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Fall TV: Hard to spot the hits
September 14, 2010  | By Alan Pergament

If ever there was a good year to stop being a full-time TV critic, this is it.

I have to give the networks' promotional departments credit -- they've made several shows look intriguing. But I've watched just about all the pilots for the new fall shows and loved exactly one -- Fox' show about a Texas con artist, Lone Star.When I told this to a former big city critic who also has become a blogger, he responded that he didn't even like Lone Star all that much.

A year ago, it wasn't hard to spot ABC's stylish and hilarious Modern Family as a sure-fire hit even if one didn't realize that the weekly hijinks of three different families within a family would lead to an Emmy Award as best comedy.There is no Modern Family this TV season, which is loaded with so many cop, crime and legal shows that the Hollywood community should be arrested for lack of creativity.

I read in a wire service story that the networks had several shows trying to appeal to younger viewers. I don't know what shows that guy saw, because the overwhelming sentiment I got from watching the pilots was how far network TV has gone back to its future in an attempt to attract the older viewers more likely to watch it.

I teach at a couple of local Buffalo-area colleges -- Buffalo State and Medaille. When I ask the younger generation if they watch network TV, only a few students raise their hands. And then they tell me they watch reality shows. Ouch.

Like other media, the networks had a choice of trying to appeal to the users they have or attract the ones who play harder to get than the prettiest girl in class.

Overwhelmingly, all the networks except Fox went to option 1.

The new shows have one additional hurdle to overcome -- the DVR. The recording device that makes it easier for viewers to watch shows at their convenience tends to reward older hits at the expense of new shows trying to get a first or second look.

Here's a brief overview of the new shows premiering this fall. I have put them in three categories -- must see, must watch again to see if they will improve, and must avoid.


Lone Star, Monday at 9 p.m. ET (Sept. 20), Fox -- The lone member of this category stars a guy (James Wolk, photo at top) who has a George Clooney twinkle in his eye and enough charm to get two people to marry him at the same time while he fleeces one group of victims to pay off another one. Unfortunately, it airs opposite NBC's heavily-promoted conspiracy series, The Event.



The Event, Monday at 9 p.m. ET (Sept. 20), NBC -- Starring Jason Ritter, Blair Underwood and Scott Patterson, this conspiracy series is more complicated than the summer movie hit Inception. In the first 15 minutes or so, viewers are shown graphics that tell them things happened 23 minutes earlier, 11 days earlier, 13 months earlier, 8 days earlier. You may know in 15 minutes if you care.

Hawaii Five-0, Monday at 10 p.m. ET (Sept. 20), CBS -- CBS' latest attempt to make Australian actor Alex O'Loughlin (Moonlight) a star, in this reprise of the Jack Lord series. Cast also includes Scott Caan (Entourage), Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) and Jean Smart (as governor). O'Loughlin plays a former Navy man who partners with Caan, who's divorced and knows when his ex calls because the theme from Jaws plays on his cell phone. It is stylish -- and amusing in a 1980s sort of way.

Raising Hope, Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET (Sept. 21), Fox -- It's a dry comedy about a young pool guy, Jimmy, who ends up with an infant after a one-night stand with a serial killer who ends up in jail. Jimmy is so clueless that he throws up on the baby after seeing the kid's first bowel movement. Needless to say, his childish, low-class parents aren't thrilled but eventually forget their suggestion to have the baby dropped off at the fire station and are willing to help raise the kid.

Running Wilde, Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET (Sept. 21), Fox -- Totally dependent on whether you can tolerate Will Arnett, who plays a man so rich and clueless that he gives himself a humanitarian award. His former girlfriend, played by Keri Russell, is the daughter of one of his father's housekeepers and a leading environmentalist. She has a daughter and believes she can change Arnett's character. I'm not wild about it, but could see it appealing to fans of Arrested Development.


Detroit 1-8-7, Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET (Sept. 21), ABC -- Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos plays an unknowable cop who hates people as much as he hates cell phones. He has great instincts, verbally abuses his partner, and is followed around by a reality TV crew. Yeah, that's going to happen. In other words, it is a routine, scripted version of Cops. At least it isn't set in Buffalo.

Undercovers, Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET (Sept. 22), NBC -- Love the promos about this romantic spy show from J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias). The series leads -- Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw -- are gorgeous, and the plot has a Thomas Crown Affair feel. But it is almost all style and little substance.

The Defenders, Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET (Sept. 22), CBS -- Jerry O'Connell is a defense lawyer who sleeps around, and Jim Belushi is a lawyer who manipulates the system, pines for his estranged wife and plays with his client's lives. It's dumb but likable -- like Belushi's character in the sitcom According to Jim.

My Generation, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET (Sept. 23), ABC -- Another scripted show with a reality TV component, it follows around the stereotypes who graduated high school in 2000 to look at their unfulfilled lives a decade later: the punk, the wallflower, the nerd, the brain, the rock star, the rich kid, etc. It would be a good show -- if it were on the CW. I can see college kids today playing beer pong as they count the cliches. But at least everyone looks good.

Outsourced, Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET (Sept. 23), NBC -- A comedy about a twentysomething guy with $40,000 in college loans who's forced to go to India to work for a novelty company that has outsourced its call center. The show is an equal opportunity offender -- it takes shots at life in India and the United States. Pilot is offensive and amusing. But how long can writers do jokes about the gastric joys of Indian food, fake vomit and other tasteless things?


Body of Proof, Friday at 9 p.m. ET (date TBA), ABC -- What could be bad about a series starring Dana Delany (China Beach and Desperate Housewives)? She plays a tough, scarred Philadelphia neurosurgeon turned coroner after a bad case and bad divorce. It has some similarities to Castle and Bones in that her character knows as much or more than the police, and there are some tender family moments.

Blue Bloods, Friday at 10 p.m. ET (Sept. 24), CBS -- Beautifully-shot series about three generations of cops who share family meals together but don't share all the family secrets. It stars Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynihan and Frank Sinatra's (New York, New York) music. This is New York cops as heroes, though Wahlberg's character has a little Andy Sipowicz in him. It is far from David Milch's NYPD Blue, but a twist near the end of the pilot takes it out of the totally routine category.

No Ordinary Family, Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET (Sept. 28), ABC -- Sweet family show in which Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz play a husband and wife whose marriage seems a little shaky before they get superpowers with their children after a plane crash. It is sweet, but probably would have worked better as a Disney movie.


Outlaw, Friday at 10 p.m. ET (Sept. 15 preview, Sept. 17 premiere), NBC -- Jimmy Smits chews the scenery as a former conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice, womanizer and gambler who resigns to embrace his father's heritage and spout liberal cliches. The dialogue in this one makes it a long fall from being president on The West Wing -- it is often as silly as the idea anyone would resign from the Court to practice law. Conservatives and liberals will agree -- this is one stupid show.

Mike and Molly, Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET (Sept. 20), CBS -- Sitcom from Chuck Lorre, the creator of Two and Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, it illustrates that he has the power to get anything on the air. It's a comedy about a cop and a teacher who belong to Overeaters Anonymous. There are a lot of fat jokes in this very thin comedy.


Chase, Monday at 10 p.m. ET (Sept. 20), NBC -- Annie Frost (Kelli Giddish) is a pretty and pretty tough U.S. Marshal who spouts cliches (visible in the promos) in a Jerry Bruckheimer show with a Criminal Minds feel. Talking about a rival law enforcement group, she says: "They are about where he's been, we are about where he is going." The bad guy is the most interesting character in the fast-moving pilot, which is never a good sign. And a water chase is pretty comical.

Better With You, Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET (Sept. 22), ABC -- Three couples at different stages of romance. One sister is pregnant with a dumb guy she just met. The less said, the better about this season's biggest loser.

$#*! My Dad Says, Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET (Sept. 23), CBS -- The laugh track is annoyingly loud in this laugh-less comedy in which William Shatner plays an annoying, politically-incorrect father. In the pilot's first 10 minutes, there are urination jokes and one joke about a "broken vagina." This show is a piece of $#*!.

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