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Fox's I Hate My Teenage Daughter arrives last and least

The two onerous teenage daughters are on the left. Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Nov. 30th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring Jaime Pressly, Katie Finneran, Kristi Lauren, Aisha Dee, Chad L. Coleman, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Kevin Rahm
Produced by: Sherry Bilsing-Graham, Ellen Plummer Kreamer

If only I Hate My Teenage Daughter would get rid of its two teenage daughters.

The bedeviled moms can be bawdy fun on occasion in this broad Fox sitcom. But their unctuous, obnoxious 14-year-olds basically ruin every scene they're in.

I guess that's why the two divorced women who brought them into this world are oftentimes "hating" on them. But the kids' mere presence is too high a price to pay for the premise of this last new broadcast network series of the fall season. Better to call the whole thing off than put a pair of enabling parents at the mercy of two off-putting little connivers. Aren't all those Kardashians way more than enough?

Perhaps setting a modern-day sitcom record, the word "bitch" comes into play less than 10 seconds from the start of the show, which will be following Wednesday's 90-minute edition of The X Factor. It's a mother's reference to her daughter. Nice.

Jamie Presley of My Name is Earl fame and Katie Finneran play the helpless moms, Annie and Nikki. Both were high school outcasts who want better for their daughters. But Sophie and MacKenzie (Kristi Lauren, Aisha Dee) are the types of kids upon whom you'd wish the heartbreak of psoriasis. Or at the very least, big ol' giant permanent zits on the tips of their self-important noses.

Also part of this mix are Annie's ex-, a vagabond rock band leader named Matt (Eric Sheffer Stevens); and Nikki's former hubby, Gary (Chad L. Coleman), who plays golf for a living. Matt has a sharp-dressed, clean-cut brother named Jack (Kevin Rahm), on whom Annie has a crush.

The first episode mostly revolves around the girls' first high school dance -- and their mothers' intention to attend as well. But Sophie and MacKenzie get grounded (couldn't they just be kept out of sight in an attic?) after it's learned that they locked a wheelchair-bound boy in the girls' bathroom and left him there for hours.

They proceed to make up a reason for their action -- namely that the kid hates blacks. Let's just say that the real truth of the matter makes Sophie and MacKenzie almost seem like members of the Ku Klux Klan. But oh well.

Presley and Finneran otherwise are pretty good together, even if their characters are drawn up as caricatures. Finneran's Nikki was a 300-pounder in high school and remains a compulsive eater who wolfs down pie with her bare hands. Presley's Annie was raised by bible belters who outfitted her in dowdy homemade clothes and didn't let her watch TV. So she's still clueless about the Olsen twins -- and Little House on the Prairie, too.

Nikki laments that her own first high school dance was "the worst night of my life."

"Oh please," Annie shoots back. "That's what you said two nights ago when your Jeggings split open at the PTA meetin'." Pause, one-two. "And by the way, you should wear underwear to a PTA meetin'."

The series is nominally set in Austin, TX, which is mentioned in passing during next week's second episode. Otherwise you'd never know -- and Austin would probably just as soon you didn't.

The teenagers of course do get to go to the high school dance after both moms cave in. Then they learn the truth about the wheelchair incident, prompting Annie to again state the obvious: "We have awful, terrible daughters."

That they do, but there could still be a workable series here. Finneran definitely has some comic flair and Pressly already has proven herself in Earl. So why not just dump the two teens, who perhaps could be eaten by wolves. Then re-title the series I Hate My Life and let the two grownups hit the road in a wheezy Winnebago. You never know until you try.

GRADE: C-minus as is

Go ahead, laugh: TV Land's The Exes entertainingly colors within the network's established lines

The cast of The Exes is centered by Kristen Johnston. TV Land photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Nov. 30th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on TV Land
Starring: Kristen Johnston, Donald Faison, Wayne Knight, David Alan Basche, Kelly Stables
Produced by: Mark Reisman, Michael Hanel, Mindy Schultheis

Energy, people. Energy.

The proven cast members of another typically broad TV Land sitcom, this one called The Exes, cannot be faulted for under-delivering their lines. Nor are they grossly overplayed during the course of a half-hour romp with more appeal than anticipated.

Paired with Wednesday's Season 3 return of Hot In Cleveland, this is TV Land's fourth original comedy series. Original in that it's not a rerun. But derivative in its network's dedication to the multi-camera, "live before a studio audience," laugh track-sweetened tenets of that old-school comedy religion.

Most viewers will recognize at least three of the stars. Towering Kristen Johnston is back in play after her Emmy-winning stint on 3rd Rock From the Sun. Wayne Knight carved out a name for himself as the obnoxious "Newman" on Seinfeld. And Donald Faison is making a rather startling turn to this format after co-starring on the smart, sight gag-driven Scrubs, which was not filmed before a studio audience, had no laugh track, etc.

Johnston's character, attorney/counselor Holly Brooks, is first seen with the newly divorced Stuart Gardner (David Alan Basche from The Starter Wife). He pines for his ex- and is prissy and mannered in a manner that would make him a great roommate for Felix Unger.

But Holly, who very conveniently lives across the hall and is also divorced, has plotted to make Stuart mesh with two disparate, apartment-dwelling bachelors. Phil Chase (Faison) is an on-the-prowl sports agent and Haskell Watts (Knight) mostly sits around buying and selling on the Internet. Neither is much for communicating. Or as Phil puts it, "Just think of me as a guy at the urinal" who just wants to do his business and move on.

Their initial resistance is futile, of course. In that vein, The Exes is similar to Fox's New Girl, in which Zooey Deschanel plays the "adorkable" new roomie in an apartment otherwise stocked with three set-in-their-ways guys.

The Exes has nowhere near the hip quotient of New Girl. Its hip replacement is a cast that's been around the block and knows how to act accordingly. Not that you can do all that much with some of this stuff. As when Holly and her teeny, tarty assistant Eden (Kelly Stables) begin next week's Episode 2 by walking into the guys' apartment with a large, heavy box.

"Don't get up," Holly sarcastically tells the over-stuffed Haskell.

"Don't worry, I wasn't," he rejoins. "I was just shifting cheeks."

Cringe. But the writing can be pretty sharp, too. As when the couch-bound Haskell notes that he comes from a long line of "sedentary people . . . I was nine before I saw my grandfather stand."

Or when Holly says she's "flattered in a Gulliver's Travels kind of way" by a diminutive jockey's interest in her. Phil, who's trying to land the jockey as a client, encourages her to keep him happy. A predictable denouement ensues, but it's kinda fun getting there.

Wednesday's premiere also has its moments during the course of setting the show's premise. There's an amusing matchup with Stuart and a recently divorced woman who shares his weepy regrets that their first marriages went asunder. And Haskell chips in with a line about "the beauty" of ordering styrofoam peanuts online. Namely, you don't need packing materials.

Faison makes a surprisingly deft transition to this brand of comedy while Johnston shows she still knows the ropes. Basche likewise has a knack for selling his lines and Knight makes the best of another mostly one-note character.

In the end, I guess a TV critic is supposed to feel guilty about pretty much liking The Exes. Whether that's a capital offense or just a misdemeanor is yet to be judged. TV Land will go merrily along anyway. It knows what it likes -- and keeps having the loud last laughs.

GRADE: B-minus

Albom on ABC: Have a Little Faith is the network's fourth adaptation

Laurence Fishburne and Martin Landau separately hold the keys to the kingdom in Mitch Albom's Have a Little Faith. ABC photos

Have a Little Faith is the latest bestselling Mitch Albom preachment to become an ABC movie.

Try a little tenderness is the approach taken in this review. After all, it's the start of the holiday season. And this adaptation in the end does no harm, even though Albom's self-aggrandizing sermons are getting increasingly hard to swallow. ABC has scheduled Little Faith on Sunday, Nov. 27th at 8 p.m. (central), when most potential viewers might be ready for a little chicken slop for the soul after eating their way through Thanksgiving leftovers and shopping 'til they drop.

The Detroit sports writer turned saviour of humankind had a blockbuster in Tuesdays with Morrie before following it up with The Five People You Meet In Heaven and For One More Day.

Albom's latest, his first non-fiction book in 12 years, essentially is Morrie revisited. Instead of reconnecting with his spry, wizened old college professor, he reconnects with his spry, wizened old hometown rabbi. Life's lessons are imparted before death intervenes at books' and movies' ends. This isn't spoiling anything, since Rabbi Martin L. Lewis (Martin Landau) has asked an initially resistant Albom (Bradley Whitfield) to deliver his eulogy.

The movie, as was the book, is intertwined with the story of Henry Covington (played as an adult by Laurence Fishburne). He had been a thief, bag man and drug user before seeing the light and eventually finding his way to Detroit as the pastor of a badly dilapidated church in desperate need of a new roof.

Fishburne, in his first prominent TV role since leaving CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, looks fairly ridiculous in the big Afro wig he wears during those Bad, Bad Leroy Brown years. And Whitford, his hair dyed anchorman burnt orange, seems mostly out to lunch as Albom. There is absolutely no oomph to his performance, whether he's learning at the feet of Lewis, coming to the aid of Covington or dully narrating passages such as, "I was seeing those rarest of things -- a changed man."

That leaves Landau to spark the movie, which he does to a point as a singing rabbi in his 80s with a heart of gold and a gift of gab. But his exchanges with Whitford never quite resonate the way Hank Azaria's did with Jack Lemmon in ABC's Emmy-winning 1999 adaptation of Tuesdays with Morrie.

In fact, the most emotional scene in Little Faith is courtesy of Anthony "Cass" Castelow, who had no acting experience prior to playing himself in this film. In the closing half-hour, Cass invites Albom into his car on a stone cold winter's day. He then tells of how pastor Covington saved him from a similar life of crime and drug abuse. It's a beautifully played scene, on Castelow's part at least.

There's also a twist near the end of Little Faith that serves to link the seemingly disparate narratives of pastor Covington and rabbi Lewis. And to the film's overall credit, it's filmed entirely on location in Detroit, which needs all the economic boosts it can get.

Little Faith also has generic dutiful wife roles for Melinda McGraw and Anika Noni Rose, who respectively play Janine Albom and Annette Covington.

McGraw's Janine, always ready with hugs and reassurances for her noble yet sometimes doubting husband, is stuck with mouthing the movie's title. "Have a little faith in yourself," she tells him after the wanderer returns home from another visit with Rabbi Lewis.

All in all, Little Faith can be preachier than a Republican presidential candidate debate, albeit without any comic relief. Still, its message can't be faulted. And some its scenes work reasonably well, even if more are found wanting.

ABC, CBS and NBC used to turn out made-for-TV movies and miniseries like auto parts on a Detroit assembly line. Now they're an extreme rarity while at the same time being mostly nothing special. Have a Little Faith is better than nondescript and at least is doing God's work in name if not always in execution. The Big Guy in the clouds might want TV critics to be a bit more charitable toward it as Thanksgiving passes the baton to Christmas. So consider it done via a grade of:


ABC's You Deserve It another big prize tear-wringer

Dallas native Chris Harrison seems to be everywhere. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, Nov. 21st at 8:01 p.m. (central) on ABC
Hosted by: Chris Harrison, with Brooke Burns in the field
Produced by: Dick de Rijk, Chris Coelen, Matilda Zoltowski, Jeff Krask

Before getting to our main topic, let me ask this: Do you think it'd be cool to be named Dick de Rijk?

It rolls effortlessly off the tongue in a way that "Uncle Barky" never will. Perhaps Dick de Rijk should have been the guy to host American Bandstand. Or star in Boogie Nights. Or open a national chain of skating rinks.

Instead he's the main creative mind behind Deal Or No Deal and now a new prime-time jump-up-and-downer called You Deserve It. Which means that Dick de Rijk is really rich and perfectly able to withstand any jokes about his name. And hey, it beats the reverse -- Rijk de Dick.

An off-camera announcer boldly proclaims that "Tonight, a riveting new breed of game show is born." Not only that, but behold the "heroes" who are selflessly "secretly playing for a person in need." Monday's first of six scheduled episodes premieres in a nice velvety slot between the final fall performance edition of ABC's Dancing with the Stars and a new episode of Castle.

The show's frontman is the much less adventuresomely named Chris Harrison, who just can't seem to get a job these days. All the 40-year-old Dallas native has going for him at present is The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor Pad and his second consecutive year as host of the Miss America Pageant, which airs Jan. 14th on ABC.

You Deserve It is a meld of Queen For A Day, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Secret Millionaire and other reward-driven tearjerkers. Harrison prefers to call it "the show that believes it's better to give than to receive."

The first hour introduces viewers to best friends Stacey Finnerty and Michelle Brislen. The latter's husband died four months ago in a drowning accident, leaving her with two young daughters and lots of bills to pay.

Stacey wants to help while Michelle is kept in the dark -- literally. While she plays for fairly large cash sums, Michelle supposedly is none the wiser while in a movie theater with her daughters. Brooke Burns, another Dallasite by birth, is lurking out in the lobby with some of Michelle's friends, keeping in touch with Harrison via the miracle of split screen technology and selective editing. She just can't wait to burst in and surprise Michelle with whatever money is suddenly coming her way.

The game is fairly pedestrian and not coincidentally has elements of the luck required in Deal or No Deal. There are no statuesque models with pop-open suitcases, though. Instead it's a five-part progression through raw numbers and clues, with the weepy, excitable and at times somewhat dense Stacey laboring to win the biggest payday possible while members of her family sit nearby for no particular reason.

Potential jackpots progress from $10,000 to $250,000. The first one begins with a "Who?" puzzler. Harrison offers the first clue free of charge, with additional unseen clues randomly matched with amounts of money to be subtracted from the grand total.

"This game is part skill, part luck," Harrison keeps saying while Stacey burns her way through both clues and dough. My guess is that most viewers will deduce the opening answer well before she does. But then again, we don't have to play in front of a studio audience while in constant close proximity to Harrison's high-beam smile and words of encouragement.

Harrison may be the reigning "Most Sympathetic/Synthetic Man in the World," whether presiding over those faux gut-wrenching rose ceremonies or reminding viewers that they've just shared what "has truly been an amazing evening" on Monday's premiere of You Deserve It.

It's hoped that Michelle truly and fully deserves the money coming her way at show's end. And that Stacey won't someday demand a cut of it. 'Cause that wouldn't be too heroic.

Harrison and Dick de Rijk of course will be handsomely rewarded, too. And frankly, the ebullient Harrison may deserve every penny for convincingly exclaiming "Yeah ha ha ha!" after Stacey at one point luckily picks one of the lesser money deductions to keep the climactic $250,000 jackpot from shrinking too much.

He's also very good at bestowing comforting hugs on weepy contestants during a show that nevertheless doesn't really cut it in the realm of all-time great quiz show concepts. That never stopped Deal Or No Deal, though. And now, once again -- game's on.


ABC's revised midseason lineup includes spot for Dallas-set GCB

Leslie Bibb, in foreground, fronts the GCB cast. ABC photo

ABC has announced a batch of its midseason premiere dates, including the unveiling of Dallas-set GCB on Sunday, March 4th in place of Pan Am.

Adapted from the Kim Gatlin book Good Christian Bitches and initially re-titled Good Christian Belles, the soapy, sin-slaked serial stars Leslie Bibb as a scandalized single mom and former Dallasite who returns home 20 years after her high school graduation.

She immediately encounters a batch of scheming church-goers, headed by Kristin Chenoweth, who still resent her previous evil ways. Annie Potts also stars as the returnee's conniving, creature-comforted mom.

The pilot for GCB was filmed in Dallas, but subsequent episodes are being made in L.A.

For other new series also have arrival dates.

***The sitcom Work It, stars Amaury Nolasco and Ben Koldyke as two out-of-work guys who resort to dressing as women to beat the ongoing "mancession." It premieres on Tuesday, Jan. 3rd following Tim Allen's incumbent Last Man Standing and in place of the failed Man Up.

***Also coming on Jan. 3rd is -- no kidding -- Celebrity Wife Swap. Announced participants so far include Gary Busey, Flavor Flav, Dee Snider and soiled televangelist Ted Haggard. It temporarily will replace the weekly Dancing with the Stars results show during a planned six-episode run.

***The River, launching on Tuesday, Feb. 7th (in place of Celebrity Wife Swap) stars Bruce Greenwood as a famed explorer who's mysteriously gone missing in the Amazon. His wife and son try to find him, encountering various perils enroute. Steven Spielberg is the lead executive producer.

***Missing also focuses on a frantic search, with Ashley Judd starring as a mom looking desperately for her young son after he disappears while studying abroad. This one premieres on Thursday, March 15th in place of the canceled Charlie's Angels.

ABC also has announced that the next edition of Dancing with the Stars will begin on Monday, March 19th. A new season of Shark Tank, with Dallas Mavericks and HDNet owner Mark Cuban now a permanent part of the panel, starts on Friday, Feb. 3rd. And Winter Wipeout will start whipping you on Thursday, Jan. 5th, holding a place for Missing in the 7 p.m. central hour.

Still awaiting official word on their midseason berths are Cougar Town and previously announced newcomers Scandal and Don't Trust the B -- in Apartment 23.

Allen plays along in two-part American Masters documentary on his films and times

Lionized in NYC and vilified elsewhere (but certainly not everywhere), Woody Allen remains an acquired taste.

He fully realizes this, and wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'm willing to fail without any problem whatsoever," he says in Monday's Part 2 of Woody Allen: A Documentary. "I don't really care about commercial success. And the end result is I rarely achieve it."

PBS isn't about commercial success either. Its three-and-a-half hour treatise on Allen, airing under the American Masters banner, is an investment unlikely to be made by any other network. And it surely will be a flop, in pure ratings terms, opposite the likes of NBC's Sunday Night Football and ABC's Dancing with the Stars.

The two-hour Part 1 begins on Sunday at 8 p.m. (central), with the 90-minute conclusion airing Monday at the same hour. Its director, writer and producer, Robert B. Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm), has the full cooperation of his subject. Which means that the famously publicity-shy Allen actually sits down and talks about himself, even if some central questions remain.

Why has he continually cast himself in his movies? Does he think he's a good actor? How come he's so good at directing women (with Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Mia Sorvino and Penelope Cruz all winning Oscars in Allen movies)? Stuff like that.

Then there's former lover Mia Farrow and her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, who became and remains Allen's wife. Their secret affair, discovered by Farrow in 1992 when she found nude photographs of Soon-Yi in Allen's Manhattan apartment, became one of the biggest show business scandals ever.

Not surprisingly, neither woman is interviewed for this documentary. But the matter is addressed in some detail Monday night, with Allen more or less joking that the "juicy story," which included a very public child custody fight, at least served to make him a more colorful figure.

"It took a little edge off my natural blandness," he says.

Allen continued to make movies during this period. And in four separate interviews, friends and collaborators (including Keaton) all use the word "compartmentalize" in describing how he's able to focus on the task at hand, which at the time was both the film he was directing and the custody fight he was in. Allen also uses the term.

Farrow acted in 13 of Allen's movies during the time they were together. The first was A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy. The last, Husbands and Wives, hadn't yet been finished when the scandal broke. Farrow still returned to complete her scenes with Allen. And he remains a fan -- at least of her on-screen performances in his films.

"She was always easy to work with," the current-day Allen says of Farrow, terming her "an excellent actress with a very big range . . . She never disappointed. She always came through."

The documentary also tracks Allen's early days as a standup comedian who was constantly on television. At one point he even boxed a kangaroo on the British variety series Hippodrome. And he used a high-pitched little girl's voice while appearing as the celebrity mystery guest on a 1965 episode of What's My Line?.

His managers at that time, Charles Joffe and Jack Rollins, very much believed in keeping their client before the public. Or as Allen now puts it, they wanted him to "seep into the pores of the multitude."

Allen pretty much loathed doing standup, though. And he felt much the same about his first entry into the film world as the screenwriter for 1965's What's New Pussycat?, for which he also wrote himself a supporting part as a nebbish named Victor Shakapopulis.

The film became a hit, but Allen hated the experience. "They were taking my script and mangling it," he recalls.

Never again. In 1969, Allen had full creative control over Take the Money and Run, which he directed, co-wrote and starred in. Since then he's made one film every year, with the exceptions of 1970, 1974 and 1981. Only lately has he stayed out of them, although his next, Nero Fiddled, will include Allen as a character named Mark Lovegood.

Allen, born Allen Stewart Konigsberg on Dec. 1, 1935, is a consummate creature of habit, which the documentary shows. He still pounds out his scripts on a Remington manual typewriter. And his idea of cut and paste is literally to cut and paste -- or staple. Notes and portions of scripts oftentimes are spread out on a bed, as Allen demonstrates. They somehow eventually become a whole.

Allen also is seen vigorously playing his clarinet during those ritual Monday appearances with a jazz band at Manhattan's Cafe Carlyle. He stuck to that regimen on the night he won a directing Oscar for 1977's Annie Hall, which is still the last comedy to win as Best Picture.

Other than Farrow and Soon-Yi, the principal women in Allen's films -- and oftentimes his personal life -- are interviewed for the documentary. Keaton, who was his off-screen girlfriend as well, says she instantly had a "crush" on Allen. "My game plan was really to force Woody to like me."

Allen's younger sister, Letty Aronson, with whom he remains very close, remembers that their parents wanted her brother to be a pharmacist. "This is definitely the happiest I've ever seen him," she says of Woody in the here and now.

Chris Rock is interviewed, too, even though he's never been in an Allen film. Nor has any other black actor or actress for that matter, at least not in anything close to a prominent role. Rock says he's a big fan of both Allen's films and his career staying power, calling him "peerless" and comparing him to Babe Ruth.

Allen to this day doesn't like one of his acknowledged classic films, 1979's Manhattan. In fact he tried to stop its release, offering to make his next movie for free if United Artists agreed to shelve Manhattan, for which the then unknown Mariel Hemingway was nominated for best supporting actress. On the other hand, the widely panned Stardust Memories, released in 1980, has long been one of his personal favorites.

"Even the clunkers, there's always something about 'em (worth watching)," Hemingway says. "Always."

Allen's latest movie, Midnight In Paris, also is his most successful from a box office standpoint. And even Allen agrees, sort of, that it's been a pretty wonderful life for him.

"Despite all these lucky breaks, why do I still feel that I got screwed somehow?" he asks, laughing.

Those are the last words of Woody Allen: A Documentary, which also leaves several other questions begging to be answered. Still, it's a work of substance and considerable appeal, with Allen presumably kidding when he says, "The only thing standing between greatness and me is me."

GRADE: A-minus

Christopher McDonald is wild about Harry's and OK with being "Shooter" (although it'd be nice to play the romantic lead for a change)

Christopher McDonald again goes the cocksure route in Harry's Law. NBC photos

His characters have seldom lacked for confidence. On the contrary they tend to be full of themselves.

Christopher McDonald's latest supporting role, swaggering Tommy Jefferson on NBC's Harry's Law, is doubly par for the course if you remember him (and who doesn't?) as super-vain golf pro Shooter McGavin. That 1996 role, in the Adam Sandler-starring Happy Gilmore, has kept him firmly on the pop culture fairway.

"You love it, you crave it, and then once it happens, be careful what you ask for," McDonald says in a telephone interview from a home he's remodeling in Lake Arrowhead, CA. "A guy stopped me the other day and said he's seen Happy Gilmore 100 times. It's a silly comedy, but it holds up. But more and more people are stopping me for Tommy Jefferson, which is great, too."

Tommy is the resident Denny Crane of Harry's Law, which stars Kathy Bates as the acidic title character. But unlike William Shatner and despite his leading man looks and 6 foot 3 stature, McDonald is seldom cast in heroic or romantic roles. Producers and directors instead tend to perceive him as pompous or villainous. Or both.

"As a young actor, I was immediately cast as the bad guy or the best friend," McDonald says. "And then when I played that misogynist husband in Thelma & Louise, I thought the die was cast."

Two years before Thelma & Louise, he had landed a romantic comedy role in 1989's Chances Are, which co-starred Cybill Shepherd, Robert Downey, Jr. and Ryan O'Neal.

"But I guess those kinds of parts weren't in the cards," says McDonald. "I would love to do another romantic comedy, and you don't have to be super good-looking these days to do them. But the things that have had real resonance in my career are the colorful 'bad guys,' which are a lot of fun to play. But it ain't over yet, baby. So we'll see what happens."

Harry's Law (8 p.m. central on Wednesdays) arguably is in prime-time's toughest time slot, going against ABC's Modern Family, Fox's The X Factor and CBS' Criminal Minds.

"Warner Bros. (which produces the David E. Kelley legal drama) and NBC have apologized for that time slot," McDonald says. "But over time we've held our own, which is amazing. It's not in your face and it's not too preachy. It's got a really nice mix of comedy and drama. And people love Kathy Bates . . . I'd never worked with her before but I've known her socially. She's a tremendous presence on-screen, and I thought some of her greatness would rub off on me. She raises the bar. I learn from her."

Shortly after our interview, NBC announced a midseason lineup in which Harry's Law will move to Sundays at 7 p.m. (central), but not until March 4th. The series also has received a full-season order, again defying all demographic odds by casting a 60-plus woman in the lead role and living to tell about it.

McDonald, 56, also is enjoying another nice tour of duty, on HBO's acclaimed prohibition era drama Boardwalk Empire. He has a recurring role as Harry Daugherty, campaign manager for Warren G. Harding in the 1920 presidential election.

"HBO is rare air for me," McDonald says. As is the chance to work in a series produced by Martin Scorsese.

"An actor acts, and I love to act," he says. "I love meeting new people. I love new challenges. I love doing comedy, drama, horror and farce. I have a good work ethic and I've beat the odds . . . I have a restless spirit, so I'm always looking for the next part. But I'm also having such a great ride right now."

So far that doesn't include any presence on Facebook or Twitter, but "I really want to do it," McDonald says. He tried to tweet as "Chris McDonald," but the name was taken.

"And his first five tweets I read are what he's going to have for dinner, where he's going for lunch and so on," McDonald says. "I don't want to do that. But Kathy Bates just joined, so maybe she can teach me the plusses of it. The biggest fear is that I'll have only eight followers."

Have no fear. And maybe consider using "Shooter" as your Twitter name.

He laughs, then adds, "That's not a bad idea."

Whatever works for one of Hollywood's consummate working actors.

Another attempt to wake up CBS's sound asleep morning ratings

From left: Erica Hill, Gayle King and Charlie Rose CBS photo

CBS will be trying trying trying trying trying trying trying trying trying trying trying trying (etc.) again to somehow awaken its moribund morning show ratings.

The latest effort, clearly a move to replicate MSNBC's newsier Morning Joe, is teaming Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Erica Hill as anchors of what the network proclaimed Tuesday as a "more thoughtful, substantive and insightful source of news and information, delivered by a team of experienced journalists."

It doesn't have a name yet, and it won't start until Jan. 9th. But CBS clearly is intent on positioning itself as nourishing whole wheat toast in comparison to the pastries often served up on NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America, particularly during their 8 to 9 a.m. segments.

"This program represents a new direction for morning television at CBS," news chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager said in a publicity release. "We will produce a broadcast that is interesting and compelling and on top of the big stories of the day. It will be lively and engaging and worth your while."

That almost sounds like a plea. But in a perfect world, perhaps morning audiences will respond to a program that at least on paper promises to be issue-oriented and higher-minded.

Rose, who in the early 1980s hosted a locally produced morning talk show on Fort Worth-based KXAS-TV, will also remain with his long-running Charlie Rose interview program on PBS.

King, perhaps best known as Oprah Winfrey's best friend, has been hosting The Gayle King Show on OWN. Hill, the only personality to survive the latest makeover, has co-anchored CBS' The Early Show since January of this year.

Local stations such as D-FW's CBS11 have been in ratings death valleys for decades, with their crack-of-dawn morning shows leading in to a 7 to 9 a.m. network program that hardly anyone watches compared to Today or GMA.

In Monday's local ratings, Early Show drew just 30,485 D-FW viewers in its 7 to 7:30 a.m. segment while GMA had 96,870 and Today, 92,466. Fox4's locally produced Good Day led all programs in this half-hour segment with 120,918 viewers.

No. 4 NBC offers new dizzying array of midseason changes

American Idol runnerup Katharine McPhee of Smash. NBC photo

No night stays the same in No. 4 NBC's latest effort to bolster its bankrupt prime-time ratings.

The Peacock announced four new series and a collection of mid-season swap meets Monday. Benched are Community and the new Prime Suspect, both of which are scheduled to return at some point, NBC says.

Sunday is the only night NBC would dearly love to keep in place. But its only ratings juggernaut, Sunday Night Football and its pre-game show, will be giving way to a lineup of Dateline, The Celebrity Apprentice and a transplanted Harry's Law, relocating from Wednesdays.

NBC will say goodbye to NFL football with Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday, February 5th. Its followup act, as previously announced, is the return of The Voice, whose home otherwise will be on Mondays in place of The Sing-Off. NBC will conclude the night on another musical note with its already critically praised Smash, the scripted saga of a Broadway show in the making. The cast includes Anjelica Huston and ex-American Idol runnerup Katharine McPhee.

Thursdays also will receive a major makeover, with the season premiere of 30 Rock supplanting Community as the night's leadoff hitter. Remaining in place are Parks and Recreation and The Office, followed by the freshman comedy Up All Night (moved from Wednesdays) and the premiere of John Grisham's The Firm.

Wednesday's replacement troops are Whitney (arriving from Thursdays), Rock Center with Brian Williams (formerly on Mondays) and the new comedy Are You There, Chelsea?

The fourth announced new series, Fashion Star, is a reality-competition series hosted by former super model Elle Macpherson. It's scheduled to launch on Tuesday, March 13th after Parenthood has its season finale on Feb. 28th.

Chuck will go away for good after its two-hour series finale on Friday, Jan. 27th. Stepping in is the return of Lisa Kudrow's celebrity-driven genealogy series, Who Do You Think You Are?

On a busy Monday, NBC also announced that former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton will be a correspondent for NBC News, specializing in reports for the ongoing "Making a Difference" series. The Peacock already has another ex-First Daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, in the fold, while John McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, draws checks from cable news arm MSNBC. Another prominent offspring, the late Tim Russert's son, Luke, also works for NBC News.

Here are NBC's night-by-night mid-season changes, with start dates included (all times are central):

7 to 9 p.m., Feb. 6th -- The Voice (following the previous night's Super Bowl launch).
9 to 10 p.m. Feb. 6th -- Smash

7 to 9 p.m., Jan. 3rd -- new edition of The Biggest Loser
9 to 10 p.m. -- Parenthood, which continues through Feb. 28th before Fashion Star debuts on March 13th.

7 to 7:30 p.m., Jan. 11th -- Whitney
7:30 to 8 p.m., Jan. 11th -- premiere of Are You There, Chelsea?
8 to 9 p.m., Feb. 8th -- Rock Center with Brian Williams
9 to 10 p.m. -- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

7 to 7:30 p.m., Jan. 12th -- 30 Rock
7:30 to 8 p.m. -- Parks and Recreation
8 to 8:30 p.m. -- The Office
8:30 to 9 p.m., Jan. 12th -- Up All Night
9 to 10 p.m., Jan. 12th after Sunday, Jan. 8th premiere -- The Firm

7 to 8 p.m., Feb. 3rd -- Who Do You Think You Are? (following the Jan. 27th series finale of Chuck)
8 to 9 p.m. -- Grimm
9 to 10 p.m. -- Dateline

7 to 8 p.m. -- Harry's Law reruns
8 to 9 p.m. -- The Firm reruns
9 to 10 p.m. -- Law & Order: SVU reruns

6 to 7 p.m., Jan. 8th -- Dateline (initially with two-hour editions)
7 to 8 p.m., March 4th -- Harry's Law
8 to 10 p.m., Feb. 12th -- The Celebrity Apprentice

***Prosperous CBS in comparison announced just two midseason changes Monday.

Rob! is a sitcom starring Rob Schneider as a newly married, former lifelong bachelor who moves into a tight-knit Mexican-American family. It premieres on Thursday, Jan. 12th at 7:30 p.m. following The Big Bang Theory. Cheech Marin also is in the cast. CBS says that Rules of Engagement will return on this night and time later this season.

Undercover Boss will have its third season premiere on Sunday, Jan. 15th at 7 p.m. The Amazing Race is set to return later next year.

Crystal back on Oscar track

As expected, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acted fast in naming an Oscar host to replace Eddie Murphy.

Not surprisingly, it's old warhorse Billy Crystal, who will return for his ninth time as host -- and the first time since 2004.

Crystal, 63, immediately dated himself. "I am doing this so that the young woman in my pharmacy will stop asking me my name when I pick up my prescriptions," he quipped in an ABC publicity release.

The Academy tabbed Crystal the day after Eddie Murphy dropped out as host in support of his friend and the show's previous co-producer, Brett Ratner. He had been sacked after making a gay slur during a public screening of the feature film Tower Heist, which Ratner directed with Murphy co-starring.

Crystal, who made a crowd-pleasing appearance as a presenter during the latest Oscar-cast, is a generational departure from the "young Hollywood" hosting duo of Anne Hathaway and James Franco. She made a game go of it, but his seemingly disinterested participation got widely panned.

The 84th Oscar ceremony is scheduled to air Feb. 26th on ABC.

Joker's wild: Perry will read "Top 10 List" on Thursday's Late Show with David Letterman (updated with video)

They must have graded on the curve for Rick Perry. Photo: Ed Bark

Swiftly shifting to damage control mode, goofy Gov. Rick Perry will make his first visit to CBS' Late Show with David Letterman on Thurs., Nov. 10th.

His assignment: presenting the nightly Top 10 List.

Perry, lately the subject of a recurring "Rick Perry: Drunk?" feature on Late Show, will be appearing on the night after he tried and failed three times to recite which three federal government agencies he would cut as president. The Texas Republican got as far as Commerce and Education before stalling on Energy.

The CBS announcement didn't specify what Perry's topic will be. But he presumably has ruled out the "Top 10 Reasons Why I'm Unfit to be President."

The fun and games will continue on Friday of next week, when embattled GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain is scheduled to sit down with Letterman. They do have sex scandals in common, though, so Letterman might have to be on guard.

ADDENDUM: Perry seemed to put more effort into this than he did with the debate. Here's his presentation of the "Top 10 Rick Perry Excuses." The material is decent and Perry's spirited delivery turns out to be more than adequate.

Murphy exits stage left, dropping out as Oscar host after pal Brett Ratner leaves in wake of gay slur

In happier times: Eddie Murphy and Brett Ratner. Getty Images

Life its ownself continues to be far, far stranger than fiction.

The rapid-fire Kim Kardashian divorce. The Herman Cain and Joe Paterno sex scandals. And now Eddie Murphy quitting as Oscar host after his pal Brett Ratner got bounced.

Murphy dropped out Wednesday after Ratner, the ceremony's co-producer, exited Tuesday. Ratner's ouster came in connection with his gay slur at a recent public screening for the movie Tower Heist, which he directed and in which Murphy co-stars.

"Rehearsal is for fags," Ratner had blurted in answer to a question. He later apologized, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences understandably decided to drop him anyway.

Murphy, newly on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in connection with his first extensive interview in years, had been rehabbing his image in preparation for the high-profile Oscar gig. Now the Academy will have to scramble a bit, perhaps reaching out to either Billy Crystal or Jerry Seinfeld. Both reportedly lobbied to be the next Oscar host, but Ratner wanted his guy. Namely Murphy.

Will either Crystal or Seinfeld be willing to sign on under these circumstances, though? Probably so. Although if not, there's always the likes of Jay Leno, the consummate go-with-the-flow company man.

Whoopi Goldberg also comes to mind. Like Crystal, she's hosted several times previously. Or maybe Oscar goes for another first-time choice. Will Ferrell? Oprah Winfrey? Foghorn Leghorn? Herman Cain?

Tyranny of the single-word titles? A defense for the brief

A picture is worth a thousand words -- or vice-versa.

Regular reader/commenter "Carthy" recently carped about the title of an upcoming HBO series starring Dustin Hoffman as a recently jailed horse track gambler.

"Luck?" he wrote. "Titles are getting more and more non-descript. In about 10 years every show will be called Thing."

That's a good line, and Carthy might have a point. The new season already has brought a raft of single-word new series, with more to come early next year.

ABC's ongoing Revenge and Suburgatory precede the announced mid-season series Missing and Scandal.

NBC currently has Whitney and Grimm, with Smash, Bent and Awake on the way.

Fox doesn't have any new single-worders this fall, but will premiere Alcatraz and Touch during winter/spring.

The CW has Ringer, and CBS chips in with Unforgettable among its five freshman fall series.

On cable, the new season already has seen the premieres of HBO's Enlightened, Starz's Boss and Showtime's Homeland.

The big screen's all-time box office blockbusters are Avatar and Titanic. And a little film called Casablanca has held up pretty well over the years.

TV viewers also haven't shown any indication that they care one way or the other about how short, long or descriptive a title is. In fact, there's a strong argument that one-word namesakes are the way to go. Otherwise think what we'd be missing.

D alone has accommodated the the likes of Dallas, Dynasty, Dragnet, Dexter, Damages and Deadwood. And M is the introductory letter of Maude, Moonlighting, Maverick, Matlock, Monk and Mannix.

You probably could include M*A*S*H as well, although it's actually short for what would have been the elongated title of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Ostensible one-word titles such as NCIS, ER, CHiPS, JAG and S.W.A.T. don't count either.

Not that we're nearly done. What would the annals of TV comedy be like without Cheers, Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, Roseanne, Newhart and Taxi?

Only two western series have ever been ranked No. 1 in the annual prime-time Nielsen ratings. They would be Gunsmoke and Bonanza, which had a combined seven seasons at the very top.

Other single-word success stories include Lost, House, Glee, Lassie, Kojak, Cannon, Soap, Rawhide, Bones, Becker, Entourage, Baretta, Coach, Castle, Alice, Ironside, Family, Weeds and Wings.

Some of course are more to the point than others. But if we like the show, we get used to 'em. Dallas could just as as easily have been titled Those Dirty Rotten Ewings from Big D in times when there actually was an Aaron Spelling-produced made-for-TV movie by the name of The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch..

But Dallas it was and Dallas it will be again when a new TNT version premieres next summer. Why drill any deeper?

History's Vietnam In HD has a clarity of purpose -- and pictures

Faces of the Vietnam War: combat troops and LBJ. History photos

History Channel thrived on combat in its formative years, offering heaping helpings of grainy war footage.

Sixteen years after its launch -- and now known as History -- it's back to the future with a digitally remastered, highly personalized look at armed conflict.

Vietnam In HD, followup to 2009's WWII In HD, devotes three nights and six hours to the sharply divisive war that also brought down a president. It has its own tagline: "It's not the war you know. It's the war they fought."

Premiering Tuesday, Nov. 8th at 8 p.m. (central) and continuing at the same time on Wednesday and Thursday, Vietnam In HD is vivid and compelling without being intrinsically political. Ken Burns' twice-as-long Vietnam, announced in March and scheduled to premiere in 2016, assuredly will cover all of those angles. The History presentation mainly trains its sights and sounds on 13 survivors who purportedly "reveal the truth of Vietnam" with their accounts of how it was fought and what it took to make it out alive.

The uncensored war footage, much of it shot by the soldiers themselves, is the product of "scouring the globe" for rare and in many cases previously unseen documentation, History says. It's impeccably edited into a narrative whole, with no shortage of graphic scenes or viewer warnings.

Only Tuesday's Part 1 was sent for review. It covers the years 1964 through 1967, mainly through the eyes of four combat survivors. Actors voice some of their recollections while the real-life principals also are interviewed. It proves to be a very effective device, particularly when Blair Underwood's voice of young Army platoon sergeant Charles Brown is meshed with the now elderly survivor's do-or-die memories.

Underwood and Brown make the most of their respective duties, communicating both the ferocity of combat and the futility of taking a hill and then giving it right back. That's because Vietnam became a war where victory was measured "not by territory taken but by body count" in the words of narrator Michael C. Hall, who otherwise stars in Showtime's Dexter.

During the five-day battle for Hill 875, in which Brown called many of the shots, 115 U.S. soldiers were killed and another 253 wounded. Their mission was to kill every last one of the 6,000-some North Vietnamese hunkered down on this high ground. But the great majority of the enemy escaped before Hill 875 was taken -- and then soon relinquished under orders to move on.

The real-life Brown still takes great pride in the fact that he and his fellow soldiers successfully fought their way to the top. He also notes that the Vietnam War had no Iwo Jimas or symbolic, enduring flag-plantings.

Another principal in Tuesday's opening chapter is former United Press International war correspondent Joe Galloway of Refugio, TX. He's also the stage-setter. And Galloway, who went on to write the memoir We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young, is clearly not enamored of the idea that "The Greatest Generation" fought World War II.

"Those who fought every war since then were the best of their generation," Galloway says. "They went, they served, they sacrificed. And they fought like tigers. They were noble."

Galloway's other voice is actor Edward Burns in a film that oddly enough also includes off-camera work by three former stars of HBO's Entourage -- Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly and Jerry Ferrara.

Vietnam In HD at times overdoes it with accompanying music intended to accentuate the drama at hand. But that's a relatively small quibble in a film that brings "The Living Room War" home in ways we haven't seen before.

Galloway, repeatedly in the midst of combat and carnage as a war correspondent, still can't shake the sight of a young soldier who died from friendly fire after an Air Force fighter jet dropped its napalm payload on the would-be enemy.

"Wife had a baby that week," he says, his voice breaking and his hands fidgeting. "He died two weeks later. That boy is my nightmare."

That first major Vietnam battle, in the Ia Drang Valley, otherwise was "won" during a war in which 16,250 U.S. soldiers had died by the end of 1967. Another telling number from the opening chapter: U.S. soldiers in Vietnam spent an average of 240 days a year in combat, compared to 10 for those who fought in WWII.

Wars of any kind are never a pretty picture whatever the advances in clarity. But Vietnam In HD is an advance in the way these stories are told, with new generations exposed for the first time while their elders watch and learn anew.

GRADE: A-minus

Run for president? Could I instead be eaten alive by carpenter ants?

Wednesday's signs of our times -- on Late Show with David Letterman and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Photos: Ed Bark

Thinking of running for president?

Me neither.

Such foolish pursuits are only for those who crave being held in even lower esteem than the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Kim Karashian or the Octomom. Which is a shame.

I'm not championing either Rick Perry's or Herman Cain's presidential candidacies. Both have been their own worst enemies at times, with Perry flailing about in debates and Cain seemingly self-imploding under the close scrutiny he's received since becoming the Republican Party's outta-nowhere frontrunner.

But the above signboards, respectively from Wednesday's editions of CBS' Late Show with David Letterman and Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, show how easy it is to diminish the entire enterprise to the point of sub-absurdity. Cue the calliope music.

The Rick Perry: Drunk? graphic heralded what Letterman billed as a new nightly feature. It's of course tied to the Texas governor's at times unusually goofy speech last week to a group of Manchester, NH Republicans.

The Grope? visual, an offshoot of the 2008 Obama campaign's "Hope" poster, harkens to the still anonymous sexual harassment charges against Cain. They date to his tenure in the late 1990s as head of the National Restaurant Association.

In the end, we always get the leaders we deserve. But we're reaching the point -- or perhaps we already have -- when running for the presidency is nothing but a fool's errand. Anyone with a brain in their head -- or even a teeny tiny skeleton in their closet -- is not going to be dumb enough to take a shot at becoming the so-called leader of the free world.

In today's all-encompassing media circus-sphere, could even George Washington get elected? Don't make me laugh. The guy had wooden teeth! And that cherry tree-chopping story? Phonier than a three-dollar bill.

Dwight D. Eisenhower? Yeah, he was an unparalleled World War II general and all. But he allegedly had a mistress while revving up for D Day! Suggested Late Show or Daily Show graphic: "Ike's Military Baring?" Or "Ike Serving A Broad?"

Maybe I'm over-reacting. But the pursuit of the highest office in the land is becoming something you'd wish on your worst enemy. And seriously, it won't be very funny in the end. Either for us or for our offspring.

New fall season: AMC's ambitious Hell on Wheels goes West but sometimes heads South

Premiering: Sunday, Nov. 6th at 9 p.m. (central) on AMC
Starring: Anson Mount, Common, Colm Meaney, Dominique McElligott, Eddie Spears, Robin McLeavy, Tom Noonan, Christopher Heyerdahl, Ben Esler, Phil Burke, Wes Studi
Produced by: Tony Gayton, Joe Gayton, John Shiban, Jeremy Gold, David Von Ancken

Everyone gets railroaded to some degree in Hell On Wheels, a truly gritty but not always galvanizing saga of how the West was run over by the Union Pacific.

Paired with AMC's resident evil hit, The Walking Dead, this is easily the best western series since HBO's Deadwood. Then again, there really hasn't been a weekly western since then.

The network sent the first five episodes for review. Some are pretty terrific, but Hell on Wheels also shows signs of losing steam by the halfway point of its scheduled 10-episode first season. It remains visually first-rate, though, and by no means goes entirely off the rails. Fans of the genre, of which I'm one, can at least keep the faith that Hell on Wheels' somewhat flabby midsection will lead to a down-the-stretch restoration of muscle tone.

It all begins in 1865, with the Civil War barely over and Abraham Lincoln newly dead. Ergo, "The Nation Is An Open Wound," viewers are informed in print before the series' central character, revenge-obsessed former Johnny Reb Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), makes his presence felt.

Bohannon's wife was ravaged and then murdered during the war by a group of Union pillagers. So in the tradition of Clint Eastwood in Hang 'Em High and Steve McQueen in Nevada Smith, he's bent on tracking down and killing every last one of 'em.

One of his bullets finds its mark early on before Bohannon heads to Council Bluffs, Iowa and its makeshift tent city of Hell on Wheels. The city follows the progress of the east-to-west transcontinental railroad, whose unscrupulously greedy mastermind is scenery-eating Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney).

Meaney's deportment and pronouncements -- "Is it a villain you want? I'll play the part" -- recall the old Jon Lovitz "Master Thespian" character from Saturday Night Live. But if Meaney's Durant is over-cooked, then Ted Levine's bad-nasty RR construction foreman is done just right.

Sporting an unkempt beard and missing a right hand, Levine is virtually unrecognizable from his days as sour-tempered Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer on Monk. His new character, Daniel Johnson, is a hard-drinking, ramrodding racist who also happens to be . . . well, let's not reveal too much other than to warn viewers not to get too used to him.

Sunday's opening episode also includes a side trip to Nebraska Territory, where a young railroad surveyor with an increasingly bad cough is mapping out a way through the Rocky Mountains. His devoted wife, Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), is picturesquely by his side and worried sick about him. But an Indian massacre is on the horizon, and it's a grisly bone-chiller that leaves just one traumatized, bloodied survivor. You won't need more than one guess to determine who that is.

Back at the railroad construction site, the steely-eyed Bohannon is put in charge of a contingent of former slaves headed by Elam Ferguson (the hip-hop artist now going by the name of Common). Their relationship is both contentious and respectful while also being more than a little too black and white.

"You got to let go of the past," says Bohannon, who used to own slaves but freed them a year before the war after his wife convinced him this was evil.

"Have you let it go?" Ferguson replies. This prompts a prototypical steely glare but no retort from our anti-hero. It's a pat scene. Too pat.

Other residents of the movable Hell on Wheels town are enterprising Irish brothers Sean and Mickey McGinness (Ben Ester, Phil Burke), who might remind some viewers of the pair of plucky Irish siblings from Lonesome Dove. Far more interesting is the whore Eva (Robin McLeavy), whose time in Indian captivity has left her with a Mike Tyson-esque tattoo -- but on her chin.

Episode 2 introduces another instantly intriguing character, the intimidating Thor "The Swede" Gunderson (Christopher Heyerdahl). Having survived war imprisonment at Andersonville, he's now Durant's uncompromising head of security. As well as a new and formidable antagonist for Bohannon.

There's also an assimilated Indian named Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears), who's been Christian-ized by Reverend Nathaniel Cole (Tom Noonan). Cole is still in the process of conquering his own war demons while Joseph's father, Chief Many Horses (Wes Studi), remains dismayed by his son's embrace of the white man's ways.

Hell on Wheels strives to stir all these pots with plotlines that at times are contrived. There's a curiously out-of-sync explosion near the end of Episode 4 and a big boxing match in Episode 5 that's meant to be pivotal but instead comes off as another black-white seminar -- albeit with fists flying.

Through it all, Mount's Bohannon also loses some momentum during a narrative drive that downshifts and even idles at times.

AMC executives say they wanted to launch a weekly Western because the network's all-time most popular attraction is still 2006's two-part Broken Trail, which starred Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church.

Hell on Wheels is a big and ambitious stab at the genre, with a lot going on and much to recommend. But as time goes on, It will need a little more coal, fire and giddyap. Fewer preachments also would help.


Rangers-Cards World Series gets late-game lift in national ratings

It still hurts to watch in D-FW. But Game 7's 25.4 million viewers were the most since 2004's World Series ender. Photo: Ed Bark

Final national Nielsen numbers for the 2011 World Series make it the fourth least-watched ever. Or as Major League Baseball would prefer to put it, the seven-gamer between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers rallied to easily outscore the previous year's "Fall Classic."

A Game 7 crowd of 25.4 million viewers, the most for a World Series game since 2004's Boston Red Sox closeout of the Cardinals, swelled the overall average to 16.6 million viewers. The "instant classic" Game 6 also helped, pulling in 21.06 million viewers. (In D-FW, those roles were reversed, with Game 6 far more watched than the Game 7 burial of the Rangers.)

The 2010 Series, in which the San Francisco Giants beat the Rangers in five games, averaged 14.3 million viewers to avoid being the least-seen ever. That mark is still held by the rain-soaked, five-game 2008 Series, in which the Philadelphia Phillies took out the Tampa Bay Rays. It averaged just 13.6 million viewers nationally.

Rangers-Cards also outdrew the 2006 Series (15.8 million), where the Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in five games.

The latest Nielsen numbers, in the first seven-game Series since 2002, show that market size and the presence of the New York Yankees can still matter. The Yanks' 2009 win over the Phillies, in six games, averaged 19.4 million viewers.

In 2004, the Cinderella Red Sox erased their longtime "curse" by sweeping the Cardinals after being the first team to overcome a 3-0 deficit in post-season play by shocking the Yankees in the ALCS. That World Series drew an average of 25.4 million viewers per game, making it the most-watched since the 1995 Atlanta Braves-Cleveland Indians matchup (28.97 million). That marked the return of the World Series after the 1994 baseball strike shamefully wiped out all post-season play.

The most-watched Series ever, since Nielsen Media Research began tabulating total viewer figures in 1973, was 1978's Yankees-Los Angeles edition. The Yanks won, with an average of 44.3 million viewers for the six games. No World Series has hit the 30 million mark since the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Braves in the six-game 1992 edition. It pulled in 30.01 viewers per game.