He's mean, he's nasty ... he's just right for TV

Things have been tough for the Fox network lately, but ratings should perk up a bit. "American Idol" is back, "Empire" got off to a good start ... and now the amiably quirky "Backstrom" debuts Thursday (Jan. 22). Here's the story I sent to papers:


Sure, there are
nice, normal, neighborly folks who catch crooks or cure patients.
They're just not always considered interesting on television.

So TV gives us
“House” and “Bones” and “Elementary” and “Wallander”
and “The Mentalist” and more. It gives us characters who are long
on talent and short on social skills.

And now Fox has
“Backstrom.” Like PBS' “Wallander,” it's based on
Scandinavian novels about a police detective; like many shows, its
hero isn't very happy about people or life.

“In the books,
Backstrom has absolutely no redeeming values,” said writer-producer
Hart Hanson. “He's not even a very good detective; he just takes
credit for what other people do .... He's just awful.”

Adapting the books
for TV, Hanson made Backstrom skillful at work, but socially inept
... sort of like Brennan in his “Bones” series. But he kept the

Ironically, Hanson
seems to be a pleasant guy. “I am an apparently genial Canadian
man,” he conceded.

You don't expect him
to write anything nasty. “Look how affable and pasty and delightful
(he is),” said Rainn Wilson, who stars. “You just want to hug
him. But there is a Backstrom that is inside of him, waiting to burst
out of his chest like an alien.”

The same contrast
exists with Wilson, who seems to be a genial bloke. He grew up in the
Bahai faith and spent some teen years in Winnetka, Ill., where his
parents worked at the Bahai National Center. At press sessions, he
tends to have a sly grin; in “The Office,” he made the villain
(Dwight) an affable oaf.

“We all have our
demons,” Wilson said. “I think part of the job as an actor is to
find what your relation is for any character.”

Also, he decided
Backstrom isn't as evil as he first seems. “You're like, 'Oh wow,
this guy's a racist and a sexist,'” Wilson said. “And then you
kind of go: 'Oh, wow, you know what? He kind of hates everybody.'
Then you kind of go, 'Oh wow, he hates himself worse than he hates
anyone else.'”

And plunked
alongside him are the sort of people he insults.

“My character is a
blatant homosexual living with him,” Thomas Dekker said. “They're
both equally bitter and misanthropic.”

Then there's a
police colleague (and lay minister) played by Dennis Haysbert, using
the sense of authority he's shown in “24” (as President Palmer)
and in insurance commercials. “My journey,” he said, “is to
figure out: 'OK, why would (Backstrom) stand in front of a
6-foot-4-inch black man with a gun and say (racist quips)?”

Then again, Wilson
and Kristoffer Polaha are both near 6-foot-3; the “Backstrom”
debates are held at a high level ... except for Genevieve Angelson,
who plays a young cop.

“I am 5-foot-4,”
she said. “And I spent six months (standing) on an apple box.”

There, she stood
between verbal barrages by mean-and-brainy crimesolvers. It's the TV

-- “Backstrom,”
9 p.m. Thursdays, Fox; debuting Jan. 22


"Jane the Virgin" is ready for our attention

One of the happier storieas from the first half of the TV season is the emergence of "Jane the Virgin" as a smart, funny. All it needs now is an audience. The show returns Monday (Jan. 19) form a month of reruns; here's the story I sent to papers:


first, “Jane the Virgin” descended into anonymity – the sort of
dark depths only a CW show can see.

Ratings were
miniscule. In a typical week, “The Big Bang Theory” has more than
11 times as many viewers; a recent “Jane” rerun drew 700,000
viewers, tied for dead-last among 110 primetime shows.

But now comes a
burst of attention. It includes:

-- A Golden Globe
for best actress in a comedy. As she rushed up to the stage, Gina
Rodriguez said, her mind was aswirl. “I was thinking, 'Don't trip,
thank God, thank God, don't trip, is that Oprah?, don't trip, that IS
Oprah, don't trip.'”

-- A Golden Globe
nomination for best comedy series. It was the only broadcast show on
the list.

-- A spot on the
American Film Institute's list of the year's 10 best TV shows. Only
one other broacast show (“How to Get Away With Murder”) made the

-- And the key news:
“Jane” – and everything else on this fall's CW lineup – has
already been renewed for next season. “We didn't have a very high
bar” in the 9 p.m. Monday slot, said Mark Pedowitz, the network
programming chief. “(It's) a quality show; just give it time.”

Besides, this show
follows a CW trend: Several hour-long shows -- “Jane,” “The
Flash,” “Hart of Dixie” and the upcoming “iZombie” -- are
dramas that add comedy and (sometimes) a cheery look. “We purposely
last year went out to make these shows brighter and funnier,”
Pedowitz said.

That bright feel is
clear on the show's set. “There's a lot of turquoise and coral,”
said producer Jennie Urman, who studied real Miami hotels for the

The feeling was
obvious to reporters who had just been at the deliberately dark
“Scorpion” set occupied by techie characters; now they were
stepping into a sunny Miami world. “We have people from that show
(“Scorpion”) come over here and just go 'aaaah,'” said Justin

He plays the heir to
a hotel fortune whose sperm accidentally impregnated sweet Jane.
Showing off his character's hotel suite -- “I could fit my whole
apartment (from earlier days) in half of this” -- he granted that
color schemes can be crucial.

“Colors affect
your mood,” Baldoni said. “When you're in Miami, you have a whole
different mood .... Look at children's hospitals and what they do.”

And on the “Jane”
set these days, the mood seems bubbly.

The show is adapted
from a telenovela – a style of Spanish-language, limited-length
show that's big in Latin America. Soap fans get the general idea,
Urman said. “We understand what an evil twin is” and know that
“dead” characters can return.

Besides, “Jane”
has a droll narrator and extra words that pop up onscreen. “It
gives us another level to tell stories,” Urmans said.

Some of the “Jane”
people grew up far from Miami; Rodriguez is from Chicago, Baldoni is
from an Italian-and-Jewish family in Oregon, and doesn't speak

But on the set, it's
easy to become part of this world. At times, Baldoni said, actors
forget that the sturdy-looking pillars actually move when you lean
against them.

“It all seems very
bright and glamorous,” he said. “Then you bump into a wall.”

“Jane the Virgin,”
9 p.m. Mondays, CW

Returns to new
episodes Jan. 19, after a month of reruns


Football heroes? These guys are post-football TV stars

Last weekend, 31 million people watched a football game between Seattle and Carolina; only six shows that week managed to get even half that many.

And now an even bigger audience is expected for the games Sunday (Jan. 18). That means every show wants to be in the Sunday spot after the game. The winner is "Scorpion," which is on a first-season high. Here's the story I sent to papers:


football players, the ultimate goal may be the Super Bowl; for mere
actors, it's to have the spot after the Super Bowl.

But that spot only
goes to one show a year; this time (Feb. 1 on NBC), it wil be “The
Blacklist.” Before that, the second-best spot – after Sunday's
AFC championship game – goes to “Scorpion.”

And yes, that's part
of a surprising first year for a show that is about computer hackers.
Or isn't.

“The show isn't
just about us doing techie stuff,” insisted Eddie Kaye Thomas, one
of the co-stars. “It's a show about a bunch of people who happen to
be really smart.”

For CBS. “Scorpion”
is sort of the drama version of “The Big Bang Theory.” Again,
there are four people (played by Elyes Gabel, Ari Stidham, Jadyn Wong
and Thomas), strong on tech skills and weak on people skills. Again,
a beautiful waitress (Katharine McPhee) nudges them through life.

The difference?
Paige (McPhee) also has a genius son ... And the FBI keeps asking
them to save the world ... And often, the computer-hacking skills
aren't what matters.

“In the writers'
room, we use the shorthand – 'we'll do a little click-and-clack,'”
producer Nick Santora said of the hacking. “But the really smart,
geniusy stuff is what they do when the're on the run.”

Audiences approve –
last week, “Scorpion” was No. 9 in the Nielsen ratings – and
Thomas is relieved. “I've done enough failed shows,” he said. “It
is so exciting to be on a good one.”

The show has worked
by including large dabs of warmth and emotion. Typical of that was
the episode that was originally handed the post-football spot: Vital
information is locked inside the mind of a memory-impaired former
Secret Service agent. “There's big feeling to it,” said producer
Nicholas Wootten. “They're real people who do big things.”

Except CBS then
decided to flip the episodes. That one was moved to Monday; Sunday's
post-football slot goes to one that includes Paige teaching Walter
(Gabel) how to flirt.

Indeed, Walter's
growth has been key to the show. “We see Pinocchio turn into a real
boy over the season,” Santora said. “The audience is going to
love it; he's going to hate it.”

At times, these
geniuses become action heroes ... albeit reluctantly. “It's hard to
do action when you're a bigger dude,” said Stidham, who plays
Sylvester. “I'm not a runner, sprinter, jumper, parkour guy.”

He was a
serious-theater kid, in a junior Shakespeare troupe from ages 11 to
14. He was also big; at 15, he went to a “fat camp” ... at 17,
he was one of the stars of “Huge,” a praised series set in a fat
camp. And now, at 22, he's on a mainstream hit.

There, Stidham is
typical of a team in which people elude easy stereotypes. He may seem
vaguely ethnic, which he is; his dad is Moroccan. He may look like a
tech whiz, which he isn't; there's “a lot of money that CBS lost
because of (my) actual technological glitch.” he said.

And he sort of looks
like a football lineman, which he's not. On Sunday, however, his show
will be seen by some spillover football fans .

-- “Scorpion,” 9
p.m. Mondays, CBS

-- Also after the
AFC championship game (10 p.m. ET or so) Sunday



For 50 years, "12 Monkeys" has put the world in danger


The Syfy channel wants to give us some pleasant Friday evenings. Beginning this week (Jan. 16), it has a new "Helix" season at 10 p.m., with the threat of a worldwide epidemic. It precedes that at 9 with the debut of "12 Monkeys" ... which has a time-traveler trying to prevent an epidemic that already happened. It's not the Friday-night funnies, I guess. Here's the story I sent to papers:


The “12 Monkeys”
series offers big stakes, big themes, big worries.

The future world has
been crushed by a plague, killing almost everyone. The only hope
involves a semi-crazed time-traveler and a wary young doctor.

That idea seems
timely – Ebola scares and all – but has been around for a
half-century. It started as a 1962 French short, then became a 1995
movie, with Terry Gilliam directing Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and
Brad Pitt.

“We were all very,
very big fans of the original film,” said co-writer Terry Matalas.
Still, this TV version is “a complete sort of re-imagining,”

Producer Richard
Suckle had bought the rights to it; then came a key step: “I got a
phone call from (a) manager,” Suckle said. “He said, 'I have
these clients who wrote this script and it's kind of like “12
Monkeys,” but it's kind of not.'”

It was a time-travel
script by Matalas and Travis Fickett. They were soon hired to take
their ideas and merge them into “12 Monkeys,” for a TV series.

One key line about
time travel -- “it's not an exact science” -- was crucial,
Fickett said. “We lifted it (from the movie) because it's perfect.”
It explains why the traveler can't just keep trying over and over.

The general spirit
of the movie is there ... which is fortunate, because some of the
actors are fans. Noah Bean, who plays the doctor's fiance,
remembers seeing the film in theaters as a teen-ager; he saw it four
more times after hearing that the series was in the works.

Kirk Acevedo, who
plays the time-traveler's boyhood friend, can top that. “I was a
fan of '12 Monkeys,'” he said. “I've seen it 15, 16, 17 times.”

And now he's a
co-star, one of the people trying to save the world from the plague.

-- “12 Monkeys,”
9 p.m. Fridays, Syfy, beginning Jan. 16

-- The opening
episode reruns at 11 p.m., then has a marathon from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday. Also, 11:35 p.m. Monday, plus latenight – Tuesday night
at 2 a.m. (technically Wednesday morning), Wednesday night at
midnight, Thursday night at 1 a.m.


Remember that old network? It just went Pop

We've always kind of known the TV Guide Channel was somewhere on our cable box, waiting to be consulted. With all the ways to get listings, however, we kind of ignored it. So now, logically enough, the channel is going Pop. The change comes Wednesday (Jan. 14); here's the story I sent to papers:


For decades, the TV Guide Network was like a quiet party host,
someone people ignore except when they need directions to the

It was in 80 million
homes, but mostly people used it to find listings. “We were a
channel that told you to go to other channels,” said Brad Schwartz,
the network's president.

Now the makeover
begins. On Wednesday (Jan. 14), this becomes Pop, a channel focusing
on popular culture and its fans. “Fandom is fun,” Schwartz said.
“It's optimistic, it's passionate, it's shareable.”

That may be obvious
on the first day; on Wednesday, Pop will:

-- Obsess on the New
Kids on the Block. Various specials (including one visiting the New
Kids cruise) run from 9-11 a.m., 4:30-6 p.m., 8-9 p.m. and 10-11 p.m.

-- Launch “The
Story Behind,” which each Wednesday will eye a past TV show. That
starts at 9 p.m. (rerunning at 11), with “Everybody Loves Raymond”;
coming are “ER,” “Friends” and more.

-- Air old movies –
“Uncle Buck” (1989) at 11 a.m. and “Kindergarten Cop” (1990)
at 1:30 p.m. Next week brings daytime reruns of “Beverly Hills,
90210” and its remake; “Melrose Place” is next.

-- Continues
“PopSugar” at 6 p.m. and midnight. It's an upbeat entertainment
show that has just added Shenae Grimes Beech (an actress who was in
the “90210” remake) as a host.

Those shows have
modest budgets, which we expect. “As a small, emerging network, we
have to watch our pennies very closely,” Schwartz said.

Still, he's also
landed a scripted comedy. “Schitt's Creek” (debuting Feb. 11) has
Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara of “SCTV” as heads of a
once-rich family, now penniless. There are eccentric (and hilarious)
moments ... sort of what people want from cable channels. “We have
enormous creative freedom .... We've really been left to do the show
the way we wanted to do it,” Levy said.

This is a
transformation for a network that has been around (and ignored) since
1981. Under different names (including Prevue Guide), it often had
primitive shows alongside TV listings.

Then the channel's
parent company bought TV Guide. Prevue became the TV Guide Channel in
1999 and TV Guide Network in 2007; it kept the name, even after it
was sold in 2009 to Lionsgate, the “Hunger Games” and “Mad Men”

In 2013, CBS joined
Lionsgate in running the channel. Now CBS' soaps rerun there -- “The
Bold and the Beautiful” at 6:30 p.m. and “The Young and the
Restless” at 7. A CBS summer show yields “Big Brother After
Dark,” a talk show that does well in the ratings hit.

There's more: CBS
owns “Entertainment Tonight.” Beginning with the Grammys, the
“ET” people will do red-carpet coverage for Pop. “They're the
first spot on the carpet,” Schwartz said.
The TV Guide Network
had dropped out of red-carpet coverage, ceding glitzy turf to cable's
E channel. Now it's back; it also added that daily show from the
“PopSugar” Web site. “We look at the world in the same way
'PopSugar' does,” Schwartz said. “They're fans of everything
going on in pop culture.”

Also on the way are:

-- “Queens of
Drama,” in April. It's a reality show, with former soap stars (from
Vanessa Marcil to Donna Mills) scheming to create a new primetime

-- “Sing It On,”
which follows six a cappella groups, as they prepare for a national

-- And more.
Upcoming shows, Schwartz said, will see celebrities linking with
inventors ... or describing their worst experiences ... or describing
the first time they had sex. “It will be done in a comedic way with
puppets or animation. (But) I don't think there will be re-enactments
of sex with puppets.” Even pop culture, it seems, has its limits.