Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Fall Lineup Frenzy: NBC

This is the first post in a series that will feature my thoughts on each of the major networks' new Fall 2005 lineups. The first out the gate is NBC.

This is a network that, in my mind, hasn't figured itself out since it gradually started to lose its popular shows. In the current, soon-to-end season, I only watch Las Vegas, Scrubs, The Office, Late Night With Conan O'Brien and SNL. That being said, let's take a look at their schedule day-by-day (found courtesy of The Futon Critic here). New shows are in CAPS:


8-9 p.m. "FATHOM"
9-10 p.m. "Las Vegas"
10-11 p.m. "Medium"

"FATHOM" -- Ever wonder what life would be like if a new form of sea life began to appear in locales all over the earth? In this expansive drama, those who are about to find out include some naval officers in the South Antarctic Sea, a family in San Diego, scientists from the Oceanographic Institute in Monterey, and fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. The seemingly innocent creatures they find are beautiful and kids may even want to play with them -- but is there something more to them? One thing's for sure - they're full of surprises as viewers can embark on this unfathomable journey to discover what might be lurking in the sea. Lake Bell ("Boston Legal") stars as Daughtery Carstarphen, along with Jay R. Ferguson ("Judging Amy") as Richard Owen, Rade Serbedzija ("Snatch") as Dr. Aleksander Cirko, and Carter Jenkins ("CSI: NY") as Miles. "Fathom" is from NBC Universal Television Studio and was created by Josh and Jonas Pate ("Dragnet"), who also serve as executive producers.

My Thoughts: Am I the only one who thought that description should have said "expensive" instead of "expansive"? Also, I wonder if I'm the only one who saw that title and hoped that Michael Turner's comic of the same name finally got an adaptation. I was? Damn. Anyway, Fathom sounds a little like SeaQuest DSV if it took place in the present. That being said, it doesn't inspire much interest on my part. This show could be interesting and I'll try to give it a one-episode tryout, but my Monday routine of finding something else to watch until Las Vegas comes on will probably continue.


8-9 p.m. "The Biggest Loser"
9-9:30 p.m. "MY NAME IS EARL"
9:30-10 p.m. "The Office"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

"MY NAME IS EARL" --Earl (Jason Lee, "Almost Famous," "Chasing Amy") has taken one too many wrong turns on the highway of life. A bully and a low-rent crook, Earl wins a lottery and after an epiphany, he is determined to turn his good fortune into a life-changing event as he sets out to right all the wrongs from his past. Despite his seemingly limited intelligence, he is oddly effective -- and ultimately, the comedy series, like Earl himself, has a voice and style all its own. Written and executive-produced by Greg Garcia ("Yes, Dear"), "Earl" also stars Jamie Pressly ("Not Another Teen Movie") as Earl's wife Joy, Ethan Suplee ("Cold Mountain") as his hapless brother, and Nadine Velazquez ("The Bold and the Beautiful") as a hotel maid whom the brothers befriend. "My Name Is Earl" is produced by Twentieth Century Fox Television.

My Thoughts: NBC is gradually trying to be a little like how FOX used to be when it comes comedy--quirky. Scrubs was the beginning (although I'm very angry that it's not coming back until midseason, what with the way this season ended) and The Office continues that trend. Will My Name Is Earl fit in? Well, it's written by someone involved with Yes, Dear, so it remains to be seen. However, I believe in second chances, and there are some hilarious possibilities in Earl attempting to right the wrongs of his past (a subtle reference to the creator being involved with Yes, Dear, perhaps?). And Jason Lee can be pretty funny at times. I don't watch either The Biggest Loser or any Law and Order show, so the comedy block will be the only thing I watch. Here's hoping My Name Is Earl is good and The Office continues to be good (or, gasp, gets better).


9-10 p.m. "E-RING"
10-11 p.m. "Law & Order"

"THE APPRENTICE: MARTHA STEWART" -- "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart" will retain the general format of the original alternative series, including weekly eliminations; however, the style and feel of this new show will be tailored to Martha Stewart's personality and brand identity. The tasks will be centered around Stewart's areas of expertise: media, home renovation, entertaining, design, merchandising, technology and style. Stewart will bring her own sensibilities and creativity to the elimination process which will feature two of her most trusted colleagues who help her make the decision each week. Mark Burnett is creator and executive producer of "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart." Donald J. Trump and Jay Bienstock are also executive producers. Conrad Riggs and Kevin Harris are co-executive producers.

"E-RING" -- Executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("CSI" franchise), Oscar-nominated director/producer Taylor Hackford ("Ray") and stars Benjamin Bratt ("Traffic," "Law & Order") and Dennis Hopper ("Easy Rider," "Speed") join forces in this pulsating drama set inside the nation's ultimate fortress: the Pentagon. It's a hub of highly explosive conflicts between American military heroes and the civilians to whom they report -- a world where crises can escalate into life-and-death climaxes, for individuals or entire nations. Viewers witness critical decisions by intelligence officers in the war room and the execution of these decisions by covert special ops on the battlefield. The number-one mission is survival of the state - an often-delicate balance between protecting the homeland and protecting either all of mankind or the life of a lone soldier. Jerry Bruckheimer Television in association with Warner Bros. Television produces "E-Ring." Thirty-time Emmy nominee Bruckheimer serves as executive producer along with Jonathan Littman ("The Amazing Race," "CSI: NY") and David McKenna ("S.W.A.T.," "Blow"). McKenna also wrote the pilot, which was directed by Hackford.

My Thoughts: The two new shows in this lineup are examples of trying to make lightning strike twice. However, there is the off-chance that it could...really. I liked The Apprentice for a while before I realized that Donald Trump is overrated, overhyped, and not exactly the best businessman. Then the show became a shill for various advertisers and Trump made some unbelievably dubious "firings" (getting rid of someone because everyone thinks she's crazy? What the hell?) and my interest in the show left. With fresh-out-of-jail/house arrest Martha Stewart as the boss, it could be the jolt this show needs to make it water cooler-worthy again. Will we finally get to see how ruthless Martha is reported to be without actually hating her? Will it be fun to watch? I sincerely hope so.

Meanwhile, E-Ring sounds like a new version of The West Wing's pitch: "Let's go inside some place people have never really seen before." It could be really compelling television if it doesn't let pretentiousness and shock value drag it down like The West Wing. At the very least, the Taylor Hackford-directed pilot could be very good. I think that viewers' and critics' reaction to the show will also depend largely on how it deals with politics as opposed to quality. With the current situation in Iraq deeply dividing people across political lines, how this show handles politics within the Pentagon could determine its success, sadly. The West Wing was at its best with its left-leaning bias so who knows how well this show will do.


8-8:30 p.m. "Joey"
8:30-9 p.m. "Will & Grace"
9-10 p.m. "The Apprentice"
10-11 p.m. "ER"

My Thoughts: They say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I'll rework that saying to illustrate my feelings about this lineup: "If the lineup works but the shows need work, keep the lineup and fix the shows." I hope against hope that these shows (save for ER, a show I have never watched) can be made a bit better, especially since it's probably Will & Grace's last season.


8-9 p.m. "THREE WISHES"
9-10 p.m. "Dateline NBC" (new time period)
10-11 p.m. "INCONCEIVABLE"

"THREE WISHES" -- Five-time Grammy-winning recording artist Amy Grant ("Rock of Ages...Hymns & Faith") stars in this hour-long, unscripted series in which she leads a team of experts to a small town to "grant" wishes to help make the hopes and unbelievable dreams of deserving people come true. Viewers will follow some of the town folks' deeply personal and heartwarming stories as Grant and her team transform these hopes into a life-changing reality. The full spectrum of wishes ranges from paying tribute to an unsung hero to helping a despairing family in the grip of a loved one's life-threatening medical crisis. Additional "wish" examples include: tearful reunions with long-lost relatives; living out a mind-blowing sports fantasy, and helping to save a dedicated teacher's job. Carpenter Carter Oosterhouse ("Trading Spaces"), contractor Eric Stromer ("Clean Sweep") and architect Amanda Miller ("Knock First") comprise Grant's team of experts. Andrew Glassman (NBC's "Average Joe 1-4") and Jason Raff (NBC's "Average Joe 1-4") are the executive producers, and Tony Croll (NBC's "Average Joe") is the director of this pilot from Glassman Media and NBC Universal Television Studio.

"INCONCEIVABLE" -- Come inside the world of the doctors of the Family Options Fertility Clinic in this ensemble drama, where one of the most complicated questions is to conceive -- or not to conceive. Assuredly, theirs is a noble quest as they help desperate couples give birth; however, clinic co-founders Dr. Malcolm Bower (Jonathan Cake, "Fallen") and Rachael Lew (Ming-Na, NBC's Emmy-winning "ER") and their staff, including psychologist Lydia Crawford (guest-starring Alfre Woodard, "Beauty Shop"), Nurse Patrice (Joelle Carter, "American Pie 2"), office manager Marrissa (Mary Catherine Garrison, "How to Deal") and attorney Scott (David Norona, "Mr. Sterling") are not above their own occasional adventures involving sex, deception and secrets. As viewers navigate through the ultrasound and super-egos, the missing frozen embryos and impending malpractice suits, it's positively clear that life inside this clinic is anything but sterile. "Inconceivable" is a Tollin-Robbins production in association with Touchstone Television. Mike Tollin ("Smallville"), Brian Robbins ("Smallville"), Joe Davola ("Smallville"), Oliver Goldstick ("Desperate Housewives") and Marco Pennette ("What I Like About You") serve as executive producers.

My Thoughts: Before I say anything I must say this: Alfre Woodard is the hardest working Black woman in television. Now, Friday is a day that never works for most networks. However, I think NBC sees an opportunity here, especially since Joan Of Arcadia got cancelled. Three Wishes is a clear example of how Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has forever affected reality TV. It's gee-whiz, "aww, isn't that sweet" TV, one that appeals to your heartstrings instead of your loins or voyeuristic qualities. It also sounds a little bit like Home Delivery but I predict that it will probably do well, even if it probably should be on Sunday instead of Friday. Inconceivable sounds like it could be interesting, but it will depend on the tone. Will it be dramatic and straight-forward or a little looser and fun? I'm thinking it's the latter based on the fact that it includes producers from fun and dramatic shows like Desperate Housewives and Smallville. This has the potential to be NBC's breakout new hit...if it's executed correctly.



My Thoughts: Saturdays belong to Cops, America's Most Wanted, and new premiere movies on HBO, Cinemax, and Starz. Every major network knows this. Bleh. (These thoughts are likely to be repeated for ABC and CBS as The WB and UPN don't even bother with Saturday and FOX shows Cops and America's Most Wanted.)


7-8 p.m. "Dateline NBC"
8-9 p.m. "The West Wing" (new day and time)
9-10 p.m. "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"
10-11 p.m. "Crossing Jordan"

My Thoughts: Err, this doesn't seem all that interesting to me at all. The West Wing is trying desperately to rejuvenate itself, the Law & Order shows are what they are (although they are each unique unlike CSI: Plug-N-Play), and Crossing Jordan is mediocre at best. This lineup will get stomped by ABC and even FOX if Family Guy and American Dad stay on Sundays.

Overall Thoughts: I think NBC is a bit too timid. They didn't do anything really interesting or innovative. Most of their new shows are retreads of tried and true concepts and only a couple (Inconceivable and My Name Is Earl) seem even remotely fresh. However, the new shows do seem like they will be decent if not as buzz-inducing as a Desperate Housewives or Lost. Midseason seems a little more promising, but I will cover known mideason stuff on all the networks in a special post.

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