CBS: A little bit hip, sometimes

CBS really tries to be hip, you know. For next fall, it has a drama from a producer and co-star of "Lost"; it has the first medical show in which a surgeon confers with his late ex-wife. And its two new comedies will both be about mis-matched friends in the city.

Still, don't expect any head-long plunge into "Lost" madness. This is still CBS, which knows its audience and stays steady, at the top of the ratings. This morning, it announced its fall schedule; here's the story I sent to papers:


Two of CBS' top dramas will jump to new
nights this fall. It will be “CSI” at 10 p.m. Wednesdays, “The
Good Wife” at 9 p.m. Sundays.

That's part of a schedule that dumps
some borderline shows – “The Defenders,” “Mad Love,”
“(Bleep) My Dad Says” – but keeps others. “CSI: NY” stays
on Fridays, “Rules of Engagement” goes to Saturdays and
“Undercover Boss” waits for mid-season.

“We need another night,” quipped
Nina Tassler, the CBS programming chief. “We need a Schursday.”

Unlike others – ABC and NBC canceled
all of the shows they debuted last fall – CBS renewed three of its
five fall shows, “Hawaii Five-0,” “Blue Bloods” and “Mike &
Molly.” That made it hard to find places for new ones; older shows
were moved to make room.

“CSI” should be comfy on
Wednesdays, but on Sundays “The Good Wife” will face “Desperate
Housewives” and (barring a strike) football. “This is a quality
night,” said Kelly Kahl, CBS' scheduling chief, citing “60
Minutes” and “Amazing Race” awards. “This is where you put
your quality shows.”

Just as risky is the notion of plugging
Thursdays with the offbeat “Person of Interest.” Michael Emerson
(“Lost”) plays a man whose computer can identify people who will
commit or be victim to crimes; Jim Caviezel plays the agent who must
stop them.

That's being produced by J.J. Abrams,
whose previous shows – “Lost,” “Fringe,” “Alias” –
wouldn't fit CBS' line-up. This one will, Kahl insisted; “there's
no complex mythology.”

Tassler agreed. “It's got a little
bit of genre to it – just enough for our viewers.”

The same could be true of “A Gifted
Man” on Fridays, A surgeon (Patrick Wilson) adds human skills while
imagining talks with his late ex-wife. Tassler called it “a little
'Ghost Whisperer,' a little 'House.'”

The third new drama, “Unforgettable,”
gets the “Good Wife” spot on Tuesdays. Poppy Montgomery plays a
police detective who can remember most details of her life; that's a
syndrome, Tassler said, experienced by some real people – including
actress Marilu Henner, a consultant for the show.

Those are part of a rare year for CBS.
It only filmed seven drama pilots, Tassler said; three are on the
fall schedule, a fourth (from Robert De Niro's company) will be
mid-season and a fifth (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar) will be on
the CW network.

For comedies, the key is “Two and a
Half Men.” Tassler wouldn't say how the show will deal with the
departure of Charlie Sheen and the arrival of Ashton Kutcher.

Her two new comedies are about
mismatched friends in the city. “How to be a Gentleman” has an
etiquette columnist and a personal trainer; “2 Broke Girls” has
waitresses, one a former trust-funder.

They inherit spots (8:30 p.m. Thursdays
and Mondays) where “Rules of Engagement” prospered. To make room,
“Rules” goes to Saturdays – the first non-rerun, scripted fall
show there in years.

“Are we expecting sky-high ratings?”
Kahl asked. “No, this is Saturday night. But we have to try.”

The fall line-up:

– Mondays: “How I Met Your Mother,”
8 p.m.; “2 Broke Girls,” 8:30; “Two and a Half Men,” 9; “Mike
& Molly, 9:30; “Hawaii Five-0,” 10.

– Tuesdays: “NCIS,” 8 p.m.;
“NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9; “Unforgettable,” 10.

– Wednesdays: “Survivor,” 8 p.m.;
“Criminal Minds,” 9; “CSI,” 10.

– Thursdays: “Big Bang Theory,” 8
p.m.; “How to be a Gentleman,” 8:30; “Person of Interest,” 9;
“The Mentalist,” 10.

– Fridays: “A Gifted Man,” 8
p.m.; “CSI: NY,” 9; “Blue Bloods,” 10.

– Saturdays: “Rules of Engagement,”
8 p.m.; Comedy reruns, 8:30; Drama reruns, 9; “48 Hours Mystery,”

– Sundays: “60 Minutes,” 7 p.m.;
“Amazing Race,” 8; “The Good Wife,” 9; “CSI: Miami,” 10.



ABC: Praise, then cancel, then praise anew

Sometimes you can't help being a tad skeptical, even when TV networks are showing their best stuff.

This afternoon, ABC was showing bits of its new shows to advertisers and station executives. Much of it looked fast and flashy, and still ...

The brief clip for "Pan Am" included this statement: "People have underestimated me all my life. And they've been wrong."

(Hint: "Underestimated" already establishes that they've been wrong. If they'd been right, it would have been "correctly estimated.")

Early on, an ABC executive talked about the creative energy of Walt Disney's company. Then we saw a schemer being congratulated for seducing a guy while plopping onto a cake. That was fine, she replied, but "I got a lot of frosting in my crack." I suspect Walt would have found the line to be inelegant.

Not to quibble, though. I found ABC's ambition impressive and I've always been big on Paul Lee, the network's programming chief. Here's the story I sent to papers:


Mid-way through ABC's push for its new
fall shows, Jimmy Kimmel put it in perspective.

“Remember the shows we were so
excited about last fall?” he asked advertisers and station
executives this afternoon. “We canceled all of them.”

That's the truth, you know. ABC started
last fall with five new shows – “No Ordinary Family,” “Detroit
187,” “Better Together,” “The Whole Truth” and “My
Generation.” It canceled all of them – plus two other new shows
(“Off the Map” and “Mr. Sunshine”) that had been waiting
their turns.

Now advertisers are ready to try new
ones. “I think you have a gambling problem,” Kimmel said.

Would anyone expect big things from ABC
this time? Possibly, for various reasons.

For one thing, there's a new
programming chief. Paul Lee had previously done wonders at ABC
Family, a stronghold for young women. Indeed, Tim Allen described his
own new comedy (“Last Man Standing”) as “about a man in a
woman's world. It was initially called 'The Paul Lee Story.'”

Lee took over at ABC last summer, when
this season's shows were already set. They floundered, but three
mid-season ones are being brought back – “Body of Proof,”
“Secret Millionaire” and “Happy Endings.” Indeed, “Body”
and “Secret” became ratings hits.

Now Lee has his own shows, which he
characterizes as “big swings …. In hard times, entertainment has
always turned to heroes (and) fairy tales.”

So he'll precede “Grey's Anatomy”
with a reworked show that's directly from ABC's past, “Charlie's
Angels.” He'll follow “Desperate Housewives” with a show that
feels like vintage ABC – “Pan Am,” set amid stewardesses of the
early 1960s. And he'll precede “Desperate” on Sundays with “Once
Upon a Time” – set in a Maine town literally filled with
fairy-tale characters, good and evil.

If that one seems odd, there are bigger
gambles coming for mid-season. “The River” is a “Lost”-style
plunge down the Amazon … “Good Christian Belles” is a
soap-style tale in Texas … Lee describes “Work It” – two guys
pretending to be women to get jobs – as “gloriously silly.”

It's a comedy, as are three shows
debuting in the fall. “Suburgatory” satirizes life in the suburbs
where, a bitter teen says, “teeth are whiter, clothes are tighter,
teachers are fools and boys are tools.” The others – “Last Man
Standing” and “Man Up” – are male-oriented comedies that,
oddly, lead into the female-oriented “Dancing With the Stars”
results show.

Then again, ABC could do well simply
because others are floundering. NBC has asked for patience; Kimmel
suggested advertisers patiently hold onto their money. Fox, he said,
is pinning its hopes on “The X Factor,” an “Idol”-like show;
“I think this is the best idea of 2002.”

And CBS, with all its crime shows, has
an older audience. Other networks, Kimmel said, “are losing viewers
to the Internet and CBS is losing them to natural causes.”

The ABC fall line-up – with “Cougar
Town,” “Secret Millionaire” and six new shows waiting for
mid-season slots – has:

– 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.


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.