Bullz-Eye's 2006 Fall TV Preview: ABC
To put it gently, 2005 was a tough year for the American Broadcasting Company. The only new drama to survive through the year was J.J. Abrams’ shrug-inspiring “What About Brian,” leaving the dead soldiers known as “Commander in Chief,” “Invasion” and “The Night Stalker” to be hustled off the air and onto DVD. Comedy-wise, you could argue ABC did even worse, mostly because “Emily’s Reasons Why Not” became an instant legend by being yanked after only one episode; that kind of embarrassment pretty much outweighs any sitcom successes they might’ve had. Perhaps to make up for it, this year brings the best sitcom of the season premiering on any network…but, then, they’re also providing an estrogen fest that even the Hallmark Channel might say is too schmaltzy.
Brothers and Sisters (Sunday, September 24 @ 8:00 PM, ABC)
Starring: Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Sally Field, Ron Rifkin, Patricia Wettig, Balthazar Getty, Dave Annable, Matthew Rhys, John Pyper-Ferguson, Sarah Jane Morris
Executive Producers: Jon Robin Baitz (“Alias”), Ken Olin (“Alias”), Marti Noxon (“Point Pleasant”)
The Pitch: As kids, brothers and sisters share many laughs, work through many arguments and form many bonds. As adults, the same rules apply but it gets a lot more complicated when they've all grown into very different people…united by a gene pool.
The Buzz: Is it a blessing or a curse that ABC is putting it after “Desperate Housewives”? Well, God knows it’s not the perfect match; those who’ve seen the show’s original pilot say that not only is it not funny, it’s damned depressing. But, then, family often is.
Pilot Highlight: No pilot available at press time -- at least not to us -- but we’re willing to bet that’s because the original screeners were probably scrapped when a few significant roles were recast. (Sally Field’s part originally belonged to Betty Buckley, while Matthew Rhys’ role originally belonged to Jonathan LaPaglia.)
Bottom Line: What can we say? With nothing to work with, it’s hard to go on the record with much beyond a wait-and-see attitude.
The Knights of Prosperity (Tuesday, October 17 @ 9:00 PM, ABC)
Starring: Donal Logue, Lenny Venito, Josh Grisetti, Maz Jobrani, Sofia Vergara, Kevin Michael Richardson, Mick Jagger
Executive Producers: David Letterman (“Ed”), Jon Beckerman (“Ed”), Rob Burnett (“Ed”), and Mick Jagger.
The Pitch: For almost 20 years, Eugene Gurkin has dreamt of opening a bar, but his dead-end job on the late, late janitorial shift won't even fund a bottle of premium booze. In the wake of a co-worker's death, Eugene is watching E! when he gets the idea to recruit a group of misfits into his "gang" for a heist to finance their dreams. The target: Mick Jagger's super-luxe Central Park West apartment.
The Buzz: To borrow a quote directly from the pilot itself, “Okay, issue one: that name sucks.” Up until a few weeks ago, the show was called “Let’s Rob Mick Jagger,” and, clearly, everyone all the way up through Jagger himself was cool with it. So, basically, we’d love to know which network suit said, “Geez, people might think we’re giving them an order; we could be held liable for that.” Idiots.
Pilot Highlight: They are legion. For one thing, every time Mick Jagger is on the screen is an automatic highlight, as he gives E! a tour of his ridiculously lavish apartment. But the “gang” are constantly hilarious. Just one example comes when one of the members decides to hire an intern, assuring the poor kid that he’ll get college credit for his trouble but not exactly giving him the truth about what they’re doing; in fact, he believes they’re making the sequel to “Taxi,” starring Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah. (Says the eager intern, “It’s called ‘Taxi 2: Step on It!’”)
Bottom Line: Crappy new name aside, “The Knights of Prosperity” is the highlight of ABC’s comedy lineup and one of the funniest new shows of the season. Even better, being positioned on the schedule to follow “Dancing with the Stars” means we might actually get the full season. Sweet. Now we finally get to see whether or not crime pays.
Help Me Help You (Tuesday, September 26 @ 9:30 PM, ABC)
Starring: Ted Danson, Suzy Nakamura, Jim Rash, Charlie Finn, Darlene Hunt, Jere Burns
Executive Producers: Brian Dannelly (“Weeds”), Jennifer Konner (“What I Like About You”)
The Pitch: Whoever came up with the idea of group therapy? Take a bunch of people who are all really messed up in different ways and put them in a room together to try and help each other out. The group leader, Dr. Bill Hoffman, is probably the craziest and most self-obsessed of all, but his patients would never know it because he hides behind his very respectable celebrity image as a bestselling author of phenomenally successful self-help books.
The Buzz: Ted Danson had a nice post-“Cheers” run with “Becker,” so, having had success on CBS and NBC, he turns to ABC. Unfortunately, while he makes a decent enough psychologist, he’s saddled with a bunch of patients who tend toward cliché rather than having much in the way of unique identities.
Pilot Highlight: When the girlfriend of gay-in-denial Jonathan mentions that she saw the photos on his computer. “Look,” explains Jonathan, “I got this random email about Hurricane Katrina relief…but I guess it actually said ‘release,’ and, suddenly, there were these male genitals and washboard abs staring at me. So if supporting New Orleans makes me gay, then, yes, you caught me, I’m gay! I’m super gay! I guess that makes Anderson Cooper gay, too!”
Bottom Line: Danson fans may not be enough to keep this show on the air. For one thing, it’s a poor match with the show that precedes it, but its greatest transgression is that the patients – who need to be really solidly written to keep viewers interested when Danson isn’t onscreen – just aren’t that funny.
The Nine (Wednesday, October 4 @ 10:00 PM, ABC)
Starring: Lourdes Benedicto, Camille Guaty, Scott Wolf, Jessica Collins, Tim Daly, Kim Raver, John Billingsley, Chi McBride, Dana Davis, Owain Yeoman
Executive Producers: Alex Graves (“The West Wing”), Hank Steinberg (“Without a Trace”), K.J. Steinberg (“Judging Amy”)
The Pitch: So much in life is beyond your control. One day you wake up and go to work like a regular day. Suddenly a random moment, an accident, a blessing, even a stranger, comes from out of the blue and redirects your life forever. But it's up to you to decide if that moment will stop you in your tracks or lift you up to new heights. Nine people will face just such an unexpected twist when they are caught in a bank robbery gone wrong and endure a 52-hour hostage standoff that will leave more than one person dead. When all is said and done, these people will never be the same. They will share the common bond of what happens inside the bank and will forever be affected and intertwined because of it.
The Buzz: Despite how it looks as the show begins, this isn’t yet another entry in the “let’s try to make our own version of ‘24’” sweepstakes. It’s a compelling drama about the after-effects of living through a hostage situation. Since the stand-off itself is skipped over via the simplicity of a “52 hours later” title card, expect to see flashbacks on a regular basis, but this looks more like a study of the various characters.
Pilot Highlight: The shocked and horrified reaction of the standoff survivors when, as they’re meeting for dinner a few weeks after their shared event, a waitress accidentally drops a tray.
Bottom Line: In a season of unfolding dramas, it’s a plus and a minus for “The Nine” that it doesn’t require viewers to be tuned in every single week. If this was on Fox, it’d never have a chance to breathe, but let’s hope ABC gives this interesting drama some room to gain the following it deserves.
Ugly Betty (Thursday, September 28 @ 8:00 PM, ABC)
Starring: Mark Indelicato, Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Ashley Jensen, America Ferrera, William Abadie, Alan Dale, Eric Mabius, Vanessa Williams, Michael Urie, Becki Newton
Executive Producers: Salma Hayek (“Frida”), Ben Silverman (“The Office”), Silvio Horta (“Jake 2.0”), Teri Weinberg (“The Office”)
The Pitch: In the superficial world of high fashion, image is everything. Styles come and go and the only constants are the wafer-thin beauties who wear it. Where could a girl who is less than pretty and a little bit pudgy possibly fit in? If you knew Betty Suarez, you'd see how sweet, intelligent and hard-working she is. Few people ever get to know her because in the world of fashion, Betty is the oversized square peg, in the petite round hole. But finally, her looks and lack of fashion sense are going to be an asset.
The Buzz: That sucking sound you hear is the testosterone departing your system at a rapid clip. This is “The Devil Wears Prada” as interpreted by ABC Family…and Vanessa Williams ain’t no Meryl Streep, lemme tell ya. No, actually, this is an adaptation of the popular Spanish telenovela “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea” (translated as “I Am Betty, The Ugly One”). I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that ABC was too scared to make Betty legitimately ugly; instead, America Ferrera has enough legitimate cuteness peeking through that you’re constantly waiting for the simple makeover that could make her into a knockout.
Pilot Highlight: The Spanish soap operas that are constantly on the TV at Betty’s house. They’re a perfect parody of the stuff you see on Telemundo…and, in this case, they’re even better; on the occasions that the focus is put on this telenovela for a few seconds, you realize that the show’s star is Hayek!
Bottom Line: Expect fans of the original show to be horrified at this poor translation. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that anyone other than girls on the cusp of pubescence or desperately single women in their 20s and 30s will be able to stand this for even 30 minutes. Oh, and did I mention that it’s an hour long?
Six Degrees (Thursday, September 21 @ 10:00 PM, ABC)
Starring: Dorian Missick, Hope Davis, Erika Christensen, Bridget Moynahan, Campbell Scott, Jay Hernandez
Executive Producers: J.J. Abrams (“Alias”), Raven Metzner (“What about Brian”), Stu Zicherman (“What about Brian”), Bryan Burk (“Lost”)
The Pitch: It's said that six people separate any one person from another. Considering the millions of people in the United States alone, it's an amazing thought that we're connected to anyone and everyone by a chain of six. These six strangers are going about their normal lives but not realizing the impact they're having on each other – yet. It's a mysterious web of seeming coincidence and happenstance that draws these people closer to those who will change their lives forever.
The Buzz: After the only-so-so “What about Brian” – which, frankly, I can’t believe was renewed when “Invasion” was cancelled – J.J. Abrams isn’t the king of television in everyone’s eyes anymore. This sprawling drama, however, is an interesting concept, though the question is, can they keep the connections between these people going without getting totally ridiculous with it?
Pilot Highlight: Probably no other critic will agree, but as a music geek, I totally dug the conversation between Whitney and Laura about how they’d both attended the same Sonic Youth concert some years ago, as well as a comment from a young girl about how “my mom says that Britney’s the devil and Keith Richards is God.”
Bottom Line: Any cast that includes Hope Davis and Campbell Scott is worth watching, but there’s enough drama and action in these first 60 minutes to capture just about anyone’s interest. Still, ultimately, this is gonna be another case of seeing whether or not ABC will let the show get a foothold.
Men in Trees (Friday, September 15 @ 9:00 PM, ABC)
Starring: Seana Kofoed, James Tupper, John Amos, Anne Heche, Sarah Strange, Emily Bergl, Derek Richardson, Suleka Mathews
Executive Producers: Cathy Konrad (“Walk the Line”), James Mangold (“Walk the Line”), Jenny Bicks (“What a Girl Wants”)
The Pitch: Finding a good man in today's world isn't as difficult as some women think. You just have to watch out for the signs. You wouldn't drive with a blindfold on, but for some reason, women continue to date with one. Relationship coach Marin Frist knows what to look for, what to avoid, and what will make her happy.
The Buzz: You have to respect James Mangold for directing a TV show as his first high-profile gig after “Walk the Line,” but a series about someone from the big city moving to Alaska? It’s been done before. It was called “Northern Exposure.”
Pilot Highlight: When Ben the bartender (Abraham Benrubi) puts a verbal smackdown on one of Marin’s city slicker friends after she orders a glass of wine by sounding out the word “chardonnay.”
Bottom Line: Actually, despite the “Northern Exposure” comment, this is much more like “Under the Tuscan Sun,” with a single woman exploring her romantic options in a new territory. By putting it on Friday nights, well, let’s just say that the female demographic who’s home at 9 PM may well choose to live vicariously through Marin Frist.