10/27/09 05:38 PM
Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 30th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Stephen Rannazzisi, Paul Scheer, Jon Lajoie, Katie Aselton, Nadine Velazquez, Leslie Bibb
Created and produced by: Jeff Schaffer, Jackie Marcus Schaffer
By ED BARK
Let's see, what private part isn't made pubic -- er, public -- during the first two episodes of FX's The League?
A flat-out none is the answer, although you'll be forewarned with both a TV-MA rating and voice-overs advising viewer discretion. In the history of advertiser-supported television -- cable or otherwise -- perhaps no weekly series has pushed the envelope to this extent. But if you're game, The League is funny in fits, spurts and spots.
It's also remarkably crude and ill-behaved, with five guys united in the pursuit of Fantasy Football glory by all means necessary. The starting gun is fired on Thursday, Oct. 29th at 9:30 p.m. (central), following FX's long-running It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Pete (Mark Duplass) is more or less the straw that stirs the drink. He's a three-time FF champ whose willful, disapproving wife Meegan (Leslie Bibb) likes to give him the finger up his buttinski during sex. This is a turn-off for him, creating further friction so to speak.
Pete's constantly stoned younger brother, "Taco" (Jon Lajoie), knows little about football but likes the camaraderie. His specialty is ribald songs and poems, one of which is performed at a five-year-old girl's birthday party in Thursday's opening episode. This particular "joke" is carried way too far.
The five-year-old's parents are Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), who desperately wants to dethrone Pete, and Jenny (Katie Aselton), the mastermind of his draft picks. There's also Ruxin (Nick Kroll), both the funniest and most unlikable character, and Andre (Paul Scheer), a doofus, balding plastic surgeon with a sprawling bachelor pad and an outsized gap between his upper front teeth.
They all treat each other like dooky, which of course bonds them together. The firefighters of Rescue Me ask no quarter when it comes to ragging on each other. But the arrested adults of The League literally play in a league of their own, whether their discourses are on "ball hair," "vaginal hubris" or dry-humping the trophy symbolic of Fantasy Football supremacy. It all makes the famed "Master of Your Domain" episode of Seinfeld seem like little more than a quilting bee.
The names of numerous real-life football players are dropped into this mix. Ruxin lusts after Adrian Peterson while Andre selects the retired Keyshawn Johnson to the delight of his opponents. The big board at the draft day party otherwise is played pretty straight, even if a little freeze-framing shows Terrell Owens getting picked in the third round ahead of both Jason Witten (4th round) and Tony Romo (7th round).
The saving graces are those one-liners that click. And the first two episodes arguably manage to complete a higher percentage of jokes than the St. Louis Rams convert third downs.
It's hard to imagine many if any women viewers settling in with The League. But the series' male delivery could be fairly major. Count the entire National Football League -- past and present -- among the show's likely audience. Hard core sexual humor coupled with all those references to prominent players should prove impossible to resist. Tony Siragusa no doubt has his DVR already set. Terry Bradshaw, too.
10/27/09 01:32 PM
By ED BARK
Tensions run high and tempers are hot on the Season 4 kickoff of Friday Night Lights.
Wednesday's reboot (8 p.m. central on DirecTV's "The 101 Network") features three fistfights, a volatile parents-principal meeting and a full-blown rage by Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), who's been exiled via re-districting to butt-ugly, cash-poor, blackboard jungle-ish East Dillon High.
Unlike last year, NBC plans to wait until summer to air the new season's 13 scheduled episodes. For the relatively fortunate few with DirecTV, made-in-Austin FNL will be ancient history by then. Even on a mainstream network, this is the least-appreciated, most under-watched TV series since the Peacock's Homicide: Life on the Street, which came and went with nary a single Emmy nomination for best drama.
FNL's fourth season mixes returning teens with a new foursome while retaining the core dynamic of Coach Taylor, his wife, Tami (Connie Britton) and their daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden). The previous season ended with Taylor power-played out of a head coaching position at West Dillon High, where his out-gunned wife remains as principal.
East Dillon, barren of topflight talent and resources, presents Taylor with a tougher rebuilding job than the Detroit Lions. Matter of fact, East Dillon goes by the name of Lions, but hasn't roared in years.
Those "zoned out" of West Dillon include returning senior Landry Clark (Jesse Plemons), a bit player on Taylor's old Panthers but a starter by necessity for East Dillon. The coach also inherits a potential star player in Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), who's dropped off by the cops after committing a series of "mostly non-violent offenses." His only real football experience, though, is with the Madden video game.
Next week's second episode introduces another possibly key player in Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria), who'd been playing illegally for the West Dillon Panthers despite living in East Dillon territory. Other Season 4 additions are Jess Meriweather (Jurnee Smollett), a female East Dillon student with a football mind, and Becky Sproles (Madison Burge), 15-year-old daughter of a bar-tending mom bedded by recent West Dillon grad and star fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch).
Riggins leaves college in a finger-snap, hoping to stay with his newly married brother Billy (Derek Phillips) while working at his auto repair shop. Another grad, former quarterback Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), is taking art classes at Dillon Tech, where his teacher admonishes him for "drawing without a point of view." Car salesman/football addict Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) thankfully is back, too. Every Texas-based TV series needs at least one quintessential good ol' boy to keep things in their proper perspective..
These first two episodes are as good as any in the FNL playbook. Coach Taylor, hung out to dry, finds himself at the mercy of a new team that represents the flip side of "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Meanwhile, Tami is fighting a bruising battle with West Dillon's parents and a basically demonic new coaching hierarchy. It's a terrific way to re-charge the series, with the inevitable have/have-not game between West and East Dillon looming huge on the West Texas horizon.
Devoted fans of FNL will remember University of Texas football coach Mack Brown making a cameo appearance in the first season. The second episode of Season 4 finds Texas Tech coach Mike Leach approaching Taylor at a gas station and urging him to "find your inner pirate." Taylor seems to think he's nuts, which is a pretty good bet in fact or fiction.
FNL remains at the top of its game while also continuing to depict Texas as much more than a drawling board of cartoonish characters. That's basically a first on network television. And it's damned well appreciated even if the nation at large still has its eyes elsewhere.
10/23/09 01:46 PM
By ED BARK
The Obama administration needs to take the offensive on a lot of issues. But taking issue with Fox News Channel should have no place in its playbook.
Yet the ongoing war of words persists, with The New York Times providing another blow-by-blow account in Friday's edition.
The President and his top advisors believe that Fox News has an agenda -- to skewer them whenever possible. They've responded by trying to limit Fox's access to the administration while firing back when feeling aggrieved. As deputy White House press secretary Dan Pfeiffer said in the Times article, "We simply decided to stop abiding by the fiction, which is aided and abetted by the mainstream press, that Fox is a traditional news organization."
Sorry, but this sounds like another Nixon enemies list in the making. It started to get out of hand in mid-September, when President Obama intentionally excluded Fox News Sunday and moderator Chris Wallace from his round of morning news program interviews.
Wallace contributes to Fox News Channel, but his flagship program airs on Fox's broadcast stations. Whatever his personal politics, he has a reputation for being studiously fair on the air. In fact, Fox hired him to mend fences after his predecessor, the late Tony Snow, came off as too openly partisan and therefore unable to book big-name guests with opposing views.
The cold shoulder didn't sit well with Wallace, who later sounded off on Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor.
"With these guys, everything is personal," he contended. "They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington. They constantly are on the phone or emailing me complaining . . . I mean, they are workin' the umps all the time. I think it works with the others. It doesn't work with me."
I've had some dealings over the years with people like that, including representatives of Fox News Channel. No single network tries to "work the umps" more than Fox News. And no one revels in being "persecuted" more than O'Reilly, who relishes attacking his detractors and seems to enjoy feeling unloved. Even so, I've had a decent working relationship with him over the years, because he feels I've been fair to him.
Few in their right -- or left -- mind would argue the obvious -- that O'Reilly tilts considerably to the right while colleagues Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are full-bore conservatives. The latter two gleefully bash Obama and are having even more fun doing so now that his administration has singled them out. The Oct. 20th edition of Hannity began with the host welcoming viewers to the "home of all the news that is not White House-approved. The administration doesn't want to hear what we have to say. They want to silence us. They want us to shut up. They want us to get in line." You get the drift.
So what's the problem with Obama going after them? No. 1, these are all commentators, as Fox news executives keep pointing out.
No. 2, it only increases the ratings for their shows, which has been the case of late.
Thirdly and most important, the administration already has a house organ of its own -- MSNBC. The shows hosted by Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz all line up behind Obama, who so far isn't complaining. Chris Matthews' Hardball is closer to middle-of-the-road but still partisan to the Democrats. So in a way the president has Fox News outnumbered -- three-and-a-half to two-and-a-half. Even though MSNBC's improving numbers in the Nielsen ratings may never measure up to Fox's.
Caught in the middle -- for the most part -- is CNN, which lacks both a political identity and any real ratings momentum. You pay a price when your personality-driven prime-time lineup is without marquee bomb-throwers from the left or the right.
Fox News Channel isn't going to change. Nor is MSNBC. Unfortunately it's good business in today's cable news world to swing hard from one side of the plate or the other. In doing so, you never give the other side any breathing room or credit for accomplishing anything of any worth.
Obama, in choosing to make Fox News an issue, is only throwing gasoline on Hannity's and Beck's already incendiary rhetoric. Why would you do that? What are you going to gain from it?
Maybe "crybaby" is a little strong. But no one likes a whiner either. It's time to cease, desist and roll with the punches. Otherwise you're just going to get Glenn Beck beginning his Wednesday program with the declaration, "America, I have to tell you, that your freedom of speech is under attack. Our most precious right . . . is being brutally and viciously assaulted."
Not really. Not really at all. But in this kind of fight, truth never wins out.
10/22/09 02:36 PM
Premiering: Friday, Oct. 23rd at 9 p.m. (central) on USA
Starring: Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Tiffani Thiessen, Willie Garson
Created and produced by: Jeff Eastin
By ED BARK
Is there no end to USA's roster of breezily entertaining dramas?
That's a very nice problem to have for a cable network that already has Monk, Burn Notice, Royal Pains, PSYCH and In Plain Sight. The Friday, Oct. 23rd launch of White Collar (9 p.m. central) affords USA another chance to look down its nose at corporate sibling NBC, which used to be somebody in the grand scheme of things.
In the realm of the here and now, NBC doesn't even have any weeknight 9 p.m. slots for the likes of White Collar. A certain lantern-jawed comedian holds down that real estate. So here's a bet. Airing opposite one another, White Collar's 90-minute premiere will draw more viewers nationally than The Jay Leno Show.
Both networks are under the same umbrella -- NBC Universal. But it continues to rain heavily on the Peacock's No. 4-rated prime-time lineup while USA keeps walking on the bright side with increasingly popular fare.
Friday nights in particular are best suited to diversions, not heavy lifting. And White Collar complies in this coupling of a dogged FBI agent and a charming con man. "Crime has never looked so good and been this much fun," according to USA publicity materials. Well, all right, so long as no one gets hurt. And in your basic USA series, grit, grime and mayhem invariably take a back seat to banter and slow-simmering bonhomie.
The opening episode begins with a nifty "super-max" prison escape by professional thief Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), who'd finally been jailed by FBI guy Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) after an extended game of cat-and-mouse.
Caffrey had just three months left on his four-year sentence, so why risk a prolonged return visit? Well, the love of his life is still at large, and he won't take her recent kiss-off as their final answer.
Burke and Caffrey of course hook up -- initially in the interests of apprehending a forger known as "The Dutchman." In return for his "freedom," Caffrey has to wear a tracking anklet, reside in a fleabag hotel and be available to Burke on a moment's notice and within a two-mile radius.
Impossibly -- but who really cares under these circumstances? -- the jaunty con artist meets a wealthy widow (guest star Diahann Carroll) at a thrift store, where she's donating her late husband's customized Sy Devore duds. Caffrey's soon both wearing his clothing and staying in one of her mansion's guest rooms for the same price as the fleabag.
"You look like a cartoon," Burke says upon first seeing Caffrey in a tight-fitting suit and matching hat.
"This is classic Rat Pack. This is a Devore," he retorts.
"Oh, sorry -- Dino."
DeKay as Burke is a scene-stealer throughout. He's gruff enough to fit the FBI mold, but with a snippy, dippy side, too. Not only that, he already has the girl, in the form of Tiffani Thiessen as his beauteous and loyal wife, Elizabeth. Rounding out the cast is former Sex and the City hanger-on Willie Garson as one of those prototypical ear-to-the-ground founts of information, this one named Mozzie.
White Collar is just off-kilter enough to be a mock turtleneck. There are crooks to be caught, barbs to be exchanged and style to fight a knock-down/drag-out with substance. But it all comes off quite winningly, giving USA another bright light in its growing galaxy while NBC can do no better of late than to announce a spinoff of The Biggest Loser titled Losing It with Jillian.
Sigh. No, Sy Devore.
10/22/09 10:58 AM
Premiering:Thursday, Oct. 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Comedy Central
Starring: Jeff Dunham and his assorted characters
Produced by: Jeff Dunham, Ross McCall, Aaron Peters, Judi Brown-Marmel, Robert Hartmann, Stu Schreiberg
By ED BARK
Whatever's written here can't possibly hurt Jeff Dunham.
The Dallas-born ventriloquist already has a lucrative "fully-integrated, multi-platform" deal with Comedy Central. And his Christmas special ranks as the most-watched program in the network's history.
Now comes The Jeff Dunham Show, a weekly "comedy-reality" series premiering Thursday, Oct. 22nd at 8 p.m. central. Unfortunately for the star, he can't put words in the mouths of critics. And from this perspective, the opening half-hour is dummy-downed humor at its worst.
Dunham, 47, takes his well-worn, hand-held characters to various locations after first introducing them to a cheering studio audience. The best-known of the bunch, cantankerous, scowling Walter (think Ray Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond), throws out his usual "Holy crap" diatribes. As in, "Holy crap, what has happened to this world? You're on TV, there's a black guy in the White House."
That particular joke already is cob-webbed. As is a visit by Walter and Jeff to a couple's therapist who's goaded into acknowledging he's gay.
Walter, of course, is abhorred. And the resultant humor is abhorrent. It includes the old geezer emoting from a commode about how "I would never want to taste you in the morning." Finding themselves also agreeing that they "never want to be gay with each other," Jeff and Walter return to the therapist's office to praise him as a "gay yoda" who's brought them together.
Skeletal Achmed the Dead Terrorist also makes an appearance. His tagline, apparantly riotous to some, is "I kill you!" We then get a sample of Achmed's standup act at The Improv after he tells Dunham, "There are no morals in this city. The only virgins left here are the Jonas Brothers."
Thud. Clank. Crickets chirping. Unfortunately there's more.
Horny Peanut, the self-styled "Lavender Lover," yearns to navigate the "skanky waters of the L.A. dating scene." So Dunham hooks him up with busty reality show twit Brooke Hogan, Hulk's daughter. Peanut ends up barfing on himself in a restaurant after Achmed sneaks peanuts into his guacamole.
Finally comes the cockeyed and always hammered Bubba J, whom Dunham takes to a shooting range for a buncha jokes about guns. This inevitably leads to Bubba observing, "He said 'cock.' " Not once but twice. Try to keep your sides from splittin'.
Oddly enough, it's the old-line broadcast networks leading a mini-comedy revolution this season with critically praised newcomers (ABC's Modern Family and The Middle) and holdovers such as NBC's 30 Rock and CBS' The Big Bang Theory.
Comedy Central allegedly is comedy all the time, but this knuckle-scraper never rises above a punch to the nuts. Maybe that's the overall aim here. If so, South Park does it at least a thousand times better than The Jeff Dunham Show. And that's being overly kind.
10/21/09 01:40 PM
By ED BARK
CNN publicity materials very charitably tout Latino In America as "one of the most highly anticipated documentaries ever."
Even anchor Soledad O'Brien probably wouldn't go that far. She does go reasonably far and wide, though, in this four-hour sequel to her pair of Black In America documentaries.
Instructive but also repetitive and at times overly sympathetic, Latino In America premieres Wednesday, Oct. 21st at 8 p.m. central and concludes at the same hour Thursday.
Part 1, subtitled "The Garcias," takes viewers on a tour of what has become one of America's 10 most common surnames. It then concludes with a segment on prominent Hollywood Hispanics, including George Lopez, Edward James Olmos and Eva Longoria Parker. Aspiring actor Jesse Garcia also is part of the mix, which at least keeps the overall motif in place.
O'Brien commendably does the legwork here, so you'll see her on camera a lot in the company of both commoners and celebrities. Wednesday's opener begins in Tucson, AZ, with community activist Isabel Garcia the primary focus. She's also the government-paid chief legal defender of Pima County, AZ, and spends a good deal of her time proselytizing on behalf of illegal immigrants.
Isabel Garcia's arch enemy in these efforts is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who wants all illegals deported. Among those in his bullseye are the so-called "Panda Express 11," all of whom were working at the eatery while knowingly using fake Social Security cards.
O'Brien asks one of the defendants, single mom Araceli Torres, whether she knew it was illegal to use phony identification.
"I know that it's not a crime to work," she replies, which doesn't exactly answer the question. Torres arrived in the United States illegally from Mexico as a seven-year-old with her parents. And Isabel Garcia is fighting on her behalf, arguing that it serves no one to send Torres back to a country in which she has no friends and pledges no allegiance. Her three-year-old daughter is a legal U.S. citizen, which complicates matters.
The next Garcia segment, on Univision chef Lorena Garcia, is pretty much a throwaway. O'Brien chummily accompanies the excitable Lorena on her mission to become a Food Network personality, even though she's supposedly already a big star on the Spanish language network's Wake Up America.
But Lorena wants an English language show and even bigger stardom. And she figures the timing is right because, "our food, our accent, it's cute now."
Latino In America fares better in telling the story of Betty and Bill Garcia, who have moved from their New York neighborhood to Charlotte, NC, where there are comparatively few Hispanics.
Their two teenage sons are "more interested in fitting in than connecting with their Latino roots," O'Brien tells viewers. Says Brian Garcia, "We were raised speaking English and going to McDonald's and stuff."
A family trip back to New York reacquaints the two boys with their parents' heritage. But one wonders whether a pickup basketball game with the jovial Uncle Bobbito will really make any longterm impression.
O'Brien also tells the stories of two troubled Latina teenagers. Cindy is way behind in school due to family obligations dictated by her mother. But she's determined to catch up and graduate on time with her classmates.
Francisca also has issues with her mother, and once tried to commit suicide. But sympathy for both girls is compromised when each "messes up" and gets pregnant. O'Brien notes that they both intend to persevere and achieve their dreams. But no one involved here makes a very convincing case.
Latino In America overall is a decent and well-intended effort by O'Brien. But it also falters at times in its zeal to make some of these stories more inspirational than they really are. Credit CNN, however, for devoting a big chunk of prime-time to what quickly has become America's largest minority population.
At 51 million and counting, there now are more Latinos in the U.S. than in any other country except Mexico. The plusses and problems are growing, too -- and if anything at a faster rate.
10/19/09 11:36 AM
By ED BARK
The November issues of Gentlemen's Quarterly and Maxim perhaps won't be purchased for the articles.
Particularly GQ, whose cover girl, January Jones, otherwise emotes as Betty Draper on AMC's Mad Men. Keeping up with these Joneses will present a formidable challenge for a certain other magazine's Miss November. By the way, one of her ex-boyfriends is Ashton Kutcher, who apparently didn't think much of her, um, acting prowess.
Maxim counters with Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer and Grace Park, both of whom play Cylons. "Set Phasers to Sexy," the magazine instructs.
OK, fine, but January definitely gives Earth the edge in this battle of sexploitation cover shots. Her TV husband, stray cat ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm), has got to be out of his mind.
10/16/09 03:14 PM
By ED BARK
Manhood temporarily put in blind trust. Check.
Mind open to writing objective review of full-blown chick flick. Check.
Mind wandering after about five minutes. Check.
Actually it wasn't so bad. Lifetime's Sorority Wars (Saturday, Oct. 17th at 8 p.m. central) sprinkles a few lessons to live by into a pretty entertaining little story about the snippy, snooty Deltas vs. the more down-to-earth but still cute/cool Kappas. Both houses throw some pretty heavy drinking parties, even if the inhabitants seemingly are all under-aged. But hey, it's college, where getting wasted is part of the curriculum.
High-appeal Lucy Hale (Privileged) stars as Katie Parker, whose mom, Lutie (Courtney Thorne-Smith), once was a big-wheel Delta. She of course wants the same for her daughter, whose best friend, Sara Snow (Phoebe Strole), is also in tow.
Lutie's best pal, Summer (Faith Ford), is an even more devout Delta alum whose self-important daughter, Gwen (Amanda Schull), is already sworn in. She considers Katie a prize recruit who only needs to get her nose a little higher in the air. "Don't be shy," she counsels. "What a Delta wants a Delta gets."
Katie's a bit under-impressed, though, particularly with the kind of guys who hang around the Deltas. One of them is Beau (Rob Mayes), who turns out to be not so bad after all. In fact he's kind of charmed after Katie tells him, "Apparently you're majoring in 'sexist ass.' Good luck with that."
The Sorority Wars script can be a bit gamey at times, with "dry hump" and "douche" and "less ass-y" also coming into play. Again, though, this is college, where nobody says "Jiminy Crickets" anymore.
Noble Katie eventually is ostracized and branded "Herpes Girl" for snitching on the Deltas' cheatin' ways. Only the Kappas will have her now, with even Sara going over to the dark side. The dastardly Deltas even sabotage the Kappas' Foam-al party, in which the minimally attired co-ed attendees get blasted while frolicking in a communal bubble bath. Higher education's just the best.
It all eventually comes down to an annual battle for the coveted silver Tri-Crown trophy, which has resided in Delta house for a generation.
The climactic competition, a talent show, has a nice, Glee-ful feel. It's also a vehicle for the inevitable candy-coated reconciliation between mom and Katie, who's got a surprise for her.
Sorority Wars is nicely paced throughout, which makes its thorough predictability go by a little faster. A sizable segment of the population -- those with no interest in Saturday night's televised college football games -- can visit Lifetime's fictional Tate University campus instead. No one wears shoulder pads and the only "dirty rushing" on display is a recruiting violation by Delta.
10/15/09 05:19 PM
By ED BARK
Some networks know how to take care of both their owned and affiliated stations.
Actually only one does -- CBS.
We're talking specifically about late night local newscasts, and a network's ability to help make or break them with the popularity of its 9 p.m. (central) programming.
Deliver hits at that hour and you're likely to see some dividends when the locals take over with their marquee newscasts of the day. Keep flopping and you risk sabotaging the well-being of stations that carry your programming.
Now more than ever, CBS is nurturing its partners while ABC and NBC feed them gruel in the form of struggling series or The Jay Leno Show.
Through the first three weeks of the 2009-'10 TV season, here are the average total viewers for 9 p.m. programming on Mondays through Fridays. They're based on national results tabulated by Nielsen Media Research. I think you'll see a pattern.
CSI: Miami (CBS) -- 14.5 million
Castle (ABC) -- 9.7 million
The Jay Leno Show (NBC) -- 8.9 million
The Good Wife (CBS) -- 14.3 million
The Forgotten (ABC) -- 8.6 million
The Jay Leno Show (NBC) -- 7.9 million
CSI: NY (CBS) -- 14.0 million
The Jay Leno Show (NBC) -- 8.1 million
Eastwick (ABC) -- 7.1 million
The Mentalist (CBS) -- 16.2 million
Private Practice (ABC) -- 10.6 million
The Jay Leno Show (NBC) -- 6.1 million
Numb3rs (CBS) -- 8.3 million
20/20 (ABC) - 6.3 million
The Jay Leno Show (NBC) -- 6.2 million
NBC may be saving money on Leno, which costs roughly half as much to produce as a one-hour scripted drama series. But that's cold comfort to local stations, whose late night newscasts are dying on the vine from lousy lead-ins.
ABC hasn't been much help to its stations either. Its most-watched 9 p.m. attraction, Private Practice, still trails CBS' The Mentalist by an average of 5.6 million viewers per week.
CBS didn't get into this position by accident. It's long programmed its prime-time schedule with an eye toward success at 9 p.m. Helping the locals is a priority at CBS. For rival networks, it seems like an afterthought. Now more than ever.
10/15/09 10:54 AM
By ED BARK
Emmy's three-time reigning champ as best comedy series resumes play Thursday by again jabbing at its down-and-out network. And why not?
This used to be NBC's big "must-see" night, stocked with Grade A ratings smasheroos ranging from The Cosby Show to Seinfeld to Friends. But now the Peacock is plucked. Its two comedy standouts -- The Office and 30 Rock -- are pureed on a weekly basis by CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and ABC's Grey's Anatomy.
30 Rock, again stuck with a late fall season start, is funny as ever in Thursday's 8:30 p.m. (central) slot, where the Season 4 premiere begins with a cost-cutting "cheesie blaster" staff dinner at a Manhattan eatery.
In tough times, bossman Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) has a new "reaching-out-to-the-country" initiative in mind for TGS, the sketch comedy show produced by Liz Lemon (Tina Fey). He wants a new, more relatable cast member hired in addition to a folksier revamp of TGS.
This prompts an offer by Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) to "go country" by recording a new theme song for NBC Sports.
"What sports does NBC have these days?" Lemon later wonders.
"Oh, off-season tennis," says Jack.
Actually, the Peacock would be completely horizontal in the prime-time ratings were it not for its ongoing Sunday Night Football franchise. But 30 Rock seldom misses an opportunity to skewer the network that otherwise can't stop shooting itself in the foot.
Jack has other austerity kicks afoot.
"Thanks to Comrade Obama's recession, we've had to cut overtime for pages," he says. This is a cruel blow for Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer), who's told that his daily regimen no longer can exceed 16 hours.
But Kenneth later mistakenly receives Jack's bonus-laden paycheck, prompting him to organize a page strike. Jack's efforts to waylay it -- "I didn't lie, Kenneth. I massaged the truth" -- are repeatedly thwarted.
Tonight's opener, subtitled "Season 4," also includes a closing reference to Jay Leno that can be construed as either a brickbat or a bouquet. The setup line: "Step into the light, Lemon. There's nothing wrong with being fun and popular and just giving people what they want."
Next week's episode likewise pinpricks the Peacock and its GE owner with a microwave oven subplot. But one joke is so "in" that it perhaps should have been thrown out. His livelihood again threatened by nemesis Devin Banks (guest star Will Arnett), Jack retorts, "I'll have you know that Barry Diller and I are working on a whole new approach to media."
That's a reference to recently deposed NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman, whose ineffectual two-year reign officially ended in late July. Silverman concurrently announced he was "returning to his entrepreneurial roots to form a new venture" with Diller, formerly Fox's programming czar.
30 Rock seemingly is bullet-proof in these matters, with NBC at least deserving credit for repeatedly playing the show's pinata. In turn, the Peacock gets prime-time's smartest, funniest and lamentably under-watched comedy series. One in which Jack can still get away with proclaiming, "We're GE, dammit. And we're going to make a giant, flimsy microwave" in an effort to spike sales and of course dupe consumers.
10/14/09 08:00 AM
By ED BARK
"Well, I'll be damned, here comes your ghost again."
Joan Baez's most famous lyric -- about Bob Dylan and from "Diamonds & Rust" -- could just as easily be the subtitle of Wednesday's American Masters tribute to her.
Instead PBS opts for the much tamer Sing Me Home (9 p.m. central on KERA13 locally). It'll do, because after all this is pretty much Baez's story, not his. And for a captivating 90 minutes, it's still a helluva tale.
Baez resolutely refused to talk about Dylan during an early August, satellite-fed interview session with TV critics. Asked about her "contemporary relationship" with him, she replied, "Well, I don't really have one." Period. Further questions were deflected.
That's somewhat surprising, since Sing Me Home finds both Dylan and Baez reminiscing about each other in new and revelatory interviews shot for the film.
Dylan is magnanimous, for him at least. He sometimes refers to Baez as "Joanie." As in, "Joanie was at the forefront of a new dynamic in American music" whose early albums greatly impressed him. After all, she "had that heart-stoppin' soprano voice. I just couldn't get it out of my mind."
They first hooked up in the early 1960s, when Baez brought him onstage with her. She'd already made her mark and he was on the verge of making his.
"I think she had a crush on him. I know he had a crush on her," David Crosby recollects.
"I was crazy about him," a current-day Baez admits. "We were an item, and we were having wonderful fun."
It came crashing down during their mid-1960s tour of England, where Sing Me Home shows them performing a boisterous but telling "It Ain't Me Babe."
"We were in a bubble, and it didn't last," Baez recalls. "The tour in England was hell. There's not really much more to say."
"I was just trying to deal with the madness that had become my career," says Dylan. "And unfortunately she got swept along and I felt very badly about it. I was sorry to see our relationship end."
Baez says she now realizes that he couldn't be molded -- and through no fault of his own.
"Bob suffered under me wanting him to be other than he was," she says. "I wanted him to be a political spokesperson. I wanted him to be out in public and to be on our team. That was my hangup."
In 1975 she revisited their relationship with "Diamonds & Rust," forever her anthem as she now well knows.
"I love that song . . . I mean, to this day it still impresses me," Dylan says.
She wrote it after Dylan called out of the blue and eventually asked her to join him on his late '75/early/'76 Rolling Thunder tour. This time their footage together is in color, with a far more animated Baez cutting loose as she never had onstage. And that was that.
Sing Me Home doesn't lose its way when Dylan's not around. It's ripe with evocative footage, including home movies of Joan and her two sisters, Mimi and Pauline, on the road with their gypsy-esque parents. Joan was 10 when the family lived in Baghdad. People mistook her for an Arab while she empathized with the poverty-stricken populace. Her political activism took root then and there, she says.
Baez was a full partner in the civil rights marches of the 1960s. At the height of her fame, she literally walked arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King. Jailed repeatedly for non-violent protesting, Baez never retreated.
"When you're committed to singing meaningful songs, you also have to be committed to leading a life that backs that up," she says.
The film also includes footage from Baez's 1993 trip to war-torn Sarajevo and a reunion with her ex-husband and anti-war activist David Harris. Their son, Gabe, was born while he served a three-year prison term. Once estranged, mother and son now perform in concert together.
"I've constructed a life in which I don't feel lonely," Baez, 68, says.
Sing Me Home is rich in texture and emblematic of times that reverberated with causes -- and effects. Baez's mother, Joan, is still ticking at age 96. But she lost her best pal and kid sister, Mimi Farina, to cancer in 2001.
Near the end, the film reprises old b&w footage of the two of them singing Donovan's "Catch the Wind" onstage. It underscores the point that
Joan and Mimi had something together that Baez and Dylan never quite mastered. But "Diamonds & Rust" remains a masterpiece nonetheless. And it still makes me misty. Here's a 1975 performance:
10/09/09 12:03 PM
By ED BARK
True story. Britney Spears had never heard of Bob Hope.
At least that's what Paul Shaffer told David Letterman this week while plugging his new book of celebrity anecdotes.
It just goes to show that you can't assume anything -- not even an awareness of who John F. Kennedy was and where he died on that terrible day of Nov. 22, 1963.
Which means that History Channel's two-part, four-hour JFK: 3 Shots That Changed America might well be a revelation to the Spears generation. And even for the many who think they know it all, it's still seldom less than transfixing.
Premiering Sunday, Oct. 11th at 8 p.m. (central) and continuing at the same hour Monday, 3 Shots is the featured attraction of History Channel's so-called "Kennedy Declassified Week." Presented without narration, it's an extended chronological trip through 30 years of the assassination and its aftermath.
"This is what happened, as it happened," viewers are informed. "Much of this material has not been seen before."
Well, some of it perhaps hasn't -- at least not by a national audience. But many D-FW viewers likely have seen the live, in-studio anchoring of then WFAA8 program director Jay Watson. His spur-of-the-moment interview of Abraham Zapruder, whose famous film captured the fatal shots in Dallas, has been revisited many times on various assassination anniversaries.
The producers of 3 Shots, Nicole Rittenmeyer and Seth Skundrick, have compiled their oft-riveting film from home movies, jumpy raw news footage and previously televised coverage. Sunday's two-hour opener initially captures JFK and his wife, Jacqueline, in all their glory, both at a packed Fort Worth breakfast and after Air Force One's touch-down at Love Field. It ends with the shooting of jailed accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by strip club owner Jack Ruby.
One of the prominent Dallas TV reporters of the day, KRLD's Bob Huffaker, keeps calling him "Lee Harold Oswald." Blunt-spoken Dallas police chief Jesse Curry nearly spits out his description of Oswald as "very arrogant. Has been all along."
Monday's Part 2 deftly condenses the recriminations, investigations and conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Famous faces abound, including Johnny Carson's. On his old New York-based Tonight Show, he interviewed New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, whose dogged, but largely discredited assassination investigation was lionized in director Oliver Stone's controversial JFK film.
3 Shots ends in the summer of 1993, when previously classified assassination files were opened. One of the last images is of former WFAA8 assignments editor Bert Shipp (father of investigative reporter Brett Shipp) telling the camera, "People don't wanna let it go."
Indeed not. This is still powerful, emotional material, even for those who think they know it by rote.
For later generations, 3 Shots will be an archaeological dig into times when Bob Hope -- Bob Who? -- was still the nation's king of comedy. But nearly 46 years after that traumatic day in Dallas, viewers of all ages can unite in the same reaction. It's still almost impossible to believe.
10/07/09 11:50 AM
By ED BARK
What's the worst show on TV?
Or to put it another way, what show curls your toenails, assaults your sensibilities, prompts projectile vomiting and has you screaming like a banshee at your otherwise poor, innocent TV set?
For me it's Entertainment Tonight, inflicted on D-FW weeknights at 6:30 p.m. on WFAA8.
Technically it may not be the pound-for-pound worst thing on the air. That title probably should go to something starring either the Kardashians or the Gosselins.
But without question, ET's the one that sets me off.
Its incessant bone-picking "investigations" and never-before-seen videos are nausea-inducing. Its constant, knee-bending fealty to Donny and Marie Osmond is unfathomable. Its so-called "Only ET was there" exclusives are nothing more than pure puffery for movies, TV shows and stars selling their wares.
Through it all, hosts Mary Hart and Mark Steines -- in league with the show's toadying corps of "correspondents" -- unfailingly coo, gush and promote themselves in a manner that almost cries out for repeal of the First Amendment.
But maybe that's just me.
Surely you, too, have a show that makes you nuts. A show that should be reserved for your worst enemy's private hell. A show that shouldn't go on, but does.
So what is it? Hit me with your hot button pushers in the Comments section. Fellow sufferers will thank you.
Oh what a night: Letterman revisits his sex scandal with jokes/apology; Favre gives the Pack a cheese wedgie; DeLay outscores "The Playmaker" despite dancing on two fractured feet
10/06/09 10:16 AM
By ED BARK
In the annals of eventful Monday nights, this one towered above most.
We're talking about the drama/comedy unfolding through plate glass screens. You know, that old thing they're still calling television.
What, for instance, would David Letterman say -- if anything -- about the tongue-wagging sex scandal he revealed to his Late Show audience last Thursday?
It turned out he said a lot, while also giving audiences another up-close look at how insular, out of touch or flat-out disingenuous he can be.
Letterman began with a deftly crafted monologue that both twitted his personal travails and addressed the ticklish business of telling sex jokes at the expense of others. First, though, he received a prolonged, loud ovation from his studio audience. America apparently loves its philandering late night talk show hosts.
"I got in the car this morning and the navigation lady wasn't speakin' to me," Letterman cracked.
And yeah, "things are still pretty bad. There's a possibility that I'll be the first talk show host impeached."
Letterman said he spent "the whole weekend raking up my hate mail." And boy, it was "chilly outside my house, chilly INSIDE my house," where wife Regina Lasko and the couple's nearly six-year-old son, Harry, still reside for now.
Bandleader Paul Shaffer frequently chortled, his laughter massaging Letterman's punch lines in the manner of a three-year-old licking an ice cream cone. The boss then segued to his masterstroke. "OK, let's look at the news. First of all, Bill Clinton . . ."
Letterman's voice trailed off -- the first of three intentional false starts. References to Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer likewise were left dangling. The host is now a fellow philanderer, leaving him impotent for at least the short term on this staple topic of late night comedians. For comparison purposes, think of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy during the Clarence Thomas hearings. He could hardly weigh in on the Supreme Court nominee's alleged sexual misconduct when he had been so recently embroiled himself.
Letterman said he's only in Phase 1 of coming to grips with what he did. "Phase 2, next week, I go on Oprah and sob."
She'd no doubt be thrilled to have him. Meanwhile, Letterman saved his serious business for behind-the-desk. And here's where it got very hard to believe.
"It did not occur to me," he said, that reporters "would start hounding the staff" after he told the world of a $2 million extortion plot tied to his admitted sexual dalliances with several women who had worked for him or, in the case of Stephanie Birkitt, are still Late Show employees.
"No, I'm not having sex with these women. Those episodes are in the past," Letterman clarified. "My apologies for subjecting them to that vulnerability and being browbeaten and humiliated. It never occurred to me" that this would happen.
Wow. Wasn't that one of the first questions on just about everyone's mind when Letterman went public? But it "never occurred" to him that reporters of all stripes, from TMZ to The New York Times, would be instantly on the scent. That's patently impossible to believe, even coming from a guy who basically lives like a hermit off-camera.
Letterman then got around to talking about his longtime companion and wife since March. Regina Lasko, also the mother of his son, "has been horribly hurt by my behavior," he said. The next step is to either work things out or perhaps fail to do so, he said. "Let me tell ya, folks, I got my work cut out for me."
His decision to go to authorities resulted in the arrest last week of veteran 48 Hours producer Robert J. "Joe" Halderman on attempted grand larceny charges. Halderman's lawyer says there's much more to this story, and that he looks forward to cross-examining Letterman if indeed this matter ever comes to trial. Questions about sexual harassment in the workplace no doubt would be paramount.
"Through all of the heartache and the attention and the embarrassment, I still feel like I did the right thing," Letterman told his audience Monday. He then couldn't resist re-apologizing to Sarah Palin. Always leave 'em laughing if you can.
Still, Monday's performance only served to raise more questions about the moral compass and overall equilibrium of a 62-year-old man who professed to be surprised that anyone would be interested in which Late Show staffers had sex with him -- and when. Where has he been during all these years in the public eye?
On Monday, an often very funny Letterman also walked a razor-thin line between being self-serving and clueless. Neither becomes him, but Late Show's lately soaring ratings don't care one way or the other.
Dallas Cowboys fans are still bemoaning Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos. But hey, that was nothing. For Wisconsin natives and lifelong Green Bay Packer fans -- guilty as charged -- Monday's loss to the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings was tougher to swallow than week-old Limburger left to rot at room temperature.
It all unfolded before the nation at large on ESPN's Monday Night Football, whose commentators canonized Favre from start-to-finish of a not-that-close 30-23 Packer defeat.
Favre, who turns 40 on October 10th, showed that he can still sling it. Of course it helps when you're facing absolutely no pass rush and have the NFL's best running back in Adrian Peterson.
Meanwhile, the heir to Favre's Packer throne, Aaron Rodgers, ran for his life all night long and still managed to pile up 384 yards passing. But the usually interception-prone Favre stayed free of turnovers while Rodgers had both an interception and a fumble.
Green Bay obviously made the right choice in anointing Rodgers last season after Favre retired and unretired twice before taking a consolation job with the New York Jets enroute to the Vikes. Rodgers is going to be one of the NFL's elite QBs provided he can survive an offensive line that keeps stinking aplenty.
Still, seeing Favre in Minnesota purple remained surreal throughout the night. He clearly harbored a grudge against his old team, and played as the occasion demanded. Several of his pinpoint laser passes were the stuff of old, prompting ESPN's gang of three in the booth to rhapsodize time and again.
A rematch in Lambeau is coming on Nov. 1st. Maybe the old man'll be a bit more worse for wear by then. But so will Rodgers if this keeps up. I was hoping for some Brett-worst Monday night. Instead he made us choke on our bratwursts. I know, I know, it's only a game, not life or death. But damn you, Brett. Why couldn't you have played like Tony Romo?
Monday night's other live drama starred "super trouper" Tom DeLay and his two stress-fractured feet.
Doctors and the producers of ABC's Dancing with the Stars supposedly told the former House Majority leader to bow out rather than inflict his samba on the viewing public and more pain on himself. But, as he said during the taped rehearsal segment, "My father drilled into me as a kid, 'Never give up.' "
Before DeLay prepared to dance live, host Tom Bergeron wondered why he was intent on still experiencing the agony of the feet.
"What's a little pain when you can party?" he retorted before eventually emerging with a lowly but hard-won 15 score from the show's three judges.
That was a moral victory for DeLay and his pro partner, two-time champ Cheryl Burke. The night's only lower score, a 14, was awarded to former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin, who also did the samba.
One of the two stands a good chance of being voted off during Tuesday's results show. But you never know. DeLay, still awaiting trial on charges of money-laundering and violating state campaign finance laws, made a lot of enemies during his congressional tenure as "The Hammer."
Watching him grimace in pain no doubt has a certain entertainment value for those who love to loathe him. Irvin badly needs a sympathy vote, though. Being punched out before DeLay would be tough to live down. How can you criticize the current-day Cowboys on your ESPN radio show if you can't beat a paunchy 62-year-old with a pair of fractured feet?
10/02/09 02:59 PM
By ED BARK
Curb Your Enthusiasm's pre-season is over, even though the first two episodes were fun.
But now comes the reason why Season 7 will be quite unlike any other. Sunday's third of 10 episodes (8 p.m. central on HBO) puts Curb's mock Seinfeld reunion in motion, with Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards all in the picture as themselves.
Larry (Seinfeld co-creator Larry David) of course has ulterior motives. He wants to reunite with estranged wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines), and figures the way back into her heart -- and other areas -- is to offer her a part in the planned reunion. She's thrilled to hear about this, but nothing ever goes quite right for Larry. As you'll see in the closing scene.
Larry's manager, Jeff Greene (Jeff Garlin), is still fending off NBC's advances. The network yearns to stage a Seinfeld reunion, which you would too if your real-life ratings were close to subterranean. So Jeff pleads with Larry to get the Peacock off his back by giving their executives an emphatic, in-person "No." OK, fine. But another chance meeting with Cheryl prompts Larry to impulsively change his mind.
The episode includes separate meetings between Larry and all of the cast principals. He strives to sell them on the premise that George Costanza (Alexander's replica of the real Larry) is trying to get back with his wife after divorcing her.
"It could make up for the finale, that's for sure," Jason tells him over lunch. He's referring to the May 14, 1998 Seinfeld swan song, in which Jerry, George, Elaine Benes (Dreyfus) and Kramer (Richards) ended up behind bars serving a one-year sentence for "crimes against humanity." A lot of TV critics were disappointed with the finale, including your friendly content provider.
Things go their not-so-merry way, with Jerry wondering why it wouldn't be "lame" while also accusing Larry of doing an about-face on staging a reunion. Elaine and Jason both get into post-meeting arguments with Larry while a vacant Richards is more interested in the nude pictures at the restaurant Larry's chosen for lunch.
It's a clever, funny start to these proceedings, although just a bit forced at times. The buildup to the reunion will play out for the next seven episodes, with portions of the finished product comprising much of this season's Curb finale.
That leaves an open question. What could Curb possibly do for an encore if there's a Season 8? One gets the feeling that the Seinfeld gambit might close that door for good. But no one truly knows the mind of Larry David. Not even him.
10/02/09 09:22 AM
Premiering: Sunday, Oct. 4th at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Alex O'Loughlin, Katherine Moennig, Daniel Henney, Christopher J. Hanke, Alfre Woodard, Justina Machado, Lisa Reed
Produced by: Carol Barbee
By ED BARK
All forms of TV programming require a strong pulse, but none more so than a medical drama.
CBS' new Three Rivers, whose title just as easily could mean a fishing show, has faint vital signs at best. The network scrapped its original pilot episode to come up with this bland, by-the-book look at organ transplant specialists operating out of a Pittsburgh horse pistol.
At center stage is Dr. Andy Yablonski, played by former vampire Alex O'Loughlin of CBS' short-lived but perhaps ahead-of-its-time Moonlight series. O'Loughlin is cute enough to make a few hearts throb, but his character has no discernible edge other than a sweet tooth and a proclivity to be late for staff meetings.
He also says things like, "I can't make any promises, but I'll do my best." Fox's Dr. Gregory House would find him about as scintillating as a patient's meal of congealed, cold oatmeal and dry toast.
Three Rivers attempts to create hard-driving excitement via a series of quick crises. A construction boss plunges several stories. A young Sudan man shows up in need of a quick heart transplant. A pregnant woman collapses while watching her husband's head being sewn up. A kid has a panic attack at a Spelling B and then vomits blood after correctly navigating the word "antediluvian."
All of these predicaments are re-assembled anew before each commercial break via a collage that's supposed to connote heart-pounding urgency. There's also ample whisk/whoosh editing, but to little avail. The entire enterprise needs a pacemaker, even if its overall message -- be sure to be an organ donor -- is undeniably well-intended.
Other denizens include quick-tempered Dr. Miranda Foster (Katherine Moennig), whose late father was an esteemed surgeon; "womanizing" Dr. David Lee (Daniel Henney); wide-eyed rookie transplant coordinator Ryan Abbott (Christopher J. Hanke); saucy operating assistant Pam Acosta (Justina Machado) and overseer Sophia Jordan (Alfre Woodard).
It all ends up being quite predictable and at times decidedly maudlin as Yablonski and his mates await a heart whose delivery has been stalled. In real-life, perhaps we'd all prefer a doctor who always says just the right thing and then benevolently smiles along with you after your life's been saved.
In a TV drama, though, a much sharper scalpel is needed. Three Rivers instead uses a butter knife, rendering House all the more invigorating.
10/02/09 03:55 AM
By ED BARK
Big bungles are commonplace in network TV land. And contrary to current conventional wisdom, downtrodden NBC isn't the only screwup.
ABC in fact made a mistake for the ages by passing on The Cosby Show in 1984. The Peacock then picked it up and used one of prime-time's all-time ratings juggernauts to club CBS' Magnum, P.I. over the head on Thursday nights. Magnum went from Top 10 hit to a goner after the 1987-'88 season. Cosby led NBC to total dominance on Thursday nights, ranking as prime-time's most popular show from 1985 through 1990.
But CBS since has paid NBC back tenfold. And it all goes back to the Peacock's decision, at the end of the 1995-'96 season, to cancel a little show called JAG after just one year on the air.
JAG had done reasonably well in its freshman season. But in NBC's view, it committed the cardinal sin of appealing to a mostly older audience. CBS, long-accustomed to "skewing old," decided to give JAG a reprieve. It joined the network's schedule in January 1997. And the reverberations have never been stronger.
JAG, which lasted all the way through the 2004-'05 season, spawned a spinoff series, NCIS, in fall 2003. And now NCIS has its own little brother, the brand new NCIS: Los Angeles. They air back-to-back on Tuesday nights, and you might say that's working pretty well.
In the first week of the new TV season, NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the prime-time ratings, respectively drawing 20.6 million and 18.7 million viewers.
In Week 2, the incredibly resilient NCIS upped its audience to 21.4 million viewers while NCIS: Los Angeles stayed stable at 17.4 million. The two military-themed dramas also have helped to make a first-year hit of CBS' following The Good Wife, which is easily winning its 9 p.m. (central) time period opposite NBC's The Jay Leno Show and ABC's new The Forgotten.
Here's something else that even CBS never envisioned. NCIS and its progeny also are doing very well among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds. In premiere week, NCIS ranked No. 7 in that audience demographic while NCIS: Los Angeles cruised in at No. 11. So it's no longer just Grandpappy Amos watching, which had been the case for years with NCIS.
NBC meanwhile is still gasping for air, with CBS using its two NCIS editions to lay waste/waist to the the Peacock's Biggest Loser on Tuesday nights.
It's now been 13 years since NBC canceled JAG and CBS picked it up. Two NCIS spinoffs later, the payback continues. And there's still no end in sight.