Fall TV analysis: Will big stars and superheroes woo viewers?

The Fresno BeeMay 17, 2014 

Raise your hand if you remember the TV show "We Are Men."

What about "Welcome to the Family?"

Bonus points to anyone who can name a cast member of "Lucky 7."

It was only nine months ago that television networks were making a big deal about these programs joining their 2013-14 schedules. To be fair, the shows crashed and burned early and forced the networks to try again to find programming that would appeal to a viewing public. That's a much harder job with the increasing number of viewing options, from cable and other services such as Hulu and Netflix.

Last week, the networks announced their lineups for the 2014-15 season, a collection of 24 new dramas, comedies and reality shows that will be used to lure viewers. The odds are high that most of the new shows will fail. Of the 28 series that launched last September, only 10 survived to a second season.

Despite the poor odds, the networks keep trying to find that elusive big hit. Here are some observations about the new fall schedules.

Big names: New shows for the fall will feature familiar names: Viola Davis, "How To Get Away With Murder," ABC; Debra Messing, "The Mysteries of Laura," NBC; Nick Nolte, "Gracepoint," FOX; and Laurence Fishburne, "Black-ish," ABC.

Even with the notoriety these stars bring to the shows, success will depend on overall quality. Just look to last year.

CBS and NBC turned to three comedy veterans last year — Robin Williams on "The Crazy Ones," Michael J. Fox with "The Michael J. Fox Show" and Sean Hayes on "Sean Saves the World" — to star in new comedies. None made it past the first season.

The problem was that these weren't one-man shows. No amount of star power can compensate for poor writing or weak supporting casts.

Super shows: Movies based on comic books have had great success and now the networks are turning to costumed characters for help.

Along with the returning "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." on ABC and "Arrow" on the CW, three new comic-book-inspired series are on the fall schedule and another one is waiting in the wings.

NBC is adding "Constantine," based on Vertigo Comics' "Hellblazer" comic book, while FOX is taking a look at the pre-costumed days of Batman in "Gotham." And "The Flash," a spinoff of "Arrow," follows the speedy exploits of the DC Comics hero.

ABC also has "Marvel's Agent Carter," an adventure series set in the 1940s, ready to go at mid-season.

It's not a comic book-inspired series, but ABC's "Forever" stars Ioan Gruffudd, who played Mr. Fantastic in the "Fantastic Four" movies.

Rhimes rules the night: Not only does executive producer Shonda Rhimes have three series on ABC, they are all on the same night. Thursday belongs to Rhimes with "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal" and "How To Get Away With Murder" filling the evening lineup.

Funny guy?: One of the most interesting castings for the new fall shows has Fishburne starring in the new ABC comedy "Black-ish." That's right, the actor who glared his way to fame as Morpheus in the "Matrix" movies and tangled with the dark forces on NBC's "Hannibal" is looking for laughs.

Anyone who remembers his superb work as Cowboy Curtis in "Pee-wee's Playhouse" during the late '80s knows that Fishburne has a funny side. Oooh wee!!

Turnover or touchdown?: CBS is looking to capitalize on the popularity of NFL football with Thursday night prime-time games in September and October. The downside is that the network's Thursday night lineup gets disrupted.

"The Big Bang Theory" will move to 8 p.m. Mondays until the end of October. But, "The Millers," "Two and a Half Men" and "Elementary" have to wait in the wings for the schedule to clear. This gives the other networks an opening to try to win over non-football fans.

"Who?" That's right: Two stars of the hugely popular "Doctor Who" series — David Tennant and Karen Gillan — have left the Tardis behind and made the leap into network series. Tennant reprises his role from the BBC murder mystery "Broadchurch" in the FOX drama "Gracepoint," while Gillan — who was the Doctor's traveling companion Amy Pond — in the ABC comedy "Selfie."

It's all politics: The White House continues as a popular backdrop for network dramas. Along with "Scandal," which returns on ABC, the Washington, D.C., address will be part of "State of Affairs" on NBC and "Madam Secretary" on CBS. In "State of Affairs," Katherine Heigl plays a CIA analyst, while in "Madam Secretary" Téa Leoni plays the newly appointed Secretary of State.

In the wings: As TV history has shown, the majority of new shows will not last. That's why all of the networks have series ready to go once there's an opening. CBS seems to have the best backup with the veteran series "Mike & Molly" and "The Mentalist."

CBS also has another version of "The Odd Couple" ready to go. Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon play the mismatched roommates. Perry, who plays the messy Oscar, has been trying to find a series since "Friends" ended. His "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "Mr. Sunshine" and "Go On" never found an audience.

The oddest thing about the new comedy is that it's the third time a TV show has been based on the Neil Simon play. The most famous is the 1970s version starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. There was also a short-lived version in 1981 starring Ron Glass and Demond Wilson. And there was the 1975 ABC cartoon series "The Oddball Couple" featuring a cat and dog.


TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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