Sunday, September 13, 2009

TV: The Fall Season


Currently on new stands, TV Guide and Rolling Stone both explore TV. Which had Jim insisting we needed to do a piece on it. "The fall season!" he hollered at us. "How can you not cover the fall season!"

Well, we could be like Rolling Stone, for example, and plug a show as airing this fall (Better Off Ted) that is, in fact, not coming back until mid-season. Relenting, we finally agreed to do some form of overview piece.

Betty: The one show I'm most curious about is The New Adventures Of Old Christine. That's in part due to the cliffhanger where New Christine apparently left Richard at the alter and Barb being jailed. But it's also because Wanda Sykes (Barb) gets her own Fox talk show and I'm wondering if that will mean that she's out of the show? She and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are the best comedic team on television.

New episodes start Wednesday, September 23rd. Supposedly iTunes will have episodes this year. They somehow missed all of last year's. Of all the returning sitcoms, The New Adventures Of Old Christine is the one to watch. Consistently laugh-out-loud funny. It will again be paired on Wednesday nights with Gary Unmarried which many have written in ( to ask, "Where's the review?" We'd intended to review it in the spring but it was already going to be renewed so we thought we'd review it over the summer and, ideally, right before the new season started. But? In June, we learned the format was being scrapped. Gary's now hanging out at a radio station. We hope it works, we really hope it does. Seems to us, enough's already been scrapped and changes like these don't generally improve a series. On CBS Mondays, How I Met Your Mother returns and would be as funny as Christine were it not for those Bob Saget in the future bits. The Big Bang Theory is supposed to begin acknowledging the biggest TV surprise of the decade: Sheldon's become a dork stud. Sheldon (Jim Parsons) was never intended to be a heart throb but audience response indicates that, despite the odds, that's what he's become. Also on Mondays is Jenna Elfman's Accidentally On Purpose (CBS) which almost became her second failed follow up to Dharma & Greg but problems with the initial concept were quickly worked out and what was veering towards cerebral instead went for the land of zany that audiences first embraced Jenna in.

Kat: NCIS is pure crap, I know it's crap. But there is something comforting, when you're on the road, in knowing that any Tuesday night, in any city, you can turn on CBS and there it is.

Wally: What Kat said. Plus, I understand it's on Ion now as well.

Kat: And Michael Weatherly slimming down added a whole new level to the show.

CBS' Tuesday anchor remains and returns with 90210 it's only real competition. This year Melrose Place (revamped) follows 90210 and, as though out of fear, CBS adds NCIS: Los Angeles to the schedule. The show that everyone should be talking about follows, The Good Wife -- the only new drama this fall that you can't miss.

Jim: What's Courtney Cox-Arquette's new show like?

The question everyone will be asking if ABC's Wednesday night sitcom line up doesn't take off. A two hour bloc and an ambitious move at a time when scripted shows disappear only to be replaced with 'reality' or worse (Jay Leno would be worse). Hank, The Middle and Modern Family all lead up to Courtney's Cougar Town. If nothing else, ABC has spent money for billboards to promote the show. (Too bad that the billboards do little to get across that the show's a sitcom.)

Dona: It's a shame they couldn't cancel the cellar dweller 30 Rock and, Jim's correct, Jami Gertz could do a good Sarah Palin. Tina Fey never got beyond dowdy. Maybe her efforts to sexualize Palin were really a reflection on her own lack of sex appeal?

30 Rock returns in October. Sadly. Look for it to repeat (on a smaller scale) what happened last year (and the year before and the . . .) which is the highest ratings of the season are for the premiere and then, week after week, each episode drops further and further.

Rolling Stone structures its TV survey around 50 reasons to watch TV and, if you were a post-middle-aged gay man, like Jann Wenner, you might be nodding along with all 50 reasons. Yes, folks, he stayed in the closet for so many years because he was afraid the magazine would become . . . what it is today. We bring that up because reason 45 to watch TV is that Chevy Chase returns to TV in the Thursday night sitcom Community (NBC) -- he returns to TV for the first time since "his ill-fated six weeks as host of The Chevy Chase Show in 1993." Hmm. 1993? Strange. We could have sworn Chevy Chase turned in a layered and outstanding performance as a villain on Chuck last year. Hmm. Guess that was Dan Ackroyd. Our bad.

And Rolling Stone also tells us we can cheer for Christian Slater to have a major comeback because he's doing a TV series (The Forgotten, Tuesdays on ABC). "Speaking of forgotten . . . welcome back," writes Rolling Stone in a piece so bad that no writer was brave enough to pin a byline to it. Welcome back? You mean from last fall? My Own Worst Enemy? Yeah, Rolling Stone's just making one mistake after another. But, hey, this issue really exists just for the nearly shirtless photo of Neil Patrick Harris sporting nipples in the bathtub. Well that and to say F you to Jon Stewart whom Jann doesn't feel has treated the magazine with the proper respect. That's how Stephen Colbert's show ends up the number one reason to watch TV and The Daily Show doesn't even make the top fifty. Bitchy, thy name is Jann Wenner.

Thursdays also see Fringe return with new episodes on Fox.

Jess: It airs Thursdays? Did it always air then? [No, it aired on Tuesdays last year.] Who knows? I always caught it on Hulu anyway.

Hulu was the brainchild of NBC and Fox. They now have added ABC to the mix. In fact, the only real network they don't have is CBS -- the network that, instead of going forward, has gone backwards online. Once upon a time, for example, any article we did mentioning The New Adventures Of Old Christine would have a link that went to the CBS webpage where you could watch episodes of the show. That changed last fall. The season opener was Barb and Christine getting married and that never made it up at the website. We wrote that off as their not wanting to give some conservative group an easy way to slam them. And, sure enough, the second episode did pop up and the third and the . . . All the way through October, episodes were there. Then suddenly, they vanished and all you had were brief little clips. Hate to break it to CBS, but the sitcom fills a half-hour. 2 minute clips? They do nothing to promote the show. If you've already seen the episode, you're longing for more. If you haven't seen the show, the clip only confuses you.

While everyone else faces the future, CBS retreats. It's not a happy portent at a time when the medium is being forced to reinvent.

Ty: I want to know about Medium. NBC cancelled it. That was a shock. You [Ava and C.I.] didn't think it would be cancelled and said, if it was, CBS would pick it up. NBC cancelled it and CBS did pick it up and now they've got it on Fridays in one of the worst hours.

We did say CBS would pick it up if it were cancelled but we didn't think NBC would cancel it. Look, we knew it was between Crossing Jordan and Medium not all that long ago. (Crossing Jordan got the axe.) And we knew the little punk running (ruining) the network (until recently) hated women. But we also knew that Medium got better ratings on Mondays than Heroes or Chuck -- both of which were renewed. A show that improves on its lead-in is always worth keeping around. Unless hating women is more important to you than making money. Emmy winner Patricia Arquette tells TV Guide, "It didn't occur to me that we wouldn't be picked up, so their decision to cancel us was a shock. I was, like, 'Wow. Didn't see that coming. I guess I'll have more time with the family now'."

The punk now off the throne declared that Medium was cancelled because no one came up with a good gimmick. The writers of the show? No, the fans. The fans didn't, as with Chuck, come up with a Subway tie-in. Those little stunts are meaningless. They generate a little water cooler talk, they do not translate into ratings. Case in point: Jericho. We called that piece of crap what it was. And CBS cancelled it. And then turned around and brought it back because fans were sending peanuts or something to CBS in the mail. Well the show came back and it flopped all over again. That catchy little stunt that all the reporters on the TV beat were treating as though it meant something actually meant nothing. Because it was a publicity stunt. Having attempted to trick the viewers for years with publicity stunts, you'd think the networks would be immune to them but, apparently, when it's done to them -- and not by them -- it's all very confusing.

As Ty noted, it's on the worst night of television: Friday.

It follows Ghost Whisperer which would normally be a good thing. But who knew everyone was going to decide to program on Fridays? CW's moving Smallville to the first hour of prime time on Fridays. ABC opens with the hideous Supernanny as usual, NBC with Law & Order, Fox with a new sitcom entitled Brothers (we know many people with this show and we may hold off reviewing it for that reason -- a returning 'Til Death follows Brothers). CBS has Jennifer Love Hewitt who will continue to more than hold her own. But then there's the second hour of primetime. That's when CBS offers Medium, Fox offers Dollhouse, NBC tries to counter program with Southland but ABC's the wild card as they move Ugly Betty to Friday nights.

On the plus side, forgetting the quality of the scripts, Fridays serves up a record number of actresses in major roles: Jennifer Love, Patricia Arquette, Eliza Dushku (Dollhouse), Regina King (Southland), Joley Fisher ('Til Death) and America Ferrera, Vanessa Williams, Judith Light (Ugly Betty).

Saturdays? Please, the networks downgraded. CW never had a Saturday line up. Fox did years ago for a very brief time (repeating Cops endlessly is not a line up). ABC, CBS and NBC have thrown in the towel. Which just leaves Sundays. You've got the CBS soap Three Rivers and a new animated half-hour on Fox (The Cleveland Show) and, otherwise, its the same line up it's been for most of this decade (and the exact same as last year).

We'll try to help steer you to some choices throughout the fall and, as we like to repeatedly point out, if you consistently disagree with us, a pan should be a heads up that you'll love the show. If you want to find out more about the fall season, we recommend TV Guide. They've got a nice little run-down with some interesting facts. (Other than the quote from Patricia, we didn't use any information from the magazine, so it'll all be fresh to you.) Rolling Stone should be avoided -- unless you want to look at Neil's nipples and, goodness knows, sometimes nipples (male or female) are reason enough to watch a show. On such minor details, whole networks turn.
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