California here I am. Last year at this time, which seems like only yesterday, my annual foray to The Television Critics Association (TCA) Summer Press Tour was capped off with a three-day trip to Honolulu for my Fall Television Preview. Not a bad gig, I must say. Although Hawaii did not come calling this time around, I never tire of the exceptional TCA, where critics and bloggers from across the country gather to meet and greet the stars and behind the scenes forces of all the new and many of the returning series. I stress bloggers because one look at the ballroom at the famed Beverly Hilton Hotel and there will be laptops visible everywhere. Once upon a time, I was one of few TV critics who was actively wrote for a website.
Times have changed.
As always, I will devote The Programming Insider for the remainder of this week and next to the Summer Tour, with the real scoop on what looks hot, what looks mediocre, and what is expected to fade to oblivion sooner than the networks would like to admit. You can also listen to my daily commentary via PIPodcast at www.marcberman.tv or head to Mediaweek.com for the daily tidbits and on-air coverage from my colleague Alan Frutkin and myself. As a reminder, all regular sections of The Programming Insider -- Prime-Time Metered Market Ratings, Ratings Box, TV Tidbits and TV Trivia Time -- will return on Monday, August 9.
On that note, let’s get started…LIVE FROM THE SUMMER TELEVISION CRITICS ASSOCIATION PRESS TOUR it’s the Programming Insider.
Once again, CBS has the strongest fall line-up, with an abundance of hit scripted comedies and dramas and quality non-scripted hours Survivor, The Amazing Race and Undercover Boss scheduled appropriately across the week. The Eye net has, in fact, led in total viewers for seven out of the last eight seasons and there is every reason to believe its winning streak will continue. But not every hour on the schedule looks like a winner, as the critics question the merits of the five upcoming new series -- sitcoms Mike & Molly and $#*! My Dad Says; and dramas The Defenders, Blue Bloods and the revival of Hawaii Five-O.
Of the five new series, the new Hawaii Five-O generated the most number of questions, with the “darkness” and excessive violence a potential concern.
“We've basically deconstructed the elements of the original show, looked at the characters, retooled the franchise a little bit, and reassembled it in a great, hip, smart, fun character show," said Nina Tassler, President, CBS Entertainment. “It's still a small island. Everybody there knows each other -- good guys, bad guys. I think those story engines are still very much a part of the series.”
Tassler defended her decision to cancel Canadian drama The Bridge after just two telecasts by citing the poor ratings, but scheduling its in the Saturday 8 p.m. hour was a suicide mission. And the future of Flashpoint, also from Canada, is also a question mark. As for the recasting of one of the sons on upcoming William Shatner sitcom $#*! My Dad Says:
“I think we have to remember that The Big Bang Theory was recast,” noted Tassler. "Numb3rs was recast. The whole idea behind recasting is really part of the development and the evolution of any show. You make decisions relative to a pilot that are different, relative to your series that are different, relative to going into the fifth or sixth year of your series.”
In late night, rumors of David Letterman following Johnny Carson’s path by reducing his workload to three or four nights per week have not been confirmed. And one of the three other series in contention for the As the World Turns time period (the remake of game show Pyramid with Andy Richter, a piece with Emeril Lagasse and one through CBS Television Distribution) could still end up on the line-up at a future time.
Regarding what one critic referred to as CBS’ male-centric schedule:
“Going into the new season, we're bringing Sela Ward onto CSI: NY,” said Tassler. Melissa McCarthy is the costar of Mike & Molly. We’ve added Janeane Garafolo to the cast of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. And we're looking for every possible way to add female characters to our shows.”
And as for Steve McPherson’s unexpected departure at ABC and CBS’ ongoing executive stability:
“The fact that we've been successful for the number of years we have, I think that would certainly indicate that stability is a good thing,” said Tassler. “As far as Steve goes, I said, "Damn it, he got out of doing press tour!"
Mike & Molly, Hawaii Five-O, The Defenders, Blue Bloods, $#*! My Dad Says
Mike & Molly
Monday 9:30 p.m.
A couple (Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell) meet in a support group for overeaters in this multi-camera sitcom from Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory creator Chuck Lorre.
-Lead-in: Two and a Half Men
-Competition: Dancing With the Stars (ABC), The Event (NBC), Lonestar (Fox), Gossip Girl (CW)
-Who Was on the Panel:
Billy Gardell, Melissa McCarthy, Reno Wilson, Katy Mixon, Swoosie Kurtz and executive producers Chuck Lorre and Mark Roberts.
Mike & Molly according to Mark Roberts:
“Well, I didn’t set out to write a show about Overeaters Anonymous. I wanted to write a show about two people at the beginning of a relationship, and that was the part of it that intrigued me the most. It’s just a show about people with problems, which is usually what comedy is built around. So, most of the stuff on TV seems pretty unrealistic to me. People dress really nice, and their apartments are really nice. And I don’t buy any of their problems.”
And according to Chuck Lorre:
“These people want to make a change in their lives. I think that speaks to a lot of people who are not satisfied with the status quo in their lives and they’re taking, you know, real actions to improve their lives in one way or another, either through something like a 12-step group or education or exercise, diet, whatever it is. These are people who are alive, and they’re in process. They’re not at the end of the journey. They’re in the journey, and that’s something we can write about forever.”
While you can’t blame CBS for relying on the talent of current sitcom king Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory), the endless fat jokes in the pilot were monotonous and there was nothing overtly edgy or interesting about the characters of Mike and Molly. While no one expects a new sitcom to match the levels of former occupant The Big Bang Theory (which always built from Two and a Half Men among adults 18-49), erosion of an expected more than 30 percent could be fatal.
-Chance of Survival for Mike & Molly (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
-Did You Know?:
The last sitcom that focused on the issue of weight was NBC’s short-lived The Dumplings, which aired in first quarter 1976 and featured James Coco and Geraldine Brooks as a hefty married couple who ran a lunch counter in a Manhattan based office building.
Monday 10 p.m.
The day to day operations of the fictional Hawaiian State Police department are the focus of this revival of the classic 1968-80 crime drama. Alex O’Loughlin steps in for Jack Lord as Det. Steve McGarrett, with Scott Caan as Danny Williams and Lost star Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly.
-Lead-in: Mike & Molly
-Competition: Castle (ABC), Chase (NBC)
-Who Was on the Panel:
Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan; and executive producers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Peter Lenkov.
Alex O’Loughlin on finding his first hit series:
“I don't want to take anything away from the other shows I've done. I've worked with some incredible people and some wonderful show-runners. But the thing is there's a reason things either work or don't work in television. And I don't know what the answer is. I just sort of keep blundering along to the next thing and hoping. But the team behind this, I mean, the two men here who are at the helm of this show, Peter and Alex, and the writing staff that we have -- everyone feels so capable. I read the pilot, I did the pilot, and I saw what they did with it. And there's something special about it. So, if this one doesn't go, I'm completely bewildered. I have no idea how television works at all.
Based on the recent track record (think Melrose Place, Knight Rider and Bionic Woman; and no, returning 90210 is not a hit), you might think the odds are stacked against a new version of classic Hawaii 5-0. Factor in unproven lead-in Mike and Molly and growing Castle on ABC, and this new Hawaii Five-O could face an uphill battle. But viewers still crave crime solvers, the format seems comfortably familiar, and there is just something about that still wildly popular TV theme song. While I personally am not a fan of revivals, this new version stands a good chance of succeeding.
-Chance of Survival for Hawaii Five-O (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
-Did You Know?:
The original version of Hawaii Five-O ran on CBS from 1968-80, making it the longest running crime drama in the history of television (one month longer that ABC’s NYPD Blue).
Wednesday 10 p.m.
Jerry O’Connell and former According to Jim star Jim Belushi play two outspoken Las Vegas attorneys who do whatever it takes to defend their clients.
-Lead-in: Criminal Minds
-Competition: The Whole Truth (ABC), Law & Order: Los Angeles (NBC)
-Who Was on the Panel:
Jim Belushi, Jerry O’Connell, Jurnee Smollett, Tanya Fischer; executive producers Carol Mendelsohn, Harry Gantz and Joe Gants; executive producer/creator/writer Kevin Kennedy and Niels Muller; and executive producer/show-runner Greg Walker.
Jim Belushi on the difference between The Defenders and According to Jim:
“It’s just a different style of performing, you know, a different style of acting. I’ve been making films, been on stage since 1980. So I’ve done all of this before, dramas, comedy. But I guess, because of According to Jim, people think that that’s the persona that I am. But I have played characters like this before in movies with Oliver Stone and Michael Mann. So the only challenging thing is the endurance of an hour episodic series. They shoot all the time, all year. And sitcoms, you are rewriting every day. The first script on Monday is not the script you are shooting on Friday. It’s a different — the math is different. Everything is about comic rhythms and timing, and this is about story, relationships. So I’m really excited about it. It’s really terrific. But, again, the challenge is the hours.”
Opposite new drama entries The Whole Truth on ABC and Law & Order: Los Angeles, nothing is proven in the Wednesday 10 p.m. hour. So, this could be beneficial to any of the three new series. And based on lead-in, The Defenders has the best chance of succeeding. But the pilot was a bore, Jim Belushi is thought of as a bad sitcom actor, and the built in familiarity of the new competing Law & Order gives that hour the advantage. While there could be initial sampling, the biggest case The Defenders might have is to explain is the expected lackluster ratings.
-Chance of Survival for The Defenders (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
-Did You Know?:
There was a crime drama of the same name that aired on CBS from 1961-65. E.G. Marshall played a knowledgeable, seasoned attorney with more than 20 years experience, and future Brady Bunch Dad Robert Reed his also lawyer son. While the name may be the same, this version of The Defenders is not what you would call a revival.
Friday 10 p.m.
A multigenerational family of New York based cops is the focus of this crime solver. The ensemble cast includes Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan, Flex Alexander, Len Cariou, Will Estes and Dylan Moore.
-Lead-in: CSI: NY
-Competition: 20/20 (ABC), Outlaw (NBC)
-Who Was on the Panel:
Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg; and executive producers Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green.
What sets Blue Bloods apart from other typical TV crime dramas, according to Robin Green:
“When we heard about this show - Leonard Goldberg pitched it to us, and he said, “It’s a police procedural that’s also a family show.” And we said, “Why hasn’t anybody done this before?” And maybe they have, but I can’t remember. I don’t know of it. So that’s what intrigued us. Of course, you know that we’re family-show writers. I think that’s what makes it unique, that you really get to live the police life with these people.”
If you are fan of the ongoing Jesse Stone made-for TV movies, meanwhile, Tom Selleck assured the audience the franchise will continue.
“Number seven is ready to go,” said Selleck. “It’s called “Innocents Lost.” And I made it real clear that I wasn’t going give up Jesse, so we’re writing number eight.”
The inherent disadvantage of any new show airing on Friday is, similar to Saturday, the growing lack of interest in the evening. But the networks refuse to abandon ship and relocated lead-in CSI: NY is the strongest show on the night. So, there is some hope for Blue Bloods. While there is no reason to think the generic crime solver will strike it rich in the ratings, decent support and weak competition (ABC’s deteriorating 20/20 and unproven NBC drama Outlaw) could be beneficial. At best, you can anticipate a performance similar to former time period occupant Numb3rs two years earlier.
-Chance of Survival for Blue Bloods (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
-Did You Know?:
Ten years after Magnum. P.I. concluded, Tom Selleck headlined a short-lived CBS sitcom with Ed Asner called The Closer. Selleck played an advertising agency executive.
$#*! My Dad Says
Thursday 8:30 p.m.
Based on the Twitter feed, William Shatner headlines this comedic tale of an outspoken old man who can no longer take care of himself and the son who moves back home as his caregiver.
-Lead-in: The Big Bang Theory
-Competition: My Generation (ABC), 30 Rock (NBC), Bones (Fox), The Vampire Diaries (CW)
-Who Was on the Panel:
William Shatner; executive producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick; and co-executive producer Justin Halpern.
David Kohan and Max Mutchnick on recasting one of the sons and re-shooting the pilot:
“Well, I guess the character isn't going to be changing that much except inasmuch as that there this kind of alchemy that goes on,” said Kohan. “You cast an actor, and the role necessarily changes because the person inhabiting that character changes. And you end up writing to whom that actor is to a certain degree, but the dynamic also changes.”
“We're telling the same story, and all of the things that we thought were great about the pilot that we first shot will be in the second take,” said Mutchnick. “The same team is in place. Jim Burrows will be directing. And we just kind of streamlined -- we're streamlining the first paths of the pilot, and this love story that we had threaded into the first pilot, we've taken out because we saw that there was so much fun in just writing this buddy-buddy comedy.”
Sitcoms airing on CBS in the Thursday 8 p.m. is, no doubt, an enormous risk. The last time the Eye net opened with comedies in the hour was in the fall of 1965 with Gilligan’s Island and My Three Sons. That’s right…45 years ago! But the good news is red-hot relocated lead-in The Big Bang Theory, which will definitely give it support. And competing 30 Rock on NBC is not what you would call a ratings hit. So, there could be room for $#*! My Dad Says, which is generating early interest from the controversial title and popular Twitter feed. Let’s just hope, however, that episodes two and beyond are a major improvement from the generically dull pilot.
-Chance of Survival for $#*! My Dad Says (Based on a scale of 1-1 to 10-1):
-Did You Know?:
William Shatner, to-date, has appearing in six regularly scheduled series as follows:
For the People (CBS): 1965,
Star Trek (NBC): 1966-69
The Barbary Coast (ABC): 1975-76
T.J. Hooker (ABC): 1982-85, CBS: 1985-87 (late night)
In a surprise announcement on the eve of The 2010 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles, Steve McPherson has stepped down from his role as President, ABC Entertainment Group. No specific explanation was offered about the hasty resignation. Said McPherson: "I want to thank the wonderful team of individuals who have worked with me throughout my time here and wish them nothing but the best.”
A replacement for McPherson is expected to be announced shortly, with ABC Family President Paul Lee a leading contender.
-CBS’ Undercover Boss Unveils Upcoming Participants:
Feel-good Eye net reality hour Undercover Boss, which features a different CEO each week disguised as an average employee, has confirmed four new companies who will participate: NASCAR, DirecTV, Chiquita Brands International, Inc. and Great Wolf Resorts.
-The Talk on CBS in Daytime:
Midway through CBS day was a session with the co-hosts of upcoming daytime hour The Talk, which will feature The View-like rotation of Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Holly Robinson Peete, Leah Remini and Marissa Jaret Winokur. Former Roseanne star Sara Gilbert, who is also an executive producer and sounded like she inhaled a dozen helium balloons before the session started, has come up with an idea that is a carbon copy of ABC’s The View. But with six different personalities, The Talk could appeal to women of all ages. And the standout, at least from this panel, was Sharon Osbourne, who had this to say about her famous hubby Ozzy:
“He doesn't even know I am doing this show. I am here today, and he thinks I've gone to America's Got Talent. He has no idea. He gives me all the freedom in the world that I want. He's just a perfect partner for me. He does his thing. I do mine. We have the best family. We adore each other. You know, yeah, my husband snores. He farts. He pisses on the seat. But, hey, that's life. That's what we all do. It doesn't annoy me. It would annoy me if he was sleeping with a room full of women. But if he throws food on the floor and he's messy, it doesn't bother me. So he's perfect.”
-On The Edge Special Cleared for Thanksgiving:
I know, this is not a Press Tour related item. But On The Edge, a 2010 Emmy Award winning special, has been cleared for a Thanksgiving broadcast window on the ABC owned and operated stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland. The one-hour presentation, from Associated Television International (ATI), chronicles the journey of top daytime stars including Susan Lucci, Montel Williams, Anthony Geary, and Kelly Monaco as they travel to Kenya to raise awareness of the desperate situation faced by Africa’s poor.
“We’re delighted that ABC stations have embraced this show,” said Jim Romanovich, president Worldwide Media & Entertainment, ATI. “We believe this program is a perfect fit for the Thanksgiving season as we look at the magnitude of what some people endure and what we can do to change lives.”
On the Air Tonight: Prime-Time Programming Options