Tuesday's network prime-time ratings - and Marc Berman's analysis of the first night of the 2005-2006 network prime time TV season --have posted near the top of Latest News the first item in this thread.
NBC is getting ready to turn up the "Friday Night Lights," pacting with helmer Peter Berg to turn his Universal-produced feature into a weekly drama series.
Project reps the most advanced example of cross-pollination between the Peacock and its feature sibling since the merger of NBC and Universal. Pilot will be produced by NBC U Television Studio in association with Imagine Television.
"Lights" is said to be on the development fast track at NBC, with an eye on a fall 2006 bow. That would coincide with the return of the NFL to NBC -- giving the Peacock a perfect promo platform for the project.
Berg directed and co-wrote "Friday Night Lights," the gritty 2004 drama starring Billy Bob Thornton as the coach of a small-town high school football team during the 1980s. U and Imagine Films produced the pic, which grossed just over $61 million.
According to NBC U Television Studio prexy Angela Bromstad, Berg's current plan is to set the TV take in the present day, thus reflecting the changes that have gripped small towns over the past two decades. He'll write and direct the pilot, exec producing with his Film 44 partners Sarah Aubrey and John Cameron.
"What Peter hopes to do is to make it even more relevant to today," Bromstad said, noting such trends as the rise of Wal-Mart. "It's going to be a good picture of an American small town and the lives of these people in this town where everything revolves around the sport of football."
A coach character like the one player by Thornton will be at the heart of the series -- "that underdog coach who has all the pressure to make the team a success," Bromstad said. The parents and coaches of students will also be central characters.
Bromstad said having Berg on board will help attract top thesp talent. While NBC hasn't made a formal pilot commitment to the project, Bromstad said the Endeavor-packaged "Lights" was a major priority for her and NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly.
NBC and U flirted with the idea of developing a TV series inspired by some of the characters in Universal's "Van Helsing," but the project stalled once the film flopped.
"Friday Night Lights" was one of the first U features to get a heavy promo push by the NBC broadcast and cable networks following the merger.
As for Berg, his feature credits as a helmer include "Very Bad Things" and "The Rundown." He created the ABC drama "Wonderland" and may be best known to TV auds for his work as a thesp on David E. Kelley's "Chicago Hope."
By JOSEF ADALIAN, MICHAEL SCHNEIDER, Daily Variety, 9/21/2005
DreamWorks Television offers full slate
Development season is just heating up, but DreamWorks Television has already set up nearly a dozen projects.
Slate for the NBC Universal Television Studio-based company --headed by Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey -- includes a one-hour dramedy from "Bernie Mac" creator Larry Wilmore that's based on an idea from DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg.
Also, scribe Mike Werb ("Face/Off") and producer Bonnie Curtis ("Minority Report") are teaming for potential 10-hour NBC limited series "Tomorrow/Today." Set at a Los Angeles news station, project will span the lives of characters between the years 2010 and 2030.
Falvey and Frank (whose development roster is overseen by Jonathan Berry) said 2005 is shaping up to be one of the studio's busiest seasons in years.
"Last year we were so busy launching 'The Contender,' 'Father of the Pride' and 'Into the West' that it consumed a lot of our time," Falvey said. "This year we were more focused ahead of the curve, reaching out to some writers we've been wanting to be in business with for a while."
DreamWorks has a trio of comedy scripts in the works at NBC, including a blind script commitment for "Evan Almighty" scribe Josh Stolberg.
For another, DreamWorks has pacted with Jason Mulgrew for a half-hour script about a young New Yorker trying to make a go of it. Deal could rep one of the first examples of a blogger making the leap to primetime.
"It's hard to find an authentic twentysomething voice," Frank said. "And his was a blog we were tracking... (Blogs) are something you've got to look at and pay attention to."
Groundlings performer Mark Rizzo is also developing a coming-of-age laffer for NBC via DreamWorks.
Casting is also moving forward on "Baraboo 2010," the Cheryl Holliday-created half-hour from DreamWorks that Peacock entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly announced in July. Project now has a cast-contingent pilot order, and Allison Jones -- who cast "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Freaks and Geeks" -- has signed on as casting director.
Carol Leifer-penned half-hour "Never in My Wildest," which has a cast-contingent order from CBS, also remains in active development.
On the drama side, DreamWorks has five scripts in the works that are being targeted for NBC, including projects from Les Bohem ("Taken"), Kirk Ellis ("Into the West"), Chris Murphey ("Dead Lawyers") and Gardner Stern ("Las Vegas").
Bohem's serialized drama looks at "a very unique corporation," according to Falvey, who says the show has mystery elements in a serialized format.
Ellis is writing a project about an American family adjusting to life overseas, while Murphey's script revolves around international law. Stern is still finalizing his idea.
Then there's the Wilmore project; beyond hinting at Spielberg's involvement, DreamWorks is mum on details. Project is not yet officially set up at the network.
On the limited series front, besides "Tomorrow/Today," DreamWorks TV development is also heating up on "Nine Lives" for the Sci Fi channel (Daily Variety, Oct. 8, 2003). Project comes from Bohem, who wrote all 20 hours of DreamWorks' "Taken" for Sci-Fi.
This time out, he's on board to write and exec produce 12 hours of "Lives," a supernatural project about life, death and the world beyond. He's currently working on the first two hours of the script.
Frank and Falvey said they also have several other projects in the works, but in very early stages.
"We know our taste. We're driven by what we're passionate about," Frank said. He added that DreamWorks "is hitting our stride" with NBC Universal, working well with the exec team headed by prexy Angela Bromstad.
As for reality, DreamWorks is partnered with Renegade 83 on ABC's upcoming "Miracle Workers" and a second season of Mark Burnett's "The Contender" for ESPN.
Company currently produces the Peacock's "Las Vegas" via NBC U. Skein started its third season with strong ratings Monday.
DreamWorks is also partnered with Sony on "Rescue Me," which just snagged a third season order from FX. Over the summer, company produced the ambitious TNT limited skein "Into the West."
TV SEASON PREVIEWS The race for drama isn't so amazing this season Out of 4 contenders, Jerry Bruckheimer's 'Close to Home' appears to have legs
By Hal Boedeker Orlando Sentinel Television Critic September 21, 2005
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer excels in television more often than he does in the movies. CSI, Without a Trace and Cold Case offer more humane, engrossing drama than Pearl Harbor, Armageddon or Con Air. As other producers rush to copy his crime dramas, Bruckheimer proves with CBS' new Close to Home that nobody does it better.
For sheer thrills, no Bruckheimer film delivers as consistently as CBS' The Amazing Race, which won its third consecutive Emmy Sunday as top reality contest.
But with NBC's E-Ring, debuting tonight, Bruckheimer tries to transpose his bombastic movie style to television with uneven results. He's going for a patriotic crowd-pleaser in the Top Gun mold with this drama about decision-making at the Pentagon.
The show's biggest problem is sharing a time slot with ABC's Lost, the Emmy-winning drama that begins its second season tonight. Lost is rarely predictable, yet E-Ring almost always is in two episodes made available to critics.
An agent must be extracted from China or a terrorist leader must be captured. The Joint Chiefs of Staff decide to act after hearing from Maj. Jim Tisnewski (Benjamin Bratt) of the Army. That leads to a screwy montage: the signing of top-secret forms, set to soaring music.
The Pentagon brass listen and watch from afar as the mission is carried out. Those scenes might be more involving if Bratt acted in them. Instead, his character and Pentagon officials sweat and pace as they wait for results. It's sort of like watching someone look at television.
A Pentagon drama these days could be topical and thought-provoking. E-Ring is a fast-moving, expensive-looking show that favors action over discussion. That action usually ends in rousing ways that are definitive and hopeful, a sharp contrast to real U.S. military policy that stirs debate on radio, television and opinion pages.
To put over its stirring plots, E-Ring relies heavily on its actors. Bratt swaggers through his scenes with a bravado that wins over superiors. In an earlier version of the premiere, his character was married. No more: Bachelorhood lets him be sexier. Bratt's dashing major makes his lover swoon and clashes with Samantha Liston (Kelly Rutherford), a former lover who's deputy general counsel for the Department of Defense.
Dennis Hopper portrays the major's boss, Col. Eli McNulty, who's renowned for putting together clandestine operations. This show doesn't want subtlety, and Hopper obliges with his customary bravura. McNulty explains to the major how various Pentagon tribes compete for money: "We ain't going to win every battle, but can win the war."
Aunjanue Ellis delivers the most-disciplined performance as a sergeant who assists McNulty. Ellis fumes convincingly as her character struggles to keep the fun-loving men focused.
Even with such first-rate actors, E-Ring might not win the renewal war. These military characters need more creative marching orders.
One revelation should come early in the new season: Are viewers tiring of crime drama?
A few new series fall into a lamentable rut by focusing on horrendous crimes against women. CBS has stocked its schedule with too many CSI versions from Bruckheimer. But that hasn't stopped top-rated CBS from turning to other producers for Criminal Minds, which debuts after CSI on Thursday. Next week, it moves to its regular slot opposite Lost and E-Ring.
Criminal Minds represents CBS' attempt to do The Silence of the Lambs on a weekly basis. An elite team of FBI profilers roves the country and scrambles to solve disturbing cases. This week it's the Seattle Strangler who has killed four; next week, it's an arsonist at an Arizona college.
This grim series exploits psychological problems for thrills and mysteries, which spawn convenient explanations. A stutter can say so much, according to this show, which uses it for cheap effect.
In the early going, the main question is whether Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) has recovered from a breakdown and can carry on as a behavioral analyst. Patinkin gives such a glum performance that the recovery hardly matters.
Weakly written roles limit Patinkin's co-stars, such as Thomas Gibson and Shemar Moore. The scripts, however, do let Patinkin quote Samuel Beckett, Joseph Conrad and others. The show tells us that Albert Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Imagination is what most crime dramas are lacking.
At least Criminal Minds transmits words of wisdom. Fox's Killer Instinct, debuting Friday, merely wallows in revolting cases. In the premiere, a San Francisco detective (Johnny Messner) scurries to unravel why young women are being tortured in their beds.
Killer Instinct isn't a Bruckheimer show; it plays like a bad knockoff of the producer's work. The drama wastes Chi McBride of Boston Public as the detective's boss, and Messner gives a performance that could charitably be called robotic. The series deserves no charity: It's the worst new drama of the fall.
With Close to Home, arriving Oct. 4, Bruckheimer and his colleagues inject some needed humanity into the crime formula. The drama follows a young prosecutor, Annabeth Chase (Jennifer Finnigan), who's returning to work after having her first child.
Annabeth takes cases that are happening close to her home in an Indianapolis suburb. The first is the dire story of a family in a burned home. The script supplies several smart twists that keep this awful story riveting.
The crucial ingredient, however, is Annabeth, played with eagerness and empathy by Finnigan, a three-time Emmy winner for daytime's The Bold and the Beautiful. Close to Home sharply draws workplace conflicts between Annabeth and her single-minded boss, Maureen Scofield (Kimberly Elise).
Close to Home inherits Judging Amy's old time slot and seems designed to appeal to fans of that canceled legal show. The new series also echoes Bruckheimer's underrated Cold Case and brandishes the cinematic look of the producer's best shows. Close to Home is no breakthrough, but it is competent, and that counts for a lot in drama this season.
Stars: Benjamin Bratt ("Traffic," "Miss Congeniality," "Law & Order"), Dennis Hopper ("24," "Blue Velvet," "Easy Rider," "Rebel Without a Cause"), Kelly Rutherford ("Melrose Place"), Aunjanue Ellis ("Ray").
The premise: Rule-bending Army major Bratt takes up new post at the Pentagon under unlikely commanding officer Hopper, his disinterest in protocol restoring the old man's faith in the possibility of effective action. (See also: "Just Legal.") Together they fight military bureaucracy and pesky civilian oversight to do the right, if not always the economical, thing by servicemen, spies and assorted other guardians of a homeland in continual international crisis. Also starring submarines, satellites, Navy SEALs.
Stars: Tichina Arnold ("On the One"), Terry Crews ("The Longest Yard"), Tyler James Williams ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"), Tequan Richmond ("Ray"), Imani Hakim, Vincent Martella. Chris Rock ("The Chris Rock Show," "Head of State"), narrator.
The premise: Narrator-creator Rock relives his Bedford-Stuyvesant adolescence in this sweet, smart, working-class "Wonder Years" (with a hint of "Malcolm in the Middle") set in the early '80s. Juggling jobs and sleep, young Chris (Williams) looks out for his taller younger brother (Richmond) and demanding little sister (Hakim) and for himself while taking care not to tax his busy parents (Crews, Arnold).
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: THURSDAY 'Everybody Hates Chris'
By Amy Amatangelo The Washington Post
The tagline you'll never see: "The Wonder Years" in the middle.
The basics: Comedian Chris Rock reminiscences about his childhood in Brooklyn during the early 1980s. Thirteen-year-old Chris (Tyler James Williams) navigates his way through his predominantly white junior high school while crushing on the girl next door (Keisha Ridenhour) and dealing with his two younger siblings (Tequan Richmond and Imani Hakim). Chris's father (Terry Crews) works three jobs while Chris's mom (Tichina Arnold) dishes out advice and manages the family's frugal budget. In the pilot, Chris makes a new friend (Vincent Martella) and loses his lunch money to the school bully.
The lowdown: It's open season on Thursday night now that NBC's "Must-See TV" has become a thing of the past. (Sorry, "Joey" and "Will & Grace.") And what better show to pick up the comedy torch than this poignant new sitcom. Newcomer Williams is a true find: He deftly balances Chris's necessary bravado with adolescent awkwardness. His expressive eyes say more than most child actors can with pages of dialogue.
Reality check: Narrator Rock, who is known for his blunt humor, doesn't shy away from controversial topics, race-related comedy or taboo words. Yes, his parents didn't have much money and his neighborhood had a crack epidemic. Classmates called him bad names, and adults were afraid of him because of the color of his skin. But there is no sense of pity about his childhood. There are some social messages here, but laughs are the first priority.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: THURSDAY 'Everybody Hates Chris'
By Hal Boedeker Orlando Sentinel Television Critic
Everybody Hates Chris, which debuts Thursday, has generated the most critical praise of any new fall series. Raves are deserved, and comparisons to The Wonder Years are apt.
Here's a family comedy that celebrates family, specifically Chris Rock's in 1980s Brooklyn. The show draws identifiable humor from everyday life. Series co-creators Rock and Ali LeRoi serve choice jokes about unpaid bills, dirty shoes and sibling rivalries.
Wonderful actors make this a TV family to embrace. Tichina Arnold and Terry Crews are dynamic as Rock's strict but loving parents. Tyler James Williams is convincing as Chris at 13. The other child actors are naturals: Tequan Richmond and Imani Hakim as Chris' siblings, Central Florida's Vincent Martella as Chris' new friend.
The main draw, however, is Rock's edgy narration. He talks frankly about family, race, bullies and school shootings. He confers a tart authenticity on Everybody Hates Chris, and a hugely likable sitcom is born.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: THURSDAY 'Everybody Hates Chris'
By Melanie McFarland Seattle Post-Intelligencer TV Critic
With: Tyler James Williams, Terry Crews, Tichina Arnold, Tequan Richmond, Imani Hakim, Vincent Martella
Premise: Executive producer and series narrator Chris Rock takes us back to Brooklyn, 1982, when Chris (played by Williams) turned 13. That means nothing to his no-nonsense, hard-working parents Rochelle (Arnold) and Julius (Crews), who look to Chris to take care of his little sister Tonya (Hakim) and brother Drew (Richmond) while they work. Skinny Chris also has to face down racist bullies at the junior high where he's the only black kid, has a single pal (Martella) and no backup other than quick thinking, superior comic timing and the ability to withstand frequent butt-kickings.
The Word According to Us: Real and relatable, "Chris" may be the best new comedy of a season filled with sitcoms worth viewing. Sharp, poignant and occasionally cruel as the humor can be, it hits viewers on multiple levels, working its sense of nostalgia, striking chords with families and singles alike. If coming episodes can meet or exceed the pilot, UPN has a hit on its hands.
Would We Watch Again? Yes. And should NBC's "Joey" watch out? Yes.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS:THURSDAY Chris Rock Hates Everybody's Fussing
By JOE RHODES The New York Times
LOS ANGELESChris Rock is pleased that "Everybody Hates Chris," the UPN comedy series that's kind of, sort of, but not-quite based on his less-than-idyllic adolescent years in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, is making its debut Thursday at 8 p.m. But he would have preferred that it not be preceded by the kind of critical superlatives and anticipatory hype usually reserved for the crowning of emperors.
So far they have included a wave of "best new show of the year" reviews, a billboard-and-bus placard marketing blitz, and talk that the series could single-handedly do for UPN what "The Simpsons" did for Fox, or even, as some of the more breathless reviews have suggested, resurrect and revitalize the family sitcom genre, much as "The Cosby Show" did more than 20 years ago.
"I'd rather be a midseason replacement," Mr. Rock said by telephone, uncomfortable with the raised expectations, but resigned to all the fuss. "Some little show where people go, 'Hey, that Chris Rock show is kinda funny.' I don't like to hear all this other stuff."
Then he probably ought to cover his ears. The promotional drumbeat for "Everybody Hates Chris" has been growing since last spring, when potential ad buyers got their first look at the pilot episode and started raving about the show's potential appeal for a wide audience.
"Look, the pilot is O.K. - it's good," Mr. Rock said. "But I think we're going to do better shows than that, a lot better shows than that. I think part of the reaction to the pilot is based on what everybody has come to expect from black people on television."
"We hold ourselves to a higher standard than that," he said, referring to himself and Ali LeRoi, the show's co-creator and his longtime collaborator. "It's not enough for us just to be on TV."
Indeed, Mr. Rock won't be on TV at all, at least not visibly so. Wary of being tied down by a long-term commitment to star in a series, Mr. Rock, 39, will serve as executive producer and off-screen narrator. A couple of years ago, he and Mr. LeRoi, 43, were suggesting possible sitcoms at Fox, and they came up with the idea for an urban "Wonder Years"-type comedy. (Fox decided to pass.) The original premise was for the series to be set in 1992 and be built around a fictional teenage protagonist from an inner-city family.
"And then it dawned on us: We've got a show about a kid. Why isn't that kid Chris Rock?" explained Mr. LeRoi, a former stand-up comic from Chicago who has known Mr. Rock for 17 years and who was a writer on his 1997 HBO talk series, "The Chris Rock Show."
"Here's the thing that separates this from every other show of this type that you've seen: you know how the story ends," Mr. LeRoi said. "That kid on 'The Wonder Years' could have ended up being a drug addict, he could have gone to jail for burglary, we don't know. But we do know where this kid ends up.
"We know that he became Chris Rock, this acerbic, wry and caustic comedian. What turned him into this guy? Where did he get the point of view that informs those observations? What was it about his mother and father and this difficult landscape, these experiences, that shaped him? For one thing he had a strong nuclear family, which is something that set him apart from the rest of his crowd. Does that mean everything in the show is using his particular experiences? Does he really have a hundred stories that are interesting enough for a series? Well, there might be 30. So we'll be using some poetic license. We're gonna fill in the gaps."
Although some of the details may be fudged (Mr. Rock, for instance, has six siblings; his 13-year-old television alter ego, played by Tyler James Williams, has only a brother and a sister), the essential truths of the show are taken from Mr. Rock's life: his family's move out of the projects and into Bed-Stuy at the end of the 1970's, when he was 13; his stern-but-loving father, Julius (played by Terry Crews), working multiple jobs to keep the family afloat; his proud and strict mother (played by Tichina Arnold) struggling to make the most of the money they had; and Chris, the oldest son, being bussed across Brooklyn to Bensonhurst, where he was the only black student in a white school, a circumstance that led to regular beatings, constant name-calling and the necessary development of a quick and cutting wit.
"It's kind of like 'Oz' with jokes," Mr. Rock said, when asked to describe the show. "Think of school as jail, the principal as warden and bullies as cellmates.
"The thing I try to get across to the writers - and I do a lot of the writing, too - is that when I do stand-up, nothing I talk about is funny. Everything is really sad and tragic and then I make it funny. So I'm trying to get people to follow that formula."
So TV Chris hears gunshots at the bus stop near his apartment, gets his bus pass stolen and is called racial names by the bullies at his new school. His parents ("At the end of the day, this show is a love letter to my parents, both of them," Mr. Rock said) constantly struggle with paying bills and keeping their children fed. The show, like Mr. Rock's provocative stand-up routines, is often brutally funny, but it's not cute.
"Had we known Bed-Stuy was gonna be the center of a crack epidemic, I guess we'd have moved somewhere else," he says in the pilot's narration. "Bed-Stuy even had a motto: Bed-Stuy, Do or Die. Those are some of the guys who are gonna die."
But, harsh as the context might seem, Mr. LeRoi stressed that the show really revolves around small, universal truths of family life: a kid's wanting a radio his father doesn't think he should have, trying to impress the cute girl next door, getting blamed for something your adorable little sister did.
"We're using different people's experiences," said Mr. LeRoi, who, like Mr. Rock, went to a mostly white junior high school. "If you were 13 and a nerd then you probably have a story that fits this show. When I was 12 my best friend was a little white guy, so that's in the show. I grew up in a family with a father who worked really hard and a mother who didn't have much money. So it's all in there."
While Mr. Rock, who now lives in New Jersey, has been on the Paramount back lot set frequently during the first few weeks of filming and has the final word on every script, it is Mr. LeRoi who runs the day-to-day production, sitting in a chair next to the director, his Powerbook at the ready, sometimes changing dialogue on the fly. Although Howard Gewirtz, a veteran sitcom writer whose credits range from "Taxi" and "Wings" to "Oliver Beene" is also listed as executive producer, it is clear that Mr. LeRoi serves as Chris Rock's eyes and ears.
"I have a lot of confidence in Ali," Mr. Rock said. "He's probably the only guy I know that can take my mumblings and make sense of it,'cause I'm all over the place. When we're writing a script, it's literally me walking around a room, pacing and talking, talking, talking with Ali writing down everything I say and adding his own jokes."
Mr. Leroi is also, he admitted, much better suited to the pressures and distractions of running a high-profile production, especially one where the network and studio have so much at stake and aren't shy about dropping by the set, sometimes just to check in, sometimes with notes and suggestions about the scripts. Mr. LeRoi, a tall, serene, athletic presence, seems to take the intrusions in stride. Mr. Rock would just as soon as avoid them.
"Comedy is like cocaine," Mr. Rock said, acknowledging that notes from executives are an unavoidable part of doing a network series. "Every time you cut it, it gets worse."
Mr. Rock stresses that "Everybody Hates Chris" is not a literal version of his childhood. "When you watched 'Fat Albert,' you weren't really thinking about Bill Cosby," he said. "This is just based on my life, which is a very broad term. I think it just requires we have a black kid. It doesn't even have to be a boy."
But he and Mr. LeRoi understand that, for the show to succeed, audiences have to buy into the notion that TV Chris , however fictionalized he might be, will some day become the real Chris Rock.
It's not, however, a transition that audiences will see. The real Chris Rock dropped out of high school and became a stand-up comedian by the time he was 19. However successful "Everybody Hates Chris" turns out to be, Mr. LeRoi and Mr. Rock are adamant that the show will end before the fictional Chris makes that leap.
"The show only works as long as he's a regular guy having regular problems," Mr. LeRoi said. "Nerdy guys can put themselves in the position of the guy not getting the girl. Mothers can put themselves in the position of trying to raise kids under difficult circumstances. But once he starts becoming a comedian, all that changes. Then it becomes the 'Roseanne' year when they hit the lottery. And people will go, 'That's got nothing to do with me.' "
"Nobody wants to see this kid with a microphone pretending he's Chris Rock," Mr. LeRoi continued. "I don't want to see that. And Chris doesn't want to see that. So, if I've got anything to say about it, the minute he walks into a comedy club, the show is over. Thank you. Good night. We're all going home.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: WEDNESDAY Invasion alien encroachment and group hugs
By Kay McFadden Seattle Times
"Lost" returns at 9 this evening with the pressure on. What's in the hatch? Why can't anyone get off the island? And above all: Show me the monster.
The showing of the monster is a delicate matter. So far this fall, several new series "Supernatural," "Surface" and "Threshold" have demonstrated the merits of a striptease versus the perils of an immediate reveal.
"Lost" has leaned heavily on metaphor as a delaying tactic, which is another way to go. But even when the threat from without is matched by the demons from within, viewers eventually demand some tangible proof.
That brings us to ABC's "Invasion," which debuts at 10 tonight and is a companion piece engineered to keep the "Lost" audience from scattering to other networks.
"Invasion" cleverly proposes that the growing natural disasters the world has experienced of late actually mask the arrival of aliens. The plot that unfolds tonight follows the wake of a major hurricane that hits the Florida Everglades.
I'm not sure our withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol should be excused so easily. Regardless, it quickly becomes clear that "Invasion" hearkens to a 1950s mind-set in more than one way: It's an updated "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
Shaun Cassidy, executive producer of "Invasion," told critics last July that he's never seen the atomic-age classic. Perhaps it's merely testament to the film's permeating appeal that he's come up with something remarkably similar.
"Invasion" begins with the onset of the hurricane. The show's location filming has a glorious, National Geographic-like intensity and you almost wish people and a story weren't necessary.
It's hard to avoid echoes of Hurricane Katrina, which has made unwilling bad-weather connoisseurs of half the TV audience. So when characters who should have boarded up their windows two days ago only get around to it at the height of gale-force winds, the opening of "Invasion" seems contrived. The characters, in this case, are the series' main focus. A tangled web of spouses, ex-spouses, siblings, kids and stepkids establishes itself against the storm's fury and sets the tale rolling.
At the head of the group is heroic U.S. Park Ranger Russell Varon (Eddie Cibrian). He has a beautiful brunette wife (Lisa Sheridan) and a beautiful blonde ex-wife (Kari Matchett), who's now married to local sheriff Tom Underlay (William Fichtner).
Let's pause for a moment. When Fichtner arrives on the screen with his haunted expression and wraparound shades, it's practically a guarantee that something rotten is in the state of well, Florida.
Nevertheless, the makers of "Invasion" had to make sure. As Underlay's teenage daughter frets about the coming storm, he tells her: "The roof's not gonna cave in." She asks how he knows and he ominously replies, "I know."
Cue the sawing bass notes. With the culprit established, a little suspense seeps away and a major flaw is exposed the series' use of overly coy delaying tactics coupled with a contradictory impulse to hammer home every foreshadowing element.
But "Invasion" has a "Lost" card to play. The arrival of aliens isn't a sci-fi adventure; it's a journey into the dark recesses of our souls. The changes occurring in some characters will test community trust and, by extension, the nation's fiber.
There's nothing wrong with this old scenario, except that "Invasion" doesn't bring much that's new to it. Unlike "Threshold," which updates a classic theme with modern technology and a contemporary heroine, "Invasion" is slack and familiar.
It also leans toward the therapeutically soapy. The excellent cast is hampered by dialogue that derives its rhythm from emotional melodrama instead of taut thriller.
The original "Body Snatchers" was a rush into terror based on never knowing who exactly was the culprit. It was anybody and everybody, and at the end, you perhaps stood alone.
In "Invasion," the identification of heroes and villains and the soft skew toward family allays our paranoia instead of feeding it. What's a little extra-terrestrial encroachment compared to working out our issues?
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: WEDNESDAY "E" is for entertaining
By Kay McFadden Seattle Times
He shoots, he scores. Jerry Bruckheimer is the most successful producer in television today, and NBC's "E-Ring," debuting at 9 tonight, is a good example of why.
I confess "E-Ring" is not my kind of program. It's an adventure tale set at the Pentagon and representing the military/covert-operative/CIA school of yarn-spinning. It also has the misfortune to air opposite "Lost."
But "E-Ring" is pretty superb as far as genre series go. If you want your throbbing fix of cinematically scaled, irreproachably timed action and a couple of ruggedly handsome leading men, this is the ticket.
"E-Ring" has the patented Bruckheimer rush: exotic locales, quick cuts, a pounding score and mano-a-mano conflict. It's also a technically interesting delve into the mysterious world of high-level decision-making the "E" stands for the outer ring where Pentagon calls are finalized.
Benjamin Bratt plays an Army major now assigned to special operations at the Pentagon after a 14-month assignment in Iraq. There, he meets his new officer, a crusty colonel portrayed by Dennis Hopper.
"E-Ring" basically works like this: Each week, a plot is afoot that involves some dicey operation requiring Bratt's moral persuasion. Tonight, it's rescuing a Chinese undercover agent; next week, it's the pursuit of a long-sought terrorist leader in Uzbekistan.
The sets and photography are terrific. To be sure, some dialogue is hard to swallow, as in: "It's not a matter of could we. We are America; we could do anything we want. It's should we."
Nevertheless, fans of the canceled "JAG" and "24"-style thrills should find plenty to enjoy here. NBC will be happy to take the demographic of old-school viewers who otherwise are neglected on Wednesday nights.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: WEDNESDAY "E-Ring and Invasion
By Tim Goodman San Francisco Chronicle
On a night when Martha Stewart will bring her own brand of drama to the small screen, two other new shows prove that you can make a lot of noise in the kitchen, but if you can't cook, you can't cook.
NBC decided not to send out a review copy of "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," most likely because in the past couple of years critics have been beating NBC fare over the head with a stick -- justifiably. There's also a rumor that NBC doesn't want critics to reveal what Martha's signature tagline will be -- whether it will trump Donald Trump's "You're fired!"
This assumes TV critics are so desperately vacuous and unaware that, post-Katrina, something as stupid as a tagline might be important in our universe. It also assumes we give a damn. What it fails to consider is how disappointed we'll all be if it doesn't top something we could have come up with on our own, like the Martha prison-time inspired "Now you're my (bad word!)" or "I've cooked dogs more worthwhile than you" or the slightly less abusive, "Die and make crafts in hell, (bad word!)."
But we digress.
After Martha lights the Wednesday 8 p.m. block on fire, NBC offers up what must have looked like a powerhouse series on paper -- "E-Ring," a drama about the Pentagon starring Benjamin Bratt and Dennis Hopper, produced by can't-miss Jerry Bruckheimer, with the pilot directed by Taylor Hackford.
Bruckheimer probably envisioned "E-Ring" as this really cool look at how military decisions get made because, well, this country is making them all the time now. Even liberal anti-military types got a secret thrill on "The West Wing" when the action shifted to the situation room. But reality being what it is -- and CNN's Wolf Blitzer having his own highly annoying "Situation Room" -- the lines between fantasy and life in the Big Stick country make a show like "E-Ring" more than a little queasy, like a 60-minute commercial for the United States armed forces.
Not that a little special ops lust doesn't go a long way, but "E-Ring" sells the World's Policeman thing a little too religiously, and the combination of Hopper's hawkish insider and Bratt's gung-ho willingness to put his finger in the pie of the world ends up being unseemly.
That, plus CBS' "NCIS" is infinitely better.
Also this: "E-Ring" is boring. Outside of a few faux-location shots that "Alias" does a whole lot better, "E-Ring" doesn't make Bratt likable or sexy (the original pilot had him with a wife, but they scrapped that in a hurry so he could take his shirt off with some added value). Bruckheimer may think the Pentagon is the coolest place on the planet but the location doesn't translate. There are all these admiration-filled musings about "the building," but the context isn't there. You never feel like you're in the inner workings of a building that could decimate a foreign country at the flip of a switch.
"E-Ring" is also mysteriously flat. The action is lifeless outside "the building." Inside, there's only Hopper chewing scenery to shreds and Bratt's pent-up energy and man-in-uniform sexuality left to smolder pointlessly. Who is the audience for this thing anyway? Two full episodes prove "E-Ring" to be a failed experiment by Bruckheimer to turn militarism into some kind of porn for fat dads addicted to Tom Clancy video games on their PlayStation.
One hour later (ostensibly you could watch three new series tonight -- but the feeling here is, no, don't do it), ABC has a better go-round with its paranormal phenomenon series, "Invasion." Ah, the trouble with titles. Could be that aliens are coming. Could also be -- judging by the weird behavior of star William Fichtner, who plays a sheriff in a Florida town recently hit by a major hurricane -- that aliens may already be here.
The first obstacle "Invasion" needs to overcome is that its pilot revolves around a hugely devastating hurricane. That's bad timing. Do viewers want a fanciful sci-fi version of Katrina? We'll see. The second obstacle is that it follows "Lost" (same network ripping itself off), and people might be exhausted by the notion of suspending belief all season long for another series big on mysteries. Then again, they may crave more -- and what better series to follow than a monstrous hit?
Although "Invasion" has battled fellow freshman series "Threshold" for the buzz crown in this year of the paranormal, there is something too pat, too telegraphed in "Invasion" to rile up the blood. Eddie Cibrian plays Russell, a divorced father who's new girlfriend (pregnant) is the local TV reporter Larkin (Lisa Sheridan). He's just trying to take care of his two kids and restart a new life, but it's awfully annoying when your bossy ex-wife Mariel (Kari Matchett) is a hotshot doctor recently remarried to Fichtner's hotshot sheriff and the two of them are telling you how to parent.
Then the hurricane comes and your daughter gets lost in the storm (bad parenting!) and sees a whole bunch of bright lights falling into the water while everybody else is huddling under furniture. Russell's conspiracy theorist brother-in-law, Dave (Tyler Labine, who pretty much steals the pilot), immediately thinks, well, invasion. But he drinks too much.
"Invasion" has none of the initial pizzazz and storytelling hooks that "Lost" had, but in this genre it's hard to count out (or in) a series based on one episode. The good news for "Invasion" is that outside of this too-telegraphed pilot there's a cause for hope and trust. "Invasion" is the brainchild of Shaun Cassidy, whose earlier works ("American Gothic," "Cover Me," "Cold Case") were intelligent, creative and well-conceived. At a recent press tour with TV critics, his was the most thoughtful, authoritative take among all producers in this genre on where the series was headed and what it was all about.
That's helpful (and hopeful), because the first episode is mostly hot air blown over water.
I wasn't ready to turn critical cartwheels over it, but the original pilot of this drama about the Pentagon's covert operations branch did seem to have some things going for it. That included a nice little husband-wife relationship with Benjamin Bratt as black-ops expert Jim Tisnewski and Sarah Clarke (``24'') as his CIA agent-wife. But now the pilot has been revised, and things seem to have gone from OK with potential to not-so-great. (Clarke and her character have vanished, for one thing.) Both tonight's opening episode and next week's installment are predictable, loaded with cliched dialogue and lacking in the tension you want in this kind of show. It's still amusing to watch Mr. Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper, play a career military guy, but that's hardly a compelling reason to tune in.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: WEDNESDAY Tonight's New Show Premieres
By Aaron Barnhart Kansas City Star
Invasion . Through no fault of its own, Invasion has lost a bit of its appeal in the last month. That's because this enticing new thriller is set in the aftermath of a powerful hurricane. And just as 9/11 didn't seem like appropriate story fodder in late 2001, neither does anything wet and destructive in the wake of Katrina.
Still, of all the new mystery-driven dramas aspiring to be this year's Lost and there are four of them Invasion is the most absorbing and least hokey.
The first episode isn't as skillfully drawn as Lost's Emmy-winning premiere last year. The characters are not as racially diverse nor as interesting. Still, the hints Invasion throws out about what's to come are all intriguing.
That hungry swamp creature that appears after the storm the spectacular if ominous light show coming from the heavens that fish-eyed sheriff (William Fitchner), his wife (Kari Matchett) and their extremely precocious little girl (Ariel Gade), who seem to have gotten a visit from the Pod People during the big rain there's a lot going on inside the laboratory run by Shaun Cassidy, the former teen heartthrob who created Invasion. Of course, his experiment may go awry in a few weeks. But for now this and Lost are a solid one-two on Wednesdays.
The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. I have not seen the first hour of this spinoff, but I am willing to make a prediction: Martha Stewart will make Donald Trump look like a neighborhood bully.
As anyone who has been watching her daytime talk show knows, Stewart is undergoing a rather painful on-air transformation from aloof homemaking expert into everyone's Aunt Martha, that starchy but good-natured relative from Connecticut who just wants to be part of the family, insofar as she is emotionally equipped to be like us, which is to say not much.
But at least she's trying. I was watching the synidacted Martha the other day and there she was, sitting on a stool chatting with a group of ordinary homemakers, all of them self-professed bad cooks that were flown in for a cooking lesson from Aunt Martha and her culinary friends. Stewart was working so hard at relating to her guests and trying not to sound like she was reading everything straight off her blue cards that she flubbed a cue. And she didn't even ask for a retake! That would never fly with the old Martha.
So if not her, who's going to play the bad cop on tonight's Apprentice? My money is on Alexis Stewart, who will be at her mother's right hand during the show, along with the chairman of Stewart's business empire, Charles Koppelman. At a press conference this summer Martha was explaining why she wouldn't be using anything like You're fired as her line to departing contestants. Not very convincingly, she said, I don't think I've ever said you're fired' to anybody.
Just then Alexis, who hadn't made a peep all day, said, Even when you should have.
Well, she is her mother's daughter.
E-Ring. Remember when you settled in to NBC for a night of The West Wing and Law & Order? Times change.
And doesn't Ben Bratt know it. The former L&O stud is seen riding a bicycle to the Pentagon, just one of several hoot-worthy scenes in this surprisingly brain-dead series from Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer who brought us CSI and The Amazing Race (but also the execrable Skin, billed as a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet in a porn empire).
Dennis Hopper plays Bratt's superior inside the military-intelligence complex, but the writing is distinctly inferior. And Bratt is just out of his element.
To compensate, E-Ring seems willing to push the catastrophe meter to 11 every week. In the middle of next week's episode comes the Ultimate Storyline: terrorists with nukes!
Weapons of mass destructions might end up in Iraq after all, Hopper mutters. Oh boy.
More like oh brother. Yeah, WMD might be in Iraq and viewers might keep watching this sorry excuse for a show. And Dennis Hopper might be forgiven for taking NBC's money. But don't bet on it.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: THURSDAY Everybody Hates Chris
By Rick Kushman Sacramento Bee TV Columnist
This is Chris Rock's story and has 12-year-old Tyler Williams playing young Chris, who's something of a hard-luck kid. His younger brother is cooler, his younger sister is his dad's favorite, and he gets sent to a Brooklyn middle school where he's the new guy and the only African American. Rock supplies a voice-over, "Wonder Years" style.
What's What: Rock's slightly skewed, slightly slapstick, very smart take on childhood is handled with some bite and some heart. And a lot of funny. The writing, from co-creator Ali LeRoi, is sharp, surprising, sometimes plain weird, and Rock's voice-overs have all of Rock's usual snap. UPN thinks this will be the Thursday comedy of the future. Might happen.
A cool park ranger (Eddie Cibrian) on the edge of the Florida Everglades begins to suspect something strange might be happening when his ex-wife (Lisa Sheridan) - who now lives with the creepy local sheriff (William Fichner) - disappears during a hurricane and is found later naked and, somehow, different. Not that she was a picnic before the storm.
What's What: This show takes some risks with a big mystery that's something of a mess at first, and it may take some time to become appealing. If it does. The storm, it seems, was a diversion for whatever is out there in the Everglades, but that may be less an appealing idea, too, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said Wednesday that his company is negotiating with cable operators to launch a business-themed cable channel, though the arrival might come later than he has predicted previously.
Speaking at a Goldman Sachs investor conference in New York, Mr. Murdoch said the launch of the Fox Business Channel would likely not happen in the early months of 2006, as he has indicated in the past, "but certainly soon."
Mr. Murdoch's comments were the clearest sign yet that he remains committed to launching a rival to NBC Universal's CNBC. There have been mixed signals about whether the company would press ahead with a plan to launch a business channel, in large part because Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, who would oversee the project, reportedly has been unsure whether a business channel could replicate the out-of-the-box success of Fox News Channel, particularly given the challenges facing the business news space.
Meanwhile, Mr. Murdoch said his company was "99 percent there" in terms of inking a content distribution agreement with telephone company Verizon Communications, which continued to beef up its programming offering by striking a deal earlier Wednesday with The Walt Disney Co.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: WEDNESDAY For NBC, tonight is all about Martha If she's hot, the network could edge out ABC
By Toni Fitzgerald MediaLifeMagazine.com
The big question on Wednesday nights, when it comes to gauging how the broadcast networks will do this fall, is just how many people are still interested in Martha Stewart.
The answer will go a long way to determining how NBC's entire season goes.
Her The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, debuting tonight, anchors NBC's Wednesday lineup at 8 p.m., and its performance will set the pace for new lead-out E-Ring as well.
Wednesday is really anyone's night, with Fox's American Idol off the air until January, and each network has made at least one primetime change to gain an edge going into January.
If Stewart's "Apprentice" edition is strong, pulling at least a 5 rating in 18-49s, that should bolster "E-Ring" and give NBC a solid lead for the night. If Stewart falters, doing only okay, ABC will take the night on the power of its hit "Lost."
If NBC can nudge ahead, it could help the network offset weakening lineups on Thursday and Sunday.
At the beginning of the summer, how people felt about Stewart would have seemed a silly question. She was getting lots of positive buzz over her two new shows and tons of public support in blogs, chatboards and opinion polls.
But after months of Martha saturation and not-so-hot initial ratings for her daytime talk show, media buyers are less certain that her Apprentice will become quite the hit many thought earlier in the summer.
Most think it will win its timeslot, which lacks a big hit. It will push NBC above last year's fourth-place 3.3 nightly average, but the question is how much above.
By moving Lost' to 9 p.m., ABC gave NBC an opening for the new Apprentice: Martha Stewart.' While not as strong as even a fading Apprentice' with Donald Trump (particularly among men and upscale viewers), this edition should manage to win its hour among most adult age groups, predicts Magna Global USA's Steve Sternberg in his fall primetime preview.
Even if Martha debuts big tonight, the real test is how much of that audience is still watching four weeks from now, when November sweeps loom.
Media buying agency Carat forecasts that, based on Martha's strength, NBC will lead Wednesday in 18-49s. A more conservative guess is that ABC will maintain its pre-Idol lead thanks to Lost, even if new lead-out Invasion doesn't perform well.
ABC comedies George Lopez and Freddie will probably average below a 4.0 at 8 p.m., but Lost's 5.8 rating from last season helped balance weak timeslot performers, too. ABC averaged a 4.6 on Wednesday last year.
CBS, which finished third on the night last year, will probably stay there at least during the fall. Booting 60 Minutes II for comedies Still Standing and Yes, Dear at 8 p.m. will give it a slight uptick in 18-49s, and 9 p.m.'s new Criminal Minds makes a much better companion for 10 p.m.'s CSI: NY than last year's comedy block.
Fox won't be a factor Wednesday until Idol returns. That 70s Show leads off at 8 p.m., but its ratings are expected to fall with the departures of series stars Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher. Stacked at 8:30 will dip from its lead-in, and the new Head Cases at 9 p.m. had an anemic debut last week. Until January, Fox will be in fourth place.
UPN has America's Next Top Model, coming off a very strong season, at 8 p.m., though 9 p.m.'s Veronica Mars isn't a very compatible lead-out. Many media buyers, who love the quirky high school sleuth show, worry that facing Lost could hurt Veronica among 18-34s.
The WB nudges One Tree Hill, a show that steadily grew behind Gilmore Girls on Tuesday, into the 8 p.m. anchor slot. Though it should maintain its audience in a weak timeslot until Idol returns, 9 p.m. rookie Related, which was reworked after the pilot was shot, may struggle.
TV SEASON PREVIEWS: THURSDAY Everybody Hates Chris Finding the humor in a tough situation:
Chris Rock's sitcom, like his stand-up, keeps a sharp lookout
By Paul Brownfield , Times Staff Writer Los Angeles Times Staff Writer September 22, 2005
The larger world of "Everybody Hates Chris" is the comedy of Chris Rock. This makes his new UPN comedy either as promising as "Seinfeld" or as limited as "Seinfeld" could have been.
Like early episodes of that benchmark show, the pilot of "Everybody Hates Chris" is an evocation-of-a-sitcom that crackles with Rock's comedic point of view, in this case on his Brooklyn childhood. If it leaves you a tad dubious about just where the conflicts and ongoing stories will arise, so did "Seinfeld," which at first seemed like little playlets based on his comedy routines, too static for the contemporary demands of TV.
"The Wonder Years," "Annie Hall," "A Christmas Story," "The Cosby Show" (the original, on NBC) there's something of a little of each in the pilot of "Everybody Hates Chris," but the show thus far feels more observational than story-driven; it relies on our desire to listen to Rock talk.
And we do want to listen, because Rock is hilarious; he has the great comedian's ability to infiltrate our minds, getting us to re-see the world through his eyes. What Rock and longtime writing partner Ali LeRoi have done, in the warmhearted pilot, is conjure a single-camera family sitcom that cannily voices Rock's tough-love attitude about ghetto childhood, the stuff he's been saying onstage for years, packaging it in a half-hour as tenderly amusing as "Annie Hall's" Alvy Singer recalling his childhood home underneath a Coney Island roller coaster.
We're conditioned to view a comedian's childhood as a window into the reasons for the later life onstage (Were you the class clown? Picked on as a kid? Did you fight back with humor? seem to constitute the troika of predetermined queries every big-time comedian continues to be asked), but "Everybody Hates Chris" is not about why Rock became a comedian.
As Rock and LeRoi have set it up, the whole show is an extended riff on that classic Rock routine about black men who talk about parental responsibility as if it's an elective, bragging that "I take care of my kids" or "I never been to jail."
Rock's retort: "What do you want, a cookie?"
"Everybody Hates Chris," which stars Tyler James Williams as a 13-year-old version of Rock or perhaps more accurately as a 13-year-old onto which the adult Rock projects his reminiscences is most vivid in its portrayal of two working-class parents who've moved their three kids out of the projects in Brooklyn and over to Bedford-Stuyvesant, where, Rock tells us, a crack epidemic is on the way; the motto in 1982 was "Bed-Stuy: Do or Die."
Young Chris, the oldest of three, is a repository of his parents' admonitions and fears. His mother (Tichina Arnold) has "100 recipes" for whuppin' you-know-what ("I will slap your name out of the phone book and call Ma Bell and tell her I did it .... "), while his father (Terry Crews), a truck driver holding down two jobs, hounds his family about the cost of their every ounce of spilled milk but is also in their lives, to be believed when he comes by his son's bedroom before leaving for work at night and says: "I'll see you in the morning."
"He was one of four fathers on the block," Rock narrates. " 'I'll see you in the morning' meant he was coming home. Coming home was his way of saying, 'I love you.' "
Rock has said "Everybody Hates Chris" is not a literal version of his childhood, but it is a pretty literal version of his comedy; many of the scenes in the pilot play like illustrated Rock routines, as in: "Much like rock 'n' roll, school shootings were also invented by blacks and stolen by the white man."
It's his mother, the show makes clear, who's really working the system ("I run this house the way they run the country on a deficit," she lectures her husband, explaining why you don't simply pay an entire bill).
The father's the sweet one, the mother fiercely protective, forcing Chris to take two buses to a white school in Brooklyn Beach populated by working-class Italian kids. There predictably, in scenes you've seen a million times, just not with Chris Rock narrating Chris gets bullied.
But he doesn't so much fight back with humor, he just fights back, losing his lunch money but recovering his bus pass, and when he comes home from school he gobbles the piece of chicken meant for his father but doesn't tell him why he was so hungry.
He doesn't tell him about the fight because "my dad went to school during the civil rights era," Rock says. "After hoses, tanks and a dog bites on your, ... , somehow Joey Caruso didn't compare."
As he talks we see newsreel footage of the hoses, the tanks and the dogs. A sitcom without earned comedic authority wouldn't be able to pull off this moment without seeming treacly. But even in its first half hour, "Everybody Hates Chris" has more than established its voice. Now it has to keep its story spinning outward.
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