Who says CBS doesn’t make bold programming moves? Oh, that’s right: Everyone. But everyone would be slightly wrong! At yesterday’s upfront presentation, the nation’s most-watched – if least-interesting – broadcast television network surprised reporters by revealing that it was not green-lighting two high-profile potential series: A small screen revival of Beverly Hills Cop from executive producer Shawn Ryan (The Shield) starring Brandon T. Jackson as the son of Axel Foley and a recurring Eddie Murphy; and NCIS: Red, starring John Corbett and Kim Raver. Beverly Hills Cop might find a home elsewhere, while NCIS: Red was deemed unworthy of the franchise’s creative standards. (Why are you giggling?)
CBS also made news with some bold scheduling swaps and shifts. Mike & Molly is being held for midseason (but received a full order of 22 episodes); Hawaii 5-0 is sailing to Friday; and Person of Interest is relocating to Tuesday, joining NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles to form a blockbuster night of brawny drama. Thursday now has two hours of comedy, a mirror to its Monday night block of powerhouse yukkers. With few holes to fill and (quoting network president Nina Tassler) “limited shelf space,” CBS ordered just eight new shows, five of which will premiere this fall. Here, CBS was true to form: All have potential to be watched by a broad audience, and very few seem all that creatively daring. To be fair, it’s hard to glean meaningful insight from the preview videos released by the network, comprised of select scenes, behind the scenes footage, and rah-rah interviews with actors and producers. And while CBS may not have leveraged its position of great strength to take a chance on innovation, I found something commendable about each of its new offerings.
From Chuck Lorre, creator of Mike & Molly, The Big Bang Theory, and Two and a Half Men, comes another well-cast, well-acted, well-produced sitcom that I won’t watch because I doubt it will make me laugh often or hard enough. But here’s why I’m going to give it a chance. I like Anna Faris. I really like Allison Janney. I am intrigued by the ambition to build a conventional multi-camera sitcom around a potentially tough, touchy premise: a single mom who is also a recovering addict, whose own mother has something of a wild past/streak herself. The scenes in the trailer suggest that the writers can be thoughtful and modestly funny, and that Faris and Janney can make me care about their characters’ struggles, follies, and victories.
Will Arnett – liberated from the quagmire that was Up All Night – tries, tries again to score a successful post-Arrested Development star vehicle as a newly divorced local news reporter ready to hit the dating scene anew. Complication: His midlife do-over inspires his father to do the same (Beau Bridges, who’s about to be seen on Fox’s charming summertime burn-off The Goodwin Games), forcing his abandoned mother (Margo Martindale of Justified and The Americans) to move in with him. The preview doesn’t give me enough of what I want most from this multi-camera sitcom – Arnett uncorked. Bridges and Martindale look like they they’re having a scene-stealing blast, although the farting business with Martindale doesn’t exactly leave me laughing-gas giddy. With Greg Garcia running the show (My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope), there is indeed reason to hope.
THE CRAZY ONES
From the title to the ad-agency setting, The Crazy Ones seems to be begging for a Mad Men comparison. Like: “Wouldn’t it be funny if Mad Men was a sitcom set in the present day, with Robin Williams playing Don Draper as an older unhinged joker and Sarah Michelle Gellar as his accomplished, put-upon Peggy Olsonish daughter?” The preview seems convinced that the answer to this question is an emphatic yes, because it has Oscar-winning manic riff machine Williams, returning to series TV some 31 years after Mork & Mindy. “We still got it, you handsome son of a bitch!” shouts his Simon Roberts to a massive squiggly cartoon caricature of himself. Hey, if you say so, Robin. But based on the scenes seen here, I’m not sure I share the enthusiasm. I want to, though. I’ve been a big fan of all the talent involved here, including creator/exec producer David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal; Boston Legal). They’re all going to need to bring their A-game to make this work. Just winding up Williams – playing another one of Kelley’s patented white collar eccentrics – and letting him go isn’t going to be enough. One small reason for optimism: James Wolk, currently seen on Mad Men, appears capable of generating real comic chemistry with the leads.
WE ARE MEN
Remember the set-up for New Girl? Quirky young woman breaks up with her cheating boyfriend and begins to rebuild her life by moving in with a bunch of guys? We Are Men smacks of that, except the New Girl is a guy, played by decidedly not quirky Chris Smith, and his soon-to-be best friends (Jerry O’Connell, Kal Penn, Tony Shalhoub) are divorced dudes who abide at his new apartment complex. I like each of these actors individually. Together? In this? Not feeling it, at least from the preview.
A serialized conspiracy thriller from super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer that will run for 15 straight weeks before ceding the timeslot to Intelligence (see below), Hostages looks like it can seize my attention. Toni Collette (The United States of Tara) – always good for a strong, surprising performance – plays a surgeon set to perform an operation on the President of the United States. Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story) – continuing his embrace of morally ambiguous men – plays a maybe-rogue FBI agent who belongs to a mysterious group who take the surgeon’s family hostage (her husband is played by Tate Donovan) the night before the procedure and vow to kill them unless she kills the Prez (James Naughton) on the operating table. The producers say Hostages is equal parts thriller and family drama, although it’s unclear how they will juggle and dramatize those different sides, especially the family drama stuff. Flashbacks? But will that slow the pace? Feel like filler? An anxious nation nervously waits for these answers.
First Daniel Dae Kim. Then, Michael Emerson. Now, Josh Holloway. Will CBS not rest until they’ve lured all of the former Lost castaways to its island of safe, reassuring middlebrow shows? (Coming next season: Matthew Fox in Blue Bloods: Boca.) In Intelligence, a globetrotting spy-fi riff on the network’s Person of Interest subgenre of crime and punishment shows, Holloway leaves the sexy Southern devil that was Sawyer on the shelf. Screwing on the action hero that he proved he could be in his memorable few moments in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the actor plays a super-agent working for U.S. Cyber-Command who has a chip in his head, making him a veritable super-computer. So basically Jason Bourne meets Chuck. Holloway isn’t the only TV fave making a comeback in Intelligence: Former China Beach and CSI star Marg Helgenberger. The cyber terrorism thing is certainly timely, the action looks intense, the sci-fi elements are slick, and Holloway holds the center with cool, compelling suave, although I’d love to see the show let Robo-Sawyer show a little more personality. All this said, I think Intelligence will rise and fall in the strength and smarts of its bad guys. We hear that a certain smokey cloud of killer nanobots is available and looking for work…