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HBO's remake of Fahrenheit 451 generates little heat

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Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon smolder in Fahrenheit 451. HBO image

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The books go up in flames a bit faster than the movie itself in HBO’s adaptation of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury’s famed Fahrenheit 451.

Directed in oft-plodding and recurrently preachy fashion by Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop), the film is touted as being relevant anew in times where “we have willingly given up our knowledge, identity, books, history, dreams, culture -- everything -- to tech companies, big business and politicians.”

That’s Bahrani’s stated view in HBO publicity materials. But it hasn’t gotten that bad yet, has it?

The new version premieres on Saturday, May 19th at 7 p.m. (central), two generations removed from Francois Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451, which starred Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. Bradbury wrote the original book in 1953 as a cautionary tale tied to the repressive, Communist-hunting “McCarthy era.”

Some changes have been made by Bahrani and HBO, particularly the omission of troubled “fireman” Guy Montag’s wife, a key character in the novel. Michael B. Jordan’s Montag lives alone, save for the audio companionship of judgmental YUXIE, the film’s Alexa of the future.

Montag otherwise is devoted to his very tightly wound mentor and commander, Captain John Beatty (Michael Shannon). At his orders, the flame-throwing members of the fire brigade seek out book-hiding resistors and destroy their contraband in full view of an omnipresent live TV show.

“Do you want to know what’s inside all these books? Insanity,” Beatty assures Montag, who’s also told that too many books espousing too many contrary opinions ended up sparking a civil war in which eight million people died. In the end, survivors “demanded a world like this.”

Beatty dismisses Franz Kafka as a “pornographer and a sexual pervert,” but has a secret thirst for guidance and writes the wisdom of famed deep thinkers on cigarette papers while home alone. Montag also has secrets. He’s stolen a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground and increasingly keeps company with “eel” (resistor) Clarisse McClellan (Sofia Boutella), an off-and-on informant who hits her off switch again as the plot congeals, er, thickens.

The film isn’t much of a read, though. Jordan, who’s also an executive producer, is constantly captured in closeup, looking either wide-eyed or vexed. His growing attraction to Clarisse tends to be a snooze, with their not exactly dynamic scenes together seemingly spliced into the film at random moments.

Shannon is accomplished at portraying inner turmoil. His taut, deeply religious FBI agent in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire became adept at self-flagellation in hopes of making himself whole again. But Beatty for the most part comes off as one big prototypical snarl, even while being conflicted.

Fahrenheit 451 briefly shows a taboo Marvin Gaye album, but resists resorting to a few bars of The Doors’ Light My Fire. That’s what’s needed, though, with a film whose BIG FINISH fails to ignite much of anything. The optimum book-burning heat from which the title is drawn ends up being a disappointing film that can’t seem to rise above room temperature.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Led by CBS (and save for ABC), the new fall season is all in with minorities and women as leads

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The new look cast of the Magnum P.I. reboot. CBS photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The face and faces of network prime-time television underwent a major makeover this week with the announcements of next fall’s new series on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW.

Diversity and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the impact of the #MeToo movement, are abundantly evident while white males in large part have slipped to second banana status after having it their own way for decades. Oddly enough, ABC is the only exception this fall, but already has an established track record in casting women and people of color in lead roles. In that context, the network’s fallback to earlier times in some ways can be seen as being diverse in reverse. More on this later.

The most striking sign of these times, CBS’ Magnum P.I. reboot, will star a Latino in the title role with a female Higgins (first name, Juliet) who not only has a pair of Dobermans but is skilled in the martial arts.

Another reboot, The CW’s Charmed, has three Latina sisters as its apprentice witches.

CBS’ previous fall schedule had males in the lead roles of all six new series. Save for the network’s S.W.A.T. re-do, all of them were white.

New entertainment president Kelly Kahl, who had barely begun his new job back then, promised to steer a change in new directions the next time around. He’s done considerably more than that. CBS’ course correction amounts to a full U-turn. The half-dozen newcomers slated for fall 2018 premieres star either people of color, or in the Murphy Brown reboot’s case, the same woman who made the role famous along with a trio of Candice Bergen’s original cast mates.

For its God Friended Me drama series, which bears a more than passing resemblance to the long-running Touched By An Angel, CBS chose young African-American actor Brandon Micheal Hall after his sitcom The Mayor got a quick ax from ABC last fall. The network’s two other fall comedies, The Neighborhood and Happy Together, respectively star Cedric the Entertainer and Damon Wayans Jr. Both are built around African-American households enduring a sudden incursion of white folks.

The other first-year CBS drama, FBI, gives top billing to Missy Peregrym and Egyptian actor Zeeko Zaki, with veteran Jeremy Sisto also featured.

Fox has just two new fall series, plus a life raft for Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, which spent a year in exile after being canceled by ABC at the close of the 2016-17 season.

The Rel stars African-American comedian Lil Rel Howery as himself. The Cool Kids, with veteran African-American actor David Alan Grier given top billing in Fox publicity materials, is set in a retirement home and also stars Vicki Lawrence, Martin Mull and Leslie Jordan.

NBC’s fall lineup likewise has only a small sprinkling of three new fall series. The network’s lone freshman sitcom, I Feel Bad, is written by Aseem Batra and built around a vexed mom played by Sarayu Blue. A first-year drama series, Manifest, is topped by Melissa Roxburgh, who starred this season in The CW’s since canceled Valor. The other new drama, a medical series titled New Amsterdam, goes against the grain by casting a white male, Ryan Eggold, in the lead. He’s rebounding from the short-lived spinoff series The Blacklist: Redemption.

Besides its new look version of Charmed, The CW is offering All American, a high school football drama with African-American leads Taye Diggs and Daniel Ezra. There’s also a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. It’s called Legacies, with Danielle Rose Russell from The Originals listed as the lead member of the cast.

That leaves ABC, a practitioner of diversity when diversity wasn’t necessarily cool with shows such as black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. The network also has showcased take-charge moms in comedies such as American Housewife, Speechless and the Roseanne reboot.

For fall 2018, the network has three additions with white males as their clear centerpieces. Nathan Fillion, who previously had success with ABC’s Castle, returns to the network as a middle-aged newcomer to the LAPD in The Rookie. Alec Baldwin gets his own interview hour, The Alec Baldwin Show, after a one-episode sneak preview in March. And a new comedy series, The Kids Are Alright, is set in the 1970s, with an Irish Catholic brood of eight sons and no daughters vying for laughs along with their vastly outnumbered parents.

Another new sitcom, Single Parents, focuses on a 30-something dude named Will (former Saturday Night Live regular Taran Killam), who’s “lost sight of who he is as a man,” according to ABC’s description of the show. The ensemble freshman fall drama A Million Little Things bills white actors Ron Livingston and David Giuntoli as the leads.

For those keeping score, this makes ABC the CBS of a year ago while CBS rather suddenly will have more shows with African-Americans in the leads this fall than any of its rivals. Plus a Latino Thomas Magnum.

White males, who pretty much had everything going their way for decades, are hardly in a position to cry foul. Not yet anyway. Save for ABC as an outlier, the coming fall can be seen as an act of contrition for the days when white males kept getting another turn at bat whether their previous series failed or succeeded. Now many of them are sliding off the playing field while people of color and women have become priority first-teamers.

This is so much the case that NBC’s midseason nod to the past glories of Cheers will be called Abby’s and star Natalie Morales as both the owner and dispenser of unbreakable rules. Neil Flynn, who’s winding up nine seasons as the co-star of ABC’s The Middle, will be playing a supporting role as a barroom fixture named Fred. Had The Middle ended just a year or two earlier, he might well have been running the place. In the new climate, it’s getting to be a little too late for that.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The CW goes super and supernatural in new Sunday addition to 2018-19 lineup

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Everybody’s gotta have a reboot. So come again, Charmed. CW photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The little network that could is adding Sunday nights next season while announcing the final seasons of three veterans.

Supergirl and a new version of Charmed are The CW’s first Sunday duo while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin and iZombie will all be saying farewell. The latter two series won’t show up until midseason, as will another returnee, The 100.

CW is adding three new series to its fall lineup while also canceling a trio -- Valor, The Originals and Life Sentence. The network’s expansion to Sundays leaves only Saturdays vacant.

Here are CW’s three fall newcomers:

Charmed (drama) -- The original aired from 1998 to 2006 on the now defunct WB network, with Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs playing bewitched sisters Prudence, Phoebe and Piper Halliwell. In the reboot, the siblings are named Mel, Maggie and Macy Vera. Mel (Melonie Diaz) is a “firebrand social justice warrior,” according to CW publicity materials, while Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) is merely “fun-loving.” Macy (Madeleine Mantock), a “brilliant geneticist,” shows up later as the surprise older sister. Rupert Evans is dropped in as Harry Greenwood, “officious” chairman of Hilltowne University’s women’s studies department but more importantly the apprentice witches’ “Whitelighter” (advisor/guide).

All American (drama) -- Based on the real-life experiences of pro football player Spencer Paysinger, this series dramatizes his transition from a tough Compton neighborhood to Beverly Hills. Spencer James (Daniel Ezra) has been recruited by high school football coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs), who envisions him as the team’s new star. In order to protect his “transfer permit” to Bev Hills, Spencer is required to move in with the Bakers. This doesn’t please the coach’s son, Jordan (Michael Evans Behling), the team’s star QB and spotlight-grabber.

Legacies (drama) -- This offshoot of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals continues with the stories of “the next generation of supernatural beings at The Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted.” Matt Davis and Danielle Rose Russell are carryovers. He played Alaric Saltzman on Vampire Diaries and she was Hope Mikaelson on The Originals.

Here is CW’s new fall lineup:

Monday
Legends of Tomorrow
Arrow

Tuesday
The Flash
Black Lightning

Wednesday
Riverdale
All American

Thursday
Supernatural
Legacies

Friday
Dynasty
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Sunday
Supergirl
Charmed

CW also has announced these new midseason series:

Roswell, New Mexico (drama) -- The WB and then UPN got a total of three seasons out of Roswell, whose cast included then unknowns Katherine Heigl and Colin Hanks. Now here we go again with another take on “ground zero for those who seek proof that aliens exist.” The focal point is Roswell native Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason), who blew town a decade ago after death of her older sister. She returns to tend to her ailing father while also rekindling her onetime crush on Max Evans (Jason Behr in the original, Nathan Parsons in the reboot). Max is now a cop, but he also turns out to be something else.

In the Dark (drama) -- A woman named Murphy (Perry Mattfield) is a “hard-living, hard-drinking, disaffected twentysomething with a penchant for cigarettes and casual sex.” She’s also blind and resentful of both her caring parents and the guide dog they’ve provided her. His name is Pretzel and he’s played by Levi. Then a seeming murder happens, or did it? Murphy liked the guy, who otherwise was dealing drugs. So she and Pretzel investigate.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS accents a Monday rebuilding project in new fall lineup marked by Magnum P.I., Murphy Brown reboots and heavy-duty diversity

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Jay Hernandez stars as the new Thomas Magnum. CBS photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
A completely rebuilt Monday, including a Magnum P.I. reboot, highlights CBS’ new fall schedule while another second coming, Murphy Brown, will be joining the network’s Thursday prime-time lineup.

During an early morning teleconference with TV writers, CBS entertainment president Kelly Kahl said the new lineup boils down to “stability where we are strong and change where we need it.” And Monday needed a major overhaul, he said, after CBS finished an unaccustomed third on that night behind NBC and ABC. “We don’t like to be there,” he said.

CBS also is adding an additional four new series, equally divided between comedy and drama. It’s an unusually high number for a network that stresses stability above all, but the loss of Thursday Night Football to Fox left that entire night open this fall.

Kahl also noted that CBS caught NBC in the final weeks of this season to rank No. 1 in total viewers for the 10th straight season despite the Peacock airing both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics. CBS has 14 series averaging 10 million-plus viewers, more than the combined number for ABC, Fox and NBC, he said.

But CBS also axed more series than usual. including all five shows that began last fall on Monday nights. Newcomers Me, Myself & I and 9JKL went down along with Kevin Can Wait, Scorpion and Superior Donuts. Also canceled are Wisdom of the Crowd and Living Biblically.

The network is returning a quartet of last season’s freshman class -- Young Sheldon, Seal Team, S.W.A.T. and Instinct. The latter drama will be back in midseason, CBS said, along with Man With A Plan, Life In Pieces, Elementary, The Amazing Race and Celebrity Big Brother. Another returnee, Code Black, re-started in late April of this season and is scheduled to run through the summer.

Unlike last fall, all of CBS’ newcomers have persons of color in the leads. The new Thomas Magnum, for instance, will be played by Jay Hernandez, who will be without a full mustache, but with a short-trimmed goatee. Kahl said, not jokingly, that “it was a very vigorous” debate over whether Thomas Magnum 2.0 should replicate Tom Selleck’s trademark mustache. CBS also is removing the comma from the title because research shows that “commas are not your friends,” Kahl said.

In another change that’s in keeping with these times, Magnum’s crime solving maestro, Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, will now be Juliet Higgins, played by Perdita Weeks. Unlike the original Higgins, played by the late John Hillerman, she’ll also be skilled in the martial arts, Kahl noted, allowing her to join Magnum in some of the weekly action scenes.

Murphy Brown in contrast follows the reboot paths taken by ABC’s Roseanne and NBC’s Will & Grace. The surviving cast members, led by Candice Bergen in the title role, are reuniting “during this tumultuous time of fake news” and great divides, Kahl said. Also back for more are charter cast members Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto and Grant Shaud, with former Cagney & Lacey star Tyne Daly a prominent addition.

CBS passed on a Cagney & Lacey reboot after seeing the pilot, perhaps because it already has five re-do’s in Magnum, Murphy and the returning MacGyver, Hawaii Five-0 and S.W.A.T.

Here are the four other additions to CBS’ fall lineup:

Happy Together (comedy) -- Damon Wayans Jr. and Amber Stevens play a happily married couple whose lives get all shook up when pop star Cooper James (Felix Mallard) unexpectedly moves in with them. The executive producers include real-life pop star Harry Styles, on whose experiences this is partially based.

The Neighborhood (comedy) -- Cedric the Entertainer stars as L.A. denizen Calvin Butler, who’s not thrilled when “the friendliest guy in the Midwest” (specifically a small town in Michigan) and his family move in next door to him. Max Greenfield (New Girl) co-stars as the incoming Dave Johnson.

God Friended Me (drama) -- Brandon Micheal Hall, whose ABC comedy The Mayor was quickly canceled this season, moves on to play “outspoken atheist” Miles Finer, who’s surprised to receive a friend request from God on his Facebook page. (Hmm, sounds like more Russian chicanery.) Anyway, he reluctantly becomes an “agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him.” Kahl acknowledged resemblances to the long-running CBS hit Touched By An Angel, but says this is going to be more irreverent.

FBI (drama) -- Producer Dick Wolf, who already has four series on NBC (including an entire Wednesday night of Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.), infiltrates CBS with tales of New York-based federal gumshoes who “tenaciously investigate cases of tremendous magnitude.” Lead agents Omar Adom and Maggie Bell are played by Zeeko Zaki and Missy Peregrym.

Here is CBS’ night-by-night new fall lineup:

Monday
The Neighborhood
Happy Together
Magnum P.I.
Bull

Tuesday
NCIS
FBI
NCIS: New Orleans

Wednesday
Survivor
Seal Team
Criminal Minds

Thursday
The Big Bang Theory
Young Sheldon
Mom
Murphy Brown
S.W.A.T.

Friday
MacGyver
Hawaii Five-0
Blue Bloods

Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours

Sunday
60 Minutes
God Friended Me
NCIS: Los Angeles
Madam Secretary

CBS also has announced three new midseason series:

The Code (drama) -- CBS describes this as the “military’s brightest minds” converging to “take on our country’s toughest legal challenges, inside the courtroom and out.” All involved are trained as prosecutors, defense lawyers and investigators. Anna Wood heads the cast as Major Maya Dobbins.

Fam (comedy) -- Yet another show about idyllic domesticity torn asunder when someone unexpectedly pops up and moves in. Tone Bell and Nina Dobrev envision a “perfect life” together after getting married. But then her “out-of-control,” 16-year-old sister enters the picture. Enough said.

The Red Line (drama) -- Noah Wyle gets another prime-time roost as Daniel Calder, prominent member of one of three Chicago families whose “stories of loss and tragedy intersect in the wake of the mistaken shooting of an African-American doctor by a white cop.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC adds/subtracts in abundance for new fall schedule

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It’s a crowded house of 8 sons vs. 2 parents in The Kids Are Alright. ABC photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Depending on one’s definition, ABC will either have four or six new prime-time series entering this fall.

That’s because one of them, Dancing with the Stars: Junior, not only is another extension of the longstanding franchise but was also announced last May. And another, The Alec Baldwin Show, received a sneak preview in March.

Both “newcomers,” or whatever, are slotted on Sunday nights, giving ABC a four-hour quartet of unscripted series airing opposite NBC’s Sunday Night Football. The others are America’s Funniest Home Videos and Shark Tank.

The network’s four bonafide new scripted series are still more than either NBC (three) or Fox (two) will be offering this fall. Judging from their thumbnail descriptions in ABC publicity materials, the network could be going against the grain of the #MeToo movement by listing males as the leads of all of them. This includes a sitcom built around a family with eight sons living under the same roof with their beleaguered parents. Somewhere CBS executives are smiling. Last year at this time, all of that network’s new fall series were fronted by men. This led to CBS taking a lot of heat from some offended TV critics during last summer’s show-and-tell summer “press tour.”

ABC’s cancellations also are plentiful. Hitting the off button are Scandal, The Middle, Designated Survivor, The Crossing, Alex, Inc., Deception, Quantico, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, Ten Days in the Valley, Marvel’s Inhumans and The Mayor. That’s easily the biggest casualty list to date. Not including summer shows, a quintet of first-year series made the cut to sophomore seasons -- The Good Doctor, Splitting Up Together, For the People, Station 19 and Child Support. ABC also is renewing its reboots of Roseanne and American Idol.

Although producer Shonda Rhimes has signed a new exclusive deal with Netflix (who hasn’t?), she still has four holdover dramas on ABC. This again includes the network’s entire Thursday lineup of Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19 and How to Get Away with Murder, plus For the People, which is scheduled to return in midseason.

The Alec Baldwin Show features the Donald Trump impersonator and Match Game host interviewing fellow celebrities of his choice. Dancing with the Stars: Junior, billed as a “fresh take on an established favorite,” will team apprentice kids with professional junior ballroom dancers. Ironically, the Dancing with the Stars mothership has become ABC’s oldest-skewing series, with only a handful of kids likely to ever watch it these days.

Here are ABC’s so far unseen new fall series:

The Rookie (drama) -- Nathan Fillion, who previously co-starred in ABC’s successful Castle whodunit, gets another go as LAPD’s oldest first-year member. He changes careers after a “life-altering incident,” and of course is greeted with skepticism by both young cops and old hands.

The Kids Are Alright (comedy) -- Following Roseanne on Tuesday nights, it’s set in the 1970s and is built around a “traditional” Irish-Catholic family called the Clearys. Parents Mike and Peggy (Michael Cudlitz, Mary McCormack) have raised not one, not two, but eight “boisterous boys.” This makes for an especially crowded field when oldest son Lawrence quits the seminary and returns to live in a home with 10 Clearys, three bedrooms, one bathroom and “everyone in it for themselves.”

Single Parents (comedy) -- A 30-year-old dude named Will (Taran Killam) has become so focused on raising his pre-teen daughter that “he’s lost sight of who he is as a man.” So fellow single parents band together “to get him out into the dating world.” The cast also includes Leighton Meester from Gossip Girl and Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond).

A Million Little Things (drama) -- A group of Boston friends, all feeling “stuck in life,” bond after one of them suddenly dies. Ron Livingston and David Giuntoli are billed as the leads.

Here is ABC’s night-by-night new fall schedule:

Monday
Dancing with the Stars
The Good Doctor

Tuesday
Roseanne
The Kids Are Alright
black-ish
Splitting Up Together
The Rookie

Wednesday
The Goldbergs
American Housewife
Modern Family
Single Parents
A Million Little Things

Thursday
Grey’s Anatomy
Station 19
How to Get Away with Murder

Friday
Fresh Off the Boat
Speechless
Child Support
20/20

Saturday
Saturday Night Football

Sunday
America’s Funniest Home Videos
Dancing with the Stars
Shark Tank
The Alec Baldwin Show

ABC also has announced these midseason series:

The Fix (drama) -- Former failed O. J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark is the executive producer and co-writer of his saga about a Los Angeles district attorney who’s devastated upon losing a double-murder case against an “A-list” actor. She retreats to a quieter life in D.C., but rebounds back to L.A. when the same actor is accused of another murder. Robin Tunney heads the cast as Maya Travis.

Grand Hotel (drama) -- Eva Longoria produces this “fresh take on an upstairs/downstairs story” set at a family-owned hotel in Miami Beach. It’s based on a Spanish language series, with Demian Bichir as hotel owner Santiago Mendoza and Roselyn Sanchez as his second wife, Gigi.

Whiskey Cavalier (drama) -- The “high-octane” adventures of “tough but tender” FBI super-agent Will Chase, whose code name is the show’s title. Scott Foley stars after a long run on Scandal.

Schooled (comedy) -- This spinoff of The Goldbergs is set in the 1990s, with the “hilarious teachers” of William Penn Academy taking center stage. Tim Meadows heads the cast as Principal Glascott. Although they might not all air during the same point in the season, ABC now has comedies set in the ‘70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox goes traditional (whether admitting it or not) with latest prime-time menu

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Who stole my VHS player? Retirement home humor in The Cool Kids. Fox photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Adding Thursday Night Football, Last Man Standing and another laugh track-juiced sitcom set in a retirement home seems like something CBS might do.

But these are just some of the new moves by Fox, which also is returning two-thirds of last season’s prime-time schedule, the highest percentage in 20 years according to its top programming executives. Just two bonafide new series are being launched this fall. Cancelled Fox comedies include Brooklyn Nine-Nine (quickly picked up by NBC), The Last Man On Earth, The Mick and New Girl.

Another pair of last season’s newcomers, Ghosted and L.A. to Vegas, aren’t positively officially axed yet, according to Fox programmers. But don’t bet on either sitcom’s future. Fox also has dropped the drama series Lucifer and The Exorcist while announcing the fifth and final season of Gotham, which will return sometime in 2019.

All of the aforementioned comedies were “single cams” that aired without laugh tracks. Save for Sunday night’s cartoons, all of Fox’s three live-action comedies scheduled for this fall will be old school “multi-cams” filmed before guffawing studio audiences before any sweeteners are added.

“I wouldn’t call it a tonal shift,” Fox co-chairman/CEO Gary Newman told TV writers in an early morning teleconference Monday. He declined to call it anything else, though.

Both Newman and his executive equal, co-chairman/CEO Dana Walden, said that Last Man Standing had been a candidate for the previous season after ABC canceled the Tim Allen comedy series after six seasons. But Fox supposedly couldn’t find the right spot for the series, whose outspokenly conservative star has blamed politics in part for the cancellation.

Last Man Standing is getting a reprieve after “everyone took a good, hard look at the performance of Roseanne,” Walden acknowledged. “It certainly did remind us that we have a huge, iconic comedy star in our Fox family (Last Man Standing is produced by 20th Century Fox Television).”

Touting LMS as a “really funny show,” Walden contended that ABC “didn’t really prioritize” it. “We always wondered how it would do if it were given a better opportunity.”

“I’m not sure if that cancellation had anything to do with politics,” Newman added, citing “vertical integration” and “that network (ABC) wanting to own more of its schedule . . . It doesn’t feel like a soapbox for any political point of view.”

Fox’s official publicity release on the new season makes no mention of the play-by-play team for Thursday Night Football. But when asked how the search was going, Newman somewhat surprisingly revealed that the main Sunday team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in fact also will be fronting Thursday Night Football. A half-hour, New York-based pre-game show, scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. (central), will be hosted by Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Michael Strahan, with Sunday pre-game mainstays Curt Menefee and Jimmy Johnson not part of the mix.

Fox has renewed a quartet of freshman dramas from last season -- 9-1-1, The Resident, The Gifted and The Orville. All except The Gifted are more “traditional” self-contained “procedurals” than serial in nature, although some storylines spill over. Another drama series with weekly conclusions, Lethal Weapon returns for a third season without co-star Clayne Crawford, who was fired by Warner Bros. Television for alleged repeated misbehavior on the set. His replacement is former American Pie movies star Seann William Scott.

The Orville and Cosmos will join Gotham as 2019 entries while a live musical production of Rent is now scheduled for Jan. 27 of next year after first being announced back in May 2017.

Here are Fox’s two new fall series:

The Cool Kids (comedy) -- Well-weathered vets Martin Mull, Vicki Lawrence, David Alan Grier and Leslie Jordan raise hell in a retirement home, with Grier’s character, ringleader Hank, described as “a gruff, opinionated, 21st century Archie Bunker who will go to any lengths to have a good time.” Lawrence’s Margaret is billed as a “brash, confident woman who forces her way into their group and refuses to leave because she’s not going to take crap from anyone,” says Fox. The lead executive producer is Charlie Day, who formerly co-starred on the long-running It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Rel (comedy) -- Lil Rel Howery stars in a series based on his life as a Chicago West Sider who learns that his wife is having an affair -- with his barber. Sinbad plays Rel’s father and Jess “Hilarious” Moore (yes, that’s her name) is Rel’s best friend, Brittany. Heretofore, please call me Uncle “Laugh Riot” Barky. Thank you.

Here is Fox’s night-by-night new fall schedule:

Monday
The Resident
9-1-1

Tuesday
The Gifted
Lethal Weapon

Wednesday
Empire
Star

Thursday
Thursday Night Football Pregame Show
NFL Football

Friday
Last Man Standing
The Cool Kids
Hell’s Kitchen

Saturday
Fox Sports Saturday: Fox College Football

Sunday
NFL on Fox
The OT/reruns
The Simpsons
Bob’s Burgers
Family Guy
Rel

Fox also has announced these midseason series:

The Passage (drama) -- Scientists play with fire in a secret medical facility. They’re experimenting with a “dangerous virus that could lead to the cure for all disease, but also carries the potential to wipe out the human race.” (Hate when that happens.) Saniyya Sidney and Mark-Paul Gosselaar head the cast.

Proven Innocent (drama) -- Criminal defense lawyer Madeline Scott (Rachelle Lefevre from Under the Dome) has a “hunger for justice” and also a yen to free the innocent after she herself was wrongly convicted in a “sensational murder case.” The defense team also includes Vince Kartheiser from Mad Men as investigator Bodie Quick.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC again slims and trims with just three new fall series (and thinly veiled midseason reincarnations of past prime-time hits

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Sarayu Blue stars as a vexed mom in I Feel Bad. NBC photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
NBC, which dominated this season in the ratings battle for advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, is going lean again in 2018-19 with just three new fall series.

That’s the same number as last year, and the Peacock’s trumpeting hasn’t changed too much.

“NBC Launches Into 2017-18 Elevating Its Winning Lineup With New Shows, Impressive Auspices, and Bold Scheduling Moves,” NBC proclaimed the previous year. This time around, the publicity release headline reads: “NBC Carries First Place Momentum Into 2018-19 With Year-Round Programming Strategy Focused on Bold New Shows, Strong Anchors And Top Talent.”

The boldest move this time around is loading up Wednesdays with producer Dick Wolf’s Windy City three-pack: Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.. In fall 2018, the network went with The Blacklist, Law & Order: SVU (also a Wolf series) and Chicago P.D..

Midnight, Texas, which debuted as a summer show in 2017, has been elevated to the 2018 fall lineup, with a Friday night spot between Blindspot and Dateline NBC. Midseason berths are planned for The Blacklist, Good Girls, A.P. Bio, Ellen’s Game of Games and America’s Got Talent: The Champions, which for the first time will air during the regular season with a special short-run edition. Brooklyn Nine-Nine also is due sometime in 2019 after being rescued from cancellation by Fox.

As always, more than a few of the previous regular season’s surefire new and returning hits have morphed into canceled misses. Not including summer shows, those failing to make the cut are The Brave, Great News, Rise, Taken and Law & Order True Crime, which last fall regurgitated the Menendez Brothers. NBC says “decisions are yet to be made” on two other series, Timless and Champions. The latter comedy showed no ratings vital signs from the start, so it’s unclear why the Peacock supposedly is still on the fence.

Here are NBC’s trio of fall newcomers:

Manifest (drama) -- A flight lands safely, but a bit behind schedule. Namely five years behind, with most of the passengers’ friends, families and co-workers having moved on. Hmm, wonder what happened? NBC says a “deeper mystery unfolds and some of the returned passengers soon realize they may be meant for something greater than they ever thought possible.” Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) is the lead executive producer. The ensemble cast is headed by Melissa Roxburgh, whose Valor series from last fall has been canceled by The CW.

New Amsterdam (drama) -- Bellevue hospital’s new medical director, the “brilliant and charming” Dr. Max Goodwin, intends to “tear up the bureaucracy and provide exceptional care.” Well, we can’t have that. Ryan Eggold, rebounding from NBC’s failed The Blacklist: Redemption spinoff series, stars as the willful Dr. Goodwin.

I Feel Bad -- NBC seldom traffics in mom, dad and the kid sitcoms, but here’s one. Sarayu Blue is featured as a put-upon mom named Emet in a series from executive producer Amy Poehler. Paul Adelstein (Prison Break) plays the husband.

Here’s NBC’s night-by-night new fall lineup:

Monday
The Voice
Manifest

Tuesday
The Voice
This Is Us
New Amsterdam

Wednesday
Chicago Med
Chicago Fire
Chicago P.D.

Thursday
Superstore
The Good Place
Will & Grace
I Feel Bad
Law & Order: SVU

Friday
Blindspot
Midnight, Texas
Dateline NBC

Saturday
Dateline Saturday Night Mystery
Saturday Night Live repeats

Sunday
Football Night in America
Sunday Night Football

NBC also has announced these new midseason series:

The Enemy Within (drama) -- Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) returns to prime-time as former ace CIA operative Erica Shepherd), who’s turned into an incarcerated traitor. But “against every fiber of his being” (yes, NBC publicity materials actually say this), FBI agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) turns to Shepherd in hopes of capturing a “fiercely dangerous and elusive criminal” with whom she’s been previously acquainted.

The InBetween (drama) -- Cassie Bishop (Harriet Dyer) is able to see and talk to the dead while helping them solve unresolved problems. Her longtime detective friend wants her to deploy these powers to solve a “darkly puzzling murder” in this mashup of Medium and Ghost Whisperer.

The Village (drama) -- A Brooklyn apartment building looks nondescript from the outside, but its denizens have “built a bonded family of friends and neighbors” who are founts of “hopeful, heartwarming and challenging stories.” The ensemble cast includes Dominic Chianese, the onetime easily riled “Junior” Soprano.

Abby’s (comedy) -- The “best bar in San Diego” has a collection of oddball regulars and a ban on cell phones. Natalie Morales plays the title character. Squint and you’ll see Cheers.

The Titan Games (alternative) -- Dwayne Johnson has his fingers in everything, it seems. This time he’s the lead executive producer of a physical competition series in which six “everyday” people compete against one of six reigning Titans in “incredible, head-to-head battles designed to test the mind, body and heart.” In other words, the return of Gladiators. Where are the new ideas, people?

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

A tale of a childhood lost and an adulthood on the brink in Showtime's Patrick Melrose

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Woe and behold. Benedict Cumberbatch stars in Patrick Melrose. Showtime photo

Premiering: Saturday, May 12th at 8 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Maltz, Blythe Danner, Pip Torrens, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Holliday Grainger
Produced by: Rachael Horovitz, Michael Jackson, Adam Ackland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Helen Flint

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Reeling, raging, slurring and hallucinating, the title character in Showtime’s Patrick Melrose begins by riding high while sinking ever lower from non-stop addictions to booze, pills and injections.

Benedict Cumberbatch is in the driver’s seat, but don’t ever put him behind a wheel. Cumberbatch says, via Showtime publicity materials, that he’s “only ever had two roles on my acting bucket list.” One of them is not Sherlock Holmes, for which he’s become most famous. Instead, Cumberbatch has yearned to play Hamlet (done that) and Patrick Melrose, the very-flawed-for-good-reason product of a demonic father and drunken, passive mother. The character is based on a series of five autobiographical novels by Edward St Aubyn. Showtime’s adaptation of Patrick Melrose is a five-episode limited series with subtitles taken from the books. The first three have been made available for review.

Episode 1, set in 1982, quickly gets down to business. Patrick (Cumberbatch) has just shot up with heroin when he gets a phone call from New York advising him that his father has died. His thin smile stretches into quiet laughter before the then Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” kicks in to make a further first impression -- even if it turns out to be vastly understated.

Melrose’s trip to and through Manhattan, to retrieve his father’s ashes, is a money-fueled rampage brought to you in full force by Cumberbatch’s complete investment in the role. He scores, he shoots, he pops, he drinks, with money no object and a series of desperate needs behind it. Steeling and fortifying himself to finally face his father’s open casket -- which is housed alone in a posh “funeral chapel” -- Patrick at last gets the chance to say, “Were you scared? Christ, I hope so.”

This crazily careening episode also includes a guest appearance by a post-Girls and now very grownup looking Allison Williams. Her character, Marianne Banks, is one of Patrick’s former flames. She wants to be receptive to him in this time of “grief,” but his behavior quickly disgusts her. “Don’t let me be alone!” he begs in another of his stupors. She rather nastily tells him he won’t be, because he now has daddy’s wood-encased ashes -- carried around in a plastic bag with a smiley face. But Patrick would draw more comfort from a sack of dung.

Episode 2 mostly occurs in 1967, with Sebastian Maltz fully conveying the anxiety and terror experienced by pre-teen Patrick at his parents’ posh getaway in Lacoste, France. David Melrose (chillingly played by Hugo Weaving) is a horrid, imperious father who verbally and sexually abuses his only son. Patrick’s mother, Eleanor (Jennifer Jason Leigh), drinks heavily in hopes of easing the pain of looking the other way.

Viewers also will meet the young Bridget Watson-Scott (Holliday Grainger), a Lolita-like hippie who has succumbed to the creature comforts provided by David’s best and very callow friend, Nicholas Pratt (Pip Torrens). Also accepting the Melroses’ hospitality, at least initially, are backbone-brandishing Anne Moore (Indira Varma) and her meek husband, Victor (James Fleet).

David Melrose’s cruelty is palpable throughout this episode, whether he’s in the company of his son, staring down his wife or causing the elderly resident cook/housekeeper to physically quiver while he interrogates her at a distance. The words that have haunted Patrick since those days are administered like a lash at episode’s end.

Episode 3 moves forward to 1990 in London, where a reclusive Patrick is striving to kick his addictions with help from his likewise recovering friend, Johnny Hall (Prasanna Puwanarajah). The focal point is a very upper crust party for Bridget’s royal husband’s birthday, with the attendees including a haughty Princess Margaret (guest star Harriet Walter). Patrick is encouraged to finally get out and about, so he reluctantly attends with Johnny. There are plentiful temptations, but this hour is subtitled “Some Hope.” And by the end, there seems to be.

Blythe Danner also is part of the featured cast, as Eleanor Melrose’s sister, Nancy Valence. But she’s still yet to make an appearance after three episodes.

Patrick Melrose is stamped throughout by Cumberbatch’s alternately furious and touching performance. But it takes a real despot to fuel his fires and shame, and Weaving is thoroughly up to commanding that role. Leigh likewise is a standout as Patrick’s cowed mother, who salves her conscience by traveling the world on behalf of the Save the Children foundation. In the first three episodes, she’s seen only in flashbacks.

The first hour is a whirl of inner pain and outer degradation that some might find off-putting. But the books on which Patrick Melrose is based are also a road to redemption, with all the bumps that one might expect. Showtime in the end has a unique viewing experience, with some wit also in play amid the terrible consequences of being raised in a living hell. We haven’t all been there, thankfully. But most of us can or should relate to someone who has.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Vida gives Starz a new look series with a #MeToo overlay

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Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, Ser Anzoategui play the fractious trio of Vida, a short-order drama series with shorter than usual episodes. Starz photo

Premiering: Saturday, May 6th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Starz
Starring: Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, Ser Anzoategui, Chelsea Rendon, Carlos Miranda, Maria Elena Laas, Ramses Jimenez, Erika Soto, Louis Bordonada
Produced by: Tanya Saracho, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Robin Schwartz, Stephanie Langhoff

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The Starz network’s latest rebranding campaign -- “The Future is Female. Fearless. Fierce” -- both marches in step with the #MeToo movement and rips some pages from the longstanding Lifetime playbook. Except that full nudity and some heavy-duty profanity are still no-no’s on advertiser-supported cable channels. You get what you pay extra for.

Vida, with three disparate women spurring most of the action, is both a sign of these times and a distinct departure with its look at a predominantly Hispanic East L.A. neighborhood that’s being “gentrified” by unscrupulous male developers. A trio of Latinas head the cast, with three other Hispanic women also of considerable import. The three males in the cast, two recurring and only one a regular, are more than beside the point, but well short of being driving forces.

Season One consists of just six episodes of an uncommonly brief half-hour duration each. All of them were made available for review, with a rather ridiculously long list of 22(!) “spoilers” that critics are advised to abide by. Once upon a time, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner was twitted for being obsessed with storyline secrecy. Now he looks like a piker.

The series is triggered by the sudden death of Vidalia, mother of sisters who have little use for each other or the neighborhood they’ve both put behind them. Unbeknownst to them, mama had a wife in her later years. And Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) is . . . well, that’s deemed to be one of the spoilers. Suffice it to say that the apartment building and street level bar owned by Vidalia are now up for grabs.

Older sister Emma (Mishel Prada) has become both imperious and successful as a high-level employee of a Chicago-based company. Flighty kid sister Lyn (Melissa Barrera) also has flown the coop and been living in San Francisco. Exactly what they do for their livings is never really specified, although it becomes evident that Lyn primarily has gotten by on her looks and guile in giving men what they want in return for what she wants.

Lyn is, however, closer to “mommy” than Emma, who harbors a later revealed secret that sent her packing and steeled her in the process. At Vidalia’s wake, Emma quickly grows stir crazy. “Nobody wants to say hi to me anyway,” she tells Lyn, who rejoins, “That’s probably true.” A little humor occasionally cuts through these mostly sober proceedings.

Lyn otherwise purloins credit cards to further advance her fabulous wardrobe while also manipulating her old boyfriend, Johnny (Carlos Miranda), whose fiancee, Karla (Erika Soto), is pregnant by him. In this instance, it’s Lyn who’s the sexual predator, although pliable Johnny doesn’t seem to need much coaxing.

Also in this mix is Johnny’s sister, Marisol (Chelsea Rendon), an acid-tongued activist who’s trying to keep developers from buying up properties and pricing out the neighborhood’s longtime residents. In her view both Emma and Lyn are “white Latina bitches” while Lyn additionally is a “puta.” But Marisol also is prone to be manipulated by resistance leader Tialoc (Ramses Jimenez). Vida’s other scummy male character is developer Nelson (Louis Bordonada), a smooth-talking Hispanic who gets hands-y with Emma before getting his comeuppance via a hot cuppa joe.

Emma also has an old neighborhood “mentor” named Cruz (Maria Elena), who rekindles their onetime close personal relationship. Vida does not lack for graphic sex and nudity, both male and female.

By the end of Season One’s six episodes, Vida has taken some predictable courses in terms of re-rallying around Vidalia’s and later Eddy’s efforts to keep the bar and apartment building from being poached. But the series has some interesting ways of getting there while Anzoategui’s performance as Eddy gradually registers as the strongest.

On the other hand, Lyn can be irksome and extremely off-putting at times before a cathartic experience in Episode 4 starts to turn her head around. “I’m an open vessel of openness,” she tells Emma after becoming further influenced by . . . well, never mind.

Hardened Emma of course also undergoes a transformation while doing a lot of weeping en route. But the three men in this picture are pretty much left as is. “We’re going to get this property one way or another,” developer Nelson snarls as the sisterhood starts to grow stronger.

Despite the hardly surprising plotting, Vida excels as a series with a notably different look and feel. It’s steeped in the culture and traditions of a neighborhood that many viewers will be seeing for the first time. Starz’s uncommonly short order of just six episodes doesn’t indicate much faith in this project, which has only just begun by the end of an eventful Season One finale. So it would be disappointing if Vida doesn’t return -- and with at least twice as many episodes the second time around. That way, maybe even the male characters will get ample time to develop some shadings.

GRADE: B

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Dire Straits left in the lurch during HBO's annual reprise of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony

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Justin Hayward (left) and John Lodge show both their age and talent as charter members of The Moody Blues during a performance at the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. HBO photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The man who isn’t there unfortunately is the one who stands out at HBO’s annual re-packaging of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Mark Knopfler, driving force of Dire Straits, blemished the night by not showing up because, in the words of bandmate and bassist John Illsley, “He just didn’t feel like coming” and couldn’t get his “head around it.” Illsley told this to Billboard in an article posted two days before the April 14th festivities in Cleveland, which HBO reprises in a three-hour special on Saturday, May 5th (7 p.m. central). As usual, it’s impeccably produced, with the cameras giving viewers a front row seat that betters the views of those who actually had front row seats at The Public Auditorium.

Knopfler’s churlish blow-off of the event, for reasons he didn’t share with Illsley, by no means robs the evening of its firepower. But it does leave Illsley and fellow Dire Straits members Guy Fletcher and Alan Clark rather naked and alone onstage. Absent any induction speech, they simply step onstage, make brief acceptance remarks and then exit without any thought of performing without their leader. It would be like The Pips trying to make a go of it without Gladys Knight or Aerosmith absent Steven Tyler at the center.

So as a long-time big fan of Dire Straits, I say boo on you, Mark Knopfler. You’ll regret this some day, unless you’re made of stone.

In sharp contrast, two other inductees who had long been “snubbed,” The Moody Blues and Bon Jovi, show up, perform and leave any hard feelings on the cutting room floor. The Cars also perform in lively fashion while youth is served via powerful musical tributes to two deceased inductees, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone.

The Moody Blues, another personal fave rave, have been particularly decimated. Vocalist/flautist Ray Thomas died in January at age 76 while key members Denny Laine and Mike Pinder left the band lifetimes ago.

But vocalists/guitarists Justin Hayward, 71, and John Lodge, 72, along with drummer and occasional narrator Graeme Edge, 77, show they’re still up to the challenge of powering through the group’s anthem, “Nights in White Satin.” It appears to be the best-received performance of the night, judging from the decibel level at song’s end. The Moodies also rock through “Ride My See-saw” and “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band).”

The night begins with Brandon Flowers of The Killers impressively vocalizing the late Tom Petty’s “American Girl” before enthusiastically setting the table for The Cars as “the first band I ever truly fell in love with. And you never forget your first.”

Lead vocalist Ric Ocasek and his mates then accept with gratitude before performing “Just What I Needed, My Best Friend’s Girl” and “You Might Think.”

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pathfinding electric guitarist who blended gospel with rock ’n’ roll, is feted by Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes after an introductory video includes Little Richard marveling, “That black woman could play guitar. And she was hot -- hot as cayenne pepper.” Howard then performs “That’s All” with her usual full-out intensity.

Singer/activist Nina Simone is saluted by Mary J. Blige, and briefly by Simone’s brother, Dr. Samuel Raymond, before extended, fiery and inventive musical tributes by Andra Day (“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and “I Put a Spell on You”) and Lauryn Hill (“Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” followed by “I Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” and “Feeling Good”).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also is introducing a new category by “inducting” influential singles from bands and performers who otherwise don’t have a Hall pass. Steven Van Zandt does the honors, with the first batch of six including “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker and “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf.

The long-snubbed Bon Jovi gets the honor of going last, with lead singer Jon Bon Jovi remarking in the introductory video that he initially pictured himself as “Clint Eastwood with a guitar.”

Howard Stern gives the induction speech, which not surprisingly is long, sometimes funny and typically self-indulgent at times. Touting Bon Jovi’s 130 million album sales, Stern notes that an average ejaculation in comparison yields 100 million sperm. So yeah, Bon Jovi beats sperm -- among other things.

Stern also leads a sing-along, twits Hall of Fame potentate and Rolling Stone magazine Jann Wenner for finally letting Bon Jovi in and aims a double vulgarity at Bob Dylan.

Jon Bon Jovi himself then spends an even longer time accepting the induction, but there’s no unseemly bitterness on display. He even invites former longtime lead guitarist Richie Sambora to play with the band after he left in 2013. From among many hits, the three song selections at the induction ceremony are “You Give Love a Bad Name, When We Were Us” and “Living on a Prayer.” Jon Bon Jovi seems to be near tears while leaning into the mike with Sambora to vocalize “When We Were Us.”

This is the 33rd Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The charter inductees, a group of 10 in 1986, did not include The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Supremes or Bob Dylan, all of whom got in two years later (after even Ricky Nelson).

In Knopfler’s defense, more or less, it should be noted that both Paul McCartney (citing longstanding “business differences” with surviving Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr) and Diana Ross (for whatever reason) were no-shows at the 1988 ceremony. It prompted an acid-tongued acceptance speech on the part of The Beach Boys’ Mike Love, who ripped both McCartney and Ross while also taking shots at various other rock luminaries. This led Dylan to say later, “I’d like to thank Mike Love for not mentioning me . . . Peace, love and harmony is important indeed, but so is forgiveness.”

But McCartney showed up in 1994, to induct John Lennon individually, and again in 1999, for his own stand-alone induction. At the latter ceremony, he also lobbied for individual inductions of George Harrison (this happened in 2004) and Ringo Starr (McCartney inducted him in 2015).

Knopfler likely won’t get another chance to atone for the gaping hole he left at the 2018 inductions. Being a standup guy apparently isn’t his cup of tea. The band’s best-selling album, 1985’s “Brothers in Arms,” has a hollow ring to it these days.

GRADES: F for Mark Knopfler, B+ for the show at large

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net