Somewhere between comedy and drama, other TV worlds exist

Here's the third piece of the TV season preview, ranking some hybrid shows. The previous blogs list the comedies and the serious dramas:



There really is an in-between world that TV keeps trying to

On one end are the heavy-duty, cable-style dramas; on the other
are c­­omedies. Somewhere between are dramas that add youthful bursts of humor,
romance or boom-bang action.

Now the CW network – which is rarely best at anything –
seems to have found that spot. Here are some of this fall’s hybrids, rated on a
0-10 scale:

“Jane the Virgin” (7)

For the first time since “Ugly Betty,” someone has found a
charming, witty way to adapt a Latino telenovela. The story is broad – a doctor
accidentally inseminates a virgin. Still, “Jane” makes it almost believable,
while adding extra touches. Gina Rodriguez – unknown outside Sundance Film
Festival circles – is wonderful; other characters, especially her mother and
grandmother, add humor and emotion.

(9 p.m. Mondays, CW; starts Oct. 13)

 “The Flash” (6)

After a childhood of trying to outrun the bullies, Barry
Allen is struck by lightning; he’s soon the world’s fastest human. Some scenes
– including a motivational speech by The Arrow – get in the way; also, super-speed
tends take the fun out of chases. Still, there are spectacular effects and
strong emotions, some of it centered on Barry’s dad, played by John Wesley Shipp,
who was the TV “Flash” in 1990.

(8 p.m. Tuesdays, CW; Oct. 7)

“The Red Band Society” (5)

Hollywood has a fresh interest in youth and mortality, via
movies (“The Fault in Our Stars,” “If I Stay”) and TV (“Chasing Life”). Now
comes a sort of medical “Breakfast Club”; in a hospital ward, mismatched teens
have nothing in common except illness. They argue, laugh, party, cope, aided by
a sharp-tongued nurse (Octavia Spencer) and a kindly doctor (Dave Annable). The
result is erratic, but interesting.

(9 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox; Sept. 17)

“The Mysteries of Laura” (5)

In the TV tradition, Laura (Debra Messing) is a smart cop
with a crumbling personal life. Her sons are nasty, and not in a TV-funny way; her
estranged husband is oblivious. It would be easy to dismiss the show, but “Laura”
has a charming star and a talented producer-director. As he did with “Chuck” and
“Human Target,” McG gives the show a jaunty feel.

(8 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC, starting Sept. 24; but debuts at 10
p.m. Sept. 17)

 “Scorpion” (4)

CBS is already Genius Central, thanks to “Big Bang Theory
and “Elementary.” Now it has high-IQ sorts who are hired by a Homeland Security
to occasionally save the country. In the “Big Bang” tradition, there’s also a
beautiful waitress (Katharine McPhee) to explain life to them. Created by the
people who did “Fringe” and “Sleepy Hollow,” it’s a good concept that strains
believability during its first hour.

(9 p.m. Mondays, CBS, Sept. 22)

ALSO: Alongside the 23 new scripted series, the commercial
broadcast networks have exactly one new reality show. “Utopia” dumps 15
eccentric strangers in the wilderness and gives them a year to build a
civilization. Fox debuts the sow from 8-10 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7; then, for a
while, gives it one-hour spots at 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays.

New-season dramas: Cable-envy occasionally pays off

My previous blog looked at this fall's new broadcast-network comedies. Now let's scoot in the opposite direction; here's a list, rating the serious dramas:


In their dream world, broadcast networks deliver what cable
does best – richly crafted drama series that look like movies and think like

And in real life? Occasionally this fall, they’ll pull it
off. “Gotham” looks as good as any movie; “Gracepoint” is even better than the
cable series it adapts.

At other times? Well, two dramas about Washington, D.C.,
women feel like “Homeland Lite.” Here are the most serious new dramas, rating
their pilots on a 0-10 scale; we’ll list the lighter hybrids separately:  

“Gracepoint” (9)

A compelling British miniseries called “Broadchurch” has
already aired on BBC America. Is it logical to remake it in an American
setting, with the same star (David Tennant) and a new ending? Yes, actually. As
good as the original was, this is even better. It gives a brighter look to a seaside
town where something awful has happened. Then it adds the pain and the human
quirks that pull us in.

(9 p.m. Thursdays, Fox; starts Oct. 2)

“Gotham” (7)

Sure, the opener is all style and no substance. Still, that
style is stunning. We’re in Gotham City, when Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed.
He won’t be Batman for a long time; for now, Detective James Gordon (Ben
Mackenzie) seems like the only honest man in town. The opening story is
monotone, but the look, feel and actors (especially Jada Pinkett Smith) are

(8 p.m. Mondays, Fox; Sept. 22)

“Forever” (7)

The trouble with eternal life is that it’s often accompanied
by vampirism. But Henry (Ioan Gruffudd) simply and inexplicably keeps returning
to life. He’s a medical examiner, Jo (Alana De La Garza) is a cop; he brings
time-tested wisdom to help her solve crimes, but only his friend (Judd Hirsch)
knows his secret. The result mixes rich visuals and smart storytelling.

(10 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC; Sept. 23)

“How to Get Away With Murder” (6)

Clever and confident, Annalise (Viola Davis) teaches a
law-schoo class on her specialty – helping a defendant who may or may not be guilty.
Each year, a few students work with her directly; this time, they’ll end up in
ethical and legal tangles. The bad news is that “Murder” plans to stretch one
case over a season. The rest is good: This has the same sharp writing, casting
and filming that producer Shonda Rhimes delivers in “Grey’s Anatomy” and

(10 p.m. Thursdays, ABC; Sept. 25)

“NCIS: New Orleans” (6)

Forget the sleek, high-tech stuff in the main “NCIS” office.
This bureau is in an old building surrounded by the music and people of New
Orleans. Two NCIS people (Scott Bakula, Lucas Black) are Southerners who love
their roots; the third (Zoe McCellan) is a no-nonsense Northern who will need
time. If the pilot (which aired as two “NCIS” episodes) is a good example, this
will be solid and sometimes fun.

(9 p.m. Tuesdays, CBS; Sept. 23)

“Constantine” (5)

An expert on the black arts, Constantine really doesn’t like
his work. He’s already been condemned to Hell; he gives up … until an emergency
lures him. Sometimes fierce and gory, the pilot has its best moments when he’s
with a bewildered young Liv. Oddly, producers decided they’ll soon dump her.
Zed (Angelica Celaya), from the “Constantine” comics, will indirectly take her

(10 p.m. Fridays, NBC; Oct. 24)

“Madam Secretary” (4)

Once a top CIA analyst, Elizabeth (Tea Leoni) is happy
teaching and raising horses. Then comes a tragedy, with the president begging
her to be secretary of state. His chief of staff (Zeljko Ivanek) is less
enthusiastic. Give this show credit for dropping the good-at-work/bad-at-home
cliché; “Madam” gives her a smart, caring husband (Tim Daly). Still, Leoni is
so-so and the opener rarely stirs viewers.

(8 p.m. Sundays, CBS, Sept. 21)

“Stalker” (4)

Stalking – usually of regular people, not celebrities – is a
high-volume issue for a Los Angeles police unit, we’re told. “Stalker” focuses
on its no-nonsense boss (Maggie Q) and an enigmatic but brilliant transplant (Dylan
McDermott). Created by Kevin  Williamson
(“Dawson’s Creek,” “Vampire Diaries”), this makes flailing tries at humor; it’s
better at showing how troubled these cops are in their own lives.

(10 p.m. Wednesdays, CBS; Oct. 1)

“State of Affairs” (2)

A top CIA analyst (Katherine Heigl) prepares a daily
briefing for the president (Alfre Woodard) … and manages to dabble in foreign
policy. (It helps that she and the president have a personal connection.)
“State” wants you to believe that someone sought by police can take a cab to
the White House and casually enter the Oval Office. Harder to believe is that
this is on the former “West Wing” network.

(10 p.m. Mondays, NBC; Nov. 17)

TV really does remember (sometimes) how to make clever comedies

Over the next few blogs, I'll be previewing the new TV season. We'll start gently, with the comedies:



Yes, TV still knows how to craft a clever situation-comedy.

This fall, three networks each have one new gem.  CBS sticks to its specialty – sharp dialog,
taped before a studio audience. ABC and NBC have romantic comedies filmed in a
rich, movie style.

Oddly, most networks (CBS excluded) also manage to make
awful comedies. Here are this year’s nine new sitcoms, rated on a 0-10 scale:

“Selfie” (9)

Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) has 263,000 friends in social
media and zero in real life; human interaction perplexes her. Now she wants to
be coached by Henry (John Cho), a calculating public-relations guy. Yes, this
is the “Pygmalion”/”My Fair Lady” theme for a new era. It’s brilliantly written
by Emily Kapnek (“Suburgatory”) and perfectly cast. Gillan (“Doctor Who”) shows
Lucy-esque comedy skill.

(8 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC; debuts Sept. 30)

 “The McCarthys” (8).

Brian Gallivan grew up in a vibrant Irish family, surrounded
by people who loved him and all Boston sports teams. The latter instinct escaped
him; now he’s written a fast, clever comedy with Tyler Ritter (John’s son) as
the family anomaly and Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”) as his mom.

(9:30 p.m. Thursdays, CBS; debuts Oct. 30, after CBS ends
its Thursday-football stretch)

“A to Z” (8)

Andrew and Zelda are opposites. He’s a romantic who works at
a dating service; she’s a lawyer who’s given up on romance. Are they destined
to be together? Have they met before? They aren’t sure, but it’s a fun ride.
After playing Mother on “How I Met Your Mother,” Cristin Milioti gets a fresh
shot at destiny.

(9:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC; Oct. 2)

“Black-ish” (5). Dre and Rainbow (Anthony Anderson and
Tracee Ellis Ross) have grabbed the American dream. He’s an advertising
vice-president, she’s an anesthesiologist, their four kids are comfy. Still, he
frets that those kids have no feel for black culture … especially after his son
wants a bar mitzvah. The result tends to get one-note, but has its fun moments.

(9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC; Sept. 24)

“Manhattan Love Story” (5)

New to New York, Dana is optimistic about work and life.
Peter grew up here; he’s mostly optimistic about one-night stands. These
opposites are sort of interesting to watch; there’s more fun in his mismatched
family and her chaotic workplace.

 (8:30 p.m. Tuesdays,
ABC; Sept. 30)

“Bad Judge” (4)

Maybe this is what we fantasize when we watch “Judge Judy”
and such: Kate Walsh plays an acid-tongued judge who drums in a friend’s band
and views life as a party. We also see a warm side with a troubled kid, but
that may not be enough to keep us watching.

(9 p.m. Thursdays, NBC; Oct. 2)

“Marry Me” (3)

On “Saturday Night Live” and beyond, Casey Wilson has been a
likable comedy actress. Here, she confuses shouting with humor. Her longtime
boyfriend (Ken Marino) hasn’t proposed yet; she screams so stridently that she
doesn’t hear him when he does. This was created by David Caspe, who recently
married Wilson (yes, after waiting years). There’s potential, but it’s not
there yet.

(9 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC; Oct, 14)

“Mulaney” (2)

A former “Saturday Night Live” writer, John Mulaney is young
and lean and likable. As this show starts – brief stand-up comedy, then his
story of three friends, one of them (Nasim Pedrad) female – we’re tempted to
think of “Seinfeld.” Alas, that thought vanishes with the show’s scatter-shot,
erratic humor.

(9:30 p.m. Sundays, Fox; Oct. 5)

“Cristela” (1)

The real-life story of Cristela Alonzo is a gem. Raised by a
single mom who held two full-time jobs, she spent her first eight years in an
abandoned diner and soared as a comedian. Somehow, this sitcom version fails.
The writing is flat and blunt; so are the performances, including Alonzo in the
title role.

(8:30 p.m. Fridays, ABC; Oct. 10)

Seth Meyers is retro? Maybe at Emmys monolog time

The Emmys are coming Monday and I'm semi-excited. TV's two best shows are always there --  "The Big Bang Theory" never quite winning for best comedy, "The Daily Show" almost always winning for bet variety show. This year's most brilliant dramas were "Fargo" (which will probably win for best miniseries) and "True Detective" (which will probably lose to "Breaking Bad" for drama series). The movie category will be dominated by HBO's "The Normal Heart" this year, in the same way it was ruled by "Behind the Candelabra" last year.

Still, what I'm looking forward to the most is Seth Meyers' opening monolog. Here's the story I sent to papers:


With his sharp, timely wit, Seth Meyers rarely gets
described as “retro.” Until now.

When he hosts the Emmy Awards on Monday, Meyers, 40, may reflect
TV’s old days. That’s when viewers showed up early, to see what
Billy-Johnny-Bob-Whoever would say in the opening monolog.

Lately, the best hosts (led by Neil Patrick Harris) have had
short monologs and long filmed pieces, but that’s not Meyers’ style. “I have to
tell jokes,” he said. “And the monolog is the best place to tell jokes.”

As the awards unfold, a cloud of disappointment starts to cover
the room. The auditorium “fills up with losers,” joked Mike Shoemaker, producer
of Meyers’ late-night show.

By then, said Emmys producer Don Mischer, “jokes that may
have worked” earlier start to fail.

And writing those jokes is Meyers’ forte. Just ask
Shoemaker, who was a “Saturday Night Live” producer for 19 years, then led the
starts of both the Jimmy Fallon and Meyers late-night shows.

“Seth is probably the best writer that I’ve seen in all of
those years,” he said. When plans for the late-night show started, “I kind of
promised him that … he could write as much as he wanted.”

Yes, Meyers used to try acting. After growing up in New
Hampshire (where his mother was a teacher and his father was in finance), he
went to Northwestern and joined Chicago’s comedy scene; he was hired for the “SNL”
cast in 2001, but that wasn’t what stuck. “I identify as a writer, most of all,”
he said.

In 2006, he joined Tina Fey and Andrew Steele as the show’s
head writers and joined Fey on the “Weekend Update” desk. She soon left, but
their link has continued; Meyers wrote her Sarah Palin sketches and was one of
the writers when she and Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globes. For the Emmys,
they’ll help write and Poehler will be a presenter.

Meyers hosted award shows (two years of Webbys, two of Espys),
often mentioning whoever was in the audience. “Jon Hamm looks the way every
Republican thinks they look,” he said at the 2011 White House correspondents
event. “Zach Galifianakis looks the way Republicans think every Democrat looks.”

He usually followed a rule he said he learned from “SNL”
producer Lorne Michaels: “Try not to tell a joke about somebody that you then
would want to leave the cocktail party if they showed up.”.

Still, don’t expect him to share many cocktails with Donald
Trump, who drew a cascade of barbs at that 2011 event, including: “Gary Busey
said recently that Donald Trump would make a great president. Of course, he
said the same thing about an old, rusty bird cage that he found. Donald Trump
owns the Miss USA pageant, which is great for Republicans, since it will
streamline their search for a vice president.”

Meyers is like that sometimes. The early Emmy moments could
be worth catching.

Emmy awards, 8-11 p.m. ET, NBC; 5 p.m. PT,
repeating at 8.

Red-carpet at 6 p.m. ET on E, with preview at 4:30.

“Late Night with Seth Meyers,” 12:35 a.m.
weeknights, NBC.

Is real life like a 1980s soap opera? Sometimes, this true-crime series says

Back in the 1980s, primetime TV was filled with pretty people cheating on each other. Now a cable series puts some of the '80s actors into true stories of sex and betrayal. "Heartbreakers" (10 p.m. Wednesdays on Investigation Discovery) gets confusing because of late switches in episodes; still, it's fun in its own, odd way. Here's the story I sent to papers:


For cable-TV, the 1980s are like some of the sillier toys on
a basement shelf. Every now and then, it’s nice to pull them out and play with
them again.

That’s sort of what the “Heartbreakers” series does. “You
have Carol Seaver involved in a tawdry love triangle,” producer Pamela Deutsch
said. “You have Peter Brady doing some really naughty things.”

Well, sort of. One episode has Tracey Gold (Carol in “Growing
Pains”) as a school secretary who had affairs with the principal (Christopher
Knight, who was Peter in “The Brady Bunch”) and the gym coach (Antonio Sabato).
It’s a true story that shattered two marriages and left one person dead.

Other stories also have stars -- Jack Wagner, Rob Estes,
Jamie Luner, Nicole Eggert – from TV’s past. Many, Deutsch said, are from “sort
of the golden age of the primetime soap.”

It was an era of gorgeous people cheating on one another.
That fits the three-week “Heartbreakers,” which Henry Schleiff, Investigation
Discovery’s president, calls “completely over-the-top entertainment.”

The key was to find true stories that feel as odd as an ‘80s
soap. In one, a charismatic pastor had a decade-long affair with the wife of
his finance chairman. In another, a new husband tried to convince his wife that
they weren’t really broke; it was just a ploy, he said, because he worked for
the CIA.

There are re-enactments, plus news footage of the real
people and memories from their friends, relatives, reporters and more. “To see
footage of the real people, it’s really touching,” Eggert said.

That also kept things from getting too silly, Gold said. “It
is real life (with) real people and you don’t want to approach it as a joke.”

Still, the humor comes through because romance is clumsy. Eggert
attests to that from her own life: “Relationships are hard …. I’ve never been
married and I have two kids.”

(Some sources list a brief marriage, but Eggert said it didn’t
happen – further proof that life is strange.)

Now these actors can tackle perverse characters. “It was a
wonderful opportunity to play off-type,” Knight said. “(Or) maybe this is my
type now.”

He’s had scattered roles over the years, but realizes that
Peter Brady dominates. “I’ve reached a peace with it …. He’s always in the room
before I get there.”

Sorbo said he’s happy to have 12 years of “Hercules” and “Andromeda”
overemployment, plus “all these movies over this last decade.” And now he plays
the private-eye who tells Eggert that her husband isn’t really in the CIA; he’s
just another scheming heartbreaker.

“Heartbreakers,” 10 p.m. Wednesdays on
Investigation Discovery, rerunning at 1 a.m. and then at 7 p.m. Saturdays.

The show has been hampered by late switching of
episodes. Current plans have Jack Wagner, Jamie Luner and Rob Estes this week;
Aug. 27 has Nicole Eggert, Judd Nelson and Kevin Sorbo.

All three episodes are scheduled to rerun from
1-4 p.m. Aug. 31; the third is the series opener (Tracey Gold, Christopher Knight,
Antonio Sabato), currently set for 2 p.m.