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:


By MIKE HUGHES


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


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
superb.


(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
“Scandal.”


(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
place.


(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:


 

By MIKE HUGHES


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:

By MIKE HUGHES


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.


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


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


n 
“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:


By MIKE HUGHES


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.


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


n 
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.


n 
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.


Post-Potter life for Radcliffe:At 25, he's still the polite little guy


Even before becoming Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe was inhabiting a British classic. He recalled that recently, while discussing a little cable show -- "A Young Doctor's Notebook" -- that returns Tuesday (Aug. 19) and reruns often. The show is small, clever and quirky; the star is small, clever and thoughtful. Here's the story I sent to papers:


By MIKE HUGHES


Daniel Radcliffe’s first meeting with American TV critics
had its moments of semi-peril.


Not the press conference itself; even back then – as a
10-year-old who shared the title role in PBS’ 1999 “David Copperfield” – he
took that in stride. “I’ve always sort of enjoyed talking to people,” he said.


The trickier part, he said, was getting there. “I remember
the lift (elevator) button always electrocuted you when you went down. So me
and my mom would, like, flip a coin for who had to press the button.”


He survived and went on to stardom in Harry Potter movies
and beyond. Now, 15 years later, he was talking to some of those same critics
about “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” … the sort of offbeat series that only starpower
can generate.  Producers, he said, told
him: “If you want to get a TV show green-lit, tell them you have Jon Hamm and
Daniel Radcliffe for four weeks over the summer.”


Hamm (“Mad Men”) was attracted to the work of Mikhail
Bulakov, a former World War I doctor who kicked a morphine addiction and became
an acclaimed Russian writer. His “Notebook” had the 1935 version of the doctor
(played by Hamm) talking directly to his 1917 self.


“It was incredibly flattering that he … suggested me to play
the young him,” Radcliffe said.


Also eccentric: Hamm stands 6-foot-2, Radcliffe is 5-5. “The
show is so crazy anyway,” Radcliffe said. “If viewers get hung up on that, then
there’s going to be plenty of other logical problems.”


Height (or lack of it) helped him get those early roles. Radcliffe
– the son of a London literary agent and casting agent – was turning 10 when he
played young Copperfield, whose life quaked as he turned 8.


He had never acted, but director Simon Curtis later recalled
(in Rebecca Eaton’s “Making Masterpiece,” Viking, 2013) that the casting made
sense: “A director friend told me, ‘If you’re casting a kid, cast a kid you
like’ …. He was a lovely boy to have around (and) he’s become an impressive
man.”


He was also a polite kid who wrote thank-you notes and asked
Maggie Smith: “Would you like me to call you ‘Dame’?” She burst out laughing …
and a year later recommended him to play Potter.


First, Eaton wrote, he became the youngest British actor ever
brought by PBS to the U.S. for a press conference. She remembered him “sitting
up straight in his chair, feet hardly touching the ground, as he thoughtfully
and respectfully tried to answer questions about Charles Dickens.”


For “Notebook,” it was more distant. Wrapping up his Broadway
run of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” Radcliffe was interviewed by TV critics via closed-circuit.
He reflected on the notion of doing a dark Russian comedy for British (and now
American) TV.


“There’s a certain joy taken in the bleakness of Russia and
of England,” he said, “reveling in the misery of it all …. While I don’t think
that’s a particularly American sensibility, I do think that America loves dark
comedy. I’m doing an incredibly dark comedy on Broadway at the moment, and
people are loving it.”


In short, we’re ready for this dark plunge: “You’ve got the
same twisted sense of humor as I have.”


n 
“A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” 10 p.m. ET for four
Tuesdays on Ovation, an arts-oriented network on cable, satellite and
video-on-demand.


n 
Season-opener (Aug. 19) reruns at 5 p.m.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Saturday and late-night Monday (technically, 1:30 a.m.
Tuesday).


n 
This is the second mini-season. The first reruns
late-night Thursday (technically, 2-4 a.m. Friday).