Bullz-Eye's 2006 Fall TV Preview: NBC
If you’re talking about the network’s 2006 fall line-up, then the letters stand for Not a Bit of Crap. Seriously, pound for pound, this is the best bunch of new series any network is presenting this year. There’s not a legitimately rotten apple in the bunch. That’s right, I said it. Not even the comparatively bland “Twenty Good Years” can drag this quality crop down; the overall average still outweighs all the other contenders in this fight.
Heroes (Monday, September 25 @ 9:00 PM, NBC)
Starring: Santiago Cabrera, Tawny Cypress, Noah Gray-Cabey, Greg Grunberg, Ali Larter, Masi Oka, Hayden Panettiere, Adrian Pasdar, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Leonard Roberts, Milo Ventimiglia
Executive Producers: Allan Arkush (“Crossing Jordan”), Dennis Hammer (“Crossing Jordan”), Tim Kring (“Providence”)
The Pitch: It’s an epic drama that chronicles the lives of ordinary people who discover they possess extraordinary abilities. As a total eclipse casts its shadow across the globe, a genetics professor (Ramamurthy) in India is led by his father’s disappearance to uncover a secret theory – there are people with super powers living among us. A young dreamer (Ventimiglia) tries to convince his politician brother (Pasdar) that he can fly. A high school cheerleader (Panettiere) learns that she is totally indestructible. A Las Vegas stripper (Larter), struggling to make ends meet to support her young son (Noah Gray-Cabey), discovers that her mirror image has a secret. A fugitive from justice (Roberts) continues to baffle authorities who twice have been unable to contain him. A gifted artist (Cabrera), whose drug addiction is destroying his life and relationship with his girlfriend (Cypress), can paint the future. A down-on-his-luck Los Angeles beat cop (Grunberg) can hear people’s thoughts, which puts him on the trail of an elusive serial killer. In Japan, a young man (Oka) develops a way to stop time through sheer will power. Their ultimate destiny is nothing less than saving the world.
The Buzz: Whoever had “21 years” in the pool on when NBC would finally decide the world had forgotten about “Misfits of Science,” you’re a winner. Let’s not mince words: The network is promoting the living shit out of this show, offering up downloads of the pilot from iTunes and showing ads for it constantly on TV and in movie theaters. The only show with more buzz is “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and that’s mostly because of the Matthew Perry/Aaron Sorkin combo; this show has no major stars…and yet everyone’s still talking about it.
Pilot Highlight: Pretty much whenever Hiro Nakamura (Oka) decides to try his newfound abilities, which involve being able to manipulate the space-time continuum. Oka captures the sheer bliss that a sci-fi/comic book geek would experience if he suddenly found himself gifted with the powers of the superheroes he’s been reading about all his life; the others struggle with their gifts, but Hiro is loving every minute of his experiences…so far, anyway.
Bottom Line: The premise is fantastic, and the gradual unfolding of the various stories will keep viewers coming back week after week. This is gonna be the water-cooler show of the season.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Monday, September 18 @ 10:00 PM, NBC)
Starring: Timothy Busfield, Nathan Corddry, D.L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson, Amanda Peet, Matthew Perry, Steven Weber, Bradley Whitford
Executive Producers: Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”), Thomas Schlamme (“Invasion”)
The Pitch: A crackling take on the drama behind the humor of producing a popular, late-night comedy sketch show, this series lays bare the backstage politics, romances and delicate balance between creative talent, on-air personalities and network executives in an instant text-messaging world. Prominent are Jordan McDeere (Peet), a savvy new network entertainment chief who inherits a massive public relations disaster on the series – even before she starts her first day – and Matt Albie (Perry) and Danny Tripp (Whitford), a brilliant creative team that she wants to resurrect the program.
The Buzz: As noted, it’s right up there with “Heroes,” and it’s been building for more than a year. It’s Aaron Sorkin’s heralded return to TV, not to mention Matthew Perry’s. The most amazing thing is that it’s clearly an attack on how far “Saturday Night Live” has fallen since its glory days; I’d have loved to have seen the vein in Lorne Michaels’ neck twitch when he was first leaked the script.
Pilot Highlight: It’s gotta be when the producer of “Studio 60,” Wes Mendell (Judd Hirsch), interrupts the live show and spews a venomous monologue about how awful the show has become. “This show used to be cutting-edge political and social satire, but it’s gotten lobotomized by a candy ass broadcast network hell-bent on doing absolutely nothing that might just challenge their audience.” And it goes downhill from there. It’s awesome.
Bottom Line: Best cast on television, hands down…and to have their dialogue written by someone who’s arguably one of the best scribes in the medium? I’m sold. And America will be, too.
Friday Night Lights (Tuesday, October 3 @ 8:00 PM, NBC)
Starring: Connie Britton, Kyle Chandler, Gaius Charles, Zach Gilford, Minka Kelly, Taylor Kitsch, Adrianne Palicki, Jesse Plemons, Scott Porter, Aimee Teegarden
Executive Producers: Peter Berg (“The Rundown”), Brian Grazer (“The DaVinci Code”), Jason Katims (“Roswell”)
The Pitch: Expanding on the hit feature film “Friday Night Lights,” this poignant series centers on the small rural town of Dillon, Texas, where the coveted state football championship rings are held in the highest regard. Dillon’s promising high school team, its star quarterback, and newly appointed head coach Eric Taylor (Chandler) feel the mounting pressure of the town’s pride and honor riding on their shoulders as a new football season kicks off.
The Buzz: Well, let’s give NBC at least a little credit for not trying to put the show on Friday nights because they figure that, with a title like that, it’s where viewers will look for it. What we’ve got here is pretty much the anti-“O.C.,” and teenagers will see characters their own age that come closer to reality than on any other show on television. It also might court a little bit of controversy, given that, although it takes place in a public school in Texas, it’s pretty clear from the pre- and post-game praying going on that these players didn’t get the memo about the separation between church and state.
Pilot Highlight: It’s a given that it’s how the football game plays out, but another great moment comes from the various players and coaches being bombarded by the public with various pieces of advice about the upcoming game, the best of which comes from the mayor. “Do you like early Black Sabbath?” she asks one of the players. “It’ll make you mean.”
Bottom Line: If you liked the movie, you’ll like the TV show. And a lot of people liked the movie.
Twenty Good Years (Wednesday, October 4 @ 8:00 PM, NBC)
Starring: John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Heather Burns, Jeff Sandvig
Executive Producers: Marsh McCall (“Just Shoot Me”), Tom Werner (“3rd Rock From The Sun”)
The Pitch: Mismatched buddies John Mason (Lithgow), an impulsive, admittedly self-absorbed, thrice-divorced surgeon recently forced into retirement, and Jeffrey Pyne (Tambor), a widower judge who over-thinks every situation, are polar opposites in every way. The one area where they seem to find common ground is the supposition that they have about 20 good years left. With that in mind, both men vow to live each day as if it were their last, despite the consequences, or what their friends, family and peers might think. After all, when age meets anarchy, there's no time for regrets.
The Buzz: After something as clever as “Arrested Development,” it’s a little depressing to see Tambor in such a pedestrian sitcom. Lithgow, meanwhile, takes his role over the top, but without the excuse of being an invader from space this time; still, if you can handle his overly dramatic flourishes (you’ll swear that, at any moment, he’s going to suddenly yell, “ACTING!”), it’s still funny.
Pilot Highlight: After Pyne dumps his girlfriend at a birthday party in an attempt to begin his new life, she smacks him across the face and leaves. “She struck me!” he says, shocked. “We’re living on the edge now, Jeffrey,” explains Mason. “Women will often strike us.” (When she comes back and smacks Mason, too, he replies tearfully, “Well, that was just rude!”)
Bottom Line: “Arrested Development” proved that Tambor doesn’t draw the ratings, but Lithgow does. It might not be a huge hit, but count on it doing well enough to stick around for a few seasons.
30 Rock (Wednesday, October 11 @ 8:30 PM, NBC)
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Rachel Dratch, Scott Adsit, Jack McBrayer
Executive Producers: Tina Fey (“Mean Girls”), Lorne Michaels (“Saturday Night Live”)
The Pitch: Liz Lemon (Fey) is living every comedy writer's dream as the head writer on a demanding, live TV program in New York City. Her life is jolted when a brash new network executive (Baldwin) interferes with her show, and bullies her into convincing Tracy Jordan (Morgan), a wild and unpredictable movie star, to join the cast. Now Lemon must manage the unmanageable so that the show – and her dream – can go on.
The Buzz: After NBC greenlit “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” one has to wonder if they let Tina Fey have this show in order to appease Lorne Michaels, who’s been a major cash cow for the network. Fortunately, Fey’s a great writer and plays the straight woman better than just about anyone else.
Pilot Highlight: When presented with the “request” to bring Tracy Jordan onto the show, Liz comments that she’d heard he was a little crazy. “He’s had some problems,” admits Baldwin. Cut to Jordan running through the streets of New York City in his underwear, waving a light saber and yelling, “I am a Jedi! I AM A JEDI!”
Bottom Line: There’s been a bit of retooling – they’ve cut Rachel Dratch’s role substantially and changed the name of the show for which Liz writes – but as long as Fey, Morgan, and Baldwin still keep the spotlight, this’ll be a success…but count on a quick flip-flop with “Twenty Good Years.” This is the show that should be leading off the night.
Kidnapped (Wednesday, September 20 @ 10:00 PM, NBC)
Starring: Dana Delany, Will Denton, Carmen Ejogo, Timothy Hutton, Delroy Lindo, Jeremy Sisto, Mykelti Williamson
Executive Producers: Jason Smilovic ("Karen Sisco"), David Greenwalt ("Angel"), Michael Dinner ("Invasion")
The Pitch: A high-stakes serialized thriller in which the teenaged son of a wealthy Upper East Side family is kidnapped and everyone is a suspect. The series focuses on the elaborate, triangulated game between the kidnappers, FBI and law enforcement, and the private negotiating team contracted by this perhaps not-so-picture-perfect family.
The Buzz: Even with a cast of familiar faces like Delaney, Hutton, and Lindo, it’s Sisto who’s the breakout star in this series, playing Knapp, a freelancer whose stock and trade is rescuing kidnap victims.
Pilot Highlight: When Knapp gets a call from his former associate, Latimer King (Lindo), and they unabashedly trade lies with each other as to each other’s whereabouts and goings-on, each knowing full well that King is seconds away from walking into the house where Knapp’s located.
Bottom Line: NBC has tried before to imitate the success of Fox’s “24,” but this is the first time it looks like they just might succeed.