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CMT sugars the off-season with Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Brides

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Cassie Trammell and her bridesmaids. CMT photo

CMT and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have been reality series partners since the first Making the Team go-around in 2006.

Season 6 ended late last year. So what to do in the interim? Marry a few of 'em off in Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Brides, a one-hour special premiering on Saturday, June 2nd at 7 p.m. (central) on CMT.

The featured I doer is four-year DCC veteran Cassie Trammell, who also happens to be the daughter of longtime DCC choreographer Judy Trammell. Hers is the only wedding shown on the special. But viewers can see some of the preparations for the nuptials of former cheerleader Trisha Trevino and current cheerleader Sunni Cranfill.

Perhaps only at a wedding of this sort does the preacher proclaim, "I now pronounce you man and cheerleader. You may kiss your bride." This occurs at the climactic April 14, 2012 Dallas Arboretum melding of Cassie and Collin Loftin.

These are not the kinds of people who buy their wedding cakes at Sam's Club or their gowns at Sam Moon's. Instead, DCC director Kelli McGonagill Finglass, who's also one of this special's executive producers, escorts Sunni to Stanley Korshak for the purpose of purchasing a "reception dress." She does this in place of Sunni's mom, who's said to live "farther away" and couldn't make it.

"We're two old hens who have been through a zillion weddings," Finglass earlier tells her assembled cheerleaders, referring also to Judy Trammell. Everyone has a good giggle.

Later in the show, Trisha shops for her wedding dress at Terry Costa while the Trammells hire a "wedding cake consultant" to help them pick just the right one during a tasting excursion. Both Collin and Cassie eat a little too much, prompting her to say, "I feel like I'm gonna hurl."

It's about as dramatic as things get, although Judy earlier proclaims a "panic moment" when one of the bridesmaids gets her zipper stuck while trying on a dress. After all, it's just three weeks before Cassie's wedding. But Judy resolves the issue with her patented "mom touch."

There are no bridezilla moments here. Nor is there a Jerry Jones in sight. Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Brides is fluffy, cotton candy entertainment from start to near-finish, when Collin deftly removes Cassie's blue Cowboys Star garter with his teeth before the happy couple are driven off in what looks like a Rolls Royce.

Most people don't have the means to get married like this. And most potential viewers probably would rather be treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the wedding between Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and former TV sports reporter/beauty queen Candice Crawford.

But those rights fees likely would be a little too rich for the CMT budget. Even if he would have married a Cowboys Cheerleader instead.

GRADE: C for confection-y.

A&E's Longmire stands tall for straight arrow law enforcement

Robert Taylor suits up as leading man of Longmire. A&E photo

Premiering: Sunday, June 3rd at 9 p.m. (central) on A&E
Starring: Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bailey Chase, Cassidy Freeman, Adam Bartley
Produced by: Greer Shephard, Michael M. Robin, Hunt Baldwin, John Coveny, Christopher Chulack

Still renouncing cell phones but somehow missing a Marlboro, Sheriff Walt Longmire strides through Big Sky Country with an elemental resolve and a hurtin' heart.

He's envisioned by the producers of A&E's new Longmire as "an antidote to the flood of anti-heroes" on screens large and small. And as played by Australian actor Robert Taylor, the guy's got just enough presence, wit and vulnerability to make the sale. Being a throwback lately is making a comeback, with the History network still basking in the boffo ratings for its turn-back-the-clock Hatfields & McCoys miniseries. So maybe there's no time like the present for a modern-day Matt Dillon.

A&E has ordered 10 episodes of this Wyoming-set crime drama, adapted from the string of Walt Longmire Mysteries by novelist Craig Johnson. With Mad Man, Game of Thrones and The Killing winding down their latest runs, it arrives just in time to establish a new Sunday night viewing habit. Oh wait, True Blood will be back on Sunday, June 10th. It's always something on the week's premier TV night.

Longmire is first seen in the shower, the better to show off his two deep back scars and a lingering reluctance to get the day going. His newest deputy, Vic Moretti (Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica), keeps leaving phone messages about hating to trek to the scene of a crime on her day off. He pays her no mind and is brewing his coffee until being informed, "We got a dead body."

Longmire isn't lazy. But he's still grieving the loss of his wife, and this is the one-year anniversary of her death. Law enforcement has been a drag without her, but our hero is gradually coming out of it. The process is accelerated after he learns that a deputy he doesn't much like (Bailey Chase as Branch Connally) has decided to run for sheriff in the next election.

"You haven't exactly been on top of your game for the last year," Connally tells him.

Series regulars also include Lou Diamond Phillips as longtime friend/confidant Henry Standing Bear and Cassidy Freeman in the role of Longmire's attorney daughter, Cady. A corpulent deputy known as "The Ferg" (Adam Bartley) is also in the mix, but not much of a factor in Sunday's opener.

The crime-solving is decidedly low-tech, although Longmire isn't nearly as primitively tough or short-spoken as Chuck Norris's Ranger Cordell Walker.

Taylor, reminiscent in appearance and tone to a younger Lee Majors, seems to have a pretty firm grip on what's required of his character. Not too hot, not too cold but steering clear of being just plain lukewarm. He's a man of relatively few words without being a stiff. And in Sunday night's signature scene, Taylor poignantly communicates the pain he feels in breaking the news to a wife whose husband has just been found murdered.

Phillips looks as though he'll be a sturdy bridge between two cultures. Some might see him as a contemporary Tonto, even though he's mostly a stand-alone bartender who gotten used to helping Longmire in a pinch.

"I would like to propose an OIT," Standing Bear says after Longmire makes amends for suspecting him of running an illicit operation.


"Old Indian Trick."

Longmire laughs, and somehow this works.

At some point down the road, there's also the possibility of more than a platonic partnership between Longmire and Deputy Vic. But for now it's all business -- with a little badinage thrown in.

Longmire, with spacious New Mexico standing in for Wyoming as the series' production base, makes a solid overall first impression without rising to the level of critical huzzahs. It likely will do very well for A&E, which needs a palate-cleanser to offset low-brow flotsam such as Flipped Off, Hoarders, Billy the Exterminator, Parking Wars, Monster-In-Laws and Dog the Bounty Hunter, which at last is being canceled.

Walt Longmire wouldn't be likely to waste his time with any of the above. Instead he'd have a few brews (Rainier is his lifelong brand) while watching Tom Selleck in a Jesse Stone movie or maybe a Law & Order marathon. Most definitely on an old-fashiond TV screen, not a laptop.


CW's Breaking Pointe bores the toes off the ballet profession

Prima ballerina Christiana Bennett of Breaking Pointe. CW photo

Premiering; Thursday, May 31st at 7 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Adam Sklute, Christiana Bennett, Beckanne Sisk, Ronnie Underwood, Alllison DeBona, Rex Tilton, Ronald Tilton, Katie Martin
Produced by: Kate Shepherd, Izzie Pick Ashcroft, Jane Tranter

Black Swan it's not.

So subtract all but the thinnest veneer of dramatic tension from The CW's Breaking Pointe, an unscripted summer series about young Salt Lake City-based pointy toes and their very benevolent artistic director. It all adds up to Wan Lake, based on the premiere episode sent for review.

Ballet West has given the producers and their camera wielders unprecedented behind-the-scenes access for six weeks, viewers are told. It's not exactly heart-stopping stuff, with seven dancers spotlighted in addition to bossman Adam Sklute, whose edge gets no rougher than the observation that young Rex Tilton occasionally "lets his personal life interfere with his professional work."

Although it's a break from the loud, bawdy, brawling reality series norm, Breaking Pointe is too snoozy to ever achieve liftoff. There are hints that lead, tenured dancer Christiana Bennett might be somewhat threatened by 19-year-old rising star Beckanne Sisk. But it seems more as though she's been instructed to briefly don a few semi-pouty looks rather than muster them on her own. Any scant resemblances to the rivalry between Black Swan's Nina (Natalie Portman) and Lily (Mila Kunis) appear to have been mostly concocted.

All except Christina -- who has a minimum two-year guarantee -- supposedly are deeply worried about "Contracts Day," in which dancers learn whether they'll be part of the Ballet West company. But the series generates next to no electricity in this respect. Dancers nonchalantly open individual envelopes to learn their fates. Two of them are instructed to meet behind closed doors with the ever kindly Sklute. You could cut through the suspense with a Fisher-Price play saw.

Other dancers in the mix are young loves Ronald Tilton and Katie Martin; biker/ballet dude Ronnie Underwood; and the off-and-on-again pair of Rex Tilton (who wants a relationship) and Allison DeBona (who does not). She does, however, buy him a pair of bright orange pants during an extraneous trip to a clothing boutique.

There are no openly gay dancers among the featured seven. On the one hand that runs counter to a prevalent stereotype. On the other, it still seems to be at odds with current realities.

Whatever the series' makeup, it shows only scant signs of life while also failing to be all that revealing about the unique profession it depicts. You might find more human drama in a cruise ship buffet line.

Perhaps it all will build at some point to an exciting dance performance with all of the principals in full costume, makeup and flourish. But on a network already afflicted with an extreme paucity of viewers. that's not enough to offset Thursday's listless start. Nice idea perhaps. But in execution, Breaking Pointe is already toe-tagging itself.

GRADE: D-plus

More pet peeves with CBS' Dogs In The City

R-r-ruff. It's Beefy the Bulldog vs. Justin the "dog guru." CBS photos

Premiering: Wednesday, May 30th at 7 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Justin Silver and a variety of canines and their owners
Produced by: Julie Weitz, Carol Mendelsohn, Jen O'Connell, Nick Emmerson

My surname perhaps should be enough to give CBS' new Dogs In The City a leg up. Except that our two house pets are cats who've had it with all the attention those publicly pooping, noise-makers keep getting.

Airing in the Wednesday night Survivor slot this summer, this is a basically harmless walk in the park that unfortunately is fronted by a hunky but too talky New York City therapist named Justin Silver.

"They call me the 'Dog Guru,' " he says a little too self-importantly. "If there's one language I can speak fluently, it's canine."

Well, bow freakin' wow. And it's not as if there's not a lot of youse guys goin' around these days.

Silver says he also must train the owners, three of whom present themselves for his disapproval on the one-hour premiere episode.

The signature patient is Beefy the skateboarding bulldog, who's racked up a few thousand views on youtube. His owner, Patrick Clemens, is newly married to Erin, who feels like a third wheel in Beefy's presence. The dog won't go for walks with her and is jealous of any attention given to others. So Justin is brought in to deduce, "I think Erin needs a sense of empowerment with this dog."

Dogs In The City bounces to and fro among Beefy and two other problematic dogs. Charlotte is prone to attacking people who walk into her owner's business office. And Rosie appears to have a weight problem.

Wednesday's opener also for some reason includes a brief meeting between Justin and his former girlfriend, who's now engaged to another while remaining a dog owner. Yeah, so? They chit-chat for a bit before he veers back to Charlotte, Rosie and Beefy again.

"I'm not so much teaching Beefy as I'm teaching Erin how to teach Beefy," Justin again lets us know. He also had an earlier heart-to-heart with Charlotte, who looks as though she's listening because, after all, Justin is supposed to have an inherent gift that others don't.

At least it's not another stupid game show or dating/mating concoction. Dogs In The City is pet-able but also kind of annoying and redundant. Does this guy really know all that much? Or are dog owners simply dumb enough to pay him for what seem to be some very basic common sense solutions?

Our cats automatically are giving Dogs In The City two paws down. Their co-owner will be a bit less biting because CBS at least is trying to put a better foot forward with its hot weather reality show menu while rival networks resort to more stupid human tricks.


HBO's Hemingway & Gellhorn meanders before gathering strength

Owen and Kidman in Hemingway's usual habitat -- a bar. HBO photo

Pretty as a picture, but sometimes too much of a still life, HBO's Hemingway & Gellhorn is a lengthy ode to star-powered, old time filmmaking.

The vainglorious Ernest Hemingway is known to just about anyone who's ever picked up a book. Martha Gellhorn, his third wife and a first-rate war correspondent in her own right, has become a comparative unknown. They're played by Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman in a movie that stretches for more than two-and-a-half hours and could use a little trim. It premieres on Memorial Day at 8 p.m. (central).

Directed by Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff), Hemingway & Gellhorn turns out to be much more her film than his. And Kidman's performance resonates throughout, whether she's being captured in close-up as a narrative oldster or giving Hemingway all he can handle as a plucky adventurer in decidedly form-fitting pants.

Owen doesn't quite register as Hemingway, although he gives it a gallant try. Something's missing, though. Kidman commands her scenes while Owen manages to get through them. Overall, his Hemingway lacks presence while her Gellhorn is very much a leading lady.

They first meet in 1936 at Sloppy Joe's bar in Key West, FL, with Hemingway fresh from landing a marlin and Gellhorn intrigued by his devil-may-care manliness.

"A lot of rum in that rum," she notes after downing a shot.

"In this joint, they don't drink to get drunk. They drink to stay drunk," he assures her.

The real Hemingway and Gellhorn happily getting pie-eyed.

It takes a while for their relationship to jell. Hemingway, married to the stern Pauline (Molly Parker), joins his group of hard-drinking pals to make a film documenting the bravery of freedom fighters during the Spanish Civil War. Arriving separately as a budding war correspondent with writer's block, Gellhorn soon throws in with them. Hemingway helps her along, sometimes gruffly.

Also in Spain is the clenched up John Dos Passos (David Strathairn), an idealist/novelist whom Hemingway delights in ribbing and ridiculing. All of this plays out at a sometimes gratingly slow pace in a variety of shades ranging from black-and-white to sepia-toned to full-blown color.

An unbilled Robert Duvall, playing a blowhard Russian general, also drops in to spar in a bar with the well-oiled Hemingway, who proposes a game of Russian Roulette. But the inevitable at last kicks in, with Hemingway and Gellhorn in the throes of passion while their hotel is under siege from fascist forces. The climactic stages of their lovemaking occur while they're coated in plaster from a direct hit on their room. It probably didn't happen quite that way.

Back on the home front, Pauline is furious and Hemingway initially seems a bit cowed. "She will not be your muse! She will leave you a broken man!" Pauline rages.

Gellhorn and Hemingway are meant to be, though, despite her "horror of marriage." She becomes wife No. 3 while retaining her zest for covering combat.

"Martie, Papa doesn't want you to go," he says after they've settled down in Cuba.

"Don't 'Papa me,' " she says, nicely this time.

Hemingway wants a mama, too. And he's prone to becoming a drunken, jealous boor whenever Gellhorn asserts her independence. This is a man's world, after all. Except when it's not. And Hemingway & Gellhorn gets stronger down the stretch after its sluggish first half.

"We were good in war," a cigarette-dragging older Gellhorn says of their combustible five-year marriage. "And when there was no war, we made our own."

Hemingway committed suicide in 1961 after marrying a caretaker wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, who literally spoon-fed him down the stretch.

Gellhorn outlived him by 37 years before also committing suicide. The film ends poignantly -- not in death but with its crusty, indomitable heroine insisting on taking on yet another assignment abroad.

"I'm not dead yet, ya (f-bomb)," she reasons.

Kidman is a certain Emmy nominee and probable winner for this role while Owen might well be invited along for the ride. But she's the one who steels and steals this picture.

Hemingway & Gellhorn certainly could be crisper, particularly during its long sojourn in war-torn Spain. But HBO again deserves credit for getting this intelligent material on-screen without regard to whether the "right" audience will embrace it.

In the broadcast and basic cable universe, that's invariably the advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-old demographic. On commercial-free HBO, your extra monthly subscriber money pays dividends no matter what your age. Despite some shortcomings, Hemingway & Gellhorn rates as time and money well-spent.


History's Hatfields & McCoys takes its place among TV's best Westerns

Matt Barr, Kevin Costner in Hatfields & McCoys. History photo

History's first original scripted miniseries had been earmarked for last spring until it belatedly got rejected as unfit for the network's "brand."

The Kennedys went on to receive 10 Emmy nominations and won four after airing on the still obscure ReelzChannel.

Barring any really amazing last-second palpitations, the 6-hour Hatfields & McCoys presumably will be airing on History, beginning Memorial Day and continuing Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. (central) each night.

Spiked by Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as the heads of their respective clans, this down-and-dirty epic doubles down on storied family intrigue while also emerging as the best made-for-TV western saga since AMC's 2006 Broken Trail.

Costner, affixed with a deep-seated beard throughout, hits a firm stride as "Devil" Anse Hatfield, whose West Virginny kin were a mix of dirt bags and decent sorts.

Paxton and his even scragglier facial hair team up to play Randall McCoy, patriarch of a sprawling, brawling brood of Kentucky-bred offspring. Their families are separated by Tug Fork, which nominally divides these neighboring but not so neighborly states.

The two principals are first seen fighting for the same Rebel side in a vividly staged Civil War battle. Randall saves his comrade's life before Anse decides he's had enough of organized war.

"From here on out I fight only for my own," he declares before riding off to Randall's protests that "God hates deserters."

Randall is fated to suffer in a Union prison camp while his brother, Harmon, is killed back home at the hands of Anse's no-good Uncle Jim Vance (an almost unrecognizable Tom Berenger). Rumors to that effect spread while a dazed and weepy Randall makes his way back to Kentucky and his worn-out wife, Sally (the always good Mare Winningham).

"I'm prepared to do my duty as your wife," she tells the husband she thought was dead. "But I ask that you spill your seed outside of me. I could not bear another birth."

Hatfields & McCoys is heavily populated without being too dense. Its characters become fairly easy to sort through, with temperaments ranging from Anse's goodly son Johnse (Matt Barr) to a mercenary Pinkerton detective turned bounty hunter known as "Bad Frank" Phillips (Andrew Howard).

As hostilities escalate, forbidden young love blooms between moonshine entrepreneur Johnse and Randall's "favorite" daughter, Roseanna (Lindsay Pulsipher). Their trials and tribulations are at the heart of this cautionary tale of warring families with nothing to lose but more young lives. Randall thumps his bible while stoic Anse will have none of it. Both men have a sense of justice that makes sense to them. It basically always gets down to an eye for an eye.

Powers Boothe cuts his own imposing figure as judge Walt Hatfield, older brother of Anse and more or less honorably bent on being fair and balanced. There's also conniving attorney Perry Cline (Ronan Vibert), who sides with the McCoys in the service of his own material interests.

Authentically grimy, solidly built and well-paced, Hatfields & McCoys is violent without being gratuitous. And the moral to this generation-spanning story continues to re-assert itself. In one such scene, the misery in mama Sally McCoy's eyes cuts through the screen during a last visitation with her three doomed sons.

Costner's performance is more effective than Paxton's. But in terms of sheer slovenly malevolence, it's Berenger who steals this yarn while spitting out perhaps a full jug of tobacco juice during the course of these six hours.

It's hard to believe that this legendary family feud officially endured all the way to 2003, the year in which "a symbolic peace treaty was signed by 60 descendants from both families," according to a printed postscript.

Alas, we now have the Republicans and the Democrats, whose seemingly irreconcilable and escalating differences can kill the spirit of a country. The Hatfields and McCoys only drew each others' blood. The Elephant and Donkey parties may end up inflicting much deeper wounds before they're done. And there's no truce in sight.

GRADE: A-minus

TBS' Men at Work digs itself a manhole

Men at leisure in the new comedy Men at Work. TBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, May 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on TBS (with back-to-back episodes)
Starring: Danny Masterson, James Lesure, Michael Cassidy, Adam Busch
Produced by: Jamie Tarses, Julia Franz, Breckin Meyer

Ever been dumped and then found yourself blasted in a bar asking a woman you've just met, "Will you be my rebound ass?"

Such is the texture of TBS' Men at Work, the saga of four buds who'll drink Buds (if TBS can land a product placement deal) while plotting their next plans of attack. That's basically their work.

Thursday's premiere on the "Very Funny" network finds bearded Milo (Danny Masterson from That '70s Show) getting sacked by his girlfriend. He replays their breakup with friends Tyler (Michael Cassidy), Gibbs (James Lesure) and Neal (Adam Busch), whose advice of course is not very Dr. Phil-ian.

Gibbs proposes that "we take your single penis for a test drive."

"You need to have a meaningless sexual encounter with a drunken stranger," Tyler adds.

Neal, the designated married nebbish, isn't much help. His wife lately wants sex every night after they had settled into what for him was a comfortable routine of programmatic quickies follow by The Daily Show. Now she wants him to talk dirty, too. The poor guy's really up against it.

Affixed with a knee-jerk laugh track, Men at Work labors from start to finish, whether it's Gibbs' effortless conquests or Milo's long faces. While he flails about, Gibbs nails Tyler's buxom European cleaning lady, triggering a dialogue between the two friends that sets a sitcom record for use of "bang/banged/banging" before Milo finally intercedes.

Men at Work has received heavy promotion during sister network TNT's presentation of NBA playoff games. That's the intended target audience -- NBA athletes and the young males who watch them. Even though two of the show's executive producers are women, including former ABC entertainment president Jamie Tarses.

Tarses, also a producer of TBS' My Boys, was once witnessed at an ABC All-Star party having a little make-out session with Ryan Reynolds, the then up-and-coming co-star of the network's Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place. Her approach toward guys in the years since is to portray them as lunkheads with little grasp of the social graces. Although Gibbs does have a certain sense of propriety, bellowing at a bar, "Trust me. You do not want to have sex with a horse!"

You might not want to have a TV relationship with these guys either. They're just not much fun on any level.

GRADE: C-minus

Road trip! Route 66 rides again in new complete series collection

Television's original roads scholars, Buz Murdock and Tod Stiles, made Route 66 a signature CBS series of the early 1960s.

It wasn't a smash hit, climbing just once into prime-time's Top 30 (and just barely) during a four-season tour of America's highways, byways, big cities and occasional podunks. Even so, no scripted series before or since ever traveled as far and wide.

During times when backlot filming provided cover for wide varieties of names and locations, Route 66 hit 40 different states for its 116 episodes. This newly minted, 24-disc, complete series collection from Shout Factory ($99.99 plus just 66 cents for shipping and handling) puts the boys back behind the wheel of their Chevy Corvette convertible for adventures that began in grimy, foreboding Concord, Kentucky (standing in for an out-of-the-way Mississippi burg named Garth) and ended very lamely in shiny Tampa, Florida.

Route 66 aimed to epitomize the youthful unrest enshrined in Jack Kerouac's mostly autobiographical On the Road novel, published in 1957 just three years before Buz and Tod (George Maharis, Martin Milner) spun into view on Oct. 7, 1960. Kerouac reportedly considered suing, but was told he'd never win.

The series had a tough enough time getting on TV in the first place. Its executive producer, Herbert E. Leonard, funded the pilot episode out of his own pocket, according to a 1990 Route 66 panel included as an "Extra" in the Shout Factory collection. It was first called The Searchers, but the classic 1956 John Wayne movie of the same name rendered that title inoperative.

Re-watching Route 66 -- and I looked at six episodes -- quickly reminds a viewer that commercial interruptions were far fewer and shorter in the 1960s. The premiere, subtitled "Black November," ran for 51 minutes, 18 seconds. That's about 10 minutes longer than a TV drama episode today.

There also were significantly more episodes filmed per season. Today's typical commercial broadcast order is 22 episodes, with 10-to-13 the norm for cable series. Despite its incredibly demanding, far-flung production schedule, Route 66 made 30 episodes in Season 1, followed by 32, 31 and 23 in Seasons 2-4. (The final season ended early on March 13th, 1964.)

Route 66's distinctive theme song, beginning with a cool 'n' jazzy piano riff, hit No. 30 on the pop charts in 1962. But the series received just two Emmy nominations, both in that same year, for Maharis and a guest-starring role by Ethel Waters. Both lost.

Maharis' Buz Murdoch was the series' Mr. Intensity, a Hell's Kitchen survivor without any parental role models. When not philosophizing, he regularly deployed his fists in tight spots. Milner's more genteel, less physical Tod Stiles inherited the Chevy Corvette from his deceased father. "Only thing he had left," he says in the premiere episode after the boys wreck the steering column while barreling down a dirt road in search of a shortcut to Biloxi, Mississippi. They were headed there to make some money during oyster season.

Garth, Mississippi turns out to be a virtual prison camp run by an elderly despot with the same surname. The town has a dark secret. And several fistfights later (including one with a snarly George Kennedy), Buz and Tod stumble upon the awful truth with help from a prototypical pretty young girl and her cowed father.

The episode is surprisingly gritty and atmospheric, even with its almost comically blaring horns swelling to signify commercial breaks. Stirling Silliphant, who was working on ABC's The Naked City series during that same period, wrote the great majority of scripts for Route 66. In a word, he could be wordy. And florid. But pithy, too. In any case, actors had their work cut out for them, whether it was Milner, Maharis, Glenn Corbett (who replaced the ailing Maharis down the homestretch of Season 3) or a galaxy of guest stars.

Many an up-and-coming young actor made his or her mark on Route 66. Consider this double bill earlier in Season 2. Robert Duvall, reed-thin with his protruding right front tooth yet to be doctored, played a heroin addict in "Birdcage On My Foot," which was filmed in Boston.

Then, in the following week's episode, "First-Class Mouliak," an equally unknown Robert Redford guested as the educated son of a Cleveland factory worker. Uh-oh, his girlfriend accidentally falls to her death while he's chasing her and pleading, "Forgive me!"

Duvall's performance is a marvel, even though Silliphant's script occasionally has all concerned running a little too much at the mouth. As when Duvall declares, "This is a mothball world, man. So bundle up so the chill of society doesn't freeze your marrow."

Maharis ends up cradling Duvall in his arms, babysitting him through his withdrawal phase while assuring, "We're gonna see if you've got the guts to be born again and I've got the stamina to deliver you."

Route 66 also re-gathered Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Peter Lorre to play themselves in a Season 3 episode titled "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing." For some reason it was filmed at the O'Hare Inn near O'Hare Airport, with the three aging horror-meisters meeting under assumed names to debate whether their old-school ways of frightening people would still work in a proposed contemporary TV series.

In their latest jobs, as temporary O'Hare Inn employees, Tod got stuck with babysitting "Mr. Retep" (Peter spelled backwards) while Buz was assigned to monitor an executive secretaries convention well-stocked with young babes. It's a polar opposite of "Birdcage On My Foot" in tone and storyline, but enjoyable from start to finish. A built-in preview then touts Rod Steiger as an upcoming Route 66 guest star.

The Dallas Times Herald made a brief appearance in Season 2.

Route 66 came to Dallas in Season 2 for filming of "Aren't You Surprised to See Me?", which originally aired on Feb. 16, 1962.

A religious nut and traveling serial killer played by David Wayne landed at Love Field in search of his next sacrificial lamb. Meanwhile, Buz and Tod were pulling up to the Marriott Motor Hotel, where another executive secretaries convention just happened to be firing up. They otherwise were taking jobs at the nearby Trade Mart, where Buz was kidnapped by the serial killer before a worried Tod called the police.

It's a suitably creepy and involving episode, with Wayne's "John Farrington" (actually the name of his most recent victim) offering up sacrificial lambs every time an entire city fails to follow the 10 Commandments for a full 24 hours. The above Dallas Times Herald headline told him all he needed to know. "Can you blame me because society requires shock treatment?" he asks plaintively.

The Dallas of yesteryear is recaptured via shots of the zoo, a Wyatt's Cafeteria and Wyatt's Foods Stores parking lot, the Marriott's Sirloin & Saddle Club, shots of downtown by dark and a KRLD-AM radio dispatch ("Dan McGraw reporting"). Buz is then taken to Love Field for his execution, with Farrington always deploying an undetectable lethal liquid secretly perfected by the Nazis during World War II.

Buz isn't about to go down without a soliloquy. What about the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" commandment, he asks. "What does that make you? A pied piper whistling people into hell?"

Furthermore, "Go ahead, butcher boy. Chant your unholy chants. Go on and spray me with your poison bug juice and go on deluding yourself." And so on.

The series just wasn't the same without Maharis, whose illness and overall fatigue had him dropping in and out of the series until his last appearance midway through Season 3. Milner's Tod soloed off-and-on for a while until hooking up with a new companion, Linc Case (Glenn Corbett), in "Fifty Miles From Home," originally shown on March 22, 1963. A Vietnam War hero from Houston, Linc sought to find himself via an unfettered life on the road.

Route 66 ended disappointingly with a two-part light comedy dud titled "Where There's a Will, There's A Way." Barbara Eden and Chill Wills were among the guest stars while Tod and Linc donned various goofy looking disguises in order to outwit a trio of gold digging brothers. All concerned were on fumes by then, including writer Silliphant.

The Shout Factory collection, with all of the episodes in glorious black-and-white, for the most part is a time travel well worth taking. Route 66 , which aired on Fridays opposite ABC's The Flintstones for its first three seasons, had an uncommon bite and range during its glory years with Maharis, Milner and their trademark Corvette convertible.

In reality, the series seldom strayed onto the actual Route 66. Buz and Tod invariably were on the road only for as long as it took them to pull in and out of a city. And episode titles very rarely clued viewers to exactly where they were, ranging in absurdity from "How Much a Pound Is Albatross?" (set in Tucson) to "You Can't Pick Cotton in Tahiti" (Tennessee).

Maharis and Milner live on, with both now in their 80s. Corbett died in 1993 at the age of 59. NBC's badly executed Route 66 summer series aired in the year of Corbett's passing, with James Wilder playing Buz Murdock's son, Nick, while Dan Cortese hitched along for the ride as a character named Arthur Clark.

Their road trip lasted all of four episodes, barely the equivalent of an oil change.

Old Mick, new app

Mick Jagger SNL promo with Kristen Wiig. Photo from NBC video

Mick Jagger closes out this season's Saturday Night Live with his first-ever hosting stint on May 19th.

NBC is making an extra big deal of it by using the new free Color for Facebook app on ol' Mick, who cut his musical teeth on old-line revolving vinyl.

The network says that Jagger, the SNL cast and special guests Arcade Fire and Foo Fighters can all be seen behind the scenes via 30-second videos recorded during rehearsals and the live show's commercial breaks.

"Fans will get a rare peek into what really happens backstage," the network says. "Once a cast member starts to shoot live video, you'll get a little alert on your phone to tune in."

So if that sounds enticing, you can go here to download the Color app. And I just did.

The CW reloads for next season after again shooting blanks

Will viewers be quivering over the comic book adventures of Arrow? CW photo

Last and also least, the super-struggling CW network announced its new season plans Thursday.

Three new dramas are set for fall, with another two coming in midseason. One of them is The Carrie Diaries, documenting the coming-of-age adventures of the future Sex and the City denizen. In January, it's scheduled to replace replace Gossip Girl on Monday nights after that series ends what CW publicity materials call its six-season run of "OMFG drama."

It marks the first time a broadcast network has used the shorthand version of "Oh My (F-bomb) God" in a new season announcement -- or any announcement. WTF?

CW, which hemorrhaged viewers across the board this season, is now averaging less than one-half the audience for Univision in both total viewers and advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds. The network is returning just one of its freshman series -- Hart of Dixie -- while canceling Ringer, The Secret Circle, L.A. Complex and H8R. Its long-running One Tree Hill also was felled.

"This is poised to be a transformative season for The CW," says entertainment president Mark Pedowitz.

Here are CW's three new fall series, all of them dramas:

Arrow -- Transformed by a shipwreck that left him missing and presumed dead for five years, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) returns to his home base of Starling City to live large by day and shoot arrows by night as a crime-fighting vigilante. He also hopes to regain the love of his ex-girlfriend, Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy). Adapted from the DC comics and graphic novels.

Emily Owens, M.D. -- The soapy adventures of a first-year intern whose ups and downs at Denver Memorial Hospital seem like high school all over again. Particularly because her school days nemesis is also on the scene, with both vying for the affections of a hunky med school crush named Will Rider. Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep, plays the title role.

Beauty and the Beast -- Young homicide detective Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk) remains haunted by the murder of her mother and the saving of her own life by a mysterious "someone -- or something." Turns out he's a handsome doctor named
Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan), who's tour in Afghanistan has transformed him into a beast when enraged. Ergo, a "complex relationship" is born. Not to be confused with the rejected ABC pilot Beauty and the Beast, which had a different actor as the co-lead and also included Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham. And of course, CBS had its own Beauty and the Beast from 1987-'90 with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, now starring in FX's Sons of Anarchy.

Here is CW's night-by-night fall schedule (the network does not program on Saturdays and Sundays).

Gossip Girl

Hart of Dixie
Emily Owens, M.D.


The Vampire Diaries
Beauty and the Beast

America's Next Top Model

These are CW's two midseason series, also both dramas.

The Carrie Diaries -- We rewind to 1984, with Carrie Bradshaw a vexed 16-year-old whose mom has just died and whose dad is overwhelmed by having to raise two teenage daughters on his own. They're all still in suburban Connecticut when wide-eyed Carrie is offered a chance to intern at a Manhattan law firm. Not only that, she soon meets the style editor at Interview magazine. It's clubbin' time, fashionistas. Anna Sophia Robb stars.

Cult -- An investigative journalist's brother mysteriously disappears, and it just so happens that he truly believed in the power of a hit TV show to harm him. That show is Cult, and it's up to no good. Because, uh-oh, "the gruesome plot twists on television are much more than fantasy for some very unfortunate people." Scary Robert Knepper from Prison Break plays fictitious (or is he?) cult leader Billy Grimm.

Sorry, but we wasted our money -- notable candidates for the new season that weren't elected by their networks

Roseanne Barr & a post-Chuck Zachary Levi are among those whose proposed series didn't make the Big 4 networks' new seasons.

The new season math is just about done, with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox having made their additions and subtractions while only the li'l CW remains.

So let's look at a handful of pilots for potential series that didn't make the grade, either for the fall or midseason. Or at least they weren't included in the voluminous publicity releases emailed this week.

We'll single out some of the showier ones, all of them involving stars and producers that most TV viewers know by name. And yes, these are all actual candidates, with not one of them a fake.


The Smart One -- Ellen DeGeneres executive-produced this one for her actress wife, Portia de Rossi. It's about a bright, successful woman who chafes at going to work for her dumber but more popular sister, a former beauty queen and TV weathercaster -- and now mayor. Jean Smart and David Arquette also were in the cast.

Devious Maids -- Hard to believe this ever got even partially off the ground. Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry apparently was intent on proving he's a one-trick pony with this serial soap about four ambitious maids working for rich and famous Beverly Hills denizens. The cast included Susan Lucci and Grant Show.

The Manzanis -- Cheers alums Kirstie Alley and Rhea Pearlman wanted to reunite in this comedy about a loud, squabbling Italian-American family that moves to a quiet Jersey suburb to alarm the resident WASPs. Alley plays an opinionated wife/mom with Pearlman as her mother-in-law.

Beauty and the Beast -- A "re-imagining" of the timeless fairy tale, with Darius Campbell (Hotel Babylon) as The Beast and Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) in the mix.

Awesometown -- Based on executive producer Adam Sztykiel's first-hand experiences with long-distance relationships, with grouchy Dennis Miller and former Outsourced star Ben Rappaport signed on.


Super Fun Night -- Executive producer Conan O'Brien somehow thought it would be fun to build a comedy around three nerdy women dedicated to having a blast every Friday night. Cast of largely unknowns.

Trooper -- CSI brewmeister Jerry Buckheimer hasn't had much luck in recent seasons. His latest idea was to cast Mira Sorvino as a level-headed mom turned New York state trooper.

Widow Detective -- A much-honored P.I. played by John Corbett feels really bad about losing three partners in the line of duty. So he dedicates himself to being a surrogate father, husband and lover to their bereaved families. Jennifer Beals was in it, too.

Untitled Martin Lawrence comedy -- He had hoped to play a widowed father of two teens who decides to become a cop at age 46 after losing his construction job.


Downwardly Mobile -- Roseanne Barr and John Goodman were ready to reunite in a sitcom set in a mobile park home. She was both the writer and executive producer.

Friday Night Dinner -- Two multiple Emmy-winning drama stars, Allison Janney (The West Wing) and Tony Shaloub (Monk), would have fronted this adaptation of a British series about an oddball family that gathered for dinner every Friday. Ergo, the title.

Lady Friends -- Two lifelong girlfriends have relationship problems when one of them gets married. Minnie Driver and Rachel Dratch were among the cast members.


Guilty -- Cuba Gooding Jr. starred as a brilliant but ethically challenged attorney who gets disbarred and begins solving crimes while also striving to square things with those who railroaded him.

Let It Go -- On the rebound from NBC's Chuck, Zachary Levi fronted this ensemble comedy about a married couple.

Little Brother -- John Stamos starred as a guy who discovers he has a half-brother who's also an ex-con.

Rebounding -- Will Forte of Saturday Night Live fame grieved the death of his TV fiancee while trying to heal via pickup basketball games with his coarse, rowdy friends.

Like Father -- Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs and Cougar Town, planned to do a comedy drawn from his own experiences with father-son dynamics. Colin Ferguson of Eureka headed the cast.

CBS adds four fall newcomers while deleting CSI: Miami and transplanting The Mentalist, Two and a Half Men

Michael Chiklis (left) and Dennis Quaid (2nd from right) will be squaring off in the new period crime drama Vegas. CBS photo

CBS is subtracting a CSI, adding another P.I. and returning Michael Chiklis to prime-time as a tough guy in a new fall lineup announced Wednesday.

The No. 1 network in total viewers has added four newcomers while also unveiling three midseason replacements. The most notable cancelation, CSI: Miami, will be replaced in its vacated Sunday slot by The Mentalist. CSI: Miami star David Caruso took his shades off and on for 10 seasons before the sun set.

In another significant night and time shift, Two and a Half Men will leave Monday nights and move to Thursdays following the network's most-watched comedy, The Big Bang Theory. Rob and Rules of Engagement tried to hold that slot this season, but both had major audience fall-offs.

Rob is officially canceled. But although it's not listed among CBS' renewals, network entertainment president Nina Tassler later told TV writers that Rules' fate once again hangs in the balance if a midseason plug-in is needed.

CBS' other evictees are Unforgettable, A Gifted Man, NYC 22 and the already long gone How to Be a Gentleman. Undercover Boss again will return in midseason.

Here are CBS' four new fall series:

Vegas (drama) -- ABC's old Vega$ with the late Robert Urich had a dollar sign in the title. This one doesn't, but it's still about money, circa the 1960s. Dennis Quaid stars in his first TV series as Vegas sheriff Ralph Lamb, who's called off his ranch to help solve the murder of a casino worker. He's soon clashing with ruthless Vincent Savino (Chiklis), a Chicago-bred gangster aspiring to be a Vegas big shot. Jason O'Mara, rebounding from Fox's cancelation of Terra Nova, journeys to the past this time to play Lamb's "even-keeled" brother, Jack, who's also a deputy.

Elementary (drama) -- Sherlock Holmes gets yet another remake, and this time his Watson's a woman. Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson crack the NYPD's "most impossible cases" in current-day Gotham. He's on the mend from rehab in London, but none too happy about his dad forcing him to live with the teetotaling Watson. Also starring is Aidan Quinn as a New York police captain to whom Holmes reports. Quinn had roughly the same role last season in NBC's since canceled Prime Suspect.

Made In Jersey (drama) -- Newcomer Janet Montgomery stars as a resilient working class recruit to a prestigious New York law firm. Her boss is played by TV vet Kyle MacLachlan of Twin Peaks and Desperate Housewives fame. Former ABC entertainment president Jamie Tarses is the head executive producer.

Partners (comedy) -- David Krumholtz (Numb3rs) and Dallas native Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) play characters based on the lives of the show's creators, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick. Their "bromance" is put to the test when architect Joe (Krumholtz) gets newly engaged to a female jewelry designer while co-worker Louis (Urie) continues to date a male vegan nurse. Kohan and Mutchnick previously collaborated on NBC's long-running Will & Grace and CBS' short-running $#*! My Dad Says.

Here is CBS' night-by-night fall schedule:

How I Met Your Mother
2 Broke Girls
Mike & Molly
Hawaii Five-0

NCIS: Los Angeles

Criminal Minds
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

The Big Bang Theory
Two and a Half Men
Person of Interest

Made In Jersey
Blue Bloods

48 Hours Mystery

60 Minutes
The Amazing Race
The Good Wife
The Mentalist

These are CBS' new midseason series:

Golden Boy (drama) -- An ambitious cop rockets to the top of the NYPD. But what deals went down for him to become the youngest police commissioner in the city's history? It's flashback time, with Theo James (Downtown Abbey) in the lead role of Walter William Clark Jr. and TV vet Chi McBride (Hawthrone, Human Target) as his gruff partner.

Friend Me (comedy) -- A pair of male twentysomething buds move from Indiana to L.A. in hopes of becoming cool. Starring are newcomers Nicholas Braun and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

The Job (reality) -- Producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Voice, The Celebrity Apprentice) strikes again. This time around, batches of "talented candidates" vie weekly for a chance to win a dream job. Lisa Ling hosts.

In defense of Harry's Law and its right to draw an older audience and live to tell about it (which it didn't)

Kathy Bates, 63, star of the canceled Harry's Law. NBC photo

Racism, sexism, ageism.

No TV network worries in the least about being accused of the latter. And there's really no upside for a TV critic to upbraid NBC for canceling one of its very few hits, Harry's Law, because it didn't appeal to the "right" audience.

I run the risk of being perceived as terminally addled, a veritable Gabby Hayes (dated reference), Ward Cleaver (dated reference) or Red Foreman (halfway current reference to That '70s Show) amid a sea of Community-slobbering coolios.

But what do I care? I'm freakin' 64. And in truth I rarely watched Harry's Law during its truncated 33-episode run on NBC, which tried to bury the David E. Kelley law drama from the start but still couldn't hide it from all of those fans of a certain age.

Harry's ended up averaging 8.9 million viewers per episode before the ax swung. That's a haul exceeded by only three NBC series this season -- Sunday Night Football, The Voice and Smash, which had barely more viewers (9 million) and likely will drop to Harry's level after Monday's Season 1 finale audience of just 6.1 million is factored in.

NBC's overall prime-time average this season is 7.4 million viewers, and that's with the Super Bowl included. In other words, Harry's exceeded that average by 1.5 million viewers, which is no small number given the broadcast networks' ongoing battles against year-to-year viewer erosion.

Two of the Peacock's renewals for next season, Community and Rock Center with Brian Williams, averaged a piddling 4 million viewers an episode, making Harry's a virtual Gulliver among Lilliputians.

Other NBC renewals dwarfed by Harry's included Parks and Recreation (4.4 million viewers an episode); 30 Rock (4.6 million); Fashion Star (4.9 million); Whitney (5.1 million); Up All Night (5.3 million); Grimm (6.3 million); The Office (6.4 million); Parenthood (6.7 million) and even Law & Order: SVU (7.6 million).

The weekly crowd for Harry's also easily exceeded ABC's 8.4 million season-to-date average and matched Fox's.

But in the only audience estimate networks care about, Harry's was kissed off as a veritable liver-spotted guy named Hiram at the Teen Choice Awards. That would be advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, and Harry averaged a dinky 1.8 million of those "desirable" viewers. Only Rock Center fared worse among NBC series, with 1.2 million viewers per week in this age group.

Community, which had well less than half the total viewership of Harry's, nonetheless drew 2.4 million viewers in the 18-to-49 demographic. Some advertisers pay a little extra "premium" for that audience, even though that makes little sense (or cents) anymore.

Community, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Up All Night are all considered "smart" praiseworthy shows by most TV critics. And I wouldn't really argue with that.

But don't the old folks at home deserve at least one show they can call their own, particularly on a network that's still starved for viewers of any age except on Sunday nights during football season? Has Madison Avenue made a lapdog of every network except CBS?

Even The Voice is already tailing off. And Fashion Star, with its skimpy 2.3 million 18-to-49-year-olds per episode, was picked up only because it's basically an infomercial for the featured department stores that greatly help to pay its production costs. The show is otherwise worthless from a content standpoint. Kathy Bates' Harriet "Harry" Korn would look at these people and say, "I oughta belt you posers in the head with my three-pound JC Penney purse." And I wish she would.

No other industry except television really works this way. A senior citizen's money counts just as much at the box office as Snooki Ipod's does. Restaurant patrons aren't shown the door because they look too old. On the contrary, they're often prized for being better tippers with more disposable income.

Older people vote for their elected officials in greater numbers than younger people do. And their votes count exactly the same. And so on. If you're a young adult, who'd you rather get a birthday gift from -- rich old Uncle Groucho or your slacker friend, Peabo Penniless?

The Big Four broadcast networks -- NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox -- are supposed to be public trusts operating in the public interest. Except that a huge slice of this country is of no interest at all to them. There oughta be a law (dated reference).

The cancellation of Harry's Law -- and the disenfranchisement of most of its 8.9 million viewers -- will end up being of no concern at all to lawmakers who'd rather rail against sex and violence. Ditto most of my TV critic colleagues, who don't want to look as though they're suddenly sprouting ear hair. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Once upon a time, at the end of the 1995-'96 TV season, NBC canceled JAG despite the military drama's overall decent ratings in its first season. Its crime? It skewed too old.

CBS snapped it up, ran JAG for nine more seasons and used it to launch a little spinoff called NCIS. That series, still a ratings kingpin, spawned the very successful NCIS: Los Angeles. So 16 years later, CBS is still laughing at NBC's all-time demographic malaprop. Laughing all the way to the bank and the untold millions that those three series have made for their network.

Harry's Law likely won't find a benefactor. Although if I were CBS I'd slap it onto my Friday night schedule as a compatible lead-in to the network's skew-old Blue Bloods. It's already been renewed despite the fact that of its 12.2 million viewers per episode, only a scant 2.6 million are in the 18-to-49 range.

But CBS isn't NBC, even though previous Peacock executives have chided CBS for its lineup of series appealing to viewers "north of Forest Lawn."

CBS has a nice mix now. Its weekly average of 18-to-49-year-old viewers is more than 600,000 ahead of NBC's. And in total viewers, CBS is more than 4.3 million better than the Peacock. It's a far more balanced approach in which series drawing a high percentage of older viewers aren't automatically measured for a coffin.

NBC didn't commit a crime by canceling Harry's Law. Still, the network is lesser for it. Dealing out the show's legions of older viewers may make for some dry, smug humor in NBC's executive offices. But it wasn't the right thing to do on the part of a network that symbolically pitted The Biggest Loser against NCIS in the past season.

Now that's funny.

ABC hopes to be country strong with five new fall series, two of them music-themed twangers

Reba McEntire and Lily Tomlin will clash weekly in Malibu Country. ABC photo

Two country music mamas will top ABC's new season charts, with Reba McEntire and Connie Britton both portraying veteran twangers in separate new series.

ABC has five freshmen for the fall, with another two ready to go in January after Tuesday night's Dancing with the Stars results show takes a breather.

Among the notable cancellations is another drawler. GCB, the Dallas-set soap opera about hypocritical church-going she-devils, is getting axed in tandem with the series it replaced on Sunday nights, Pan Am. The pilot for GCB (short for Good Christian Bitches) was filmed in Dallas before production shifted to L.A.

ABC's cancellation corral also is populated by Missing, The River, Work It, Man Up, Charlie's Angels, Desperate Housewives, Wipeout, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Cougar Town, which has been rescued by TBS.

But ABC also is renewing six of this season's freshman series -- Revenge, Scandal, Once Upon a Time, Last Man Standing, Don't Trust the B --- In Apartment 23 and Suburgatory.

Tim Allen's Last Man Standing gets moved from Tuesdays to Fridays, where it will be paired with McEntire's Malibu Country, also starring Lily Tomlin. Body of Proof, which got a last-ditch reprieve, won't be back until sometime in midseason, as will Wife Swap.

Here are ABC's five new fall series:

Nashville (drama) -- Connie Britton, who last season segued from Friday Night Lights to FX's American Horror Story, stars as fading country music legend Rayna James in this Country Strong-ish saga. Her record label thinks she might be able to revive things with a concert tour in which she opens for bright new star Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere from Heroes). Also in the mix is evergreen Powers Boothe as Rayna's domineering, estranged daddy, who wants her hubby, Teddy, (Eric Close) to run for mayor of Nashville. But Rayna doesn't much cotton to that, as they say in the 'hood.

Last Resort (drama) -- TV vet Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age) takes another shot as the captain of a U.S. ballistic submarine ordered to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan. Both the cap and his XO balk before they're fired on and hit by what used to be friendly forces. Next step: take the sub on the run to a far-off exotic island, where they find "refuge, romance and a chance at a new life, even as they try to clear their names and get home." What is it with ABC and islands?

666 Park Avenue (drama) -- The mysterious owner of this historic luxury pad, played by Terry O'Quinn from Lost, is also a master manipulator in league with his wife, Olivia (Vanessa Williams). An "idealistic" Midwest couple are at their mercies when they agree to manage the place. So here we go again with another "epic struggle of good versus evil."

Malibu Country (comedy) -- In pretty much a replica of her old Reba sitcom, McEntire plays a would-be country music star who put her career on hold to raise a family. But her philandering husband forces a divorce, sending Reba Gallagher packin' off from Nashville to Malibu with her two kids and tart-tongued mother Lillie May (Lily Tomlin). Sara Rue (Rules of Engagement) co-stars as Reba's new neighbor and confidante as she tries to re-start her singin' career.

The Neighbors (comedy) -- 3rd Rock From the Sun returns in this similarly-themed offshoot in which newcomers to a gated New Jersey town home community learn that all the other residents are aliens from the planet Zabvron. That's where "the men bear children and everyone else cries green goo from their ears," says ABC. They're all disguised as humans, though, with pro athlete names ranging from Larry Bird to Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Jami Gertz is the best known name in the cast.

Here is ABC's night-by-night fall schedule:

Dancing with the Stars

Dancing with the Stars results show
Happy Endings
Don't Trust the B -- in Apartment 23
Private Practice

The Middle
Modern Family
The Neighbors

Last Resort
Grey's Anatomy

Shark Tank
Primetime: What Would You Do?

(Starting in November on this night)
Last Man Standing
Malibu Country
Shark Tank

Saturday Night College Football

America's Funniest Home Videos
Once Upon A Time
666 Park Avenue

These are ABC's new midseason series, with The Family Tools and How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) already slotted for January debuts from 7 to 8 p.m. (central) on Tuesdays.

The Family Tools (comedy) -- A so far inept son is given charge of the family handyman business after his father has a heart attack. Various fractious relatives complicate matters, but Jack Shea (Kyle Bornheimer) at least has the support of his frisky Aunt Terry (Leah Remini from King of Queens).

How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) (comedy) -- Former sitcom stars Sarah Chalke (Scrubs) and Brad Garrett (Everyone Loves Raymond) front another fractious family laughter. Chalke plays an up against it single mom who moves back in with "eccentric" parents Max and Elaine (Garrett, Elizabeth Perkins).

Zero Hour (drama) -- Ex-ER mainstay Anthony Edwards finally navigates his way back as the publisher of a paranormal enthusiast magazine whose wife is abducted from her antique clock shop. Luckily she's left a secret treasure map behind, enabling Hank Galliston (Edwards) and three associates to embark on a "breathless race against the clock to find his wife and save humanity." Otherwise there'd be no show.

Red Widow (drama) -- TV newcomer Radha Mitchell stars as married mother of three Marta Walraven, whose husband is brutally murdered. Unfortunately her family has mob ties, prompting Marta to discover "a tenacity she never knew she had" as she fights for truth, justice and a side dish of revenge.

Mistresses (drama) -- ABC says this is a "provocative and thrilling drama about the scandalous lives of a sexy and sassy group of four girlfriends, each on her own path to self-discovery, as they brave the turbulent journey together."

Based on a same-named British series, its stars include Alyssa Milano (Charmed, Melrose Place) and Yunjin Kim (Lost).

Spears, Lovato round out new X Factor judging panel

The X Factor's new ensemble at Fox "upfront" in NYC. Fox photo

Confirming all those prevalent rumors, Fox trotted out Britney Spears and Demi Lovato Monday as the two new judges on The X Factor.

They appeared together for the first time as Fox employees during the network's "upfront" presentation to advertisers. Fox had declined to spill the Spears/Lovato beans during its announcements of new and returning fall programming earlier Monday.

Lovato, who was raised in Dallas and whose mother is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, is still only 19 years old. But the show's executive producer and fellow judge Simon Cowell pronounced her as "young, confident and enthusiastic. I think it's really important that she speaks to our younger audience."

Lovato and Spears are both veterans of drug rehab, although Spears, 30, has had a far more documented series of ups and downs. They're replacing first-year judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger, both of whom were dumped.

L.A. Reid, the singing competition's other judge, dubbed X Factor "the Rolls Royce of television" in remarks to advertisers. And Cowell remained cocky, saying that X Factor would turn back a challenge from NBC's The Voice, which will move to the fall next season to vie for viewers on Monday and Tuesday nights.

"This year we are going to seriously kick butt," said Cowell, whose X Factor again will air on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

X Factor is still looking for a new host to replace the fired Steve Jones. In earlier comments to TV writers, Cowell said he will name male and female co-hosts for the upcoming season.

Fox takes minimalist approach with three fall newcomers

The Mindy Project and The Mob Doctor make fall cut. Fox photos

A still struggling NBC laid waste to its prime-time schedule on Mothers' Day with the announcement of 16 new series for fall or midseason.

A far more prosperous Fox in contrast unveiled just five newcomers Monday morning, three of them due this fall.

A larger number of this season's shows were canceled. Besides the previously announced Terra Nova, Allen Gregory and House (which has its season finale on Monday, May 21st), the evictees are Alcatraz, Napoleon Dynamite, The Finder and I Hate My Teenager Daughter. As previously posted, Fringe is getting a 13-episode farewell season.

Fox will finish this season as the No. 1 network for the eighth straight year among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds while placing a distant second to CBS in total viewers. Three of last season's newcomers -- New Girl, The X Factor and Touch -- will be back for sophomore years while American Idol returns for a 12th time in the face of shrinking ratings and some likely new judges.

Here are Fox's three new fall series:

The Mob Doctor (drama) -- Jordana Spiro from TBS' My Boys stars as a Chicago sawbones who agrees to work "off book" for the mob in order to pay off her brother's gambling debts. This includes, according to Fox's description, "helping an aging mobster with his erectile dysfunction." 'Cause if she doesn't, her number's up instead.

The Mindy Project (comedy) -- This one's also about a doctor, with Mindy Kaling of The Office playing a vexed OB/GYN striving to "break bad habits in her personal life."

Ben and Kate (comedy) -- Dakota Johnson (The Social Network) and Nat Faxon (Bad Teacher) are "odd-couple siblings. She has an unplanned five-year-old daughter and he's a dedicated screwup.

Here is Fox's night-by-night fall schedule:

The Mob Doctor

Raising Hope
Ben and Kate
New Girl
The Mindy Project

The X Factor (with American Idol in midseason)

The X Factor results show (with American Idol in midseason)


Fox Sports Saturday

NFL runovers (with "Animation Domination" repeats in midseason)
The OT (with The Cleveland Show in midseason)
The Simpsons
Bob's Burgers
Family Guy
American Dad

These are Fox's new midseason series:

The Following (drama) -- What if 300 "active serial killers" banded together to form an alliance, sort of like the League of Injustice? And what if Kevin Bacon as a former FBI agent is redeployed to track their leader after he escapes from death row? But what if Bacon's character is now "wounded both physically and mentally" from his time as a G man? It sounds like Alcatraz all over again, but unfortunately this is supposed to be Fox's better idea.

The Goodwin Games (comedy) -- Three grown siblings (two guys and a girl) have a shot at inheriting $20 million if they follow the rules laid down by their dead dad. Scott Foley (Felicity, Grey's Anatomy) is the best known cast member.

NBC's new fall lineup tickled by comedies, pickled by the cancellation of its fourth most popular series

Justin Kirk, Matthew Perry will star in new fall comedies. NBC photos

NBC is primed to become a laugh factory next fall, with four new sitcoms and a grand total of 10 spread over four nights.

All of the newcomers are male-centric, with Friends alum Matthew Perry the most familiar face as a traumatized radio sportscaster in need of therapy.

There also are two new dramas on NBC's revamped schedule. The Peacock's Mothers' Day announcement includes an additional 10 new series awaiting midseason berths.

The musical drama Smash likewise is scheduled to begin its second season sometime next year, with its Monday slot after The Voice being taken this fall by a new futuristic drama from producer J.J. Abrams (Fringe, Lost).

Thanks to mega-ratings for the Super Bowl, NBC has crept up to third place among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds this season, edging out ABC while still ranking fourth in total viewers.

The Peacock's cancellation corral nonetheless is heavily stocked with last season's flops, although the axed Harry's Law averaged more total viewers (8.8 million) than all of NBC's returning fall series except Sunday Night Football, The Voice and Smash.

The David E. Kelley law drama additionally pulled in more than twice as many viewers per episode as NBC's reprieved Parks and Recreation, Community and Rock Center with Brian Williams. Its "crime" is that most of its audience was north of the sainted 18-to-49 demographic. This has happened many times before in the grand network scheme of things, but seldom if ever to a series that outdrew virtually everything else during what became its last season. The series starred 63-year-old Kathy Bates as caustic defense attorney Harriet "Harry" Korn. Marching orders from the AARP haven't yet been issued.

Joining Harry's Law in NBC's cancellation heap are Awake, Bent, Best Friends Forever, Are You There, Chelsea?, Who Do You Think You Are?, The Firm, The Sing-Off, Prime Suspect, Chuck, Free Agents and The Playboy Club.

Besides Smash, the announced midseason returnees are The Biggest Loser, The Celebrity Apprentice, Fashion Star and Betty White's Off Their Rockers. Although they've made the fall lineup, 30 Rock and Community both are getting just 13-episode orders for what are presumed to be their last seasons.

The 10 new series earmarked for midseason are divided among three comedies, three dramas and a quartet of unscripted "alternative" shows.

Here are NBC's six new fall series:

Go On (comedy) -- Former Friends star Matthew Perry, who also had a recent sitcom flop with ABC's Mr. Sunshine, plays bereaved radio sportscaster Ryan King, whose wife recently died in a car accident. Before returning to the air, he's ordered to undergo therapy. Laughs supposedly ensue when King "hijacks" a support group.

Animal Practice (comedy) -- Justin Kirk (Weeds) stars as unorthodox New York veterinarian George Coleman, whose sidelines include poker games with a capuchin monkey.

The New Normal (comedy) -- Bryan and David, a gay Beverly Hills couple, call on a single mother with a "checkered past" to be the surrogate mother of their first child. The two leads are played by Andrew Rannells (Girls) and Justin Bartha (The Hangover).

Guys with Kids (comedy) -- Three thirtysomething males become new dads while also "trying desperately to remain dudes." The executive producer is Jimmy Fallon, with a cast that includes Anthony Anderson (Law & Order), Jamie Lyn Sigler (The Sopranos) and Tempestt Bledsoe (The Cosby Show).

Revolution (drama) -- All electrical power vanishes, forcing earthlings 15 years removed from the present to light candles, navigate under their own power, etc. But who's behind this blackout? Get ready for a "daring coming-of-age journey to find answers about the past in hopes of reclaiming the future." J.J. Abrams is the behind-the-camera mastermind, with Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) the most familiar face and name in the ensemble cast.

Chicago Fire (drama) -- Law & Order creator Dick Wolf has a new flame in this series about Chicago firefighters. They have their squabbles, but you know what? When it's "go-time," one and all "put aside their differences and put everything on the line for each other." Groan.

Here is NBC's night-by-night fall schedule, with trumpeting scheduled to start during the network's exclusive coverage of the Summer Olympic Games.

The Voice

The Voice
Go On
The New Normal

Animal Practice
Guys with Kids
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Chicago Fire

30 Rock
Up All Night
The Office
Parks and Recreation
Rock Center with Brian Williams

Dateline NBC


Football Night in America
NBC Sunday Night Football

Sunday midseason
Dateline NBC
Fashion Star
The Celebrity Apprentice
Do No Harm

These are the midseason replacement troops:

Do No Harm (drama) -- A hugely successful neurosurgeon with "deep, dark secret" one day "wakes up disoriented in a wrecked hotel room amidst several near-naked women he's never seen before." Uh-oh, his "dangerous alternate personality" has struck again. Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me) stars, with another Cosby Show alum, Phylicia Rashad, also in the cast.

Infamous (drama) -- A detective and an FBI agent uncover multiple layers of intrigue and subterfuge after a 32-year-old heiress/party girl is found dead of an overdose.

Hannibal (drama) -- Presenting the early years of serial killer Hannibal Lecter, who hasn't been cast yet. None-the-wiser criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) partners with the fava beans afficionado to solve murders.

Save Me (comedy) -- Already loopy in real life, Anne Heche plays a Midwestern suburbanite whose near-death experience convinces her she has a "direct line to God."

1600 Penn (comedy) -- Jenna Elfman (Dharma and Greg) stars as a stepmom whose husband (Bill Pullman) is also the president of the United States. NBC describes it as "Modern Family meets The West Wing."

Next Caller (comedy) -- Comedian Dane Cook fronts this one as a "foulmouthed satellite radio DJ" (gee, wonder who he's modeled after?) who's forced to share his mike with a "chipper NPR feminist" (newcomer Collette Wolf). And here comes old reliable Jeffrey Tambor again as part of the ensemble mix after Bent got sent to NBC's Boot Hill.

Howie Mandel's White Elephant (alternative) -- He hosts a game show "based on one of the most wildly popular holiday party games in America."

Surprise with Jenny McCarthy (alternative) -- She hosts a variety show in which commoners get "surprises of a lifetime" in order to "keep viewers laughing, crying and on the edge of their seats."

Stars Earn Stripes (alternative) -- Nine yet to be announced celebrities will be "challenged to execute complicated missions inspired by real life military exercises." Dick Wolf (Law & Order) and Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Voice) are the hitmaking executive producers.

Ready for Love (alternative) -- Bill Rancic and Giuliana DePandi-Rancic (Giuliana and Bill) host a dating game produced by Desperate Housewives alum Eva Longoria.

ADDENDUM: On the day after its Sunday announcements, NBC said it has ordered yet another midseason series. It's Crossbones, an action-adventure pirates saga set in 1715 and featuring the notorious Blackbeard.

Arrrrgh, the network has ordered 10 episodes, with production set to begin this fall. No cast has been named yet.

Johnny Carson finally gets the retrospective he didn't want in PBS' King of Late Night

There's no time like the present to lament that "He-r-r-r-re's Johnny!" has morphed into "Who's Johnny?" for the millions of younger Americans who never witnessed his genius on NBC's Tonight Show.

It's been 20 years since Carson stepped down after 30 years of hosting what had been the gold standard of late night television. He then dropped almost completely out of sight until his death on Jan. 23, 2005 at the age of 79. And Carson simply didn't care about cooperating with or authorizing any full-bodied looks at his life, his times and his show of shows.

The two-hour Johnny Carson: King of Late Night (Monday, May 14th at 8 p.m. central), airing under PBS' American Masters banner, arrives after years of trying by filmmaker Peter Jones (2009's magnificent Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times).

During a January session with TV critics, Jones said he had written Carson annually for 12 years before receiving a surprise call in 2002 from the man himself. In Jones recollection, Carson told him, "I want to tell you, you write a damn fine letter. but I'm not going to participate in anything on my life because you know what? I don't give a shit . . . One day something may get done, and you're probably the guy to do it. But it will never happen while I'm alive. I've done everything I've wanted to do. I've said anything I want to say. There is nothing more."

Jones persisted, eventually re-directing his solicitations to Carson's nephew, Jeff Sotzing, who controlled Uncle Johnny's vast archives. And in 2010, Sotzing finally bit for a simple reason: "I didn't want people to forget Johnny Carson."

People sometimes do forget how very big he was in the television firmament, even those of us who grew up watching him play around with animals, do his Carnac the Magnificent bits, swim and sink his way through nightly monologues, laugh his inimitable full-bodied laugh when a guest amused him and famously ad lib to Dolly Parton, "I would give about a year's pay to peek under there."

It's all here in King of Late Night, which also includes a wealth of archival family home movies and still pictures, plus new interviews with just about every surviving comedian, friend or associate who came under Carson's spell.

David Letterman, a longtime acolyte whose Late Show hosted Carson's last TV appearance on May 13, 1994, says of the grand master: "He put me together as a person. Honestly."

Drew Carey is near tears while recalling his first Tonight Show appearance and how Carson made the rare gesture of inviting him over to the desk. "It's like a religious experience," he says.

Beyond being a consummate joke-teller, "Johnny Carson was the best straight man ever, says Joan Rivers, who felt his wrath when she agreed to host a competing Fox late night show without first telling him.

"Johnny made us who we were," says Doc Severinsen, whose showy clothes and trumpeting made him a part of a Tonight Show troika that also included sidekick Ed McMahon.

Still, this is not a varnished Valentine. Severinsen also talks about his boss's estrangement from his three sons, for whom he never seemed to have time.

Middle son Rick died in a car wreck in 1991. And Chris and Corey declined to participate in this film. Severinsen recalls "Ricky" telling him, "Gosh, Doc, I wish I could get along with my dad as well as I get along with you."

As a kid growing up in Nebraska, young Johnny likewise felt unloved by his impossible to please mother, Ruth. Case in point: she told an interviewer for a Time magazine cover story, "That wasn't funny," after watching her star son deliver one of his Tonight Show monologues.

Carson also was a surly drunk (which he admitted in a 1979 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace), an unfaithful husband and not much interested in socializing unless it involved a desk, a couch and a camera.

Joanne Carson, his second of four wives and the only one interviewed on camera, says she learned to look the other way while at the same time relishing her husband's stardom.

"Johnny had a right to live his life the way that was best for him," she says. "And I knew he would never embarrass me."

Carson's first Tonight Show was on Oct. 1, 1962, and his last on May 22, 1992. Only audio tapes exist of those early years, including the maiden voyage. Unbeknownst to Carson, NBC saw fit to erase each night's tape because it was cheaper to record a new show over it. King of Late Night makes no mention of this, but it should. Carson eventually got full ownership of all Tonight Show tapings when he signed a new three-year deal with NBC after threatening to quit.

"After 17 years, I'm getting a little tired of it," he told interviewers at the time. The guy knew how to negotiate, and a panicked NBC bowed to his every stipulation to keep him on the air. News anchor David Brinkley said memorably at the time, "Johnny Carson asking to get off The Tonight Show is roughly equal to George Washington asking to get off the one dollar bill."

Carson had been accessible to the press in his formative years as host of the game show Who Do You Trust? and during his early years in the Tonight Show chair. But he had pretty much quit cold turkey by the time I started writing about television for The Dallas Morning News in the early summer of 1980.

He made one exception, though, showing up on an NFL playoff Sunday in January 1982 in tow with Angie Dickinson during NBC's portion of the winter "press tour." Her short-lived Cassie & Company cop series was the first under a Johnny Carson Productions deal that he had negotiated with NBC. So it was both business and his longtime friendship with Dickinson that brought him to a hotel ballroom for a brief Q&A with TV writers.

I had one of those museum piece five-pound tape recorders in hand and it was rolling when I asked Carson whether NBC would dare cancel Cassie & Company, no matter what its ratings. He laughed that big Carson laugh while I ascended into some sort of heaven on earth. And as stupid as NBC was in erasing those early Tonight Shows, I grossly erred in either losing or taping over that exchange.

I also covered the long walkup to Carson's last Tonight Show, and was fortunate enough to attend a May 8, 1992 taping in person. This time I was smart enough to save the bright orange tickets. But a one-on-one interview with Carson was out of the question. Johnny just didn't do those anymore. Seeing him onstage, interviewing a producer and walking through nearby Johnny Carson Park were 100 times better than nothing, though.

These now musty memories likely would draw a blank stare from my own adult children. And why not? Johnny Carson's Tonight Show used to be hosted by "a guy who was as familiar as a bedtime story," future late night competitor Arsenio Hall says in King of Late Night.

But it's now 20 years after Carson said goodnight to Tonight. Late night TV is fragmented into small slices of viewer loyalties, with no dominant forces either on-screen or online.

Filmmaker Jones' exceptional look back at the mighty Carson and his times is especially evocative for those who stayed awake for him, fell asleep to him -- but always had him on.

"I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight," he finally said in closing.

And he never looked back.


Here comes a Stern test of NBC's Talent

Howard Stern regales Matt Lauer on Thursday's Today. NBC photo

Entering to the strains of "Hail to the Chief," Howard Stern considered it his due.

"I'm the big star of the show. You'll see," he told a media gathering Thursday in New York, with the proceedings also piped out to interested out-of-town TV writers.

The show is NBC's America's Got Talent, which launches Season 7 on Monday, May 14th with Stern replacing Piers Morgan and joining holdover judges Howie Mandel and Sharon Osbourne.

Stern, 58, and now a self-described "elder statesman" of broadcasting, insists that he'll behave himself in the interests of preserving and protecting "a show that I love."

"I think my audience (on Sirius XM radio) is excited by this," he said. "They understand it's a different arena . . . It's an experiment. If it doesn't work, I'll crawl back into my hole at Sirius radio and sit there."

NBC has relocated the show from Los Angeles to studios in nearby Newark, NJ to make it possible for Stern to bring his own unique perspectives to the cavalcade of would-be stars parading before him.

"We have had to move mountains in order to make this happen," said Paul Telegdy, NBC's president of alternative and late night programming. But Stern is worth it, he said, because "he's unpredictable, he's authentic and he's an innovator."

Stern praised Mandel and Osbourne as hard-working show business pros who understand that he's the new king of their realm. During a recent late night session of talent-winnowing, Stern said he grew tired of debating who should go and who should stay. So in his recollection -- which may or may not be true -- he told his two fellow judges, "I am a superstar. I make 500,000 times more money than you do."

Stern then supposedly got his way.

Morgan, a charter judge on Talent, left after six seasons to concentrate more on his CNN prime-time talk show.

"In all seriousness, I think Piers is a hard act to replace," Stern said. "I don't know that I'm any better than him. OK, I am."

He obviously won't be a namby-pamby judge, which he says is the current problem with Fox's American Idol and with reports that Britney Spears will be a new judge on that network's The X Factor next season.

"I think we have the best judging panel out there," he said. With Spears and Idol judge Jennifer Lopez alongside him, "I'd be like a ventriloquist with two dummies."

Spears, by the way, "still thinks the world is flat." But Stern said he'd tune in X Factor anyway "to see what kind of train wreck she is. Absolutely."

On ABC's Dancing with the Stars, "I fast-forward through everyone but Len (Goodman)," Stern said, because the show's other two judges say nothing that interests him.

"I'm that judge (whose opinions) you care about," he said. "You watch American Idol, you could throw up."

Stern said he'll tell contestants if they stink in the interests of helping them to get out of show business.

"We've gotta be honest, we've gotta be direct and we've gotta help the talent," he said, also noting that "I'm at the point of my life where I'd like to mentor people. And I mean this."

In early audition rounds, Stern said he took a liking to a guy who invited host Nick Cannon to "kick him in the balls." That same contestant also had a helpmate roll a bowling ball into his privates.

"You don't get that kind of talent on just any show," he said.

The conservative Parents Television Council has already protested his hiring and wants advertisers to boycott the show, which amuses Stern.

"You can't complain about a show until you see it," he said. "I don't think there's more than 25 people in this thing. It sounds like a money-raising racket."

Stern volunteered that he's "been disrespecting family values for years. So none of it made any sense to me," he said of NBC's pursuit of him as a Talent judge.

"I think it was a very bold move on their part," he said. "I do want to do a good job for NBC. I don't want to alienate their audience."

Whatever happens in the early going, the live shows won't kick in until summertime. And those will be the litmus tests of Stern's tongue.

"I didn't need the money, I didn't need more fame," he said. "I just love the show . . . and I think there's all types of ways to fit in."

USA's Common Law has a common thread

Disparate detectives Wes Mitchell and Travis Marks flank the cranky cop shop boss and the comely therapist on Common Law. USA photo

Premiering: Friday, May 11th at 9 p.m. (central) on USA network
Starring: Michael Ealy, Warren Kole, Sonya Walger, Jack McGee
Produced by: Jon Turteltaub, Craig Sweeny, Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley

Nice 'n' breezy does it on USA. Even a "procedural" cop show is garnished with do-wacka-do music, whether its odd couple detective are chasing wrongdoers or fighting with each other.

Keeping it light is this network's MO, though. And the successes of Royal Pains, Psych, Burn Notice, White Collar, Suits and others indicate there's still no overriding reason to play hardball.

The latest caper is called Common Law, which has its 90-minute premiere on Friday, May 11th at 9 p.m. (central). Before the action begins, viewers get a needless printed dose of wisdom from (urp) Dr. Phil, whose Relationship Rescue book admonishes, "You may feel as though you know your partner quite well -- maybe too well . . . but you'd be surprised at what you don't know."

Then it's on to an opening couples counseling session presided over by the fetching Dr. Emma Ryan (Sonya Walger). Among the attendees are L.A. detective partners Travis Marks (Michael Ealy) and Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole), whose still cranky precinct captain, Mike Sutton (Jack McGee), has already been through this drill.

Travis is a serial-dating product of 18 foster homes and Wes is a divorced former lawyer with more than a little obsessive-compulsive Monk in him. So in TV terms, they make a perfect imperfect pair whose constant squabbling prompts their boss to lament, "Why do my two best detectives have to be the biggest pain in my ass?"

Ain't that always the way?

Wes and Travis are quickly investigating the homicide death of a recovering heroin addict whose father is a federal judge and whose brother is dyslexic. But virtually non-stop banter and recriminations are the order of the day. So much so that it's almost beside the point who the killer really is. And as with last month's first episode of CBS' NYC 22 cop show, many a viewer will be able to deduce the culprit well before the detectives finally zero in on him/her.

Common Law also pads its 90-minute premiere with a completely beside-the-point convenience store robbery that does little more than make crooks out of three prototypical black thugs. That's not to say that all bad guys have to be white in the interests of political correctness. But this is purely gratuitous, even if the writers might be thinking,"One of our two leads is black, so we've already covered that base."

Ealy and particularly Kole inject no small amount of appeal into their law enforcing antagonists. So Common Law is watchable in that respect, even when push literally comes to shove and the boys crash through a precinct office window while grappling with one another. Regardless, the mood music remains in cheery "Pop Goes the Weasel" mode.

Therapist Emma eventually just happens to drop into a bar where Wes is drowning his sorrows.

"You are so alike," she tells him. "That's why you fight. You're like brothers."

There, all better. And just in time for Wes to experience one of those lightbulb moments that leads him to both finger the killer and reunite with his partner to help close the deal.

Common Law looks to be a halfway decent alternative on a night that's not exactly brimming with first-rate viewing options. In the grand USA scheme of things, it's pretty much same old, same old. But that's still a workable recipe on an NBC Universal-owned network that long has known what it's all about while the NBC broadcast network continues to flail about.

GRADE: B-minus

BBC America's White Heat a slow-burner about college roommates then and now

School daze: The seven roommates of White Heat. BBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, May 9th at 9 p.m. (central) on BBC America
Starring: Sam Claflin, Michael Kitchen, Claire Foy, Juliet Stevenson, MyAnna Buring, Lindsay Duncan, Reece Ritchie, Ramon Tikaram, Lee Ingleby, Paul Copley, David Gyassi, Hugh Quarshie, Jessica Gunning, Sorcha Cusack
Produced by: Paula Milne, Kate Bartlett, Lucy Richer

Drama series meshing present-day reunions and formative school day years have fared poorly of late on U.S. networks.

ABC's made-in-Austin My Generation premiered in fall 2010 and lasted just two episodes. Premise: nine old high school pals re-group 10 years later to commiserate and conspire. Viewers weren't even remotely interested.

Fox's Reunion, launched in fall 2005, ran for nine episodes before flunking out. Premise: A once tightly knit group of six high schoolers come together 20 years later after one of them is murdered. The series got canceled before the killer could be identified. But there was no public outcry.

BBC America's oddly titled White Heat most closely resembles the latter series, only this time you'll get closure. Premise: Seven disparate college students shared a London flat in 1965. Now one of them is found dead -- but not murdered -- close to five decades later in 2012. One-by-one -- but not all in one episode -- the remaining six re-gather for his or her funeral. By the concluding Episode 6, "the identity of the deceased is finally revealed," publicity materials promise. So viewers won't be strung along for too long. Nor will they be left hanging.

Only the first episode was sent for review. Subtitled "The Past is a Foreign Country," it rather laboriously sets the stage, beginning with a current-day Charlotte (Juliet Stevenson) arriving at the now vacant flat as executor of the deceased's will.

She's soon reflecting on the way they were back in 1965, with an arrogant stud named Jack (Sam Claflin) soliciting roomies for a social experiment in which the emphasis is on group quality of life rather than the needs of individuals. One of his ground rules is no sleeping with the same person for more than three nights. One prospective tenant declares it a "godless setup" and walks out. But young Charlotte (Claire Foy) is both intrigued and eventually accepted into the fold.

White Heat begins in the year of Winston Churchill's death, with accompanying black-and-white newsreel footage occasionally seeping in. There's no mention of The Beatles, though, with the mood music instead blandly generic.

The five other tenants are Jamaican Victor (David Gyasi), blonde beauty Lily (MyAnna Buring), proper Alan (Lee Ingleby), secretly gay Hindu Jay (Reece Ritchie) and plus-sized, introverted Orla (Jessica Gunning).

It's a bit of a slog getting to know them, although White Heat manages to heat up a bit in the closing minutes of the first hour. It ends with three present-day characters having arrived at the abandoned flat. So that winnows down the identity of the deceased to four possibilities by the time Episode 2 arrives next week.

Set in the year before the ongoing Season 5 of AMC's Mad Men and airing under BBC America's "Dramaville" banner, White Heat hasn't yet established a firm grip by the end of Episode 1. Still, you might want to shake hands with it and agree to meet again next week. With just six episodes in total, staying the course may prove to be time decently spent.

GRADE: B-minus

Lucky man: New Girl's Jake Johnson does Dallas

New Girl's Jake Johnson during recent stop in Dallas. Photo: Ed Bark

George Clooney kicked around for years before striking gold with ER. So did Tom Selleck until Magnum, P.I. came his way.

Not so Jake Johnson, whose very first pilot, New Girl, hit Fox running in September and became this season's first and really only instant hit.

"Most actors who are on TV have tested for countless shows," Johnson says during a recent stop in Dallas. "They've done countless pilots. And then they finally get one that's good. So this experience is really surreal. When I talk to actors about this, they say 'No, this never happens!' "

Clooney slogged through a total of 15 unsold TV pilots before eventually emerging as one of the most bankable stars on the planet.

"I heard he bought a house off the money he made from pilots. That's crazy," Johnson says. "That's a lot of work that nobody saw."

New Girl, which has its Season 1 finale on Tuesday, May 8th (8 p.m. central), is being seen by a modest-sized 8.2 million viewers per episode. That puts it in 60th place among all prime-time series this season. But among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, New Girl zooms up to the No. 14 spot with 5.3 million viewers in this age range. That's a huge percentage of "desirable" fans, and Fox wasted little if any time in picking up the series for a second season.

Johnson plays Nick, one of three male roommates of series star Zooey Dechanel's loopy Jess. In last Tuesday's episode, he announced his intention to leave this foursome and move back in with ex-girlfriend Caroline (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), with whom he had broken up way back on the show's first episode.

The season finale, subtitled "See Ya," implies that he actually might follow through. But could the show work without Nick in constant up-close contact with Jess and fellow roommates Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris)?

"I don't know," says Johnson, who's not allowed to say too much about where New Girl is going. Not that he really knows all that much.

"The beauty of a TV show is the ending hasn't been determined," Johnson says. "It's like a weird version of 'Choose Your Own Adventure.' We have to follow suit. Because if the writers write it, we're doin' it."

Nick is "like an onion" being peeled, in Johnson's view. "He's not a character who's defined by his actions just yet. He's still being formed."

But the re-fling with Caroline ("his kryptonite") is at best a prelude to the only relationship Nick really wants, Johnson feels. "He's not unlucky in love, but I think it takes a certain person. And Nick is deep down in love with Jess. He's not ready to date her yet, but I think it's gonna be very hard for another woman to come in and really take his heart. Because it belongs to her."

Hmm. Let's keep that on file.

New Girl's gender dynamic is similar to that of Seinfeld, in which the featured foursome also were constantly in and out of relationships. Co-star Greenfield, whose clueless comments regularly require him to make "Douche Jar" deposits, also makes this comparison, Johnson says.

"He said that Zooey's Seinfeld, he's Kramer and I'm George Costanza. I'd never thought of it like that. But look, that's one of my favorite shows of all time. So even to be compared one percent to it is a huge honor. If we are going to copy one, copy that one."

Johnson, who turns 33 on May 20th, is a native of Evanston, Ill. who grew up as a passionate fan of Chicago's Bulls, Bears and Cubs. The Bulls' chances of winning the NBA title are all but dead following the season-ending injury of star guard Derrick Rose. But Johnson says he'll be rooting hard against the Miami Heat if they again emerge from the Eastern Conference to likely play either the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Lakers.

Too many pro athletes are "ring-obsessed" he says of LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining the Heat last season to team with resident superstar Dwyane Wade. "It is how you get there. It's not just getting there. So if LeBron and Miami win a title, well, so what?"

Last year's champs, the recently eliminated Dallas Mavericks, did it the "right way" with Dirk Nowitzki staying the course, Johnson says. "I was screamin' when Jason Terry was hitting those threes" against Miami. It was a lot of fun."

He has some basic advice for this season's biggest Mavericks washout -- Lamar "Lam Lam" Odom. "If you're a pro athlete, stay out of reality shows. Just be an athlete. It's a pretty great gig."

Johnson also makes a bold and perhaps foolish prediction regarding his beloved Cubs, who haven't been in a World Series since 1945. Under former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, the team wisely is weeding out older players and malcontents, he says. "He's building the kind of model he had in Boston. The Cubs not only need talent, but they need guys who don't care about things like curses and a stadium full of whining fans. Don't listen to us! You guys are the athletes. Tune us out."

Although this season already is looking like another big loser, Johnson predicts that the Cubs will make it to the World Series in 2016. "I'll put it in stone," he says. "By 2016 the Cubs will be in the World Series. But I'm not guaranteeing they're gonna win."

By that time, New Girl will have reached the magic 100-episode syndication mark, providing it's still a gainful Fox series. And that seems like a far surer bet than the Cubs getting to baseball's biggest stage.

After about a month on summer hiatus, Johnson says he's already eager to get back to waking up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. for a 5:30 a.m. call and often a 14-hour workday during filming of New Girl.

"This break has reaffirmed how much I like this job," he says. "And how I don't want it to end."

New joint network by ABC and Univision News will be in English, not Espanol

ABC News pres. Ben Sherwood (left) with Univision Networks pres. Cesar Conde (center) and Univision News pres. Isaac Lee. ABC photo

An "uncompromising" current events and lifestyle network aimed at Hispanics -- but in English -- is set for a 2013 launch, ABC and Univision jointly announced Monday.

The 24-hour network, yet to be named, is aimed at tapping the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic population, which currently makes up 16 percent of the country's population and is expected to almost double by 2050, according to an ABC News publicity release.

"Our mission is clear," ABC News president Ben Sherwood said in a statement. "To offer culturally relevant news, information and lifestyle programming to the large and thriving Latino audience in the United States. In these times of rapid change, we are very excited about this opportunity."

The joint venture would mark the inaugural channel for English-dominant and bilingual Hispanics, with journalists from both ABC News and Univision News anchoring and reporting. A first-step website is due sometime this summer, when a management team also is expected to be announced.

Bureaus will be set up in major cities throughout the U.S., which almost certainly means that the network will offices in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one of the country's largest Hispanic population centers.

PBS' Sherlock further livens up Sundays with three more splendid adventures

The man himself and dominatrix Irene Adler in Sherlock. PBS photo

Curt as ever but mesmerized by a wily femme fatale, PBS' version of Sherlock Holmes is back with three more brainy whodunits on a night already filled to overflowing with other high-quality options.

Season 1 was mighty tasty. And the Sunday, May 6th return (8 p.m. central) is even more so thanks to Lara Pulver's portrayal of the slithery Irene Adler in a case entitled "A Scandal in Belgravia."

It's been quite a long wait. Airing under the Masterpiece Mystery banner, the first three 90-minute episodes of Sherlock premiered in the U.S. in October and November of 2010. The third one, subtitled "The Great Game," ended in cliffhanger fashion with Holmes (Bendict Cumberbatch) and nemesis Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) in a standoff while Watson (Martin Freeman) had a bomb strapped to him.

Sunday's return picks up exactly at that point, with matters quickly resolved. Then it's on to a blackmail caper involving the British Royal family. That's where Adler steps in as a dominatrix at the center of this swirl. Her motto is "know when you are beaten." And she first greets Holmes in the nude, although her privates aren't about to be shown on public television.

"Look at those cheekbones," Irene says approvingly. "I would cut myself slapping that face. Would you like me to try?"

Holmes is a bit taken aback but is soon rejoining, "Stop boring me. Think. It's the new sexy."

Set in present-day London, Sherlock isn't always easy to follow. But in this case -- and in these cases -- that's not much of a drawback. The fun is in the snappy dialogue and the impeccable actors delivering it. As when Holmes later tells his elderly and suddenly under duress landlady, (Una Stubbs), "Don't snivel, Mrs. Hudson. It'll do nothing to impede the flight of a bullet."

Holmes obviously retains his perfunctory air, whether in the company of Watson, the authorities, his stern, older brother Mycroft (co-executive producer Mark Gatiss) or cat lady Adler. But she's not someone to trifle with, and Holmes finds her to be both intoxicatingly smart and even alluring. He's not much for the ladies, preferring the company of himself. This is pretty tempting, though -- and on so many levels.

Cumberbatch again is first-rate as the cocksure, enigmatic Holmes, with Pulver a wonder as his would-be seductress. A surprise ending also is in store before Sherlock continues on the next two Sundays with "The Hounds of Baskerville" and "The Reichenbach Fall," during which Moriarty makes a re-entrance.

A Season 3 is planned, with production tentatively scheduled to start in early 2013. For some of us, this is much better news than the plans to go forward with a third edition of PBS' Downtown Abbey. All things considered, Sherlock is made of sterner stuff, including its title character's ever-brusque demeanor.

No need to change a thing. But ample need to activate recording devices when the Sunday night alternatives include AMC's Mad Men and The Killing, HBO's Game of Thrones, Girls and Veep, ABC's Once Upon A Time and CBS' The Good Wife. Happy watching -- one or all.


Race cards: Ashton Kutcher in light brownface as Raj; Jon Hamm in semi-blackface for 30 Rock's "Alfie & Abner" spoof

What's racist these days?

This is a volatile subject, of course. But in our easily offended social media-fueled society, "protests" can erupt at the drop of a tweet. And on Wednesday, those taking offense to Ashton Kutcher as a Bollywood dude named Raj resulted in the almost immediate excising of the character by the makers of the snack food Popchips.

Kutcher also appeared in other costumes as a foppish fashionista, a hippie and a street biker. But his lilting accent and light "brown face" makeup as Raj triggered both indignation and a statement by Popchips CEO Keith Belling, who said in part, "Our team worked hard to create a light-hearted parody featuring a variety of characters that was meant to provide a few laughs. We did not intend to offend anyone. I take full responsibility and apologize to anyone we offended."

The 90-second video subsequently has been removed from the Popchips website as well as youtube and Facebook, The New York Times reports.

From this perspective, the Kutcher video doesn't hit its target as a marketer of Popchips. But it is amusing in spots and hardly seems to merit a whiny web outcry.

On last Thursday's oft-brilliant live episode of NBC's 30 Rock, a black-and-white sendup of Amos and Andy featured Mad Men's Jon Hamm in partial blackface and full Afro as the buffoonish Abner while Tracy Morgan played the stern, proper-speaking Alfie.

Hamm played a walking, talking racial stereotype with considerable panache. Dare it be said that this was laugh out loud funny? Well, it was. And I haven't seen any protests.

So why then, is Kutcher's little send-up such a lightning rod? And should Popchips have knuckled under the way it has?

I'm taking the Bill Maher position here. In a recent Op-Ed piece for the Times, he wrote in part, "If it weren't for throwing conniption fits, we wouldn't get any exercise at all. I have a better idea. Let's have an amnesty -- from the left and the right -- on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront . . . I don't want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That's why we have Canada."

OK, that's kind of a cheap shot at the country that's given us Will Arnett, Tom Green, Phil Hartman, John Candy, Norm Macdonald, Mike Myers, Leslie Nielsen and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels among many.

But so what? Canada can take it and probably already has fired back.

Here are the "Alfie & Abner" and Popchips videos. Maybe the latter is kind of lame overall. But for the life of me, I don't see why it's being seen as racist.

ABC remains in copycat mode with see-through Big Brother knockoff

ABC's summer fare includes a Big Brother clone and a singing competition, Duets, in which John Legend belatedly is stepping in for the suddenly hot, chart-topping Lionel Richie. ABC photos

ABC will be tearing a big page from CBS' summertime playbook with its own transparent version of Big Brother.

Glass House, scheduled to premiere on Monday, June 18th, locks 14 backstabbing contestants in a "totally wired, state-of-the-art house," with a grand prize of $250 grand at stake.

The network notes that players will have to curry favor with their online "social networks" to stay ahead of the game. Because viewers can vote to "decide everything from what players wear and eat to the games they play, even where they sleep." Wow.

Executive producer Kenny Rosen's credits include Hell's Kitchen and -- Big Brother.

***ABC's previously announced Duets, its hoped-for answer to American Idol, The Voice and The X Factor, is welcoming John Legend in place of Lionel Richie, whose scheduling conflicts supposedly forced him to drop out.

Legend joins Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Nettles and Robin Thicke in what's described as a "journey across America looking for undiscovered talent worthy of being their duet partners. Legend's "journey" may have to be accelerated or truncated. The show launches on Thursday, May 24th.

Richie's country-themed Tuskegee, a compendium of his greatest hits recorded with star twangers such as Shania and Willie Nelson, has been a surprise chart-topper this spring. So not coincidentally he no longer has time for Duets. Richie goes unmentioned in ABC's publicity release announcing Legend's participation.

***HBO has given almost instant second season pickups to its two newest comedies, Girls and Veep.

Both show are in the early stages of their 10-episode first seasons. The Season 2 orders also are for 10 episodes each.

***Ryan Seacrest's increasingly far-flung media empire includes a new deal with NBC that will make him a "special correspondent" for Today among other things. He'll also be contributing to the Peacock's Summer Olympics coverage this summer and remain as host of Fox's American Idol while also continuing as managing editor of E! News.

Pause, one-two. Seacrest likewise will remain as host of ABC's New Year's Rockin' Eve and continue to preside over his daily syndicated radio show while his company, Ryan Seacrest Productions, produces reality fare such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Shahs of Sunset and Khloe and Lamar.

But wait. Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom, the crybaby Dallas Mavericks washout, have announced that they're ending Khloe and Lamar so that he can concentrate on basketball next season. So what will Seacrest do with all that free time while Lamar continues to make Mavericks owner Mark Cuban rue the day he ever signed him as the team's post-season hopes dwindle after back-to-back heartbreaker road losses in Oklahoma City?

Oh, and speaking of Cuban, he'll be re-branding his HDNet as AXS TV sometime this summer in partnership with -- Seacrest. The new network will specialize in live entertainment programming, but current HDNet fare such as Dan Rather Reports and mixed martial arts bouts will remain in place under current plans.

Cuban will still run the network under the deal with Ryan Seacrest Media and other partners. Seacrest reportedly does not plan to be an on-air presence on the reinvented, relaunched HDNet. But that of course could change because he's, well, Ryan Seacrest.