Sci-fi shows? They're everywhere now


Here's the story that wraps up my preview of the new season for broadcast networks. Officially, the season starts Sept. 21. Scroll backward here and you'll find the five stories I sent to papers -- an overview and sidebar lists of comedies, semi-comedies, dramas and this one, on fantasy or sci-fi:

By Mike Hughes

Science fiction and
fantasty shows used to know their place.

That was outside the
mainstream, outside the main networks. It was on CW or Syfy (of
course) or the edges of the cable universe.

And now? CBS –
which sometimes confines sci-fi to summers – has two new shows this
fall; NBC and Fox have one apiece. Typical of the upswing is
cable-giant HBO, which suddenly finds itself defined by “Game of
Thrones,” “The Leftovers,” “True Blood” (departed) and
“Westworld” (next year).

“I'm not a fantasy
guy to begin with,” HBO's Michael Lombardo said. “It's not my
natural inclination .... We probably have inadvertently programmed
more other-world series than we intended to. We respond to ... a
fresh, original idea from a really talented creator.”

Those creators grew
up in a Spielberg/Lucas world, so sci-fi keeps growing. Here are the
four new shows on broadcast networks this fall, rated on a 0-10
scale:

THE BEST

-- “Supergirl”
(7), 8 p.m. Mondays, CBS, but the Oct. 26 debut is at 8:30. The first
half of the pilot is a delight, as a bright and eager young assistant
(the superb Melissa Benoist) reluctantly uses her powers. The second
half gets kind of steel-hearted and militaristic, but we'll keep
rooting for her.

THE REST

-- “Limitless”
(5), 10 p.m. Tuesdays, CBS, Sept. 22. A drifting no-account swallows
a pill that gives him immense (and temporary) powers; then people run
around a lot. Bradley Cooper starred in the movie version; he
produces this one and shows up near the end of the pilot, offering
the starpower that the lead actor (Jake McDorman) lacks.

-- “Minority
Report” (3), 9 p.m. Mondays, Fox, Sept. 21. The Steven Spielberg
movie dazzled with its vision of a high-tech, ad-driven world ... and
with its imposing notion of arresting “pre-criminals.” Now this
sequel finds the program disbanded and a hapless young man cursed by
visions of future crimes. The visuals are still impressive, but the
story seems cold and distant.

TOO SOON TO TELL

-- “Heroes
Reborn,” 8 p.m., Thursdays, NBC, Sept. 24. The original series was
a delight, but imploded while trying to do 22 episodes a year. Now
the same creator is back; NBC promises fewer episodes (running on
consecutive weeks), with some old characters (Hiro, Matt, Horn Rimmed
Glasses) and a lot of new ones.

 

Yes, TV still does drama ... occasionally, quite well


The prime mission of network TV -- killing people and catching the killers -- still seems intact. Here's my look at this year's new dramas. The previous stories took an overview of the season and outlined the comedies and semi-comedies; coming next is sci-fi and fantasy,

By Mike Hughes

As TV keeps
changing, some things stay the same: Bad people kill or harm ... good
people capture or heal ... and both types scheme.

That's the core of
many of the new dramas on broadcast networks this season. At times,
sleek settings – modern Miami and Las Vegas, 1980s Los Angeles –
try to salvage so-so stories.

Here's a look at
many of the new, broadcast-network shows, rated on a 0-10 scale. A
separate list will eye the growing fantasy and non-fiction field:

THE BEST

-- “Blindspot”
(8), 10 p.m. Mondays, NBC, starting Sept. 21. A big duffel bag has
been dumped in Times Square; this has the police's attention.
Emerging from it is a naked woman; this has our attention. She has no
idea who she is, but has soldier skills and informative tattoos.
“Blindspot” may seem copycat, but it has a terrific star (Jaimie
Alexander), taut action and the old “Blacklist” timeslot.

-- “Code Black”
(8), 10 p.m. Wednesdays, CBS; Sept. 30. Think of “ER” on its
toughest, messiest day ... and then make that the usual. With a
gritty style, this is set in a Los Angeles emergency room. It
overdoes rogue-vs.-procedure cliches, but Marcia Gay Harden and
others make it work.

NOT BAD, REALLY

-- “Blood &
Oil” (6), 9 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Sept. 27. For a while, North Dakota
seemed like the new gold rush, the wilder West. It was a setting for
dreams, schemes and brawls; in short, it was ripe for a primetime
soap opera. So now we have a young couple confronting tragedy, luck,
and a magnate (Don Johnson). It's all overblown and the young husband
(Chace Crawford) is hard to luck. But his wife (Rebecca Rittenhouse)
brings humanity to a show that has lots of macho spectacle.

BAD (SO FAR), REALLY

-- “Rosewood”
(4), 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fox. A free-lance medical examiner zooms
around Miami in his yellow convertible, volunteering to solve crimes.
Miami looks beautiful; so does the guy (Morris Chestnut) and the car.
Still, this keeps descending into cliche arguments between the
maverick hero and the cop (Jaina Lee Ortiz) who doesn't want to be
helped.

-- “Quantico”
(3), 10 p.m. Sundays, ABC. Actually, this could turn into a winner.
It has a superb star (Priyanka Chopra) and epic stories involving FBI
recruits. First, though, we must forgive the fact that it copies
how-they-met from “Grey's Anatomy” ... then has several twists
that are beyond absurd.

-- “The Player”
(2), 10 p.m. Thursdays, NBC. TV can't resist piling on new layers,
turning an OK show into an awful one. Our hero (Philip Winchester)
races around Vegas, saving lives. Then Wesley Snipes says thisis all
so rich people bet on the outcome. Viewers have no reason to care or
to watch.

TOO SOON TO TELL

-- “Chicago Med,”
9 p.m., Tuesdays, NBC (Nov. 17). An explosive (literally) episode of
“Chicago Fire” introduced this hospital, with links to the fire
companuy. One fireman's brother is a doctor; another's ex-lover is a
nurse. Then the bomb went off; now this series is set in the rebuilt
hospital. Expect a macho feel, with some added depth from a
psychiatrist (Oliver Platt).

-- “Wicked City,”
10 p.m., Tuesdays, ABC (Oct. 27). Anyone nostalgic for early-'80s Los
Angeles, with Sunset Strip sin and Hillside strangler murders? A
sampling of this series shows a vile killer (Ed Westwick). Over 10
episodes, we'll see if the cops (including Jeremy Sisto) can catch
him.

 

Sure, these are comedies ... well, sort of


The previous blog took a look at the new broadcast-network comedies. Now let's view four shows somewhere on the fringe; some have comedy, music, murder, more:

By Mike Hughes

TV's old categories
keep crumbling. Dramas add comedy, comedies add drama, networks
wobble.

The CW network even
eliminated its comedy department ... but injected a little humor in
“iZombie” and a lot in “Jane the Virgin.” Then it saw “Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend,” already rejected by Showtime.

“We kept thinking
this was the right fit for 'Jane,'” said programming chief Mark
Pedowitz. “It creates a very fun comedy night, with two strong
female lead characters.”

So a half-hour
comedy became a one-hour semi-comedy, part of TV's new world. Here
are the new, broadcast-network shows that elude convenient
categories:

VERY PROMISING

-- “Crazy Ex
Girlfriend,” 8 p.m. Mondays, CW, starting Oct. 19. Rebecca is a
rising New York lawyer, thriving at work and failing at life. Then
she spots her long-ago boyfriend and moves cross-country to be near
him. Rebecca Bloom – who used to be confined to the Internet –
stars, co-writes and even does a big, dream-sequence music number.
That's in a fun pilot that will be expanded for the series.

-- “The Muppets,”
8 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC, Sept. 22. Like the old “Muppet Show,” this
has music (Imagine Dragons in the opener), comedy and a
show-within-a-show. “Up Late With Miss Piggy” is produced by her
ex-lover Kermit. Also, Fozzie's girlfriend's parents are biased
against dating a bear.

SO-SO START

-- “Scream
Queens,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox, but the Sept. 22 opener is 8-10 p.m.
The concept, at least, is brilliant: Fill a sorority with talented
young actresses (Lea Michele, Keke Palmer, Abigail Breslin, Emma
Roberts, many more), add pop stars (Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas) for
maybe-brief stays, put the original scream-queen (Jamie Lee Curtis)
in charge ... and let the bodies fall. Alas, the opener plays the
sorority parts so broadly that it's sometimes lame and repetitious.
On a 0-10 scale, we'd give it a 4.

NO WAY TO TELL

-- “Best Time
Ever,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC, on Sept. 15 and 22, then 8 p.m. for
six more Tuesdays. In England, we're told, this is a big hit. It's
done live, with wild stunts, hidden-camera tricks (done in advance)
and whatever. In the U.S., it could turn out like “Knock Knock
Live” (dumped after two episodes) or “Osbournes Reloaded”
(dumped after one). Or it could succeed, simply because it has
energy, imagination and – most importantly -- Neil Patrick Harris.

 

TV comedies: Dwindling, but (sometimes) funny


OK,now the TV-season preview continues. The previous story offered an overview; now here's a breakdown on the new, broadcast-network comedies:

By Mike Hughes

Situation comedies –
always 30-minutes, sometimes clever – used to be the core of TV.

NBC had as many as
16 at a time; ABC had 18. Back in 1987 (when Cosby was king),
sitcoms provided the top seven shows in the Nielsen ratings.

And now? CBS (which
is good at comedies) has only four this fall; NBC (which isn't) has
two.

“Comedy is very
important to us,” insists NBC's Robert Greenblatt ... who then
tries to explain why his only ones are on Fridays, when viewership is
low.

If there's a saving
grace, it's that the new, broadcast-network shows – shot
movie-style, without an audience – can try big stories and big
gags. Here they are, rated on a 0-10 scale.

THE BEST

-- “Life in
Pieces” (8), 8:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS, starting Sept. 21. Yes, this
sounds gimmicky – four separate stories about people in a family,
tying together at the end. But in the pilot, the stories are clever
and the cast – including Colin Hanks (Tom's son) and James Brolin
(Josh's dad) – is first-rate.

QUITE GOOD

-- “Grandfathered”
(6) and “The Grinder” (7), 8 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox, Sept.
29. Here are two beautifully conceived plots, nicely cast. In one, a
handsome playboy (John Stamos) learns instantly that he has a son
(Josh Peck) and a grandchild; in the other, an even-more-handsome
actor (Rob Lowe), who played a lawyer on TV, now steps into the
hometown law office of his brother (Fred Savage). The laughs are
fairly good; the slick plots keep us watching.

OK

-- “Angel From
Hell” (5), 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, CBS, Nov. 5. Allison (Maggie
Lawson) is a doctor, no-nonsense ands (sometimes) no-fun; Amy (Jane
Lynch) is a lot like the Bonnie character in “Mom” -- a tall,
older woman who's loose, outspoken and fond of alcohol. The catch is
that Amy is Allison's guardian angel, suddenly visible. There's
potential here, but it sometimes tries too hard.

NOT OK

-- “Truth Be Told”
(3), 8:30 p.m. Fridays, NBC, Oct. 16. Mitch (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is
an ethics prof, his wife (Vanessa Lachey) is a lawyer, and they tend
to overthink. Their neighbor (Tone Bell) and his new bride (Bresha
Webb) don't. This could work, but an early story – is the
babysitter a porn star? -- is quite awful.

-- “Dr. Ken”
(2), 8:30 p.m. Fridays, ABC, Oct. 2. Ken Jeong really was a doctor,
before stand-up comedy and the “Hangover” movies took over his
life. Now he plays a blunt doctor and clumsy dad. Some of the so-so
humor could be salvaged by a skillfull actor, but not by Jeong.

BUT THE GOOD NEWS
...

-- Several of last
year's comedies – some of them quite funny – are on the bench
now, but will be back. CBS has “The Odd Couple” and “2 Broke
Girls”; Fox has “New Girl.” And after Fox dumped “The Mindy
Project,” it bounced to Hulu; these new streaming services seem to
like comedy.

-- And some of the
more promising shows don't fit a convenient sitcom category. We'll
look at those -- “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Muppets,” “Best
Time Ever,” “Scream Queens” -- separately

 

Somewhere in that pile, there's a new TV season


Amid all the clamor of cable and streaming and more, it's easy to forget this: A new TV season is coming soon for the broadcast networks, officially starting Sept. 21. As usual, it has a pile of new shows, most of them proclaimed as fresh and exciting and such; as usual, a few of them really are. I'll be listing and ranking them over the next few days; first, here's the overview I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In ancient times –
or maybe it was a few years ago – four networks would be seizing
our attention now.

They'd launch the
new TV season, with 20-some new shows, heavy on cops and comedies.
Many of the shows would be awful, but some would be “Friends” and
“Frasier” and “CSI” and “West Wing.”

And now? NBC
programming chief Robert Greenblatt summed things up succinctly: “Too
many shows. Not enough monetization, Fractured audiences.”:

Too many? John
Landgraf, head of the FX cable networks, said last year that there
were 352 original, scripted TV shows; in January, he upped that to
371. A half-year later, he revised it again: “We believe 2015 will
easily blow through the 400-series mark .... This is simply too much
television.”

HBO was once the new
guy, launching distinctive shows (starting with “Sopranos”) that
nipped at the big networks. Now it's being nipped by newer guys.

“Every day,
there's another network or platform announcing that they're (doing
original shows),” said Michael Lombardo, the HBO programming
president. “It's exciting; it's overwhelming.”

For the first time,
new scripted shows have popped up on E, UP, Pop, El Rey, Sundance,
WGN America and more. Those cable channels nudge in cautiously, but
some streaming services – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, – are leaping in
big. Then there's DirecTV ... and the expanding Sunday dramas on PBS
... and even CW – with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Jane the
Virgin” and “iZombie” -- stirs new interest.

Facing all of this,
the big networks launch a season that officially starts Sept. 21. It
includes:

-- Fewer comedies.
CBS and NBC are each down to one night ... and NBC's night (Friday)
is lame.

-- A quirkier feel
to the comedies, shifting from multi-camera (before a studio
audience) to single-camera (movie-style). ABC's Paul Lee points to
last year's success of “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat,”
on the “Modern Family” network. “We've really honed our
position as the home of single-camera, sophisticated family
comedies.” Even CBS – home of multi-camera success with “Big
Bang Theory” and “Mom” – is doing both of its new comedies
single-camera.

-- A fresh interest
in live shows, most of them on NBC. That includes “Saturday Night
Live,” much of “The Voice,” an annual musical (this year, “The
Wiz”) and the eight-episode “Best Time Ever,” with Neil Patrick
Harris doing “a lot of on-the-fly and very spontaneous” things,
Greenblatt said. And the NBC comedy “Undateable” plans to do
every episode live. “That energy really feels palpable when you
watch it and are around the show,” said Jennifer Salke, president
of NBC Entertainment.

-- Lots of fantasy.
We expect that from CW, which is returning six fantasy hours (60
percent of its schedule), with three more waiting their turns. In
addition, NBC adds “Heroes Reborn,” Fox adds “Minority Report”
and the oft-traditional CBS has both “Limitless” and “Supergirl.”
The latter even gets a prime slot on Mondays. “We thought this is a
genre and this is a franchise that would certainly open up and bring
in new viewers,” CBS' Nina Tasler said.

-- Even non-fantasy
shows cranking things up a notch. ABC's “Blood and Oil” has the
same soapy feeling that works for its Thursday shows; NBC's
“Blindspot” and “The Player” have the heightened approach
that helped “The Blacklist” catch on.

-- Less insistance
on shows trying to run endlessly, 22 episodes a year. Harris will
have only eight episodes this season; the acclaimed “Fargo” and
“American Crime” are bringing new stories to FX and ABC. “I
used say, 'Well, can it go five years?'” Lombardo said. “I don't
ask that question anymore.”

-- A surge of music.
That's in reality shows (including the final “American Idol”
season) ... “The Wiz” ... the dream scenes of “Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend” ... a pilot film (“Star”) from “Empire”
producer Lee Daniels ... and, of course, the aftershocks of “Empire”
becoming an instant ratings hit.

“The
most-talked-about and biggest show of the past season was launched on
a traditional broadcast network,” Fox's Dana Newman said. In the
middle of a 400-show overload, that can be impressive.