Somewhere in that TV landscape, there are some fine choices


OK, now we can get serious about the new fall season. The stories I previously sent to papers (see blogs below) previewed drama, action-adventure, sci fi/fantasy/horror and comedy; now here's the main story:

 

By Mike Hughes

As a new TV season
nears, network people might seem like storm-trackers, tracing their
own demise. Just ask:

-- John Landgraf,
CEO of the FX networks. There were 417 scripted series in 2015, he
said, and there might be 500 in 2017. “We're ballooning into a
condition of oversupply.”

-- Alan Wurtzel,
research chief at NBC. A typical viewer, he said, spends 1.3 hours a
day watching some sort of video-on-demand; smart phones and other
devices abound, competing with the networks. “This is no longer the
province of early-adopters, 25-year-olds who wear black .... It's
America.”

With so many
choices, the sorta-OK show will get overlooked. “Don't try to end
up in the middle,” said Jennifer Salke, the president of NBC
Entertainment.

Only CBS can put out
middle-of-the-road shows and expect an audience. Others have to take
chances, to try shows some people will hate and others will like a
lot. Trends this season, which officially starts Sept. 19, include:

-- Comedy stacks –
four shows, from 8-10 p.m. -- are back. CBS strayed from that during
its “Supergirl” experiment, but now it will have stacks on
Mondays and Thursdays ... surrounding ABC ones on Tuesdays and
Wednesdays.

-- That doesn't mean
“Supergirl” has died, though. It simply moved to the CW, where
seven of the 10 hours are science-fiction or fantasy, four of them
from DC Comics.

-- Fantasy is key in
the search for specific audiences. Marvel will have three shows on
Netflix (“Luke Cage,” “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil”)
with a fourth (“Defenders”) on the way ... plus “Agents of
SHIELD” on ABC. Two time-travel shows arrive this fall, with a
third (ABC's “Time After Time”) waiting. Some people “are like
'ick' on time-travel, (but) you can't be for everybody,” Salke
said.

-- The obsession
with serialized stories may have peaked. “There's something about
serialized dramas that really compel people,” said Channing Dungey,
ABC's new programming chief. Still, she grew up enjoying zesty shows
in the era of “Rockford” and “Magnum”; this year, she
cancelled “Castle,” but inserted “Conviction” in its spot. “I
would love to see more closed-ended procedurals.”

-- One compromise is
the mini-series, wrapping up a story in 10 weeks or less. “If you
put (ABC's) 'American Crime' in that category, (FX's) 'Fargo' in that
category, I do think that is a great way of storytelling,” Dungey
said. She has a new “Secrets and Lies” mini this fall; coming
later are a new “American Crime” and a Kyra Sedgwick mini, “Ten
Days in the Valley.”

-- Networks can't
resist recycling movies and TV shows. CW has “Frequency,” CBS has
“MacGyver,” Fox has “Lethal Weapon” and “The Exorcist”
this fall, “Prison Break” and “24” later, with “X-Files”
next season. With lots of shows vying for attention, Fox programmer
Dana Walden said, “taking a recognizable title... to build
awareness” makes sense. Still, she insisted, there's some
self-control: “We have a rich and extensive library at the studio;
we could have all reboots.”

-- The key addition
to non-network daytime is “Harry.” Like other shows, it aims for
easygoing talk; unlike others, it will have the talented, nine-piece
band that Harry Connick Jr. tours and records with. “Music's going
to be done in a whole bunch of different ways,” Connick said, “in
spontaneous ways.”

-- PBS will be busy
as usual – intense non-fiction (including political coverage) in
the fall ... arts shows – including a new “Gypsy,” violinist
Joshua Bell and a profile of the “Hamilton” musical – on
Fridays ... and lots of “Masterpiece,” from “Poldark” on
Sept. 25 to “Victoria”taking over the “Downton Abbey” slot in
January. This will be a season of young queens – Victoria, 18, on
PBS and Elizabeth II, 25, on Netflix's “The Crown.”

-- And much more ...
possibly too much. “Audiences are having more trouble than ever
distinguishing the great from the merely competent,” Landgraf said.
“I do this for a living (and) I can't come close to keeping track
of it all.”

 

TV comedies are back... on some networks, anyway


OK, this wraps up my round-ups of the new fall shows. The previous ones looked at dramas, action-adventures and sci-fi/fantasy/horror. Now that I've sent these to papers,I'll do an overview of the season.

 

By Mike Hughes

Right now, TV
networks aren't sure what to do with comedies.

NBC ignores them
(mostly), CW skips them (entirely), Fox is happier when they have
cartoon characters. But CBS and ABC each will have a pair of
four-comedy nights..

Add some cable
comedies and you have a busy fall. Here are the new broadcast-network
shows, rated on a 0-10 scale, followed by a sampling from cable and
screening services.

The Best

-- “The Good
Place” (8): In the afterlife sweepstakes, Eleanor (Kristen Bell)
hit the jackpot; she's in the place, reserved for people who had
worthy lives. Alas, her guide (Ted Danson) made a bureaucratic error;
she doesn't belong here. This takes the fish-out-of-water genre to
wonderful extremes. (8:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, Sept. 22, but the
first two episodes are 10 and 10:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19)

The Rest

-- “The Great
Indoors” (7): After years of writing about his adventures, Jack
(Joel McHale) gets a jolt: He has to come inside and help edit the
magazine; it's now populated by 20-somethings who are his opposites,
complete with tweets and trophies for participation. These are cliche
subjects, but “Indoors” tackles them well, with the wonderful
Stephen Fry as the boss. (8:30 p.m. Thursdays, CBS, Oct. 27)

-- “Speechless”
(7): Maya keeps moving her family from town to town, seeking the
perfect place for her disabled son. Now they're at a new school,
which she promptly disparages. Maya is wildly overwritten, but Mimi
Driver makes her work; she has great characters in support,
especially a janitor-turned companion. (8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC,
Sept. 21)

-- “Kevin Can
Wait” (6): CBS has convinced itself that this is the next big
comedy, hyping it incessantly. Actually, it's the next OK one. Kevin
James plays a young-ish retiree, starting his new life with his
fellow ex-cops. Then everything changes when his daughter returns.
The result is smoothly adequate. (8:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS, Sept. 19;
moves to 8 p.m. on Oct. 24)

-- “Son of Zorn”
(4): Speaking of fish-out-of-water, imagine going from an island
(where you're a warrior hero) to the suburbs (where you're the only
one who's bare-chested and a cartoon). There are some clever moments,
but they're scattered. (8:30 p.m. Sundays, Fox, but the Sept. 11
debut is at 8)

-- “Man With a
Plan” (3): After the crisp comedy of “Friends” and “Episodes,”
Matt LeBlanc stunbles. He plays a building contractor who's in charge
of the kids, now that his wife returns to work. The pilot, being
reworked, had a few good moments and a lot of cliches. (8:30 p.m.
Mondays, Oct. 24, CBS)

-- “American
Housewife” (2): This has all the flaws of “Speechless” --
overwritten character, easy targets – and none of the redeeming
traits. Katy Mixon makes the lead character seem merely abrasive;
also, she's surrounded by mostly one-note characters. (8:30 p.m.
Tuesdays, ABC, Oct. 11)

Beyond broadcast:

-- “Fleabag”
(7): Adapting her own play, Phoebe Waller-Bridge takes us through a
life of bad choices, bad men and bad business ... often turning to
talk to us in the middle of a scene. It's sometimes quite raunchy and
often very funny. (Amazon Prime, Sept. 16)

-- “Better Things”
and “One Mississippi” (both 7): These shows have different
networks, but the same producer (Louis C.K.) and the same approach –
a slow, droll look at something close to real life. Pamela Adlon's
life is merely messy, with three daughters; Tig Notaro's has been
much rougher, with cancer, an intestinal ailment and her mother's
death. These don't sound like comedies, but in their own quiet way,
they're well-done. Already started: 10 p.m. Thursdays, FX; any time,
Amazon Prime.

-- “Graves” (3):
Some 25 years after leaving office, Richard Graves (Nick Nolte)
suddenly realizes he was an awful president. Now he's on an odyssey
to redeem himself. That's a fairly good concept, but the opener is
often blunt and heavy-handed. (10 p.m. Sundays, Epix, Oct. 16)

-- Many more. MTV
has already debuted “Mary + Jane” (newcomers to the pot-delivery
business) and “Loosely Exactly Nicole” (Nicole Byer as a
struggling actress); they're 10 and 10:30 p.m. Mondays, rerunning
often. HBO's comedies look particularly strong, with Sarah Jessica
Parker in “Divorce” and newcomer Issa Rae in “Insecure” (10
and 10:30 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 9). And coming on TBS are “People of
Earth” (Wyatt Cenac meets a support group for alien abductees) and
“Search Party” (Alia

Shawkat heads a
group of 20-somethings, tackling a mystery).

 

Time travel? That's the big networks' ultimate fantasy


Here's the third piece of the TV-season preview which I've sent to papers. The previous ones -- see blogs below -- look at dramas and action-adventure; this one has sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Still coming are comedies and a season overview:

By Mike Hughes

Time-trekking is big
on TV now, which makes sense: The big networks wish they could go
back two decades, to a time when they had a monopoly.

They don't, of
course, and that's especially clear in the category of
science-fiction, fantasy and horror: The broadcast-network shows are
so-so; the others are very promising.

Here are the three
broadcast shows, rated on a 0-10 scale, followed by a sampling of the
others:

The best

-- “Frequency”
(6). Strange things happen, it seems, when a ham-radio signal bounces
around the atmosphere. In the 2000 movie, a guy talked to his late
father; now a young cop talks with her late dad, possibly saving his
life and proving he wasn't corrupt. Don't ask us how this works;
somehow, Peyton List and Riley Smith make it human and believable. (9
p.m. Wednesdays, CW, Oct. 5)

The rest

-- “Timeless”
(4). A mysterious guy steals a time craft and maraudes through
history, disrupting things. So what crack team must follow and
un-disrupt? There's a gorgeous historian, a semi-nerdy driver and, of
course, a rogue-ish fighter. It's a flawed and frustrating story, but
it's also beautifully filmed; Abigail Spencer is first-rate, as she
is in “Rectify.” (10 p.m. Mondays, NBC, Oct. 3)

- “The Exorcist”
(2). In a moment of self-delusion, Fox put this in the old “X-Files”
timeslot, figuring it would draw the same passion. But “X-Files”
dazzled with its variety, changing moods briskly; “Exorcist”
trudges through an unrelenting tale. An earnest, handsome priest
tries to help a woman with a possessed daughter. It's all auite dark
and monotone (9 p.m. Fridays, Fox, Sept. 23)

Beyond broadcast

-- “Westworld.”
Back in 1973, Michael Crichton's movie had a familiar,
robots-gone-wild theme; a cowboy town was fun for tourists, until the
robots started shooting back. Now writer-producer Jonathan Nolan
(“Person of Interest”) and producer J.J. Abrams have pushed this
to a new level, as beings begin to realize their entire life is an
artifice. No guarantees yet, but glimpses of this seem extremely
good. (9 p.m. Sundays, HBO, but two-hour opener, Oct. 2, starts at 8)

-- “Wolf Creek”
(5). A decade ago, the “Wolf Creek” movie caused a stir in
Australia, with John Jarratt as a woodsman, bedeviling backpackers.
Now Jarratt repeats his role, but with a twist: This time, there's a
family, including a teen-ager who definitely doesn't want to be
there. Superbly played by Lucy Fry, she becomes key to this
well-executed but disturbing tale. (10 p.m. Fridays, Pop, Oct. 14)

-- “Luke Cage.”
Netflix is quickly becomeing Marvel Central. It already has Marvel's
“Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones”; now Cage – a supporting
character in “Jones” -- gets his own show. Mike Colter –
6-foot-3, with heroic torso – plays the fugitive, a Harlem
crimefighter who has super strength and unbreakable skin. (Netflix,
Sept. 30)

-- “Falling
Water.” Three strangers – a banker, a cop and a trend-spotter –
have only one thing in common: They're in each other's interlocking
dreams ... and they may need to combine to save the world. (10 p.m.
Thursdays, USA, Oct. 13)

-- And “Mars”
could offer a fresh touch to sci-fi. It's a big-budget view of a
mission in 2033, but intercuts scripted parts with comments from
experts. (November, National Geogrraphic)

 

And now for an important, barrier-erasing question


On TV, Cheryl Hines has known real variety: One of her husbands was a macho, shirtless, sword-wielding warrior; another was Larry David. The former is in "Son of Zorn," an offbeat show which somehow compelled us to utter a previously unheard question. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In my long
journalism career, I've interviewed some distinguished souls.

There have been
one-on-ones ranging from Placido Domingo to Stevie Wonder, from Jerry
Seinfeld to Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall and the Rev. Norman Vincent
Peale. But I'd never, to my knowledge, asked anyone this question:

“If you could have
sex with a cartoon character, who would it be?”

Now I have. Please
don't judge.

“Son of Zorn”
happens to be the first new, broadcast-network show of the fall
season. It debuts Sunday (Sept. 11) on Fox, with a cartoon warrior
going from an island kingdom to the suburban home of his ex-wife and
their son ... neither of whom is a cartoon or a warrior.

“It's a grounded,
relatable, live-action family show that just happens to have this
cartoon barbarian at the core,” insisted writer-producer Sally
Bradford McKenna.

Well,
semi-relatable. First, you have to accept the co-existence of
cartoons and others.

“When he walks
into Applebee's with no shirt and he has a sword, no one is like,
'Whoa, it's a cartoon,'” said co-creator Reed Agnew. “They are
like, 'You need to put a shirt on. You are in Applebee's.'”

In this world,
cartoon people can co-exist, co-mingle and propagate with us. We
won't ask how ... but we did ask the cast members who they would mate
with.

Cheryl Hines, who
plays the ex-wife, showed some loyalty: “I find mystelf oddly
attracted to Zorn. He's kind of hot; he's very muscular. And if he
doesn't speak and it's ... just, you know, one night ...”

Tim Meadows, who
plays her fiance, goes further back: “I've thought about this
question since I was 13,” he said. “It's not Zorn, no; I think
it's always been for me Betty or Veronica from the Archie comic books
.... I would say Veronica.”

Johnny Pemberton,
who plays the son, chose “Thundercats” warrior Cheetara. “She's
definitely the sexiest cartoon character of all time; she's a cat.”

If you can mate with
a cartoon cat, then a cartoon robot isn't out of the question;
Artemis Pebdani admitted a fondness for Optimus Prime of the
Transformers. However, she settled on a more mainstream choice –
Fred Jones, of the Scooby-Doo team. He's “the really clean-cut one,
because there's got to be some, like, grime in there somewhere. And
I'd find that hot.”

Pebdani plays
someone who hires Zorn. It's a “diversity hire,” but she's not
doing him a favor.

“He was just
fighting monsters and living this glorious life back in Zephyria,
where he probably has 50-foot sculptures built in his honor,” Agnew
said. Now he's “having to get a job in a cubicle in an office
that's lit with fluorescent light.”

Besides, he has to
wear a shirt. Sometimes, life is cruel.

-- “Son of Zorn,”
Fox.

-- Most Sundays, it
will be 8:30 p.m., after “The Simpsons”; on Sept. 11, however, it
will be at 8 p.m., after two opening-week pro football games.

 

Remember action-adventure? TV does, occasionally


(Here's the second story in the new-TV-season preview. This is a tiny one, because action-adventures -- outside the sci-fi landscape -- are rare. Previously, I went papers a round-up of dramas. Coming are sci-fi, comedies and an overview.)

By Mike Hughes

Television used to
be filled with action adventures. Cars screeched, cops ran, horses
galloped.

Now, not so much.
Last season, viewers ignored “Rush Hour”; there's still lots of
action on TV, but most of it is in science-fiction or fantasy shows,
which are a different category.

That leaves only two
shows for this list; ironically, both are strong prospects to be
ratings leaders:

The best

-- “Lethal Weapon”
(7 on a 0-10 scale). Roger (Damon Wayans) has good reasons to be
cautious; fresh from a health scare, he's a new dad. Martin (Clayne
Crawford) has no reason; his pregnant wife died in a car crash. Now
they're mismatched police partners. Yes, that's a cliche –
especially after four “Lethal Weapon” movies – but it's done
well. The characters are given extra depth and McG, who directed the
“Charlie's Angels” movies, knows how to do action well. (8 p.m.
Wednesdays, Fox, Sept. 21).

The rest

-- “MacGyver.”
Figure this: For decades, TV people kept saying they would bring back
the story of an inventive hero – maybe “Young MacGyver,” maybe
a movie, maybe something else. Then, after 24 years of dawdling, this
was rushed onto the schedule before it even had a finished episode.
After some substantial changes, these are the basics: Lucas Till
(Havok in the “X-Men” movies) is MacGyver, working for a secret
government agency; he creates the devices, George Eads (“CSI”)
provides the muscle. (8 p.m. Fridays, CBS, Sept. 23)