ABC: The year of the big change?

This is the week when TV viewers see their world spin around: New fall line-ups are announced, old dreams are dashed.

My previous blog looks at the Fox line-up, announced Monday. Here's the story I sent to papers about the ABC line-up, announced this morning; I'll try to add more after watching the network's pitch to advertisers, late this afternoon.

CBS and CW make their moves Wednesday. Later, I'll get back to NBC's line-up, which sort of arrived under the radar. (The good news, "Chuck" and "Grimm" on Fridays; the bad, two-hour reality shows on Mondays AND Tuesdays.) Anyway, here's ABC:


A year after stumbling with a bland
line-up, ABC is making big, broad changes. Seven new shows will be in its fall line-up, with six more waiting.

As expected, the network is dumping
“Brothers & Sisters,” “Better With You,” “V,” “No
Ordinary Family” and more. As NOT expected, “Cougar Town” and
“Secret Millionaire” – both renewed for next season – aren't
on the fall line-up.

The new shows bring a few nostalgic
touches: “Charlie's Angels” is being remade, Tim Allen has a new
comedy, “Pan Am” revisits a 1960s era when the world envied
high-flying stewardesses.

Mostly, however, ABC will have unusual
approaches. “Once Upon a Time” is a drama in which a young mom
(Jennifer Morrison of “House”) discover an alternate world where
fairy-tale characters exist; Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”) is
Snow White.

ABC has done best with unusual shows,
during the 2004 season (“Desperate Housewives,” “Grey's
Anatomy,” “Lost”) and 2009 (“Modern Family,” “The
Middle”). Last year, however, it drew shrugs.

Now programmer Paul Lee has his first
time in charge and is taking drastic steps. He had considered
returning to the days when ABC had Friday situation comedies.
Instead, his line-up:

– Moves “Extreme Makeover: Home
Edition” – long a Sunday powerhouse – to lead the non-fiction
night on Fridays. It will be followed by “Shark Tank” and

– Makes Sunday the big night for
eccentric, scripted dramas. “Desperate Housewives” will be
sandwiched by “Once Upon a Time” and “Pam Am.”

– Keeps the four-comedy line-up on
Wednesdays, but gives one of the spots to a new show (“Suburgatory”)
and another to a successful try-out this spring (“Happy Endings”).
They're followed by “Revenge,” with a young woman (Emily Van
Camp) returning to a town that once wronged her.

– Tries two comedies on Tuesdays,
bashing against Fox's “Glee.” Surprisingly, both are
male-oriented – Allen's “Last Man Standing” and “Man Up” –
leading into the female appeal of the “Dancing With the Stars”
results show and Dana Delany's successful spring tryout, “Body of

– Makes yet another try at finding a
show to lead into “Grey's Anatomy.” This time, it's “Charlie's
Angels,” from the “Smallville” producers; it stars Minka Kelly
(Lyla on “Friday Night Lights”), Rachael Taylor (Lucy on “Grey's
Anatomy”) and relative newcomer Annie Ilonzeh.

The fall line-up, which ABC plans to
pitch to advertisers at 4 p.m. ET today (Tuesday):

– Mondays: “Dancing With the
Stars,” 8 p.m.; “Castle,” 10.

– Tuesdays: “Last Man Standing,”
8 p.m.; “Man Up,” 8:30; “Dancing With the Stars” results, 9;
“Body of Proof,” 10.

– Wednesdays: “The Middle,” 8
p.m.; “Suburgatory,” 8:30; “Modern Family,” 9; “Happy
Endings,” 9:30; “Revenge,” 10.

– Thursdays: “Charlie's Angels,”
8 p.m.; “Grey's Anatomy,” 9; “Private Practice,” 10.

– Fridays: “Extreme Makeover: Home
Edition,” 8 p.m.; “Shark Tank,” 9; “20/20,” 10.

– Saturdays: College football.

– Sundays: “America's Funniest Home
Videos,” 7 p.m.; “Once Upon a Time,” 8; “Desperate
Housewives,” 9; “Pan Am,” 10.


Fox this fall: Simon and Spielberg, but no "America's Most Wanted"

In previous blogs, I've cheered Fox for renewing "Fringe" and groaned when it canceled "Chicago Code" and "Human Target." Now the network has announced its fall schedule; here's the story I sent to papers this morning, after a group interview with network officials:


As it prepares to celebrate its 25th
anniversary, the Fox network is dumping one of its first hits:
“America's Most Wanted” is being canceled, except for some
quarterly, two-hour specials.

“It's been an important show to us
historically,” said programming chief Kevin Reilly, “but we
haven't made money on the show for a long time.”

Instead, Fox will join the
Saturday-rerun trend this fall, following “Cops” with alternating
9 p.m. repeats.“America's Most Wanted” is trying to find a new
home, Reilly said; Fox produces the show and has several cable
channels, plus MyNetwork.

Information on other changes had leaked
earlier: Fox canceled three borderline dramas – “Chicago Code,”
“Human Target” and “Lie to Me” – and kept “Fringe.” It
is counting on two mega-shows.

One is “The X Factor,” with Simon
Cowell producing and (alongside Paula Abdul and others) judging.
It's based on a Cowell show that's already a hit in England. “We
have the star of the genre at the pinnacle of his career,” said
Peter Rice, the Fox networks chairman.

The other is “Terra Nova,” a Steven
Spielberg production that has people in the future making a
desperate, time-travel attempt to rebuild society in the dinosaur
age. It's an expensive show – 250 special effects in the first hour
alone – that's expected to have only 13 episodes a season.

Talking to reporters Monday morning,
Reilly and Rice also said:

– All of the “American Idol”
people except Jennifer Lopez signed contracts that include next year.
“Jennifer has a single-year contract,” Rice said, and the show is
trying to get her to return.

– There still might be a “24”
movie – despite the fact that star Kiefer Sutherland is going
straight from a Broadway play to the pilot for a mid-season Fox show.

– Both Deschanel sisters will be on
Fox this fall. Zoey stars in a comedy, “The New Girl”; Emily
continues on “Bones,” but will take some time off for maternity
leave. As a result, “Bones” is expected to take a break next
spring, being replaced by “The Finder,” from the same producer.

– Cartoons remain strong, with five
of them on Sundays. Jonah Hill's “Allen Gregory” debuts this
fall; at mid-season, “Napoleon Dynamite” debuts and “Bob's
Burgers” returns.

– “America's Most Wanted” was
partly the victim of the new economy for TV. With little room for
reruns during most of the week, Fox – like CBS and NBC – is
turning to Saturdays.

Fox had only been around in prime time
for a year, when “America's Most Wanted” – started by the
Fox-owned stations – jumped to the network on April 10, 1988. It
made a quick impact, on a night (Saturdays) where other networks were
fading. Now it won't quite make it to the network's 25th-anniversary
special, planned for April 1.

The fall line-up:

– Mondays: “Terra Nova,” 8 p.m.;
“House,” 9.

– Tuesdays: “Glee,” 8 p.m.; “New
Girl,” 9; “Raising Hope,” 9:30.

– Wednesdays: “The X Factor,” 8
p.m.; “I Hate My Teenage Daughter,” 9:30.

– Thursdays: “The X Factor,” 8
p.m.; “Bones,” 9.

– Fridays: “Kitchen Nightmares,”
8 p.m.; “Fringe,” 9.

– Saturdays: “Cops,” 8 and 8:30;
reruns at 9, with “America's Most Wanted” quarterly sepcials.

– Sundays: Football post-game at 7,
“The Cleveland Show” at 7:30, “The Simpsons” at 8, “Allen
Gregory” (new show) at 8:30, “Family Guy” at 9 and “American
Dad” at 9:30.

Spring changes include:

– Mondays: “House” moves to 8
p.m., with “Alcatraz” at 9.

– Tuesdays: When “Glee” rests in
March, there will be a four-comedy block for six weeks.

– Wednesdays, Thursdays: “American
Idol” takes over for “X-Factor.” Also, “Bones” rests
sometime in the spring, with “The Finder” borrowing the slot.

– Sundays: An animated “Napoleon
Dynamite” takes over at 8:30, “Bob's Burgers” returns at 9:30.


James Durbin: A life in perpetual transformation

Maybe we can feel a little better about James Durbin being ousted from "American Idol."

No, he shouldn't be gone. He's the first to admit that.

But now let's admire how much he has changed -- and how much he still has ahead. Here's the story I sent to papers: 


The ongoing James Durbin
transformation has seen some huge steps lately.

The latest was a step backward: Durbin
was ousted from “American Idol” on Thursday, surprising many
people – including him. “I had two of my best performances of my
life Wednesday …. They were pin-point perfect,” he told reporters

Others were just as surprised. San
Jose, Cal., had to cancel its Durbin Day for Saturday – the day the
top three “Idol” people get to go home. It had expected 20,000 or
more people to show up; instead, Durbin finished fourth – the same
spot that has gone to such splendid singers as Chris Daughtry, Tamyra
Gray, LaToya London and Allison Iraheta.

“Your first instinct is, 'Gosh, I was
hoping to win it all,'” Durbin said.

By the next morning he was thinking of
the future – maybe a Daughtry-sized rock career – and past.

“I was 19 and living at my mother's
house,” Durbin recalled. “I had no job, no money, no car – not
even a driver's license.”

He was singing karaoke one night;
someone in the audience had known him when he was 4. “She dug the
song (and said), 'Do you remember me?' Needless to say, I didn't
remember her, but I wanted to. I called her and hung up, because I
was too nervous.”

That was Heidi, nine years his senior
and now his wife-to-be. “She's my guardian angel … an amazing,
amazing woman,” said Durbin, 22.

Life changed for them and their son,
Hunter, he said. “What's the reason I auditioned (for “Idol”)
in the first place? Because I couldn't afford diapers. I don't think
I'll have trouble affording diapers now.”

Day-to-day life has been a struggle for
Durbin, who has Tourette and Asperger's syndromes. Facial tics caused
others to make fun of him, he said; medication caused him to retreat

His strength was in music, something he
shared with his father (who died when Durbin was 9). At 16, he quit
the medication; at about the same time, he joined Kids on Broadway, a
San Jose theater group.

“One of the common things with
Aspberger's is social awkwardness,” Durbin said. All of that began
to change in theater; “I was able to hold a conversation.”

At first, he would disappear to a park
during rehearsals. He would get angry, even ripping up a script. By
the time the show opened – with Durbin starring in “Beauty and
the Beast” – he had changed.

More changes came, especially during
“Idol.” Durbin bonded with the other guys – Stefano Langone
fondly calls him “a big crybaby” and plans to be the best man at
his weddings – and he planned epics.

“Every one of my stage performances
was all me,” Durbin said. “I wrote it, I drew up story boards.”

It was Durbin's idea to have a marching
band, to use guitar whiz Zakk Wylde and more. That may be a sign of
the career he has ahead.

Durbin already has much of it in his
mind. His friend – “a total shredder, he's amazing” – will be
his lead guitarist. He's just heard a song he would like to be his
first single. He wants them to re-create the days of stadium rock,
linking a big voice and a wailing guitar.

“I've been given an opportunity to
run with it and bring a voice to a new generation,” he said. And
yes, that's a long way from being a penniless 19-year-old, living
with his mom.



OK, I was WAY wrong

This time, my "American Idol" prediction was way off.

I really did think James Durbin would win; unstead, he finished fourth. That's the Chris Daughtry spot, the spot for Michael Lynche, Allison Iraheta, LaToya London and Tamyra Gray; some strong talents have ended up there.

But why Durbin? Why would a guy who had it all -- extreme talent, fairly good looks and hard-luck story -- fall short?

In hindsight, I'd say that can happen to someone in a specialized niche. His turf might encompass 20-percent of the audience; that's enough when the votes are spread 13 ways or six ways, but it's not enough when you're down to four.

So maybe Durbin was being confined (unfairly) to the heavy-metal category. That was great in the early rounds, not enough now.

Still, let's credit him with continuing to open up what was once a narrow, pop competition. Bo Bice and Daughtry opened things up for rock, Carrie Underwood for country, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia for gospel-tinged soul. Now James Durbin has show that "American Idol" can be safe -- for a while, at least -- for a powerhouse, heavy-metal type of star.

A semi-inspired evening

Imagine that a great singer -- one with passion and power -- is given a wide-open request: Sing something that inspires you.

The result should be soul-shattering. On "American Idol," however, it is often merely kind of good. That was true tonight, just as it was four years ago, during the first inspiration night.

Back the, three of the top four singers -- Jordin Sparks, Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones -- had gospel routes. I expected vocal fireworks; instead, there were some strong songs -- "Imagine," "I Believe," "You'll Never Walk Alone" -- and some ordinary ones. That trend was repeated in the first half of tonight, which had a theme of "songs that inspire you."

James Durbin's performance on "Don't Stop Believing" was dynamic. Still, the sole "inspiration" was that it told him he could win the competition.

Haley Reinhart followed with the opposite -- a richly inspirational, save-the-world Michael Jackson song, but one she couldn't do much with vocally.

Scotty McCreery's song -- "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning" -- was perfectly chosen to get votes 10 days after Osama bin Laden was killed. Judges gushed, but in truth it offered very little for the singer.

That left only Lauren Alaina to nail it perfectly. "Anyway" has a strong message, rich emotion AND a chance to show off her voice. Who knew that this teen-ager with a pageant personality would be the best on inspiration night?

A few other notes:

1) It's OK to do something that was done by a great singer, but only if it's someone Randy Jackson doesn't know. He attacked Reinhart tonight for daring to do Michael -- just as he's attacked others for doing Whitney, Mariah, Celine or Stevie. Actually, Martina McBride is in that same league, but Jackson doesn't know her. So Alaina was safe with "Anyway" ... just as Carrie Underwood once was with "Independence Day."

2) The second round -- doing a Leiber-and-Stoller song -- reversed the fate for the women. Reinhart's "I Who Have Nothing" was stunning -- powerful and perfect. Alaina's "Trouble" was just silly; watching her grin about her supposed evilness was sort of like the great "Glee" moment when a choral group offered a peppy version of "Rehab."

3) Why did Alaina choose to do "Trouble," then claim she didn't want to sing about evil -- which is the core of the whole song?

4) Does Lady Gaga have a mirror? Does she employ people who will give her an honest assessment of her look? I'm just wondering.

5) Both of the guys chose some of the funnier songs from the Leiber-and-Stoller collection. McCreery's "Young Blood" was fairly good; Durbin turned "Love Potion No. 9" into a party.

6) I can't remember the last time someone got to sing the first AND the last song of the night. Durbin did and was terrific on both.

7) So the easiest part of my prediction is that Durbin will survive. Since there are only four people left, that doesn't leave much room for sparing anyone else. I'll say Reinhart and McCreery end up in the bottom two; Reinhart goes home ... making her "I Who Have Nothing" the greatest performance anyone has ever given on the night before being eliminated.