch” -- the show about the
female baseball player – will move into the fall schedule, nudging
“Bones” and “Prison Break” later. The line-up:

--Mondays: “Gotham,”
8 p.m.; “Lucifer,” 9 p.m. (Mid-season, “24” and the cop show

-- Tuesdays:
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” 8 p.m.; “New Girl,” 8:30; “Scream
Queens,” 9. (Mid-season, “The Mick” at 8:30, “Kicking and
Screaming” at 9.)

-- Wednesdays:
“Lethal Weapon,” 8; “Empire,” 9. (Mid-season, the “Shots
Fired” mini-series and “Star.”)

-- Thursdays:
“Rosewood,” 8 p.m.; “Pitch,” 9. (“Bones” returns for its
final 13 episodes in January, with the “Prison Break” mini-series
in the spring.)

-- Fridays: “Hell's
Kitchen,” 8 p.m.; “The Exorcist,” 9. (Mid-season, “MasterChef
Junior” and “Sleepy Hollow.”)

-- Saturdays:
College football, then varied sports or reruns.

-- Sundays: Football
overrun (or “Bob Burgers”), 7-8 p.m.; “The Simpsons,” 8; “Son
of Zorn,” 8:30; “Family Guy,” 9; “The Last Man on Earth,”
9:30. (Mid-season, “Making History” at 8:30.)


NBC plans a mild fall ... and a wild, un-mild mid-season

Over the next few days, all of the networks will announce their fall schedules. NBC was first; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

NBC's viewers
needn't worry about much sudden-change whiplash this fall.

Yes, the network has
lots of new shows planned – including a second “Blacklist,” a
fourth Chicago series and fantasy tales with vampires and the land of
Oz. But all of those will wait for mid-season.

For the fall, NBC
plans only three shows (two of them with fantasy twists). Along the
way, it will:

-- Dump every
current comedy except two. “The Carmichael Show” will wait until
midseason; “Superstore” will be (at least temporarily) on
Thursdays, when CBS comedies rule.

-- Drop some dramas,
including “Heartbeat,” “The Mysteries of Laura” and “Heroes.”

-- Move others --
“Blindspot” to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, “Chicago Med” and
“Blacklist” to 9 and 10 p.m. Thursdays.

NBC can stick to
small moves, because it's bolstered by its unscripted shows: “The
Voice” and “Dateline” each get two nights a week; for a
five-week stretch, pro-football will do the same.

CBS and NBC are
splitting the weekday football schedule. For five Thursdays, CBS has
the games; that's when NBC airs its only comedies -- “Superstore”
and the new “The Good Life,” in which a wayward woman (Kristen
Bell) accidentally goes to the afterlife, then returns to do better,
with Ted Danson's help. Then NBC gets five Thursday games, putting
those comedies in limbo.

Its two new dramas
get better slots, neatly tucked behind “The Voice.” They are:

-- “Timeless,”
inheriting the “Blindspot” place on Mondays. It has three people
– a scientist, a soldier and a history professor – trying to
catch fugitives in the past, without disturbing other events.

-- “This Is Us”
on Tuesdays, about people whose lives entwine in unusual ways; Mandy
Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K. Brown star.

If that all sounds
modest, NBC has much more planned for mid-season. That includes
returning “Carmichael,” “Shades of Blue” and “Little Big
Shots.” It also includes the “Blacklist” spin-off (using the
Tom Keen and Susan Hargraves characters) and the fourth Chicago
story; “Chicago Justice” will be set in the state's attorney

Other dramas may be
wilder. “Emerald City” re-imagines “The Wizard of Oz” ...
“Taken” is a prequel to the Liam Nesson movies ... “Midnight,
Texas” is from the books of Charlaine Harris (“True Blood”),
with more vampires and witches and such.

Also planned for
mid-season are four new comedies – including one produced by Tina
Fey and another based loosely on Marlon Wayans' life – and several
reality shows, including Arnold Schwarzenegger taking over “Celebrity
Apprentice.” Here's the fall line-up:

-- Mondays: “The
Voice,” 8 p.m.; “Timeless,” 10.

-- Tuesdays:
“Voice,” 8; “This Is Us,” 9; “Chicago Fire,” 10.

-- Wednesdays:
“Blindspot,” 8; “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” 9;
“Chicago P.D,” 10.

-- Thursdays:
“Superstore,” 8; “The Good Place,” 8:30; “Chicago Med,”
9; “Blacklist,” 10. (Football takes over on Nov. 17 and for four
Thursdays in December.)

-- Fridays: “Caught
on Camera,” 8; “Grimm,” 9; “Dateline,” 10.

-- Saturdays:
“Dateline,” 8; “Saturday Night Live” reruns, 10.

-- Sundays:
Football. (Other shows take over in January.)


Branagh -- from epics to Swedish solace



Some of this TV season's finest moments are coming up in its final three weeks. That's when PBS airs the last season of "Wallander" movies; here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

Kenneth Branagh
keeps leaping between extremes.

He goes from epic to
intimate, from sprawling movies to tidy TV shows.

The movies he's
directed – including “Thor” and “Cinderella” -- have been
massive and colorful, with action and fantasy. His “Wallander”
mystery movies on PBS are pretty much the opposite.

“Wallander” --
returning for three Sundays -- fits its setting. “The first things
that struck us (were) how big it was,” Branagh said of rural
Sweden, “how flat it was, how far away it seemed, how isolated.”

All of those are
traits shared by Kurt Wallander, the police detective he plays.

The “Wallander”
mysteries are filled with quiet understatement. Indeed, it's tough to
grasp the fact that Branagh was starring in one of them while he was
planning his “Thor” movie.

Back then, Tom
Hiddleston – like Branagh, a Shakespearean actor – was playing
his “Wallander” assistant; Branagh had just cast him in “Thor”
as Loki. He recalls Hiddleston's “kind of very youthful, wide-eyed
kind of innocent-looking expression as he thought, 'Really? I'm going
to be doing that? Really? We're going to be in space and we'll be in
the middle of all that kind of adventure?'”

And now? Hiddleston
has gone on to be Loki in three more movies, with a fourth on the
way; he doesn't have time to do “Wallander.”

Branagh, however,
does. He keeps returning to “Masterpiece” in different projects.
“The series has had no better friend than Sir Ken,” said Rebecca
Eaton, the “Masterpiece” producer.

This feels like
familiar turf, Branagh said. “I grew up watching television, so it
was very important.”

That was in Belfast
until he was 9 and then in England. He became a hybrid – British
accent, Irish soul, blue-collar roots (his dad was a carpenter who
started a specialty company) and upscale education.

Branagh, now 55, did
the classics and at 27 starred in the “Fortunes of War”
miniseries, which would change his life. He fell in love with his
co-star, Emma Thompson; they married, divorcing six years later. And
he made his first trip to Los Angeles, to talk to reporters at a
“Masterpiece” press conference.

The flight was six
hours late and “people had been well-refreshed at that stage,”
Branagh recalled, bringing a loose night of music and laughs. “The
next day, I went for a walk in Beverly Hills .... You really felt the
distance and you thought, 'How amazing that this thing called
'Masterpiece' is gathering all these people together on the other
side of the world to talk about ... our work.”

Branagh twice
rejected offers to be the series host, Eaton wrote in “Making
Masterpiece” (Viking, 2013). Still, she wrote: “Ken has remained
a great and loyal friend to 'Masterpiece' and seems to understand
better than most actors, what a 'Masterpiece' broadcast can do for a
British actor's career.”

TV has always seemed
vital, he said. “My family weren't theatergoers, but we did watch
television. We went to the movies. And I was just aware ... of how
influential was the shared conversation about art or entertainment
you'd seen in your living room.”

So when he read the
“Wallander” novels, it seemed logical to film them for
“Masterpioece,” shooting in the Swedish locations they described.
“It's the land of the big sky, small houses, certain kinds of
colors used,” Branagh said. “And everyone seemed to be in a
rather melancholic painting.”

The project has
included 12 TV movies, shot in four three-film batches, spread over
seven years. Reflecting the novels, Wallander sometimes went abroad
... and, at the end, showed his age.

So this year's first
film finds Wallander in South Africa; the next two find his mind
retreating, Branagh said. “His own particular isolation ... makes
thimgs pretty tricky, if he is starting to become forgetful.”

There's no
Thor/Cinderella solution here. There's a bright and lonely man,
facing a premature fade.

-- “Masterpiece:
Wallander,” 9-10:30 p.m. Sundays on PBS (check local listigs)

-- Final season has
three films, May 8, 15 and 22

Branaepis eneth ag, NasterMMr

Janis: A search for truth, joy and powerfully passionate music

Janis Joplin's life was perfect for "American Masters," filled with extreme high and lows, plus immense talent and moments of quiet subtlety. So it shouldn't surprise us that the film airing Tuesday (May3) is ... well, masterful. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For Laura Joplin,
the letters were an unexpected treasure.

One day, she
recalled, she mentioned that she might write a book about her sister

“Mother got up and
she walked down the hallway,” she said. “And she came back with
these letters, literally wrapped in a faded red ribbon, and handed
them to me. And the past just rushed over me.”

Those letters became
the core of a book (“Love, Janis”) and now of a compelling
“American Masters” documentary on PBS. They showed Janis Joplin:

-- Fragile, grasping
for a place in life. “I wanna be happy so bad,” she wrote.

-- Then a sudden
rock star. “I just stumbled around being a music kid and fell into
this. Incredible.”

-- And then at the
top. “There's a real good chance that I won't blow it,” she

She soon died of a
heroin overdose, but her sister doesn't see this as the cliche of a
downward spiral.

Janis was starting
to savor life, Laura said; but, like many people in 1970, she also
did drugs. “We do her a grave injustice by presuming that she blew
it .... She had an accident.”

For Laura, this
older (by six years) sister was “the girl who read 'The Wizard of
Oz' to me and took me by the hand and walked around the neighborhood.
Those were wonderful memories.”

That was in Port
Arthur, a Texas town where their dad was a Texaco engineer. “We
grew up in a family that talked about ideas,” Laura said. “Our
parents wanted us to express them and supported them.”

Others didn't. The
film says Janis was kicked out of the choir for not following
directions. (“She liked rocking the boat,” Michael Joplin, four
years younger than Laura, says in the film.) In high school, she was
a civil-rights activist targeted by the Ku Klux Klan; in college, she
was devastated by a fraternity stunt that had her elected “ugliest
man on campus.”

But for a time,
Laura feels, college live in Austin, Texas “was heaven for her. It
was full of all these creative people. The story is she walked into
this apartment and there was a guy sitting on top of the
refrigerator, playing the banjo. And she turns to her friend and
says, 'I think I'm going to like it here.'”

Her music tastes
expanded in Austin and soon fit neatly into San Francisco. “Janis
had a career in singing a lot of folk music and folk blues,” Dave
Getz said. “And she liked people like Odettta.”

She had some false
starts in San Francisco; at one point, friends sent her home to
straighten out. But she was back when Getz's band, Big Brother and
the Holding Company, auditioned for a female singer.

“Even before she
came, (we knew) she was going tobe the one we were looking for,”
Getz said. “And when she opened her mouth and sang with us at the
first rehearsal, ... it was just, 'Yeah, that's it.'”

The band had already
been doing “Summertime,” he said; “when she started singing it,
it went into a whole other stratosphere.” She locked into blues
classics by John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf. “And then Janis
started presenting her songs. That was also a revelation.”

She gave a
powerhouse performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, but the
cameras weren't rolling; the band's manager hadn't signed film
rights. Joplin was furious and argued backstage; the agreement was
signed and the band was given an extra stage slot, preserved on film.

That “was the
turning point for Janis,” Getz said. It was when “she became more
like the star of the band and who people really came to see .... She
got tremendous attention after Monterey Pop.”

Three years and
several bands later, Joplin told Getz that she was going to call
herself Pearl. He disliked the idea, he said; she was “kind of
creating the myth of what she was about.”

But people loved
that sassy, brassy myth. When the “Pearl” album came out in 1971,
it reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart; so did its single, “Me and
Bobby McGee.”

By then, however,
Joplin had died. “She cleaned her act up and she was really excited
about her last album,” said Amy Berg, who made the PBS film.
“Things were going real well for her.”

Then the overdose
ended a bright and varied life at 27.

-- “American
Masters: Janis: Little Girl Blue”

-- 8-10 p.m. Tuesday
(May 3), PBS (check local listings)