Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Too Much Of A Good Thing's Michael Ausiello reported yesterday that NBC is supposedly looking at a spinoff for "The Office." Set in a different brance of Dunder-Mifflin, the new version would have an entire new cast and be introduced in a backdoor pilot on the original.

Despite "The Office" still being one of the sitcoms on the air, I think this is a mistake on NBC's part, because it would dilute the original product.

Look, I'm the guy who said the hour-long versions of "The Office" were too much, so I'm definitely a less-is-more kind of critic. You can have too much of a good thing.

Look at all of the "Law & Orders" and "CSIs" out there. (I'm surprised we haven't been subjected to "Law & Order: CSI" yet.) And while "Private Practice," (ABC, 9 p.m.)the "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff is doing solid ratings, it's been both a commercial and critical disappointment thus far despite a big-name cast.

While a critical success with a legion of loyal fans, "The Office" isn't exactly a ratings blockbuster, and it would be a mistake of having to spread the talented crew behind it too thin with another show.

Meanwhile, from the more-is-more category, check out this abbreviated pilot for what would have been "Veronica Mars" Season 4:

By the way, guys and gals, great discussion yesterday on "The Biggest Loser." Let's have more of those!

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Joining "Private Practice" tonight are two of ABC's best new shows of the season, "Pushing Daisies" at 8 p.m. and "Dirty Sexy Money" at 10 p.m.

And, speaking of "CSI," the NY version is tonight (CBS, 10 p.m.), following "Kids Nation" and "Criminal Minds."

NBC is pre-empting "Bionic Woman" tonight for a two-hour "Phenomenon" (NBC, 8 p.m.), but at least, "Life" (NBC, 10 p.m.) is new.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Skin-deep TV

If you've watched five seconds of FX the past three months, you'll know that "Nip/Tuck" (FX, 10 p.m.) kicks off its fifth season tonight.

Unfortunately, I've seem to have caught all 6,000 commercials FX has aired to promote the show, reminding me why I never started watching it in the first place - it really creeps me out.

Maybe it's because I've never gotten into the whole plastic surgery thing, or maybe it's because the show's promos usually display the series' most vulgar moments, but "Nip/Tuck" has never appealed to me.

But it has a devoted legion of fans, who know, no doubt, that the series has shifted stars Julian McMahon and Dylan Walsh to Los Angeles after four years in Miami. But after being star surgeons on the East Coast, the two docs are small fish in the big pond of L.A. So they hire a publicist (Lauren Hutton) to help them establish themselves.

FX is pretty hit or miss with its series. For every "Rescue Me" or "The Shield," there have been a lot of duds. "Nip/Tuck" seems to be that rare show - not great TV, but very popular.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: "Bones" (Fox, 8 p.m.) is all-new and usually at its best when it goes for humor. It also does well with holiday episodes (remember the Christmas show from Season 1, when everyone was stuck in the lab?) So I'm looking forward to tonight's Halloween-themed episode, especially with Bones going as Wonder Woman and Camille dressing as Catwoman. It's followed by a brand-new "House." (Fox, 9 p.m.) I already miss "Bosley," but am glad "13" and "back-stabbing bitch" have survived House's job interview for another week.

As I alluded to yesterday, the classic "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (ABC, 8 p.m.) airs tonight, followed by "Dancing With The Stars" and "Boston Legal."

CBS is all-new with "NCIS," "The Unit" and "Cane."

Finally, I never watch this show, but I have to say I was disturbed by this week's promos for "The Biggest Loser" (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) in which one of the candidates gains weight in order to help himself in the overall competition. It disturbs me because the show was supposed to be this sort of feel-good, root-for-everyone kind of show, and when it devolves into reality-styled backstabbing, it becomes an unseemly, carnival-styled sideshow, with the viewer gawking at these people with weight problems. A few months back, I praised ABC for teaming up with Shaquille O'Neal to target childhood obesity, because that show seemed to have noble intentions. Perhaps NBC should remember that.

Monday, October 29, 2007

You Were A Good Man, Charles Schulz

As fictional characters go, one of the ones I've always felt a close kinship toward is Charlie Brown.

Maybe it's the feeling of the emblematic football of happiness and success always being yanked away from me at the last second right before I kick it, or the fruitless pursuit of the little redheaded girl, but darn if the little bald kid in the yellow-and-black striped shirt doesn't seem to be the perfect spiritual fictional totem for me.

I bring this up because PBS presents the documentary, Good Ol' Charles Schulz on "American Masters" (PBS, 9 p.m.), followed by "Peanuts Gallery" at 10 p.m. Both shows look at the "Peanuts" world of Charlie Brown & Co. and the man who created it.

You'll learn who the inspirations were for characters like Lucy and the little red-headed girl, and how the comic strip grew from the funny pages to TV movies that are still loved today. One of the best, "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," will air Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Having worked in newspapers for 13 years, one of the neatest things I've ever seen in one was the tribute by every other comic strip the week Schulz died back in 2000. Every strip contained either a personal note from the cartoonist or a "Peanuts" character worked into that day's comic.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: I really can't understand why "Chuck" (NBC, 8 p.m.) is only doing middling in the ratings. It's got a strong cast, action, humor and uncomplicated storylines. A viewer could tune into any episode and dive right in, and not have to worry about catching up. Fans of the show seem pretty enthusiastic about it, yet word of mouth hasn't spread about it. It's a tad worrisome. It's followed by new episodes of "Heroes" and the ever-improving "Journeyman."

But then, I feel the same way about "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 8 p.m.), and it's the weakest-rated of the four CBS sitcoms on Mondays despite being also the best. The sitcoms are followed by "CSI: Miami" at 10 p.m.

One show drawing in the huge numbers is "Samantha Who?" (ABC, 9:30 p.m.), thanks to being wedged in between "Dancing With The Stars" at 8 p.m. and "The Bachelor" at 10 p.m. It will be interesting to see if "Samantha" continues to draw after "DWTS" ends, but right now, it's ABC's most successful sitcom in years and may provide the blueprint how it will launch sitcoms in the future.

I'm going to continue to plug the season's best new sitcom, "Aliens in America" (CW, 8:30 p.m.) until you people start watching it. It's a great mix of teen angst combined with political incorrectness, and Amy Pietz deserves an Emmy nomination for her work as the mom on the show.

Finally, though the World Series has ended, Fox has had to set aside the programming schedule in case it went longer than four games. So everything is a rerun tonight, though interestingly, Fox is airing a rerun of "House" at 8 p.m. rather than the normally scheduled "Prison Break."

Friday, October 26, 2007

And The Agony Continues...

I'm not, by nature, an optimist.

So almost every Georgia-Florida weekend since I started at UGA way back in 1990 has been something of pure torture for me, as I'm sure it's been for the rest of Bulldawg Nation.

I carry little hopes that this year's Cocktail Party (CBS, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.) is going to be much better. Georgia got whipped by Tennessee two games ago and barely beat Vandy before this past weekend's bye week.

My lone ember of hope is that this season, there are about five upsets every weekend, everything from Appalachian State winning at Michigan to USC losing at home despite being a 41-point favorite. Will the Dogs get swept up in upset mania and change what has been a constant fate for most of the past two decades?

I don't know, but winning this game more than once a decade would be nice.

THURSDAY RECAP: Maybe it was having Jason Reitman on board as director, or maybe it was the return to the half-hour format, but last night's "The Office" was definitely the strongest effort of the season, from Dwight and Andy's different reactions to the initial "D" to Michael's commercial, a classic Michael Scott joint if I ever saw one. Hopefully, NBC will finally learn the lesson that you can have too much of a good thing.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: Well, I dissed "Moonlight" (CBS, 9 p.m.) with my initial review, and four episodes in, I still don't think it's very good, but it continues to pull together a steady following. One of the few things I liked about the show was Jason Dohring's character of Josef, but he has hardly had anything to do thus far and wasn't even in last week's installment. And I still prefer the wide variety of demons and supernatural creatures that the gang on "Angel" fought to the vampire-of-the-week or really-bad-human-of-the-week that "Moonlight" is seemingly stuck with. A new "Ghost Whisperer" precedes it, while the night wraps up with "Numb3rs."

"Women's Murder Club" (ABC, 9 p.m.) is carving out its own niche on Fridays. It's a solid show, certainly not appointment television, but fairly entertaining if you are home on a Friday. It's followed by the cult hit, "Men In Trees."

Unfortunately, with both "Moonlight" and "Club" doing well, it takes away potential viewership from the night's best show, "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 9 p.m.) Much like the cast and crew of the show, I'm resigning myself to the fact that this is never going to get even fair ratings despite superior acting and writing. If this is the last year, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the ride. It's followed by "Las Vegas," in which former Tom Selleck's former "Magnum, PI" buddies Larry Manetti and Roger Mosley show up for a mini-reunion.

"Torchwood" (BBC America, Sat., 9 p.m.) is all-new and coming off its most ingenious episode yet last week.

On Sunday, new episodes of "Cold Case" (CBS, 9 p.m.) and "Shark" (CBS, 10 p.m.) compete with Game 4 of the World Series (Fox, 8 p.m.), as do ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Brothers and Sisters," from 9-11 p.m.

As always, the pick for Sundays is the ingenious "Dexter," (Showtime, 9 p.m.), which is followed by a new "Brotherhood" at 10 p.m.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's Official: There Are No Good Ideas Left

Perhaps with a certain bit of unintended irony with a week to go before the announced writers' strike in Hollywood, my brother sent me a link to a story yesterday that rocked the very fiber of my being. If I hadn't seen it reported at multiple places, I would have thought he was pulling my leg.

But no, this is real: Fox has ordered a script for a "Prison Break" spinoff called "Prison Break: Cherry Hill," which would center on a female prisoner named Molly.

Because a show that has come off the rails and is bleeding viewership needs a spinoff. Perhaps CBS should consider a "Viva Laughlin" spinoff.

Supposedly, the character of Molly (yet to be cast) would meet Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) at the Sona prison in Panama. She's a middle-class American housewife who has (naturally) been framed for a crime she didn't commit. How a housewife would survive in Sona for more than an hour after tough-guy prison guard Bellick is forced to walk around in a diaper in the same place is only one of the issues I have with this concept.

But really, the main problem with "PB: Cherry Hill" (I thought the Cherry Hill referred to the city in New Jersey, which feels like a prison itself, but really, it apparently refers to an infamous prison in Massachusetts) is that everyone is already making the women-in-prison jokes. This should be a series on Cinemax, not a network.

Honestly, what's the point of having a series about women in prison if there aren't long shower sequences involving hot women prisonders? (If Cinemax teaches us anything, it's that all women in prison are hot and like taking showers).

I think I'd rather Fox give the hour on the schedule that is being reserved for "PB:CH" to reality czar Mike Darnell for his latest monstrosity than waste the time on a pointless spinoff to a show that has long since passed its prime.

AROUND THE DIAL: Other news from Fox sees freshman sitcom "Back To You" get a full season order. ...

Meanwhile, ABC is set to bring back "October Road" on Nov. 22, following "Grey's Anatomy" for one time, then shifting the show to Monday nights at 10 p.m. ABC has also ordered more episodes of "Samantha Who?" ...

If you missed NBC's "Phenomenon" last night, here's a clip from a rehearsal: They sent me another clip involving Russian Roulette, but since my blog is attached to a family newspaper, it's probably not a good idea to run it.

THURSDAY'S BEST BET: What's been a good week (despite the reports of "Prison Break" spinoffs) gets better tonight with the return of one of TV's best sitcoms, "Scrubs" (NBC, 9:30 p.m.) The show is in its final season, but after seeing the season premiere last night, let me tell you it shows no signs of age or slowing down. The episode centers around JD (Zach Braff) and Elliott (Sarah Chalke) pondering their separate relationships, the Janitor's (Neil Flynn) new girlfriend and the world's friendliest patient.

A by-product of "Scrubs" return is that "The Office" (NBC, 9 p.m.) is back to a more-comfortable half-hour. Tonight's installment is directed by my new bud Jason Reitman ("Thank You For Smoking"), which alone makes it worth watching.

While "PB" has declined pretty much every episode over the last three years, "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.) has gotten better each week over the same period of time. Between the episode two weeks ago involving Dean's possible son and last week's centered around the rabbit's foot from Hell, the writers are doing a great job of having a lot of fun. I can't wait to see what they've cooked up this week. It follows a new "Smallville" at 8 p.m.

CBS is new with "CSI" and "Without A Trace," beginning at 9 p.m. After watching "Viva Laughlin" last week, I never thought I'd be happy to see "Without A Trace" back in its familiar timeslot.

ABC's big night of "Ugly Betty" at 8 p.m. and "Grey's Anatomy" at 9 p.m. are also new, as is "Big Shots" (ABC, 10 p.m.), which now has sole possession of the worst-show-on-TV crown, thanks to the cancellation of "Viva Laughlin."

Finally, Game 2 of the World Series is tonight (Fox, 8 p.m.) as is the matchup of Boston College and Virginia Tech (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.) in the loony season that is college football.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Glass Is Half-Full These Days

On the heels of the announcement that arguably the worst new show of the season, "Viva Laughlin," has been axed is the even better news that TV's arguably best new show, "Pushing Daisies" (ABC, 8 p.m.) has earned a full season's worth of episodes.

It's nice to see originality, when it's done right, rewarded. Some people have criticized "Pushing Daisies" for being too cute, but for me, I love the fairy-tale whimsical nature of the show. And actors Lee Pace, Chi McBride, Kristen Chenowith and Anna Friel are pitch perfect in their roles on the show.

In even better news, "How I Met Your Mother" actually has shown a slight ratings increase this season, getting an extra 600,000 or so last week. Hey, every little bit helps.

So, my mood remains optimistic for another week, until the writers strike ....

TUESDAY RECAP: "Damages" ended with a bit of a whimper rather than a bang (Ted Danson's fate not withstanding), and if this show doesn't get renewed I won't be too emotional.

On the other hand, between John Francis Daley last night and Stephen Fry last season, Booth (David Boreanaz) should be in therapy every week on "Bones." I think Daley has signed for a few episodes, so Booth's mental health woes should continue to delight fans of the series, especially with Bones (Emily Deschanel) now joining him.

And I continue to love the job interview process on "House," especially the candidates known as "13" and "Back-stabbing bitch." But I am going to miss "Bosley," unfortunately. After its clever takes on "The Bachelor," "Survivor" and "Charlie's Angels," which show will "House" producers mock next?

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: I've seen ads for "Phenomenon" (NBC, 8 p.m.) running on the network for the past few weeks, but I really have no idea what this show is about. Uri Geller and Criss Angel are the hosts, and I think it's something like "American Idol" for magicians, but other than that, I really don't know what to tell you. It's followed by new installments of "Bionic Woman" and "Life."

My boy Josh Beckett takes the mound against Jeff Francis as the Boston Red Sox play host to the Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the World Series (Fox, 8 p.m.) I'm not really a Red Sox fan, but Beckett is the only guy on my fantasy team that is actually good, and he's amazing during the postseason.

"Private Practice" (ABC, 9 p.m.) and "Dirty Sexy Money" (ABC, 10 p.m.) follow "Pushing Daisies."

It's not like I watch any of the "CSIs" any way, but man, do the ads for tonight's "CSI: NY" (CBS, 10 p.m.) - about murder during an online role-playing game - look corny. I'm trying really hard to remember that Gary Sinise is one of the finest actors of his generation, but that's difficult when they have him shouting into the camera saying "Get out!" to an online game player. It follows "Criminal Minds," (CBS, 9 p.m.), which is in the process of introducing another great actor, Joe Mantegna, as Mandy Patinkin's replacement. Let's get these stars material worthy of them!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

D.O.A. Laughlin

While CBS' "Viva Laughlin" wasn't the first casualty of the new TV season - the CW had something called "Online Nation" yanked last week - it it certainly one of the most visible bombs in recent memory.

Sunday's second and final episode saw the casino have a disastrous opening and Ripley (Lloyd Owen) desperate to try to create some buzz for it. Talk about an ironic example of art imitating life. I watched about 10 minutes of it waiting for dinner, and during through a butchering of "Money (That's What I Want)" I pretty much knew this show was a goner.

Certainly, I'm all for originality in TV, and "Viva Blackpool" - the BBC series upon which "Laughlin" was based - had that in spades. I was at a party over the weekend and met someone who had been to the "Laughlin" set. He said he thought the show was too campy to last very long.

Actually, as I told him, I thought it wasn't campy enough. The show wasn't a serious musical, so producers could have had a lot of fun and gone really over the top with it, much like "Blackpool." But there was none of that in "Laughlin," and most of the key roles (Owen, Melanie Griffith) were horribly miscast. The only interesting character, the show's villain (Hugh Jackman), was a recurring role. Jackman was the one actor on the show who was a legitimate singer/dancer, not a good sign for a show based around singing and dancing.

The one bit of good news (besides the awful "Laughlin" getting yanked) is that "The Amazing Race," one of the few worthwhile so-called reality shows, will be returning to the air Nov. 4. (This Sunday's gap in the schedule will be a "CSI" rerun).

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Tonight marks the finale of "Damages" (FX, 10 p.m.) a decent show that is about 50-50 in terms of renewal. Usually, any time you get the likes of Glenn Close doing her thing on TV, I'm all for renewal (and her co-star, Ted Danson, has been terrific as a Ken Lay-type of businessman), but the pacing of "Damages" has been too slow for a lot of people. The producers have done a good job over the last two weeks of drawing all the plot threads together, but it might be too little, too late in terms of recapturing the audience. "Damages" wasn't the best series to debut this summer (not when you have series like "Mad Men" and "Burn Notice") but it was ambitious, something we don't get enough of on TV.

After a week of baseball, Fox's duo of "Bones" and "House" are back. "Bones" has been a bit all over the place this season, while "House" has never been better with the influx of job applicants to join House's (Hugh Laurie) team. I hope they keep the interview process going as long as possible.

What's the over/under of "Bee Movie" commercials with Jerry Seinfeld during tonight's "Singing Bee" (NBC, 8 p.m.)? Just curious.

While CBS had a bomb with "Viva Laughlin," "Cane" (CBS, 10 p.m.) has showed surprising legs so far. It certainly doesn't dominate the ratings, but the audience is holding pretty steady. It follows new episodes of "NCIS" and "The Unit."

I think tonight's lineup from ABC - "Cavemen," "Carpoolers," "Dancing With the Stars" and "Boston Legal" - is the TV equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard, but evidently somebody is watching these shows, so what do I know? (Is Wayne Newton still alive on "Dancing?")

The CW is all new with "Beauty and the Geek" and "Reaper."

Finally, a slightly less-enthusiastic pitch for the HBO/BBC miniseries, "Five Days" (HBO, 8 p.m.) After a strong start, the series has dragged on a bit with the main mystery, that of a mother who has disappeared. It's a five-part series that probably could have been done more effectively in three parts, but maybe the final two episodes will surprise.

Monday, October 22, 2007

'Hero-ic' Effort?

The current issue of Entertainment Weekly blasts "Heroes" for what having what it describes as a sub-par season, and even many fans of the show are anxious for something eye-popping to happen.

As I pointed out a few postings ago, "Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.) was blasted by some last year because it had so many diverse plot threads that only came together after a full season. The writers seem to be taking the same approach this season.

That being said, the writers need to speed things up just a bit. It's hard to care about new characters when we are only seeing glimpses of old ones. We've barely seen Niki (Ali Larter, who spent part of the summer filming "Resident Evil," so she probably wasn't available) this season, and Hiro (Masi Oka) and Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) were completely absent from last week's installment.

Meanwhile, the show seems pre-occupied shoving new, uninteresting characters down our throat. Enough with the brother-sister plague carriers, already. Other than serving as a plot device for getting Sylar (Zachary Quinto) back to New York, they've detracted more than they've added. And Micah's cousin (Dana Davis), who has one of the more lame superpowers ever in duplicating whatever she watches on TV? (I'm curious, if she were watching "Heroes" and saw someone use their powers, such as Nathan flying, would she be able to fly as well?) But at least I know who to call when I can't operate my George Foreman grill.

Tonight could be a pivotal episode for "Heroes," since it marks the introduction of the lovely and talented Miss Kristen Bell as Elle, a mysterious woman with a mysterious power who seeks out Peter. Certainly, bringing in the likes of Bell is something that's going to be exteremely exciting for a lot of fans, but will the producers drag out her introduction as well so we can have a few more quality moments between Claire and her boyfriend?

Don't get me wrong, "Heroes" is still must-see TV for me, but the producers need to get us back to the characters we spent a season rooting for first, then introduce other characters into the mix (unless it's Kristen Bell, then they can give her as much screen time as they want).

I do find it interesting, though, about how impatient viewers are these days. TV isn't a two-hour movie; writers should get a few episodes to establish storylines and characters. Take a look at "Chuck," (NBC, 8 p.m.), which some people said was slow out of the gates. I disagree; "Chuck" took its first two episodes to set up the series and characters, then kicked it into overdrive by putting Chuck (Zachari Levi) into full-time spy situations. The result has been that "Chuck" is one of the more pleasant surprises this season. Ditto for "Journeyman," (NBC, 10 p.m.), which some viewers complained about being "confusing," when that is precisely the point. Our confusion mirrors Dan's (Kevin McKidd), who suddenly finds himself in different eras, seeing his dead fiancee. Who wouldn't be confused by that?

As always, it's all about finding the right balance, something not always easy to do on the TV landscape.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the premiere of "Samantha Who?" (ABC, 9:30 p.m.) last week. It fulfilled the primary function of a sitcom - it made me laugh, something ABC sitcoms really haven't done in years. How long the premise of a woman re-discovering herself after amnesia may end up getting stretched thin, but it's hard to believe the same network that's given us this also gave us "Caveman" and "Carpoolers." But then, it's hard to believe the same network that has given us the god-awful "Big Shots" also airs "Pushing Daisies." So, what do I know? But given "Samantha's" timeslot between "Dancing With The Stars" and "The Bachelor," expect it to last a while.

What do I know, indeed? I find "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 8 p.m.) to be the best sitcom of the night, arguably the best on TV right now because I'm not enjoying the full hour versions of "The Office," yet "HIMYM" is the lowest rated CBS comedy, losing out to the likes of "Big Bang Theory," "2 1/2 Men" and "Rules of Engagement." But maybe the success of those shows, combined with "CSI: Miami," will keep "HIMYM" around for a while longer.

Speaking of great sitcoms, thank goodness for diminished expectations, because "Aliens In America" (CW, 8:30 p.m.) has been a riot, though no one seems to be watching. It follows "Everybody Hates Chris," and is followed by "Girlfriends" and "The Game."

Finally, I gave up on "Prison Break" (Fox, 8 p.m.) and "K-Ville" (Fox, 9 p.m.) weeks ago, and haven't missed them. While a lot of "PB" fans were angered over the death of Dr. Sara, I've always hated what I thought was one of the dumber-written characters on TV. (How this woman got her M.D., I'll never know.) But "PB" is an example of trying to milk a show too much instead of finding a natural ending.

Friday, October 19, 2007

'Band' Together

Fox is hoping to capture the next wave of reality phenomenon tonight with the debut of "The Next Great American Band" at 8 p.m.

My question is, what took them so long?

You'd think this project would have occurred to the network that brings us "American Idol" two or three times a week. Instead of trying to find the next great American singer, finding the next great musical group would seem like a logical progression.

Sure, there's a battle-of-the-bands kind of feel to it, but I think this is actually more challenging than "AI," since everyone in the band has to be on their game and they have to be able to play instraments in addition to singing, plus have the charisma of an actual band.

I'm also wondering why Fox would put this on Fridays, when most of the target audience will likely be out listening to real bands in clubs across the country, because in theory, most of the "AI" audience should be checking "Band" out, at least initially.

AROUND THE DIAL: What is it about "Big Bang Theory" that you people like? Seriously. Someone please explain to me why this show is popular. It's not plausible, and it's not funny.

But the ratings are very good and CBS awarded the show with a full-season pickup on Friday. In addition, CBS is also picking up "The Unit."

Meanwhile, despite it being something of a disappointment both creatively and in the ratings, "Private Practice" will also get a full season's worth of episodes, probably not much of a surprise. ...

Sci-Fi announced Friday that it will produce the backdoor pilot, "Revolution," which begins production in January. The concept is of a space colony named New America that has a lot of the same problems we contemporary Americans do. The new colony considers seceding from good, old planet Earth.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: I mentioned "Women's Murder Club" (ABC, 9 p.m.) last week as something that is slightly amusing, but apparently people thought even more of it than I did as it pulled in strong ratings for a Friday. Having seen Episode 2, the show settles more into what will be its presumed format each week. It's based on the crime novels of James Patterson, about four women who band together through their jobs to solve crimes. It's followed by the premiere of "Men In Trees."

CBS is all-new, with "Ghost Whisperer" (CBS, 8 p.m.) kicking things off, followed by the continuing-to-disappoint "Moonlight." At 10 p.m., "Numb3rs" takes on a Da Vinci Code-like plot.

Please, please, please tune into "Friday Night Lights," (NBC, 9 p.m.) which delivers a pivotal episode that will advance the Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) storyline as the Panthers become divided over the team's new coach (Chris Mulkey). (Fans of the series will especially enjoy the scene between Tim Riggins and Buddy Garrity). It's followed by a new "Las Vegas."

On Saturday, pretty much the only new thing of note is "Torchwood" (BBC America, 9 p.m.).

Sunday brings a plethora of new things, but the best bet is Showtime, which delivers new installments of "Dexter" at 9 p.m. and "Brotherhood" at 10 p.m.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Not So Much With The Viva, Laughlin

The loyal dozens who read this blog know I trumpet originality in TV.

When a "Friday Night Lights" or "Pushing Daisies" or "Life On Mars" comes along, I want everyone and their Uncle Bob to tune in.

But then, something like "Viva Laughlin" (CBS, 10 p.m.) comes along, and it makes me want to long for yet another "Law & Order" spinoff.

After watching the pilot yesterday, the only comment I can come up with is: Yeesh!

Let me expound on that. Like others have tried to with, say, "The Office," (NBC, 9 p.m.) some American producer got the idea of stealing a BBC TV series idea and Americanize it, in this case, with "Viva Blackpool." With "Viva Laughlin," those producers have come up with a new "Coupling."

Ripley (Lloyd Owen) is a Laughlin businessman who is trying to start his own casino. But when his main investor pulls out, Ripley is left with a gigantic debt on the unfinished edifice, forcing him to go to his archrival (series producer Hugh Jackman) for a loan, which he doesn't get. When the investor who pulled out is later found murdered, everyone - especially Ripley - is a suspect.

What makes "Viva Laughlin" supposedly different is the musical approach. The characters burst into pop hits like "Viva Las Vegas" or "Sympathy For The Devil" as sort of leitmotifs to introduce themselves to the audience. But the annoying thing here is that the original songs are being performed by the original artists, in this case Elvis and the Rolling Stones, while the actors sing over the music as you would sing along with your car radio or iPod. Why have a Tony award winner like Jackman trying to sing over the Stones?

Owen is hopelessly outclassed as Ripley, bringing no charm, no humor, no musical talent to the role. There's no reason to root for this guy, and he's the protagonist. Jackman brings a lot of charm to Nicky, the villain, but his role is only a recurring one in the series. The musical numbers don't pump you up; they are three-minute irritations, like when Owen and Melanie Griffith butcher Blondie's "One Way Or Another."

About the only positive thing I can say about "Viva Laughlin" is that it's not the worst thing on Thursday nights — "Big Shots" (ABC, 10 p.m.) is still on the air. But viewers who tune in and follow the show to its regular Sunday timeslot will get another tune stuck in their heads - "I Can't Get No Satisfaction."

GIRL POWER: Some things to look forward to in 2008. USA will pick up the miniseries "The Starter Wife" for a new run next year, with Debra Messing returning to the title role of a wife of a movie mogul who must start over after a divorce.

Meanwhile, Fox has announced Jan. 14 as the starting date for "The Sarah Conner Chronicles," starring Lena Headey in the titular role in this spinoff of "The Terminator" movies. The series will take over for "Prison Break" on Mondays.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: As you can probably guess, "Viva Laughlin" and "Big Shots" won't be listed among Best Bets very often. But otherwise, Thursdays are still an awesome night for TV.

Most awesome of all is the season finale to the summer's most acclaimed series, "Mad Men" (AMC, 10 p.m.) A star-making turn from Jon Hamm leads a stellar cast (most notably January Jones, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery in his best performance ever) about an ad agency in 1960, and how times were very different — or were they?

The networks also offer some good fare. NBC gives us a new "My Name Is Earl" and "30 Rock," beginning at 8 p.m. After "The Office," a new ER airs at 10 p.m.

Betty plagiarizes her own magazine on "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 8 p.m.), while I'm guessing something sexy happens on "Grey's Anatomy" at 9 p.m.

A new "Survivor" (CBS, 8 p.m.) and "CSI" air before "Viva Laughlin," pretty much guaranteeing I won't be watching CBS tonight.

A former Superman (Dean Cain) plays an evil scientist on "Smallville" (CW, 8 p.m.) as the series continues to mine the Superman mythos for acting talent. Word is, Cain's character may end up being a well-known DC Comics villain who could return later. It's followed by "Supernatural" at 9 p.m. Was anyone else disappointed that the kid from last week wasn't Dean's son? Talk about your chips off the old block!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Austin, Part 3: Friday Night Lights

Here are a few things you should know about one of TV's top series, "Friday Night Lights."

-Jesse Plemons (Landry) is the spitting image of Matt Damon, albeit with red hair. In fact, he played the younger version of Damon' character in "All The Pretty Horses." He also bears an uncanny resemblance to Glenn Morshower, who was cast as his father on "FNL." "He kind of looks like me more than my real father does," Plemons said with a chuckle.

-Minka Kelly (Lyla) is even more beautiful in person than on TV, which is saying something. She's a combination of a runway model and the girl next door. She wasn't bothered by the negative fan mail she got last season after Lyla had an affair with Tim Riggins. "It's the most rewarding," she said. "Knowing I had that affect on people. It's not frustrating at all. If your pissing someone off, you are doing something right. We're doing OK."

The show is filmed in Austin, and the cast and crew love the location filming, especially trying to capture that small-town feel of the show. Producer Jeffrey Reiner said both the book "Friday Night Lights" and the movie (directed by series producer Peter Berg) influence the series in trying to capture that feel.

The cast and crew say there is a lot more ad-libbing than most TV shows. Actors are given scripts only a few days before shooting (Plemons joked scripts are protected like drugs on the set) and that there is no blocking or marks on the set. The crew uses hand-held cameras to capture the action.

As for the controversial plot twist this season, when Landry and Tyra killed a man then dumped the body, the cast and crew have heard the complaints.

"The storyline is really powerful, really intense," Plemons said. "As an actor, you always want something that will make you uncomfortable. ... I really like the fact that people are upset. It means they really do care. What I've said is to give it a couple of episodes to let it play out, then make up your mind."

By the way, the scenes at the Dairy Queen between Matt and Smash are Reiner's favorites. "We get all this free ice cream," he said.

As for the show's low ratings despite critical acclaim, the cast and crew are taking it in stride, just trying to put out the best product possible. Reiner said NBC has been pretty good about staying hands off with the show, though the first season's promos that focused on the football aspect of the show probably hurt it.

And if this is the last season for "FNL"?

"I'm so proud (of the stories we tell)," Kelly said, "the growth you go through with these characters. If (the show) was done today, I'm so fulfilled and so grateful. I'm probably never going to do work like this again."

AROUND THE DIAL: Serialized shows keep adding names - "Rescue Me's" Andrea Roth will join the cast of "Lost" in a recurring role,'s Michael Ausiello reports.

And, completing the crew of the USS Enterprise, Aint-It-Cool News is reporting that Karl Urban will be Dr. Leonard McCoy in the new Star Trek movie.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Hopefully, Middle Georgians will be taking one night off to catch "Randy and the Mob" at the Cox Capitol Theatre, but if not, there are some great options on Wednesdays.

First and foremost is "Pushing Daisies," (ABC, 8 p.m.) TV's best new show, which will feature the return of Chuck's (Anna Friel) loopy aunts (Swoosie Kurtz, Ellen Greene). It's followed by "Private Practice," which most "Grey's Anatomy" fans haven't fallen in love with, and the inventive "Dirty Sexy Money."

Maybe if they retooled "Bionic Woman" (NBC, 9 p.m.) around the Sarah character instead of Jamie, it'd be a better show. It's followed by "Life" at 10 p.m.

I've pretty much given up on "Back To You" (Fox, 8 p.m.) despite its pedigree. It's followed by "Til Death" at 8:30 p.m. and "Kitchen Nightmares" at 9 p.m.

CBS is all-new with "Criminal Minds" (CBS, 9 p.m.) and "CSI:NY" (CBS, 10 p.m.)

Finally, the first full-season pick-up among the networks went to "Gossip Girl" (CW, 9 p.m.) which has done very well among the youth market.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Austin, Part 2: Will Bigham

Welcome to post #300, loyal dozens.

As you well know, one of the few reality shows I heavily promoted was Fox's "On The Lot." I thought it was a neat idea, in which young filmmakers had a shot at a deal with Dreamworks. A lot of talented filmmakers went through the process, but ultimately, the grand prize was won by Will Bigham.

As you may remember, Will was one of three filmmakers I pulled for, especially because this series was Bigham's last shot at Hollywood. Had he lost, Will would have had to find a day job to support his family.

I was lucky enough to hang out with Will at the Austin Film Festival, and the Florida State graduate exactly like he was on TV - polite, quiet and passionate about filmmaking.

TVGuy: What project are you working on now?
Will Bigham: We've tossed ideas back and forth. It's going to be really tricky. I have to be careful with what I pick. ... A lot of people want to see me fail, because often when you win something, people resent you. I'm just going to do the best job I can. But if I pick the wrong kind of story, it could hurt my career.

TVG: You said on the show that if you didn't win, that would be it for filmmaking for you.
WB: (The show) was it. Financially, I had no choice. (If he didn't win) I was going to have to pack up and try to build my savings.

TVG: What would you have done career-wise?
WB: I'm glad I don't have to know. My skills from film school was editing. It might have paid the rent, but it wouldn't build our savings.

TVG: Do you keep up with the other contestants?
WB: I had lunch with Jason (the contest's runner-up) last week. I had dinner with Adam recently, lunch with Sam.

TVG: How difficult was the final episode? Did you think you were going to win?
WB: It was pretty nerve-wracking. I was assuming Jason was going to win, because he had such a big fan base. We were on different tracks, but when they finally mixed (the various contestants together), he was the box office champion that week and I thought, 'Oh, crap!' I didn't want to make second place. I like Jason a lot, but I didn't want him to win.

TVG: One of the things about the show was that filmmakers were often put into categories that they didn't have a lot of experience in. In real life, a director with no horror experience would do a horror movie. Did you think that was unfair?
WB: I actually liked that. It could show that you could do any genre they stuck me in. My track was in comedy, and I envied the guys who got to do action, horror. Mateen had no experience in action, but that was his best work. He proved to himself he could do it.

TVG: Besides yourself, who did you think was the best filmmaker? Was there anyone who really intimidated you with their work?
WB: Zack definitely did with his earlier stuff. It was unfortunate that he chose a bad story and then did a sequel to it. He'd be the first one to tell you that. But as a director, he's going to do great. Adam, as well.

TVG: What kind of movies are you looking to make?
WB: I'd like to make something like "Raising Arizona" or "Amelie." They are great stories, and they are great examples of what I would want to do as a director.

TVG: Are you disappointed the show didn't succeed? Do you get recognized a lot?
WB: I'm definitely disappointed for (the producers). Everybody worked extremely hard. I thought they did a great job. On the other hand, if we had "American Idol" ratings, I wouldn't be able to walk around. Look at Clay Aiken; that guy can't go to the bathroom (without being mobbed). I'm just extremely thankful that people watched and voted for me.

REMINDER: "Randy and the Mob" will be showing Wednesday night in Macon. The movie, which was written by and stars Ray McKinnon ("Deadwood"), Lisa Blount and Walton Goggins ("The Shield") is a very funny, Southern-styled comedy about a small-town Georgian who borrows money from a loan shark. It's premiering at the Cox Capitol Theatre at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A with McKinnon. I highly recommend going.

NBC ON THE WEB: The NBC viral people are working overtime, especially with their comedies. "Scrubs" fans can see a video message from creator Bill Lawrence at and weigh in with questions and suggestions at

Meanwhile, Scranton, Pa. will be hosting an "Office" convention/party during the last weekend of October. For details, check out

And "My Name Is Earl" has had a lot of fun with music videos lately. For the latest, check out

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Baseball is starting to have an impact on the TV schedule, as "Bones" and "House" are both pre-empted this week while Fox airs Game 4 of the ALCS between the Indians and Red Sox.

But there are still plenty of viewing options. Hopefully, none of them will include the awful "Cavemen" and "Carpoolers," (ABC, 8 p.m.) which leave the "com" out of sitcom. They are followed by "Dancing With The Stars" and "Boston Legal." It's funny how ABC can produce some of the best new stuff this season and still have a lineup like this.

"NCIS" (CBS, 8 p.m.) rebounded nicely last week from an early season lull. It's followed by "The Unit" and the ratings-challenged "Cane."

Normally, I don't promote reality/news programs, but with the level of schadenfreude the American public often displays, you may be interested in "Dateline" (NBC, 8 p.m.), which interviews Larry Craig. It's followed by "The Biggest Loser" and "Law & Order: SVU."

Finally, The CW is all-new with "Beauty and the Geek" and "Reaper" beginning at 8 p.m.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Austin Film Festival '08: Overview

So, I had a great time at the Austin Film Festival. I'm going to post interviews tomorrow with "On The Lot" winner Will Bigham and the cast and crew of "Friday Night Lights" on Wednesday.

Here are a few of the high points of the festival that I thought you would find of interest:

-I talked with former Writer's Guild president Daniel Petrie Jr., who said he had no idea whether or not there would be a strike in two weeks. The writers and the studios, however, aren't close. The biggest issue is revenues from online downloads of TV shows and movies.

-A source very close to the situation said the role of a young James T. Kirk in the next "Star Trek" movie is likely Chris Pine's. The only real hiccup is Pine's availability because of another movie he is shooting.

-I saw three films at the festival that likely won't make it to Macon, but are worth catching if you can find them on video.

"Randy and the Mob" is the latest work of Georgia actor/filmmaker Ray McKinnon. It's a very funny look at an inept small-town businessman (McKinnon) who gets in debt over his head and asks a loan shark for help. The mob sends an enforcer (Walton Goggins) to oversee the money. But Randy's situation only gets worse.

For all those who love Goggins on "The Shield" - I thought he deserved an Emmy nomination this season - this role is completely 180 degrees from Shane Vendrell. Think "Rain Man" as a mob enforcer. "Randy and the Mob" will be making it's Macon debut on Wednesday at the Cox Capitol Theatre, with McKinnon in attendance. I'll have a preview in Wednesday's print edition of The Telegraph.

"Numb," a movie written and directed by Harris Goldberg based on his own life, is the finest work by stars Matthew Perry and Mary Steenburgen in years. It's a very funny look at Goldberg's life and his struggles with mental depression. Lynn Collins turns in a star-making performance as Perry's girlfriend.

But the most striking film that I saw was "The Living Wake," one of the most creative, bizarrely funny movies I've seen in years. Co-written by lead actor Mike O'Connell, it's a look at a crazy guy who is told he is about to die. Thinking he is a great genius who still has a lot to share with the world, he invites the whole town to his wake, in which he is the star performer.

I went to see the movie because it also stars Jim Gaffigan, but O'Connell is downright remarkable in the role, though it's entirely possible he may have also been blitzed during shooting, or at least during the discussion of the movie afterward. The best summary I can give is "Zelig" meets "Big Fish."

-Jason Reitman, IMO the best young filmmaker out there, told a packed room he directed an episode of "The Office." It's the first half-hour show of the season, set to air the end of October. Reitman, whose film "Thank You For Smoking" was the best movie of 2005, was at the festival promoting "Juno" (which I missed to catch a plane, but check out Keith Demko's Reel Fanatic blog for more details).

-Keep an eye out for rising filmmaker Sarah Dowling, who showed she has a good directorial eye with her short film, "Anatomy of a Frog."

I'm sure there are other aspects of the festival I'm forgetting, but I will include them over the next few days.

GO CHARGERS!: If you check out the current issue of "Entertainment Weekly" (the one with Patrick Dempsey on the cover), you can see a picture of Macon actor Jack McBrayer ("30 Rock") wearing his old Central High School gym shirt.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: Pretty much everything is new. The pick of the night may be "Aliens In America" (CW, 8:30 p.m.), in which Raja wants to build a model rocket, but everyone else thinks he is buildng a bomb.

And the much-buzzed Christina Applegate sitcom, "Samantha Who?" (ABC, 9:30 p.m.) debuts tonight. It's about a woman who loses her memory and becomes a much nicer person.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Club Worth Joining?

Sorry for the late update, but hey, this is my vacation.

When I first got the pilot for "Women's Murder Club," (ABC, 9 p.m.), I can't say I was too excited. Based upon a series of popular mysteries by James Patterson, the series centers around four women - a cop, a coroner, a D.A., and a reporter - who work together to solve crimes and their own social problems.

For me, it looked like it was going to be "CSI" meets "Desperate Housewives."

But you know what? The show isn't half-bad. I was more entertained than I thought I would be. Is this appointment viewing every week? No. But it's not a waste of an hour either, and could find a place for itself on Fridays.

MORE TREK CASTING: Simon Pegg will play engineer Montgomery Scott in the new Star Trek film, while John Cho will reportedly play Sulu, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Pegg is a terrific actor who should be a good addition to the cast. As for Cho, it's an OK choice, but I think JJ Abrams missed an obvious opportunity - James Kyson Lee, who plays Ando on "Heroes" alongside original Sulu George Takei.

FRIDAY'S BEST BETS: If you were disappointed by "The O.C." turn that "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 9 p.m.) took last week, I can only tell you the series returns to its strong dramatic roots over the next two episodes. And while the dumping of the body by Tyra and Landry was a ridiculous plot point, it does lead to some great moments between the two characters. And Mrs. Coach (Connie Britton) has some great scenes of post-partum depression that reminds us why Britton is the most underrated actress on TV.

I'd say "Moonlight" (CBS, 9 p.m.) is one of the biggest disappointments of the season, but then, my expectations weren't very high to begin with. It's followed by a brand-new "Numb3rs" at 10 p.m.

I don't have access to a TV schedule right now, so you guys on your own for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

As much as I hate to criticize a show a like, I think these hour-long versions of "The Office" (NBC, 9 p.m.) have been a bit of a disappointment.

It's not that I don't enjoy the show; I still think it's No. 1 or 1A among sitcoms. But I've found these hour-long versions to drag in the middle just a bit.

Take last week, where Michael (Steve Carell) drove into the lake because the on-board navigation system in his rental car told him to. It was a little ridiculous, even for Michael.

It seems that the rhythm of the show is a bit off, probably because the writers need to stretch out scenes and add subplots to fill the hour out.

Not only that, but hour-long episodes mean "Scrubs" isn't airing, either.

WEDNESDAY RECAP: Any worries I had that "Pushing Daisies" might not live up to its brilliant pilot evaporated about five minutes in. The sequence with Kristen Chenowith singing Olivia Newton-John and dancing with the dog, plus Chi McBride's deadpan one-liners totally captivated me. This is frakkin' great TV.

Speaking of frakkin, last night was easily the best "Bionic Woman" yet, due in large part to the increased presence of Katie Sackhoff, who is quickly becoming one of TV's best villains. It's not that Michelle Ryan is bad in the title role, but the writers have made her fairly bland compared to Sackhoff's Sarah. Still, last night was a very positive sign.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: One of the summer's best dramas, "Mad Men" (AMC, 10 p.m.) has shown no signs of slowing down as the first season is getting set to wind down in a couple of weeks.

While "The Office" hasn't been quite up to par, "My Name Is Earl" (NBC, 8 p.m.) has been pretty solid if unspectacular. I've always found "30 Rock" to be hit or miss, and so far, that trend has continued this year.

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I think Kara has been a solid addition to "Smallville" (CW, 8 p.m.), while I'm digging all the new demon hunters on "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.)

For some reason, my folks haven't enjoyed "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 8 p.m.), but I think it's been pretty solid - maybe not as good as when it first debuted, but still worth watching. It's followed by "Grey's Anatomy" and "Big Shots," easily one of the worst shows on TV.

CBS is also brand-new with "CSI" at 9 p.m. and "Without A Trace" at 10 p.m.

Finally, "It's Always Sunny..." (FX, 10 p.m.) has dropped quite a bit since its first two seasons, but still worth watching.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The New Kirk?

The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that JJ Abrams and company are in negotiations with actor Chris Pine to be the young version of James T. Kirk in the next "Star Trek" movie. For a summary of Pine's career, go here:

If signed, Pine would join Zachary Quinto of "Heroes" as the young Spock, Zoe Saldana of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series as the young Uhura and Anton Yelchin as the young Chekov. The article also confirmed that Eric Bana will play Nero, the movie's villain. Leonard Nimoy will reprise Spock in the movie, while there's a possibility that William Shatner will put in an appearance as Kirk.

There are several interviews all over the Net with Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the movie's writers, about what you can expect in the next film. Personally, I like the idea of going with relative unknowns as the young version of the Enterprise crew members, and Abrams directing the project can only mean good things.

FIRST PICKUP: "Gossip Girl" (CW, 9 p.m.) has become a guilty pleasure among the coveted 18-34 crowd, and the network is rewarding the show by picking it up for the full 22 episodes. "Gossip Girl" is also one of the top five downloaded shows on iTunes.

TUESDAY NIGHT REVISITED: I complained yesterday about "NCIS" and "Bones," and the TV gods heard my despair and delivered me two solid installments. Both series returned to the quirky humor that made me a fan in the first place. "NCIS" put Gibbs (Mark Harmon) in the uncomfortable spot of having one of his ex-wives, his ex-girlfriend (and current boss) and current girlfriend all together at the same time to great effect.

Meanwhile, "Bones" finally got the Bones-Booth relationship back on track with the bizarrely funny mystery set among horse fetishists. The conversation between Bones (Emily Deschanel) and Booth (David Boreanaz) at the end of the episode is an example of why the series has so devoted fans in the first place.

My only complaint about "Reaper" is that we need to see the Devil (Ray Wise) as much as possible. This was genius casting.
And please, TV gods, let us keep these prospective doctors on "House" for as long as possible.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Unlike the last two days, I didn't do reviews of Wednesday's lineup because most of the shows are new series.

Of course, the best new series of the season (I may have mentioned this once or twice) is "Pushing Daisies" (ABC, 8 p.m.) I was worried that I may have gone overboard with my praise despite whopping critical approval and very strong ratings for last week's "Pie-lette," but an informal survey of friends, family and co-workers have all been as positive about the show as I have.

The sitcom duo of "Back To You" (Fox, 8 p.m.) and "Til Death" are the only other non-reality offerings by the networks at this time.

So far, one of the biggest disappointments this season for me has been "Bionic Woman" (NBC, 9 p.m.) I like all of the actors, but the writing hasn't been up to par, quite a surprise considering the talent behind the camera. But I'm sticking with it, hoping that it will improve. It's followed by "Life," a series that I've enjoyed so far, but is one of those shows that people will either like or hate, with little middle ground.

Speaking of disappointments, "Private Practice" (ABC, 9 p.m.) hasn't been exactly winning over the critics or the legions of "Grey's Anatomy" fans. While the ratings have remained solid, this is one series that needs to find its footing quickly. Meanwhile, "Dirty Sexy Money" (ABC, 10 p.m.) has been one of the season's delights, but hasn't found an audience.

My postings for the next few days may be spotty, since I'm going to be at the Austin Film Festival, but during that 96 hours of sleep deprivation is a session with the producers of "Friday Night Lights," which I hope to report on next week.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Some More Reviewing

Two shows I usually enjoy have come stumbling out of the gates this season rather than flying.

Two episodes into the post-Don Bellisario era and "NCIS" (CBS, 8 p.m.) has yet to find its legs. I usually find "NCIS" to be one of the more enjoyable of CBS' long list of procedurals because the show has a good sense of humor and doesn't take itself too seriously.

But so far, the series has come out flat. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the season premiere, involving guest star Armand Assante's arms dealer, was a big letdown after a year-long buildup. It just seemed as though the writers got tired of the storyline and looked for the quickest way to end it. Maybe that had something to do with Bellisario leaving "NCIS" as the producer, I don't know, but it seemed to be a big waste of time for the fans.

I have higher hopes for tonight's episode, in which Gibbs (Mark Harmon) not only has to deal with his ex-wife, but also his ex-girlfriend and current girlfriend.

"Bones" (Fox, 8 p.m.) hasn't been much better. I think the producers made a mis-step in returning lab geek Zack back so early after shipping him off to Iraq at the end of last season, because returning him the next episode essentially really took away from the impact of his return - he wasn't gone long enough for the viewers to miss him. Plus, the producers could have really milked a long line of new lab techs for Bones (Emily Deschanel) to drive crazy, rather than just mention it as a throwaway line. And the chemistry between Bones and Booth (David Boreanaz) hasn't lived up to past seasons.

But all is not lost among returning shows. "House" (Fox, 9 p.m.) was pretty uneven last season when it came to storytelling, but has started off very strong with the extended subplot of trying to pick a new team. The new actors (Kal Penn, Olivia Wilde, et al) have been strong additions and we get to see House (Hugh Laurie) at his eccentric best.

MONDAY RECAP: I thought "How I Met Your Mother" reached slap bet/Robin Sparkles last night with Ted's "tricycle" scenario (not to spoil things for the DVR crowd). The feeling that this was the funniest 30 minutes of the new season lasted all of five minutes, as "Aliens In America" managed to be even funnier. This is easily TV's best new sitcom.

Though I've stopped watching it, "Prison Break" had a major event last night. You can read more about it with's Michael Ausiello here: (warning - major spoilers)

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Proof positive that there's no such thing as bad publicity, both "Cavemen" (ABC, 8 p.m.) and "Carpoolers" scored very solid numbers in their debut last week. How the same network suits that greenlighted "Pushing Daisies" also gave the thumbs up to these shows is one of life's great mysteries. It's followed by "Dancing With the Stars," in which teen superstar Miley Cyrus performs with her dad, Billy Ray, while a new "Boston Legal" is at 10 p.m.

I gave up on "The Unit" (CBS, 9 p.m.) a long time ago, but I did notice in the most recent ads that star Dennis Haysbert has gone back to the Pedro Cerrano look. It's followed by a new "Cane."

After two hours of so-called reality programming, NBC delivers a new "Law & Order: SVU" at 10 p.m.

"Damages" (FX, 10 p.m.) continues to fall in the ratings, but word on the street is that it will be picked up for a second season. If they do, hopefully FX will take the time to fix the sound on the episode, since it was totally screwed up over the final 15 minutes of last week's installment when I tried watching it twice last week. But hey, I'm sure nothing important happened.

Part 2 of the HBO/BBC miniseries, "Five Days" (HBO, 8 p.m.) airs tonight.

Finally, "The War" may be over on PBS, but cool programming isn't. I definitely will be checking out "NOVA" (PBS, 8 p.m.) tonight, which deals with the making of Samurai swords. (Hey, we all have our interests and hobbies). In addition, the famous British documentary that follows the same group of people every seven years of their lives continues tonight with "49 Up" at 10 p.m.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Some Reviews

Long-time contributor Jonathan asked for some reviews, especially of returning shows, last week. Now that I've caught up (mostly) on previewing the new shows on the schedule, it's ask-and-ye-shall-receive time. I'll look at the Monday shows today, with this being Monday and all.

Probably the biggest divide of any show out there is "Heroes," (NBC, 9 p.m.) Picking up a few months after last season's finale, we see old favorites (Parkman, Hiro, the Bennets) in different and unfamiliar situations as showrunner Tim Kring continues to introduce new characters.

Some people have criticized "Heroes" for being slow out of the gates, and perhaps there is some validity to that (we don't even catch our first glimpse of returning characters like Niki and Sylar until tonight), but if anyone remembers Season 1 of this show, Kring & Co. spend a lot of time setting up plotlines, usually with big payoffs later in the season. Clearly, a lot of "Heroes" is going to revolve around the company, and the trio of Parkman, Bennet and Mohindar trying to take it down. How does Hiro being in feudal Japan, or Peter having no memory, or the newly introduced Mexican twins play into that? I have no idea, but I have enough faith in the writing staff that there will be a payoff at some point this season. Meanwhile, the comic timing of Masi Oka and David Anders in feudal Japan has been nothing short of brilliant.

Also still on top of its game is "How I Met Your Mother." (CBS, 8 p.m.) The sub-plot of vacation Robin vs. New York Robin was well-executed, as was the death letters Marshall and Lily left for each other. How this show draws lower ratings than "Big Bang Theory" is really beyond me.

"Prison Break" (Fox, 8 p.m.) continues to sputter, and I finally gave up on it after two weeks. I mean, the show has bordered on the ridiculous for a while now, and introducing new conspiracies while not adequately wrapping up the old ones isn't the way to solve the show's problems.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: "Chuck" (NBC, 8 p.m.) has been one of the pleasant surprises of the new season, and the show gets even better this week now that the writers have established the premise. Chuck (Zachari Levi, one of the breakout stars on TV this season) must help track down one of the world's most dangerous terrorists, and to do so, he must learn to tango. Enter Captain Awesome! Meanwhile, Chuck continues to battle for the assistant manager's job at work. It's followed by "Heroes" and "Journeyman," (NBC, 10 p.m.), a show which I've liked but is struggling ratings-wise, most likely because of its confusing nature.

I've never been into "2 1/2 Men" nor "Rules of Engagement," which fill up CBS' 9-10 p.m. slot, and I don't think I'll start now, but the ratings have been pretty strong. It's followed by an all-new "CSI: Miami" at 10 p.m.

Giving up on "Prison Break" also meant giving up on "K-Ville" (Fox, 9 p.m.) Despite a solid premise and a good cast, this show never lived up to the hype, devolving into car chases and standard '80s-fare cop melodrama.

Meanwhile, I eagerly await the second episode of "Aliens In America" (CW, 8:30 p.m.), which follows an all-new "Everybody Hates Chris." "Aliens" may be - arguably - the second-best pilot produced this year, only behind "Pushing Daisies."

Finally, I failed to mention it last week, but HBO is running a new miniseries mystery co-produced with the BBC called "Five Days," about a family that is abducted in the U.K. It had a very solid opening which re-airs tonight (HBO, 9:30 p.m.) before Part 2 airs Tuesday.

Friday, October 05, 2007

'FNL' On Fridays - Marketing Genius!

Tonight marks the return of one of TV's best shows as "Friday Night Lights" (NBC, 9 p.m.) is back. At least with the show's timeslot being the same now as the title, maybe a few more viewers will find it this season.

People who didn't want to watch "FNL" often complained they didn't want to devote their time to a show about high school football. "FNL" has about as much to do with high school football as "Grey's Anatomy" has to do with sharp medical writing.

"FNL" is a wonderful and realistic slice of Americana, how these characters try to keep their hopes and dreams alive in a stifling, dead-end town in Texas. Football is what binds the community together, but it's only a small part of what is going on.

Having seen the first three episodes of "FNL" this season, the series shows little signs of dropping off, despite a major blunder (IMHO) in the first episode.

It's the end of summer in Dillon, Texas, and school is about to begin. Former Panthers coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) is now beginning his duties as a college coach while his wife (Connie Britton; how she never even got an Emmy nomination is one of the great mysteries of life) is VERY pregnant. Daughter Julie is ignoring current beau, Panthers QB Matt Saracen, in favor of a good-looking, older lifeguard at the pool where they work.

Team fullback Tim Riggins has fallen off the wagon - again - while his former best friend Jason Street is adjusting to life as an assistant coach. Street's former girlfriend, Lyla, has found God. Her father, team booster Buddy Garrity, is being shut out of Panthers practices by the team's new no-nonsense head coach (Chris Mulkey). Finally, Matt's geeky best friend, Landry, is trying out for the team in hopes of impressing would-be girlfriend Tyra.

The Landry-Tyra stuff is mostly great, especially when Landry maps out a gameplan for wooing her with Matt. The scenes with Buddy, who has lost both his family and Panthers football, are also top-notch.

There is a major plot point in tonight's episode that was a mis-step by the writers, though. Two of the show's characters are stuck in a bad situation, and how they deal with it was too over-the-top, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the action will drive certain plot points at least over the next two episodes and possibly over much of the season. i won't spoil what happens here, but you will be able to recognize what I am talking about when you see it.

In spite of the mis-step, "FNL" doesn't show any signs of surrendering its claim as one of TV's most riveting dramas. Hey, even the Panthers didn't have a perfect season last year, and they still won the state title.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: Normally, I don't plug reruns, but if you missed the debut of TV's best new show Wednesday, ABC is re-airing the pilot (or, rather, "Pie-lette") of "Pushing Daisies" at 8 p.m.

"Numb3rs" (CBS, 10 p.m.) is all-new, as Don & Co. investigate a Hollywood murder involving an actor. Just want to point out, the script I sent the producers over the summer was about a Hollywood murder involving a writer, but no, I'm not bitter or anything. It follows new installments of "Ghost Whisperer" at 8 p.m. and "Moonlight" at 9 p.m. Incidentally, tonight's "Moonlight" was written by former "Angel" writer David Greenwalt, so it may be worth checking out.

"Las Vegas," (NBC, 10 p.m.) featuring new lead Tom Selleck, airs after "FNL."

"Doctor Who" (Sci-Fi, 8 p.m.) wraps up Season 3 (or Season 29, depending on how you count) as Martha Jones must save a devastated Earth from The Master (guest star John Simm, "Life On Mars"). My only complaint about the season finales of this series is why must I wait so long between seasons, and how will they top this finale next year? It's followed by "Flash Gordon" at 9 p.m., featuring a guest appearance by 1980 Flash Sam J. Jones. Why they go to the trouble of getting Jones but not using the Queen theme song is beyond me. A new "Stargate: Atlantis" is at 10 p.m.

Speaking of Sci-Fi, if you can't wait for "Battlestar Galactica: Razor," set to air next month, there will be a two-minute preview during tonight's "Flash Gordon."

"Torchwood," (BBC America, Sat., 9 p.m.) is all-new Saturday.

Hey, you know what else is new Saturday? "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 11:30 p.m.), featuring Seth Rogen, with musical guest Spoon.

On Sunday, Fox is all-new with its animaton block, starting with "The Simpsons" and followed by "King of the Hill," "Family Guy" and "American Dad." CBS counters with a 90-minute "60 Minutes" at 7:30 p.m., followed by "Cold Case" and "Shark."

ABC's prime time soaps are also new, with "Desperate Housewives," featuring new cast additions Dana Delany and Nathan Fillion (almost enough to make me check it out again, but not quite) and "Brothers & Sisters."

"The Inspector Lynley Mysteries" (PBS, 9 p.m.) return after a brief hiatus, while The CW debuts a new family drama, "Life Is Wild" (CW, 8 p.m.) Based on a BBC series, it's about a New York veternarian who uproots his family to live in South Africa for a year.

Finally, the pick of the night is "Dexter" (Showtime, 9 p.m.), which was brilliant in its debut last week and should only get better with the addition of "Hustle's" Jaime Murray to the cast as a woman Dexter finally opens up to. It's followed by a new episode of "Brotherhood" at 10 p.m.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Return Of 'Cupid'?

A decade ago, ABC premiered one of the most creative and whimsical series it has ever aired when "Cupid" debuted in 1995.

Created by a pre-"Veronica Mars" Rob Thomas and starring a younger Jeremy Piven, it was witty and romantic and definitely unlike anything else airing at the time.

It lasted 15 episodes.

So, it was with mild surprise yesterday when I read a report that ABC and Thomas were talking about reviving the series for next season. Generally, when shows get re-made, the originals usually made it through a whole season before.

But ABC and Thomas think that the planets will align this time around for the dramedy, which starred Piven as Trevor, either the de-powered god of love, banished to Earth by Zeus for not doing his job, or a former mental patient who thinks he's the de-powered god of love.

Paula Marshall played Claire, the shrink assigned to his case who wrote a romance column in her spare time.

Piven has since found tremendous success playing Ari Gold on "Entourage," earning several Emmy nominations in the process, and said in the article that his schedule on "Entourage" wouldn't allow him to reprise his role as Trevor. In addition, Thomas is looking to re-boot the whole thing.

So it's kind of a good news/bad news deal. "Cupid" made for great TV (even if no one watched), but without Piven, it's going to be difficult to recapture the same sort of magic from the first time around.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: Any time Jerry Seinfeld returns to TV, it's big news, and he does a great caricature of himself tonight on the season premiere of "30 Rock." (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) The episode itself is a bit uneven, as Liz (Tina Fey) is still dealing with her breakup and Tracy (Tracy Morgan) is kicked out of his house, but the stuff between Seinfeld and Jack (Alec Baldwin), who is computer-generating Seinfeld's image into every show on NBC's schedule is hilarious. And, God help us, you know some network will be looking at the possibility of "MILF Island" after tonight.

It's preceded by "My Name Is Earl," (NBC, 8 p.m.) and followed by an hour-long "The Office" at 9 p.m. and "ER" at 10 p.m.

One of my favorite series on TV kicks off its third season tonight, when "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.) returns following an all-new "Smallville" at 8 p.m.

My parents found last week's debut of "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 8 p.m.) too much of a downer, but for me, it just carried on some of the things I didn't like about last season's finale. I'm hoping with the Santos storyline pretty much wrapped up, the writers will be bringing the funny back tonight. Speaking of unfunny, it's followed by "Grey's Anatomy" and "Big Shots."

CBS delivers new episodes of "CSI" at 9 p.m. and "Without A Trace" at 10 p.m., both following a new "Survivor."

NBC's experiment of shifting "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" to its sister network begins tonight (USA, 10 p.m.) It will be interesting to see how many viewers will follow the show after the move.

And, speaking of cable, "Mad Men" (AMC, 10 p.m.) begins to enter its home stretch with a new episode tonight.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

'Pushing Daisies' - TV's Best New Show

Normally, my co-workers enjoy the puns I put into the titles of many of these blog entries, but for today's posting, I didn't want to mince words.

I previously reviewed "Pushing Daisies" (ABC, 8 p.m.) last week, but I'm giving it a second review because, yes, the show is THAT good. At least in my humble opinion.

Written by the great Bryan Fuller ("Wonderfalls") and directed with an absolutely gorgeous sense of color by Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men In Black," "The Tick"), "Pushing Daisies" is one of the most original concepts I've seen in years - a modern-day fairy tale and love story in which the two main characters physically CAN'T get together. There is no will-they-or-won't-they suspense like you see with other programs.

Ned (Lee Pace) has the most miserable superpower you could think of: He can raise the dead with a mere touch. Two little problems, however. If he touches the dead thing a second time, it dies - permanently. And if he doesn't touch the person or thing he just revived within 60 seconds, someone else must die.

Bad luck for Ned, who discovers the power as a child when he rescues his dog, but good luck for private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), who learns of Ned's ability and decides to use it for his own gain. Cod convinces Ned to revive the dead, ask who killed them, then split the reward. It's a perfect scheme until the next murder victim they investigate is Ned's childhood love Charlotte "Chuck" Charles (a winsome Anna Friel). Ned can't bear to touch her a second time after reviving her, leading to quite a bit of awkwardness since everyone now believes Chuck to be dead.

"Pushing Daisies" is the best of everything TV is meant to be - funny, romantic, sad and smart. Actor Jim Dale's narration is nothing short of brilliant, adding to the fantasy atmosphere of the show. Pace and Friel could be in star-making roles if this show makes it, and McBride is excellent in a complete departure from the roles he usually plays. And Kristin Chenowith is perfectly cast as the waitress in Ned's pie shop, with her own feelings of unrequited love.

In fact, there are really only two problems with "Pushing Daisies."

1) The pilot was so good that Fuller & Co. have set themselves an extremely high bar to clear on a weekly basis.

2) The show will likely last three episodes. Fuller already gave the American public quirky brilliance with "Wonderfalls," and the average viewer, wanker that he or she is, didn't get it. "Pushing Daisies" is even better than "Wonderfalls," but I can see how this series is going to fly over a lot of people's heads.

That would be a terrible shame, because Fuller has crafted scenes in which two characters have some of the most romantic moments seen on TV in years by NOT holding hands, hugging or kissing. The dialogue is sharp and crisp, and visually, it's wonderful show to look at.

Give this one a shot, folks.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Wednesday nights may be the most competitive of the week, and I'm hoping that the fact that "Pushing Daisies' is the lone hour-long dramatic offering in the opening timeslot will help its cause. Its competition? Two mediocre Fox comedies in "Back To You" and "Til Death," NBC game show juggernaut "Deal Or No Deal," the horrifying "Kids Nation" on CBS and "America's Top Model" on The CW.

It's 9 p.m. where things get interesting. ABC claims overall victory on the night with "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff "Private Practice," but I know there was a great deal of "Grey's" nation disappointed with this show, so will the ratings hold? Meanwhile, NBC has created a mini-juggernaut for the night with "Bionic Woman," followed by "Life." And "Gossip Girl" (CW, 9 p.m.) is carving out its now niche audience.

CBS is still doing strong as well, with "Criminal Minds" at 9 p.m. (tonight marks the departure of star Mandy Patinkin) and "CSI: NY" at 10 p.m. "Dirty Sexy Money," (ABC, 10 p.m.) which I think is one of the cleverest new shows of the season, is struggling, unfortunately.

And, as always, "The War" (PBS, 9 p.m.) continues tonight, focusing on the Pacific theatre.

Finally, the Major League Baseball playoffs kick off today, with three games on TBS.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Writers' Strike Imminent?

Over the past few days, the Writers Guild of America sent out letters and e-mails to its membership asking for authorization for a potential strike, tentatively scheduled to begin Nov. 1.

With the contract between the WGA and the studios due to end Oct. 31, there are huge issues dividing the two parties, most notably, new media platforms and compensation. In other words, how much of the $1.99 does the writer get when you download a TV show or movie off iTunes?

It's a question that isn't going away, and with the actors' and directors' guilds contracts due to end next year, Hollywood hasn't heard the last of this issue no matter how the WGA deal shakes out.

So, why am I telling you all this? Originally, it was assumed that the WGA would wait to hold their strike until next June, to go in conjuction with the other two guilds. For the studios, it gave them more breathing room - by then, the TV seasons would be complete and they would have an extra eight months to stockpile movie scripts and get more projects in the can.

But now with only a window of a month to settle the dispute, movie projects all over Hollywood may be shut down and the networks are going to have to scramble to fill in programming, since most TV series will only have no more than a dozen episodes (probably less) in the can before a strike. Shows like "Heroes," which had planned on going the entire season without airing reruns, may now be forced to reconsider those plans. And the schedule will likely be full of reality style programming (another issue as the WGA wants those producers subject to WGA rules).

For the average TV and movie viewer, it's looming to be a gloomy holiday season, and the two sides seem far enough apart that this won't be resolved easily.

TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Our motto at the TVGuy should be "We watch awful TV so you don't have to." (No thanks necessary, but I do accept tips.)

ABC, which hasn't had a good half-hour comedy in a long while, launches two more tonight that will likely extend that streak. The much publicized "Cavemen," based on the Geico commercials, debuts tonight (ABC, 8 p.m.) followed by "Carpoolers" at 8:30 p.m.

"Cavemen" wasn't sent out in advance to critics, never a good sign, and the original pilot was so panned that it had to be entirely reshot. As a result, the series takes place in San Diego instead of Atlanta, the original setting.

"Carpoolers" stars Jerry O'Connell as part of a quartet of guys who share a ride to work each day. It's supposed to be a buddy series about male bonding, but it falls completely flat. The humor is lame and the situations these guys find themselves in border on the ridiculous. Between "Carpoolers" and "Big Shots," ABC really ought to stay out of the male bonding genre — they really suck at it.

Those shows are followed by ratings juggernaut "Dancing With The Stars" and Emmy favorite "Boston Legal."

Fortunately, you the viewer has plenty of good options tonight. Fox has the best lineup with new episodes of "Bones" at 8 p.m. and "House" at 9 p.m., as our favorite curmudgeonly physician puts 40 candidates through the job interview from hell.

"NCIS" (CBS, 8 p.m.) wrapped up its season arc from last year a little too neatly for my taste, considering we won't be seeing any more of Armand Assante's guns dealer after a year's worth of buildup. It's followed by "The Unit" and "Cane."

Perhaps gearing up for the writers' strike, NBC has a 90-minute "Biggest Loser" beginning at 8 p.m. followed by "The Singing Bee" before it finally airs a dramatic show in "Law& Order: SVU" at 10 p.m.

Hopefully, you caught the pilot last week to one of TV's best new shows in "Reaper" (CW, 9 p.m.), but if you didn't, it's not too late to catch up with it now.

Finally, last, but certainly not least, Ken Burns' "The War" (PBS, 8 p.m.) continues tonight with victory in Europe and the death of FDR.

Monday, October 01, 2007

'Aliens' Invasion

I gave it an early review last week, but I just wanted to remind you loyal dozens that one of the more clever sitcoms of the season premieres tonight.

"Aliens In America" (CW, 8:30 p.m.) has a feel to it that reminds you of "Malcolm In The Middle" in how it addresses the awkwardness of growing up as a teenager in high school.

Justin (Dan Byrd) is among the least popular teenagers in his school, not fitting in with any social clique. It doesn't really help matters when his younger sister (Lindsay Shaw) has blossomed over the summer and is now the object of desire for most of the boys in the school.

Justin's mom (Amy Pietz) is obsessed with making Justin more popular (and usually has the opposite effect), so she hits upon the idea of giving Justin a good-looking Swedish exchange student to be his new best friend. Unfortunately, the exchange student agency has other ideas, and suddenly Justin finds himself with a Pakistani Muslim as his new roommate.

"Aliens" does a good job of examining prejudice without ever becoming preachy or maudlin. The show has a lot of charm to it without ever becoming too sweet, and Pietz could join the ranks of great TV moms if the show lasts.

"Aliens" is part of an all-new CW comedy lineup, headed by "Everybody Hates Chris" at 8 p.m. and "Girlfriends" and "The Game" running from 9-10 p.m.

R.I.P. LOIS MAXWELL: The British actress, best known as Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond series, was 80. Maxwell always brought a sense of charm and humor to the role.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: For me personally, I'll be catching "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS, 8 p.m.) in its regular timeslot, then flipping over to "Aliens," so thanks network TV for making that convenient for me. It certainly beats having to watch "Big Bang Theory" (CBS, 8:30 p.m.) in that timeslot.

Of course, if you aren't into sitcoms, one of the cleverest new shows of the season is also airing at the same time in "Chuck" (NBC, 8 p.m.) It leads off an all-new night of "Heroes" at 9 p.m. and "Journeyman" at 10 p.m.

Fox is all-new with "Prison Break" and "K-Ville," but I'm about ready to drop both shows. "PB" has bordered upon the ridiculous, while "K-Ville" hasn't really lived up to all that it could have been. Despite an excellent cast and an interesting setting, "K-Ville" is mostly a standard '80s-style cop show.

ABC has expanded "Dancing With The Stars" to two hours tonight (Go Wayne Newton!), followed by a new "Bachelor" at 10 p.m.

Finally, the acclaimed documentary miniseries "The War" (PBS, 8 p.m.) resumes.