Bullz-Eye's 2006 Fall TV Preview: CBS
CBS’ biggest sin of 2005 was canceling “Threshold” after only a handful of episodes, but we’re going to try and forgive them for that. (Notice we said “try.”) After having exceptional luck with their previous year’s line-up as well as maintaining the successes of their pre-existing shows, CBS only has four new series to premiere…but, bless them, two of them feature some serious star power, one has the potential to be the break-out cult hit of the year, and even the lone new sitcom is the creation of a couple of guys with some seriously strong comedic pedigrees.
The Class (Monday, September 18 @ 8:00 PM, CBS)
Starring: Jason Ritter, Lizzy Caplan, Heather Goldenhersh, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jon Bernthal, Sean Maguire, Lucy Punch, Andrea Anders
Executive Producers: David Crane (“Friends”) and Jeffrey Klarik (“Mad About You”)
The Pitch: A group of twentysomethings from the same third-grade class are brought back together for a surprise reunion after 20 years, getting a glimpse of the different paths their lives have taken and the opportunity to see themselves all grown up…whether they want to be or not.
The Buzz: It’s the first new show Crane has had a hand in since “Friends” left the air, which is apparently good enough for CBS to have it lead off their Monday night lineup…but Crane’s the only immediately recognizable name involved in the show. Then again, who knew five-sixths of the “Friends” cast when it premiered?
Pilot Highlight: When the aforementioned reunion – which occurs during a surprise birthday party for one of the classmates – goes horribly, horribly wrong and the guest of honor storms out, Kat (Lizzy Kaplan) breaks the awkward silence by blurting out, “This is the best party EVER.”
Bottom Line: The lack of even so much as a single matinee name within the cast makes it a bit of a tough sell, and the laugh track veers into obnoxiousness at times, but if Crane can get this ensemble to gel like the last bunch of semi-unknowns he worked with, CBS will have found the perfect match for “How I Met Your Mother,” which remains in the 8:30 timeslot on Monday.
Smith (Tuesday, September 19 @ 10:00 PM, CBS)
Starring: Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Simon Baker, Franky G, Amy Smart, Jonny Lee Miller
Executive Producers: John Wells (“ER,” “The West Wing”), Christopher Chutack (“ER”)
The Pitch: A diverse crew of career criminals plot and carry out high-stakes heists at prominent locations around the country. Bobby Stevens (Liotta), the team's no-nonsense leader, is looking for that one elusive big haul before going straight…or at least that's what he tells his wife, Hope (Madsen), as he walks a tightrope between his present life and the new one that he says is on the horizon.
The Buzz: I think my compatriot Jason Zingale said it best when the topic of this show first came up: “That show looks awesome. Have you seen the cast for that? It's like a freaking movie!” Still, anti-heroes are a really tough sell in prime time; just ask the producers of the late, great Fox series, “Profit.”
Pilot Highlight: While in the midst of trying to set up a heist and get to her mark, Annie (Amy Smart) is approached by a girl who knew her in high school…but Annie won’t be deterred.
Bottom Line: Lots of guys I know would tune in every week just to see Virginia Madsen and Amy Smart; I have to presume that a certain percentage of women feel the same way about Ray Liotta and Jonny Lee Miller. But the competition – “Boston Legal” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” – means that if the scripts aren’t solid, even a great cast won’t keep people from switching back over to the tried and true alternatives being provided.
Jericho (Wednesday, September 20 @ 8:00 PM, CBS)
Starring: Skeet Ulrich, Ashley Scott, Sprague Grayden, Kenneth Mitchell, Lennie James, Michael Gaston, Erik Knudsen, Gerald McRaney, Pamela Reed
Executive Producers: John Turtletaub (“National Treasure”), Stephen Chbosky (“Rent”), Carol Barbee (“Close To Home”)
The Pitch: Things are quiet and peaceful in small-town Jericho, Kansas, but when a baffling explosion – one shaped suspiciously like a mushroom cloud – occurs in the distance, toward Denver, Jericho's residents are plunged into social, psychological and physical chaos. No one knows what to think, and fear of the unknown takes over the town, especially because its isolation cuts it off from outside help. When nearly everything they know seems gone, will the residents of Jericho band together to face their unfamiliar and mysterious new world?
The Buzz: Ulrich hasn’t done TV since the underrated cult classic, “Miracles,” so this must’ve really been something to catch his eye. Unfortunately, given this offbeat subject matter, Ulrich could well find history repeating itself.
Pilot Highlight: After Dale Turner (Erik Knudsen) plays the answering machine tape of his mom clearly witnessing the explosion firsthand before being cut off, Gail Green (Pamela Reed) says, “I’m so sorry, Dale; I didn’t know your mother was in Denver.” Dale: “She wasn’t. She was in Atlanta.”
Bottom Line: The 8 PM timeslot is a little surprising, frankly, for something as dark as a nuclear holocaust, but curiosity could make “Jericho” into this year’s “Lost.” Plus, it’s brilliant counter-programming on CBS’ part; it’ll be the only non-reality show on at that time. At the very least, by pilot’s end, you’ll be setting your TiVo to make sure you don’t miss the next episode.
Shark (Thursday, September 21 @ 10:00 PM, CBS)
Starring: James Woods, Jeri Ryan, Danielle Panabaker, Sam Page, Sophina Brown, Alexis Cruz, Sarah Carter
Executive Producers: Brian Grazer (“24”), David Nevins (“Arrested Development”), Ian Biederman (“Cold Case”)
The Pitch: Charismatic, supremely self-confident attorney Sebastian Stark brings his cutthroat style to the Los Angeles DA's high-profile crime unit after years spent cutting a wide swath as a defense attorney. Leading a team of new young lawyers, this shark now preys on the notorious among the city's rich and powerful.
The Buzz: Like James Woods isn’t an imminently watchable actor to begin with, given his ability to blend comedy and drama…but any show that can rope in Spike Lee to direct its pilot is definitely going to be worth checking out.
Pilot Highlight: The look on Stark’s face when he realizes that the wife-beating client he saved from getting jail time for attempted murder was, in fact, just as bad as the prosecution claimed.
Bottom Line: “ER” is an old dog that, while once faithful and dependable, really needs to be put out of its misery, and CBS might have just the ticket. Woods could carry the show alone if he needed to, but his young ensemble of attorneys help spread the wealth nicely.