Night by Night Fall Programming Roundup
A quick, candid look at plans for the big 6
By Ed Martin -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/22/2004 8:00:00 PM
ABC, 9, premieres Sept. 26
Don't be surprised if this sudsy prime time soap is a rookie hit. The pilot breezily establishes the lives of women living on an upscale suburban street. One of them kills herself, leaving behind a big mystery for her friends to unravel—if they have the time after dealing with their own webs of love, lust and loneliness (not to mention their kids). A strong cast includes Marcia Cross (Melrose Place), Nicollette Sheridan (Knots Landing), Teri Hatcher (Lois & Clark) and Felicity Huffman (Sports Night). Shocking development in pilot: One of the housewives is having an affair with a teenage gardener.
Fox, 9, premieres Nov. 7
Reality TV already has us watching people eat dung beatles, but this Fox reality series goes too far. Viewers are expected to care about, sympathize with and root for lawyers! Fox intends to spike its November sweeps with this show about Ivy League law graduates competing in mock trials with "street smart" lawyers from less formidable schools. A jury determines which lawyer won; the loser gets a shot at convincing the judge otherwise. The judge then tosses one of them out. By the end, the last lawyer standing gets a job at a major law firm.
Jack & Bobby
The WB, 9, premieres Sept. 12
This is the fall's most intelligent and most thoughtfully scripted new series, but the title might confuse viewers into thinking it's the umpteenth Kennedy saga. In fact, the drama is about the fictional young McCallister brothers, one of whom will grow up to become president, circa 2040. Executive producers Greg Berlanti, Mickey Liddell and Vanessa Taylor (all of Everwood) and Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing) mesh present-day tales of the brothers with sequences flashing forward to the White House. Newcomers Matthew Long (Jack) and Logan Lerman (Bobby) are appealing, and Christine Lahti gives a complex, passionate performance as the boys' mother.
ABC, 10, premieres Sept. 24
Emmy-nominee James Spader recharged the downsized David E. Kelley drama The Practice when he joined its cast last year. The entire season became a set up for this spinoff featuring Spader's wonderfully exasperating Alan Shore. As the season progressed, characters were added including an eccentric lawyer played by William Shatner. But Boston Legal is iffy, with a distinct lack of buzz. Also, there are questions about the extent of Kelley's involvement in the show. After decades of work on compelling legal dramas, from L.A. Law to The Practice to Ally McBeal, what's new?
ABC, 8, premieres Sept. 13
Billionaire Mark Cuban doesn't want this reality series, in which people strive to impress him, to be lumped in with other reality shows where contestants strive to impress powerful men. Get lost, Donald Trump. "On every other reality show, everybody does the same thing," Cuban says. "Everybody sells lemonade. Everybody eats bugs." He'll assign "open-ended" tasks and then judge on character and execution. "Everybody has to come up with their own solutions to the challenges," he says. (Here's one: Beat Fear Factor on NBC in the same time period.) The winner gets a million bucks.
CBS, 8:30, premieres Sept. 20
Will the new Jason Alexander comedy fall victim to the "Seinfeld curse?" Listen Up has a pulse—whereas his previous effort, ABC's Bob Patterson, was D.O.A.—but it's a long way from funny. (In one sight gag from a CBS promotion, Alexander is shown spitting milk into a glass. Yuck.) Alexander plays newspaper columnist, sports talk show host and family man Tony Kleinman, based on Tony Kornheiser of The Washington Post and ESPN. Kornheiser himself is wise and witty, but Alexander's comes off as clueless and smug. Still, airing right before Everybody Loves Raymond, it has a chance.
The Complex: Malibu
Fox, 9, premieres Aug. 30
Fox's home makeover reality show is actually based on a dynamic Australian hit series titled The Block. On paper, though, it sounds like something from The Learning Channel. Couples move into a beachfront apartment building in Malibu, where they compete for the opportunity to restore one of four units. Judges monitor their progress, tossing those who can't muster the appropriate flair or stay within budgets. Check out the Craftsman tools; Sears is using this as part of a multi-faceted marketing program. With so much product placement on hand, The Complex will surely strive for the feel-good vibe of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition rather than cutthroat competition.
Second Time Around
UPN, 9:30, premieres Sept. 20
UPN rarely gets credit for its successful Monday night comedy lineup, but it produces a winner almost every year. This time around it's Second Time Around, the unabashedly romantic comedy that works well following Girlfriends. It doesn't hurt that the show stars the sexy real-life couple Nicole Parker and Boris Kodjoe, who play lovers who married, divorced and then married again. Co-creator Ralph Farquhar was co-creator and executive producer of two of UPNs longest running hits, Moesha and its spinoff, The Parkers.
NBC, 10, premieres Sept. 6
Here's a grand idea for a series in the post-9/11 world: A drama about behind-the-scenes crises at a major airport—and one that has been a known target of al-Qaeda. It's timely, but not in a good way. Indeed, storylines in the LAX pilot include concerns about a bag that might contain a bomb, the violent suicide of an airport executive and a merry group of drunken pilots from Serbia determined to fly a commercial airliner. Starring the effervescent, but tough Heather Locklear and the simmering, yet buff, Blair Underwood as the airport's runway chief and airport director, respectively.
NBC, 8, premieres in November
Never mind the thievery spat between NBC's The Contender and Fox's The Next Great Champ. Let's move on. Contender showcases 16 aspiring boxers at a training camp as they move through a series of challenges with the goal of turning pro. Each episode will end with a bout between two of them. The ultimate winner will receive $250,000 a year for four years to train to become a pro. Heavy-hitter folks involved with this show include Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mark Burnett, Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone. Expect a minimum of boxing scenes, with more emphasis on character development.
The Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best
Fox, 8, Premieres Nov. 9
Virgin Records self-made billionaire and wacky risk-taker Sir Richard Branson flies 16 young entrepreneurs to various locales around the world to face some of the same challenges he has undertaken during his life. Losers are jettisoned every week like excess baggage. Fox could have a success here, because The Billionaire is produced by the hitmakers at Bunim-Murray Productions, but it's opposite Mark Burnett's The Contenderon the schedule.
CBS, 9, premieres Sept. 28; preview on Sept. 26 at 8
There is much to admire about Clubhouse. It's a warm, family-friendly drama about a 16-year-old boy who lands a job as batboy for a fictional New York City baseball team. The drama reinforces all the right values—family, loyalty, honesty, hard work and friendship. It boasts three of the new season's most appealing performers in stars Dean Cain, Jeremy Sumpter and Kirsten Storms. Most impressively, there isn't a doctor, lawyer, detective or crime-scene investigator in sight. But producers shouldn't have tried to make the New York Empires so Yankee-like. It's a distraction.
Father of the Pride
NBC, 9, premieres Aug. 31
With all respect to Roy Horn, the Las Vegas entertainer who was mauled by one of his beloved white tigers, perhaps this project should have been called off. It's hard not to think about him while watching this program, based on Horn and partner Siegfried Fishbacher's famed Las Vegas animal act. Other problems exist, too. Father of the Pride contains much humor that is sexual in nature and clearly intended for adults, yet the animated tigers will undoubtedly attract very young children. John Goodman provides the voice of the title character.
Renovate My Family
Fox, Tuesday and Thursday, premieres in September
Until baseball playoffs begin, Fox will fill two hours of its schedule, on two nights with a single series. This new reality effort stars best-selling author Jay McGraw, best known as the son of author and television personality Dr. Phil McGraw. Jay and a group of "makeover professionals" work to "restore and redecorate" entire families on every level, from weight loss to home improvement. There's no mention yet of any plastic surgeons, but don't put it past Fox's reality guru Mike Darnell.
Fox, 9, premieres Nov. 16
Fox's lone new scripted entry is a drama about medical experts who seek to diagnose and treat cases that mystify other doctors, similar to NBC's new Medical Investigation. Judging from the pilot, in which a feisty parasite invades a woman's leg tissue, House's stories veer toward the unpleasant and eccentric. The camerawork and special effects go the CSI route, taking viewers deep inside the human body. This unusual show, starring British TV actor Hugh Laurie will premiere far into the season. House might own its time slot, if left unclaimed by other shows.
UPN, 9, premieres Sept. 28; preview on Sept. 22
This new UPN drama, like the new ABC series Lost, has a lot going on. The overriding mystery is the unsolved murder of the title character's best friend in a small, wealthy California seaside town. Veronica's dad, the sheriff, suspects the dead girl's rich dad, but he is cleared of the charges. Disgraced and dethroned, the ex-sheriff sets up a small detective agency, with hard-working Veronica as his assistant. Young actress Kristen Bell makes the almost too-resilient Veronica as believable and compelling as the colorful stories boiling around her. This could click with young viewers.
ABC, 9:30, premieres Sept. 21
In its glory days, ABC ruled with Roseanne, Home Improvement and Grace Under Fire, in which stand-up comedians ably portrayed working stiffs. ABC seeks to revive this winning formula with Rodney, starring blue-collar stand up comedian Rodney Carrington. In character, Rodney is married, has two young boys, works a dead-end job and can barely make ends meet. Unlike most men in similar situations, Rodney is also pursuing a comedy career. Still, Carrington's everyman appeal could work.
NBC, preview on Aug. 30 at 9, premieres Sept. 1 at 8
NBC will obliterate any lingering traces of the once-sacred 8 p.m. family hour with Hawaii, a violent action-adventure about detectives in the title island paradise. A hunky cast (Michael Biehn, Sharif Atkins, Ivan Sergei, Eric Balfour) should interest women. The violence might not. The pilot features various decapitated heads and plenty of gunplay. As for the performances, Biehn and Atkins are two cool customers who might be able to carry the show by themselves, but Sergei and Balfour could quickly wear out their welcome if their characters' smart-ass riffing is left unchecked.
ABC, 8, premieres Sept. 22
Easily the most ambitious new series of the season, Lost, from J.J. Abrams (Alias), tells the story of 48 survivors of a commercial airliner that crashes on a seemingly uncharted tropical island. Everything about this series strains credulity: How could a plane veer 1,000 miles off course? And what about radar? The multi-cultural cast is unusually large (there are 14 primary roles so far), with Matthew Fox (Party of Five) and Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings) the most familiar faces. Though it's terrific, Lost is a tad intense for an 8 p.m. time period. It's up against Hawaiion NBC.
UPN, 9, premieres Sept. 29
Here's a line you thought you would never read: UPN has delivered one of the best new dramas of the upcoming season. And another oddity: The only other new drama that could challenge Kevin Hill for kudos as the season's best frosh is Jack & Bobby on The WB. Are the Big Four networks paying attention? Taye Diggs is thoroughly likeable as the title character, a successful corporate lawyer who enjoys chasing skirts and hanging with buddies, until he is forced to assume custody of his late cousin's baby girl. Diggs is surrounded by a top-notch, multi-cultural supporting cast.
The WB, 9, premieres Sept. 22
These are tough times for scripted serialized dramas on broadcast networks. Viewers—especially young ones advertisers crave—continue to embrace them, but networks dismiss them because they do not repeat well. Some don't even start well. The Mountainmight have a tough climb. This lifeless drama about personal and professional power struggles at an internationally famous ski resort may go downhill fast, despite a terrific supporting cast, including Barbara Hershey, Mitch Peleggi and newcomer Johann Urb as a handsome young villain. (Executives at The WB, who invent young stars, have their eyes on Urb.)
Center of the Universe
CBS, 9:30, premieres Sept. 22
This new series has problems. Sitting through the pilot is like watching a horrible accident made worse by the recognition of the casualties—sturdy actors like John Goodman, Ed Asner, Jean Smart and Olympia Dukakis. Goodman plays John Barnett, a security company owner whose family includes a loving wife (Smart), a sex-crazed father (Asner), a daffy mother (Dukakis), a dim-witted brother (Diedrich Bader) and an equally dim 12-year-old son (Spencer Breslin).
ABC, 10, premieres Sept. 29
ABC's Wife Swap had all the makings of the freshest, most original new reality series of the fall—until Fox went ahead and plunked its variation on the same premise, Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy, onto its summer schedule. But maybe there's room for two. Swaps in future episodes of the ABC show have some fun twists. In one, a lesbian mom switches places with a woman from a family that does not support gay marriage. In another, a woman who obsesses over the cleanliness of her home switches with a woman who has 25 pets that are allowed to roam (and mess) freely.
CBS, 10, premieres Sept. 22
CSI: NY is the slam-dunk of the 2004-05 season. It is also the current weapon of choice in CBS's ongoing assault against the best NBC has to offer. First the network successfully pitted CSI against Will & Grace. Then it moved Survivor opposite Friends. Now, CSI: NY will go up against the long-unbeatable Law & Order. How will this show be different from the others in the CSI franchise? CSI: NY co-creator and executive producer Anthony Zuiker has said that its execution "will be slightly more character driven" than the other two. The striking cast features Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes (Providence).
NBC, 8, premieres Sept. 9
In the most talked-about new series of the season, Friends' charmingly dim Joey Tribiani joins his older sister and her son in Los Angeles. Matt LeBlanc doesn't miss a beat. Upon arrival in Hollywood, his life is suddenly full of exciting TV auditions, from talk shows to dramas—even an edgy cop series. "It's for cable, so there's a combination of nudity and swearing that I find intriguing," he tells his sister, played by Drea de Matteo of The Sopranos, in the best casting move of the season. Friends fans will be there for Joey at the start, but will they stick around?
Blue Collar TV
The WB, 8, premiered in July
Blue Collar TV has been a ratings winner for The WB this summer, but whether this sometimes-crude sketch comedy can last through the fall (against NBC's Joey, CBS's Survivor and Fox's The O.C.) is a good question. This comedy is a fish out of water on the usually hip WB. Stars Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy are anything but young or cool. "This program contains reenactments of real blue-collar people engaging in lifestyles and behaviors that may be disturbing to some upscale viewers," reads an onscreen disclaimer shown during the show. Good.
Drew Carey's Green Screen
The WB, 8:30, premieres Sept. 16
Drew Carey deserves continued television success. But first, he should give the television audience a break. This summer, ABC is still burning off fresh episodes of his long-dead series sitcom. It's overkill; nobody wants to see that much of anybody. (Just ask Ryan Seacrest.) Drew Carey's Green Screen is really just another improv show, all tricked out with the latest visual technology. Carey and his comedy troupe film prolonged improv sketches in front of a green screen; the footage is then turned over to animators who fill in the backgrounds with whatever wild imagery they choose. Interesting idea, but are viewers ready for a Carey comeback?
Life As We Know It
ABC, 9, premieres Sept. 23
The scripted Lifecenters on three horny teenage boys who are endlessly driven by raging hormones. "How are we supposed to go to school when all we can think about is sex?" one of the boys asks. It may be the most insightful line of dialogue in any new show this season. The pilot makes clear that this series has been custom-designed for the MTV generation. The teen boys periodically stop the action to talk to the camera, just as the casts of MTV's The Real World have always done. Sean Faris, Jonathan Fields and Kelly Osbourne stand out. But is this show more The WB than ABC?
ABC, 8:30, premieres Sept. 24
Complete Savages is no television rarity—it's a situation comedy about a single parent raising a bunch of kids. It could have been a formulaic retread of at least 100 other shows, but it turns out instead to have wit, edge and a sharp point of view. At times, watching the Savage family is actually laugh-out-loud funny. Keith Carradine stars as Nick, the firefighter father of five sons. Mel Gibson, who's moving into series television in a big way this fall, is one of the show's executive producers. (Gibson is also an executive producer of CBS's Clubhouse and UPN's Kevin Hill.)
The WB, 8:30, premieres Sept. 17
The knowledge that Commando Nanny is the first scripted effort from savvy reality-television producer Mark Burnett makes this unfunny comedy inexplicable. That Burnett based the series on his own experiences as a young ex-commando from the British Special Forces who once worked as a Beverly Hills nanny makes it downright unbearable. (Was there really a palpable sexual tension between Burnett and the teenage daughter of one of his clients, as there is in this show? That should be classified under "Too Much Information.") Gerald McRaney gets a few good lines as Ben, the grouchy tycoon who hires the commando to watch his kids.
The Next Great Champ
Fox, 9, premieres Sept. 10
The Next Great Champ will probably make it to air before the November debut of NBC's The Contender. Mark Burnett and DreamWorks are in court with Fox and Champ's producers; they claim Fox and its producers violated California boxing regulations in their rush to be first. Assuming Champ airs, it will likely generate interest in Burnett's Contender. If it fails, the reality guru's show will get sampled anyway. In Champ,12 aspiring boxers (as opposed to 16 on The Contender) train and compete to win a contract with eight-time world champion Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions. Fox says several "legendary" fighters and trainers will also appear on the show.
CBS, 10, premieres Sept. 24
Industry insiders are suggesting that Dr. Vegas could be the first new drama to crash, if NBC's LAX isn't grounded first. This show more closely resembles Fox's The Casino than NBC's flashy scripted sensation Las Vegas, which the CBS series hopes to duplicate. Don't bet on it. Rob Lowe is Dr. Billy Grant, a Harvard Medical School graduate who becomes the in-house doctor at a Vegas casino. His boss is prime time mainstay Joe Pantoliano. Sarah Lancaster (Everwood) shines in a co-starring role.
NBC, 10, preview on Sept. 9, premieres Sept. 10
The premiere of Boomtown on NBC two years ago had critics raving especially for Neal McDonough. The show failed, but McDonough is back for Medical Investigation, which focuses on a mobile medical team from the National Institute of Health that plunges headlong into outbreaks of inexplicable diseases. (In reality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does that.) In the grim pilot, investigators discover a salt shaker from a Manhattan diner is responsible for almost killing a number of people. Frightening, but the show's popularity hangs on McDonough's shoulders.
The networks say they haven't abandoned Saturday, but they don't pay much attention to it, either. This season, there are a few tweaks but nothing that is exactly new. Exactly is the operative word. CBS News took its 48 Hours, renamed it and refocused it into 48 Hours Mysteries, which is the route it's taken for a while anyway. It keeps The Amazing Race revved up at 9 p.m. And at 10, it has created Crime Time Saturday, which will consist of a repeat from one of its crime shows elsewhere on the schedule. Similarly, NBC will replay The Apprentice from earlier in the week at 8 p.m.
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