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Uppers for CBS, NBC; downers for ABC, Fox in first week of new fall season

The new Steve McGarrett toasts his network's success. CBS photo

CBS landed all five of its new series in prime-time's top 25 last week, crunching its three principal rivals in impressive fashion.

NBC also showed some signs of life after last fall's Jay Leno debacle while ABC and Fox both suffered significant audience losses from last year's premiere week totals, according to data from Nielsen Media Research.

CBS likewise pleased its local owned and affiliated stations by winning the 9 p.m. (central) time slot with each of its weekday crime dramas. That's another nice lead-in gift for late night local newscasts from a network that continues to take good care of its children.

Overall, CBS averaged 12.5 million viewers in Week 1 (Sept. 20-26), up from 11.8 million a year ago. ABC ran second with 9.6 million viewers, a sharp downturn from 11.05 million in the first week of the 2009-10 season.

NBC slipped into third place with 8.2 million viewers, up from the previous year's 7.6 million. Fox ran fourth with 6.5 million, a drop from 7.4 million.

CBS and NBC also registered year-to-year increases in advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds, respectively finishing first and second in that key measurement. ABC and Fox each were down 700,000 viewers in this age range.

Hawaii Five-0, CBS' heavily promoted "re-imagining" of the original, was the most-watched new series of premiere week, ranking 11th with 14.2 million total viewers. CBS also had the next four top-rated newcomers in Blue Bloods (17th with 13 million viewers); $#*! My Dad Says (20th with 12.6 million); Mike & Molly (22nd with 12.2 million) and The Defenders (23rd with 12.1 million).

Only one other new series, NBC's The Event, landed in prime-time's Top 30. It finished in 27th place with 10.9 million viewers.

On the down side, Fox's made-in-North Texas Lone Star, canceled Tuesday after just two episodes, had a rock-bottom opening night haul of 4.1 million viewers to rank 88th for the week.

Other new series with likely short-term futures include ABC's The Whole Truth (79th with 4.8 million viewers); NBC's Outlaw (78th with 4.9 million) and ABC's My Generation (73rd with 5.2 million).

Fox's Dallas-made The Good Guys, which had a summer run, returned with toe tags attached in a new Friday night slot. The serio-comic cop show had just 2.8 million viewers to rank 108th for the week.

Fox's biggest bright spot, Glee, ranked 21st in total viewers but jumped to the No. 2 spot with 18-to-49-year-olds, behind only NBC's Sunday Night Football.

ABC's home run hitter, Dancing with the Stars ranked first and third in total viewers with its performance and results shows. It dropped a bit -- to fifth and 10th -- in the 18-to-49 demographic.

CBS traditionally struggles with 18-to-49-year-olds. But not so much this time. It had eight of the top 20 shows, paced by The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men in a seventh place tie. Selleck's Blue Bloods showed its age, though, falling from 17th in total viewers to 59th among 18-to-49-year-olds.

In contrast, Fox's one-hour season premiere of Family Guy ranked ninth with 18-to-49-year-olds, but only 36th in total viewers.

Also in premiere week, Univision averaged 4 million viewers, with 2.1 million of them in the 18-to-49 age range. Both totals were up from a year ago.

The CW ranked 6th with 2.5 million viewers (1.5 million of them 18-to-49-year-olds). Those also were better showings than last September's premiere week.

NBC Universal-owned Telemundo continues to trail Univision by wide margins in the Spanish language programming universe. In fact it's getting worse. Telemundo's averages of 680,000 total viewers and 370,000 in the 18-to-49 range were both sharply down from a year ago.

In the cable arena, ESPN's Monday Night Football game between the Saints and 49ers averaged 15.1 million total viewers to easily rank at the top of the heap. That would put it seventh among all programs, between CBS' The Mentalist and the same network's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

MTV's Jersey Shore 2, cable's No. 2 attraction of the week, had 6 million viewers. That would be good for a 58th place tie with Fox's Hell's Kitchen.

NEW SEASON: Law & Order: Los Angeles impressively wades into Hollywood cesspool

Corey Stoll and Skeet Ulrich are partners on LOLA. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 29th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Skeet Ulrich, Corey Stoll, Terrence Howard, Alfred Molina, Rachel Ticotin, Regina Hall, Megan Boone
Produced by: Dick Wolf

Rejuvenating the Law & Order brand may have seemed like a mission: improbable at this stage.

Instead it's looking like mission: accomplished for NBC's new Law & Order: Los Angeles, otherwise dubbed LOLA by creator Dick Wolf.

Paired with the long-running Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in the closing two hours of prime-time, LOLA has a new and very nicely matched pair of crime-busters in detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and T.J. Jaruszalski (Corey Stoll). Prosecutions of their perps will be handled on an alternating episode basis by standout actors Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard as deputy district attorneys Ricardo Morales and Jonah "Joe" Dekker.

The Hollywood cesspool turns out to be a refreshing splash for a series that long has ripped its plots from the headlines. Wednesday's premiere spotlights a troubled young Lindsay Lohan-like actress named Chelsea Sennett (Danielle Panabaker) and her conniving stage mom, Trudy (Shawnee Smith). Episode 2 takes its cue from the Manson Family murders and a copycat group from the '70s calling itself the Echo Park Tribe.

Ulrich looks suitably older and wiser than he did in the CBS cult favorite Jericho. He's married to an ex-detective named Casey (recurring appearances by Teri Polo), who quit to be a stay-at-home mom.

"Ninety-nine percent of 12-year-olds girls would kill to be the illegal-drinking, (drug)-popping, club-crawling Chelsea Sennett," Winters tells his partner, who retorts, "Ain't America grand?"

"Not if you have a 12-year-old daughter," says Winters.

Stoll instantly registers as Jaruszalski, a bald, mustachioed gumshoe with a sardonic view of his surroundings.

"Mom shoots a burglar, daughter holds a press conference. I love L.A." he cracks.

The tattletale, tabloid website TMZ is more than happy to be a part of this, letting LOLA use its name as a key ingredient in the case.

Episode 1 is rife with sexually explicit language and stardom-chasing Hollywood riff-raff. Next Wednesday's hour is more cerebral, with right, wrong and office politics bumping hard against each another. Howard is especially good in this episode while Winters' personal life is glimpsed in a rare departure from Wolf's straight ahead arrest-and-trial schematic.

Having canceled the mothership Law & Order after 20 seasons, NBC is going all-out to promote LOLA. The push includes a four-page, newspaper-sized "Los Angeles Post" advertisement inserted into Wednesday editions of major newspapers.

Its front page headline, "Media Icon Hit By Crime Wave," has an accompanying picture of a battered NBC Burbank headquarters with its Peacock symbol defaced, the B missing from NBC and graffiti scrawled on the front walls.

Oddly enough, the vandals haven't written "Ratings loser" anywhere. But NBC might well have a pretty big winner in LOLA, which so far has taken the show West without making a mess of it.

GRADE: A-minus

NEW SEASON: ABC's No Ordinary Family is no extraordinary series

Julie Benz & Michael Chiklis seem to like their new venue. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 28th at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker, Jimmy Bennett, Stephen Collins, Romany Blanco, Autumn Reeser
Produced by: Greg Berlanti, Jon Harmon

Last seen as swaggering, scowling, intimidating Vic Mackey on The Shield, Michael Chiklis is now an angst-prone married father of two with an unfulfilling career. "Who am I? A failed painter? An ineffectual police artist?" he laments to a co-worker.

Last seen dead in a tub of blood on Dexter, Julie Benz is now a workaholic executive vice president of research who devotes more time to her job than her husband and kids.

Their respective acting U-turns take them to ABC's No Ordinary Family, the network's last realistic chance to emerge with a legitimate hit new fall series after tepid early returns for the likes of My Generation, The Whole Truth, Better With You and Detroit 1-8-7.

It's a watchable but hardly extraordinary fantasy-drama that resorts to familiar ABC territory in an early scene. That would be an empowering plane crash, which leaves the four members of the Powell family with distinct super abilities that can be used to fight crime, eavesdrop, get somewhere in a big hurry or -- in the parents' case -- ramp up a flat-tired sex life.

Tuesday's first episode begins with talk-to-the-camera narration from Jim Powell (Chiklis), who tells viewers rather generically, "Every story has a beginning. But ours doesn't start the way you might think."

Powell otherwise yearns to "do something together as a family," and in fact is too earnest with these repeated proclamations to engender much sympathy from viewers -- or his family. But they agree on a vacation trip to Brazil and an eventual eventful overhead tour of the Amazon rain forest. It ends with the Powells deposited in a magical body of water while their pilot not only misses out on the super powers but winds up dead.

Safely back home, Jim learns through trial and error that he can catch speeding bullets, leap tall buildings in a single bound and bench-press 11,000 pounds. Wife Stephanie (Benz) discovers she has super-speed and temperamental daughter Daphne (Kay Panabaker) gets the initially unwanted Sookie Sackhouse consolation prize of being able to hear people's thoughts.

Daphne's younger, picked-on brother JJ (Jimmy Bennett) notices nothing different about himself until an end-of-the-episode classroom scene. The producers of No Ordinary Family would prefer to keep you guessing, so we'll leave it at that. Another late-in-coming but consequential "reveal" injects some intended danger and intrigue into future storylines. You may not see it coming, and then you might wish it hadn't arrived. I'm not sure if it will serve the series all that well.

The producers also induce a curious sub-plot in which "psychos in Obama masks" are robbing at will. Chiklis' character has a showdown with them, throwing one against a wall before another shoots him in what proves to be a somewhat vulnerable spot. There's always the danger that Fox News Channel will interpret this as an actual event, warning viewers that sinister clones of the President -- manufactured in a secret White House stem cell lab -- are bent on running roughshod over truth, justice and the American way. Meanwhile, MSNBC might say that the administration has no choice but to accomplish its noble goals by any and all means necessary, including armed robberies of fat cats who don't pay enough taxes. Stay tuned.

No Ordinary Family will have to face off against two very potent competing hours -- CBS' NCIS and Fox's Glee. The premiere episode, book-ended by Chiklis' clunky narratives, strives more than a little too hard to be both meaningful and entertaining. Heroes had an awesome first episode before gradually unraveling. Maybe this one instead will find its footing in future hours. For starters, it's merely so-so.


Burns' Tenth Inning too often makes errors of omission

Ken Burns touts The Tenth Inning to TV critics. PBS photos

It might be, it could be, it is -- a strikingly ordinary documentary film from the renowned Ken Burns.

In collaboration with longtime associate Lynn Novick, his four-hour PBS sequel to 1994's Baseball steps to the plate on Tuesday and Wednesday (7 to 9 p.m. central each night on KERA13 in D-FW) as the great game gears up for a post-season that will include the Texas Rangers for the first time in 11 years.

The Tenth Inning begins with Barry Bonds' last game as a Pittsburgh Pirate (Oct. 14, 1992) and his father Bobby's baseball legacy before zooming in on the 1994 strike that killed that year's World Series. But it might better be titled An Increasingly Aggravating Recent History of the Yankees and Red Sox, with Bonds and Steroids Casting a Sinister Shadow.

Burns is a longtime Red Sox fan and Novick is just as devoted to "my Yankees," as she put it in a recent interview with TV critics. And it can't be argued that the period from the strike to the present proved to be very eventful for both teams.

Still, the fixation on them is problematic. As is the exclusion of long-suffering civilian fans. They get no voice whatsoever while media gadfly Mike Barnicle and the likewise over-exposed Doris Kearns Goodwin get to whine and rhapsodize repeatedly about their steadfast devotion to the Red Sox.

"He had tears the size of hub caps streaming down his cheeks," Barnicle says of one of his sons' reaction to Boston's 7th game collapse in the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. Barnicle says he then asked himself, "What have I done? What have I done?"

Oh shaddup.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre also is canonized at length for his four World Series championships. Meanwhile, baseball writer Marcus Breton of The Sacramento Bee talks about his pain and suffering as a fan of the Giants, who haven't won a World Series since moving from New York to San Francisco in 1958. Yeah, well at least you've been to two.

The Eastern-centric nature of Tenth Inning -- with trips out West only because of Bonds -- mostly deals out the hardy breeds who have lived and mostly died with the likes of the Rangers, the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, whose last Series appearance was in 1945 and whose last win came in 1908. The famed Steve Bartman foul ball interference that helped to unravel the Cubs in their 2003 NLCS matchup against the Florida Marlins gets only cursory notice before Barnicle shows up again. This time he bitches about being "humiliated" and "embarrassed" when the Red Sox went down 3-0 to the Yankees before mounting their epic comeback in the 2004 ALCS.

No one should expect Tenth Inning to be as majestic, textured and encompassing as Burns' original Baseball tome. For one, history just doesn't look as good on videotape. Those evocative black-and-white images from the game's distant past -- and the rich color film from the '50s and '60s -- were suitable for framing compared to the Venus Paradise Pencil set nature of the '70s to the present.

Even with the original Baseball, though, Burns tended to cut out the middle part of the country in favor of chronicling the exploits of the Yankees, the Red Sox and the then Brooklyn Dodgers. Case in point: the winningest left-handed pitcher of all-time, Warren Spahn, perhaps got three seconds of screen time. His crime? He played for a small-market team, even if the Milwaukee Braves did manage to smote the mighty Mickey Mantle-led Yankees in the 1957 World Series.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Yanks were America's team.

Baseball had the eloquent and recently deceased Buck O'Neill as its inning-to-inning ambassador. No one of his caliber emerges in Tenth Inning, although the Bee's Breton has been extolled by Burns as the "emotional center of gravity in the film," which is back-dropped by Keith David's workmanlike narrative intonations.

The sequel has fresh interviews with Torre, pitcher Pedro Martinez, the Seattle Mariners' groundbreaking Ichiro Suzuki, commissioner Bud Selig, a host of well-known baseball writers and commentators -- and Chris Rock.

Rock appears just once, defending the game's steroid-laced years and tainted home run records by asking, "Who in the whole country wouldn't take a pill to make more money at their job?" Thanks, you've been a great audience.

Bob Costas inevitably is a part of Tenth Inning -- and he at least fully belongs. He's also considerably more indignant than Rock after first noting that the so-called students of the game chart its every little in and out. But "they didn't notice a damn thing when guys showed up looking like they'd been inflated with bicycle pumps!" he exclaims.

Tenth Inning covers the steroid scandal in depth, vividly recreating the titanic Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run battle of 1998, Bonds' epic 73 HR season of 2001 and his eventual over-taking of Hank Aaron as baseball's all-time leader. A telling ballpark banner of those times -- "Ruth did it on hot dogs and beer. Aaron did it with class" -- is nicely juxtaposed with Bonds standing alone in the outfield.

But the film makes little effort to counterpoint all of the juiced stars of baseball with someone who did it without artificial additives. Nolan Ryan comes to mind. His storied career ended right where Tenth Inning begins. But the filmmakers pay him no mind, instead training on the over-40 accomplishments of the now badly soiled Roger Clemens.

Tenth Inning also details the latter day infusion of star Latin ballplayers, but makes no mention of the concurrent shrinking number of black players. Burns' Baseball was at its best in depicting Jackie Robinson's breaking of the "color line" and the colorful history of the talent-rich Negro Leagues. But the now voluntary and ironic exodus of blacks to sports other than baseball gets nary a second of air time in Tenth Inning.

Burns has made many exemplary films for PBS. But Tenth Inning is at best a bloop double in comparison to home runs ranging from The Civil War to Jazz to Baseball. Too often it seems like a competent but hardly inspired highlight reel, replete with lengthy looks at Yankee/Red Sox triumphs and heartbreaks. Amazingly, though, Burns and Novick fail to include President Bush's perfect strike to open Game 3 of the highly emotional 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium between New York and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That was high drama, with the sell-out crowd giving Bush a standing ovation as he entered and chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A" as he left. Love of country, love of baseball, intertwined in one of the great signature moments in baseball history. But it didn't make the cut. Because after all, Mike Barnicle still had things to say.


NEW SEASON: Selleck puts the iron in CBS' Blue Bloods

Tom Selleck talks up Blue Bloods, with co-star Donnie Wahlberg (light coat) doing likewise at CBS "press tour" party. Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Friday, Sept. 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, Bridget Moynahan, Will Estes, Len Cariou
Produced by: Mitchell Burgess, Robin Green, Leonard Goldberg, Ken Sanzel

Sturdy as Tom Selleck's mustache, CBS' Blue Bloods likely will be yet another potent lead-in to late night local newscasts across the land.

It's another crime drama, but with more family dynamics than the 10 other law 'n' order hours populating the network's prime-time landscape.

Selleck anchors things as New York City police commissioner Frank Reagan, whose surname perhaps is not entirely coincidental. The former Magnum, P.I. mega-hunk long has been one of Hollywood's few openly right-of-center stars. So Reagan's a name that suits him.

Through the course of Friday night's well-made premiere episode, Selleck's character also has a rather snippy outdoor news conference tied to the abduction of a nine-year-old girl.

When a questioner cites "blog allegations" that his police force is undermanned, Reagan shoots back, "Miguel, you're a professional journalist. Do you really want to give credence to any amateur blogger with a lap top?"

At least he stops short of adding "sitting in his underwear typing in his parents' basement."

Reagan likewise has a glare affixed when he says, "Just make sure you 'media people' do your job and keep (the kidnap victim's) face before the public."

In short, Selleck doesn't suffer fools gladly, off- or on-screen.

The Reagan brood also includes Frank's rather sour father, Henry (a retired cop), his oldest son, Danny (a plainclothes cop) and youngest boy Jamie (a newly sworn in cop to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" in a scene-setting opening ceremony). The roles respectively are played by Len Cariou, Donnie Wahlberg and Will Estes.

Another son, Joe, was killed in the line of duty. Mom also is deceased. Daughter Erin (Bridget Moynahan) is the lone holdout, instead practicing law as an assistant district attorney.

Selleck fully commands every scene he's in. See him spar with an adversarial mayor, call for order at an argumentative weekly Sunday family dinner or soothe his son, Jamie, in a terrific fishing pier scene that ends Episode 1.

Like many a cop drama, Blue Bloods stirs up corruption within the department and raises questions about the brutal interrogation techniques used to break down a suspect. Frank also cops to "seeing someone," although she's barely seen being tucked into a cab while getting a little smooch from him.

Fans of NYPD Blue also should be on the lookout for former co-star Nick Turturro in the recurring role of Jamie's veteran partner, Sgt. Anthony Renzulli. CBS press materials say he'll also be in the next two episodes.

All of the performances are solid, but Selleck makes the show. He's still making Jesse Stone movies for CBS, too, in each case playing characters who don't mince words and whose words speak volumes. Selleck's minimalist approach greatly becomes him in his autumn years. And Blue Bloods certainly would be down several quarts without him.


Zucker will be leaving NBC shortly; Klein already in past tense as CNN head

Jeff Zucker was all smiles at mid-summer NBC party. Photo: Ed Bark

Jeff Zucker, the one-time boy wonder of the Today Show -- and still only 45 -- announced to company employees via email Friday that he will leave his position as head of NBC Universal after completion of the takeover by Comcast.

In an interview with The New York Times' Bill Carter, Zucker said it had become clear to him in recent weeks that Comcast wants someone else for the job when it begins running NBC. Regulatory approval is anticipated by the end of this year.

"I've spent over half my life at NBC," Zucker told The Times. "This is the only place I have ever worked. I've been here 24-and-a-half years. I met my wife here. My four kids were born while I was here. I've endured colon cancer twice. It's going to be incredibly strange for me personally."

Zucker was just 26 when he became executive producer of Today and led it to early morning dominance. But in recent years, the NBC broadcast network's prime-time woes -- underscored by last season's Jay Leno debacle -- have put him on thin ice at 30 Rock. The once dominant network remains in fourth place in the prime-time Nielsen ratings, but has made a notable re-investment in scripted programming this season.

The broadcast division's woes were in part offset by the successes of NBC Universal cable networks such as USA, Syfy, Bravo and MSNBC. But the network of Seinfeld, Friends, ER and other previous mega-hits is still perceived as the straw that stirs the drink.

"If we didn't have a broadcast network, we'd probably be the strongest media company out there," Zucker told unclebarky.com during an interview at a mid-summer NBC Universal "All-Star Party" in Beverly Hills. "The cable networks are doing great, but until NBC is stronger we're not going to get enough credit for that."

Comcast extolled the strength of NBC Universal's cable networks while making little mention of the broadcast arm in last year's official announcement of the planned 51 percent takeover. Meanwhile, Zucker was describing broadcast TV's economic model as "broken" and in need of reinvention. The weeknight implanting of The Jay Leno Show, which cost NBC Universal far less than five episodes of scripted television, was touted as a new and profitable way to do business. But representatives of NBC's affiliate stations screamed in protest and threatened not to carry Leno's show when its poor ratings knocked their late night newscasts for loops.

"What a difference a year makes," Zucker said at the NBC party interview. "We had a very tough year last year. But we put in a new management team (after firing the disastrous Ben Silverman) and we re-invested in the entertainment division. And I think you see the fruits of that a year later. NBC Entertainment is probably more stable than it's been in many years."

New NBC series such as The Event, Chase and Outsourced have fared reasonably well on their opening nights this week, although none of them won their time periods. Still, "you see the commitment," Zucker said. "Stronger management, more stability, more investment."

Zucker remained cautiously upbeat about his future with NBC Universal during the interview. But he also seemed to know what the future held for him.

"Nobody should ever feel entitled to anything," he said of his long tenure. "But on the other hand, I feel better about where NBC Universal is today than I probably have at any point since the Comcast announcement."

Leno's reinstatement as Tonight Show host, with Conan O'Brien now preparing a competing show on TBS cable, has not gone particularly well. His previous lopsided victory margins over David Letterman have been reduced to marginal at best. And his audience is starting to skew well beyond the 18-to-49 motherlode worshipped by most advertisers.

"Do we wish his (audience) demographics were higher? Look, I wish that the demos on the Today Show were higher," Zucker said. "But we're in 2010 and it's a much more fragmented world. So you have to be realistic about what's possible."

ALSO OUT -- CNN PRESIDENT JON KLEIN -- Friday wasn't the best day to be a high-profile network TV executive. News also came that CNN head Jon Klein abruptly has been sacked just a few months before his makeover of the network's prime-time lineup is scheduled to take flight.

His replacement will be Ken Jautz, who had been running CNN's junior news arm, HLN (formerly Headline News).

Klein, who had headed CNN for the past six years, said in a memo to staffers, "It is with a tinge of regret tempered by great expectations for the future . . . that I bid all of you goodbye. The CNN I'm leaving today is demonstrably stronger than the one I inherited almost six years ago -- both editorially and financially."

In prime-time, though, CNN has fallen behind both Fox News Channel and MSNBC, prompting a wholesale reshuffling masterminded by Klein.

He recently announced that America's Got Talent judge Piers Morgan will be replacing Larry King after he steps down in December. Klein also hired former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned over a prostitution scandal, and conservative commentator/columnist Kathleen Parker to co-host a new 7 p.m. (central) show.

In his memo to staffers, Klein touted Morgan, Spitzer and Parker as ""intelligent, magnetic personalities" and praised holdover Anderson Cooper as "the best-known and most-respected news reporter on the planet."

Klein might be more missed by Fox News Channel than by some of his CNN colleagues. FNC had delighted in pillorying him in press releases touting its own ratings successes. Klein lately had been firing back on occasion. But on Friday he was kayoed before any of his new hires could even enter the ring.

NEW SEASON: ABC's Austin-made My Generation follows the script of our reality-saturated times

My Generation's nine principals pose prettily in Austin. ABC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 23rd at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Michael Stahl David, Kelli Garner, Jaime King, Keir O'Donnell, Sebastian Sozzi, Mechad Brooks, Anne Son, Daniella Alonso, Julian Morris
Produced by: Noah Hawley, Warren Littlefield, Henrik Bastin,Patrick Magnasson, Martin Piersson

The prying eyes of reality TV cameras weren't nearly as all-seeing back in the year 2000, when a film crew kept close tabs on nine graduating seniors from Austin's fictional Greenbelt High School.

A decade later, ABC's My Generation lens and lends itself to another look at them in times when TV has more reality series than the population of Poughkeepsie.

A willful off-camera female narrator ensures that no personal embarrassment or predicament will go uncovered this time around. And the nine 28-year-olds under the microscope seem to be pretty much down with that in a series that provides both a lot to swallow and maybe enough to whet appetites for more.

Filmed in Austin, My Generation begins with a group photo shoot on high school graduation eve. Here we meet the principals. And since you might welcome a scorecard, let's just lay them out for you.

Rolly Marks (played by Mechad Brooks), is "The Jock."
Dawn Barbuso (Kelli Garner) is "The Punk."
Steven Foster (Michael Stahl David) is "The Over-Achiever."
Brenda Serrano (Daniella Alonso) is "The Brain."
Kenneth Finley (Keir O'Donnell) is "The Nerd."
Jackie Vachs (Jaime King) is "The Beauty Queen."
Anders Holt (Julian Morris) is "The Rich Kid."
Caroline Chung (Anne Son) is "The Wallflower"
And just plain Falcon (Sebastian Sozzi) is The Rock Star."

Co-starring Jerry Mathers as Theodore Cleaver -- "The Beaver." No, not really. And anyway, that's my generation, circa a 1966 graduating class.

You'll meet them all in Thursday's premiere episode, some more so than others. The early go-to guy is Steven Foster, now in Hawaii surfing by day and tending bar by night.

"You were going to conquer the world. What happened?" the narrator accuses during their on-camera catch-up round.

"Nothing," Steven says before the venue shifts to Washington, D.C. and Brenda Serrano, now a top aide for a congressman who heads the House finance committee.

Brenda used to be the high school sweetheart of Anders Holt, who's now married to Jackie Vachs -- as in vacuous.

Dawn Barbuso and Rolly Marks likewise are married. She's pregnant and he's serving with the Army in Afghanistan after leaving behind a starting guard position on Stanford's basketball team in favor of enlisting after 9-11.

That leaves Falcon, a perpetually drinking music producer; Caroline Chung (who drops a bombshell from afar on Steven); and Kenneth Finley, possibly one of the most woebegone characters in TV drama history. It's tough enough to be the designated "Nerd." But Kenneth, now a sad sack elementary school teacher, takes another heavy-duty body blow in Episode 1. We also learn the circumstances of his father's tragic death, with Steven again a factor.

Steven, heart throb-iest of the male characters, seems to have a chance meeting with just about everyone upon returning to Austin. Only two central characters, the aforementioned Rolly and Brenda, haven't made it back to Texas by the time the closing credits roll. But she's en route after being notified of a family emergency.

Before getting the news, though, Brenda must endure a blind dinner date with a D.C. boor who wonders what's up with the cameras. She says they're revisiting her class of 2000 for the purpose of a television program. Well, all right then. A minute or so later, the boor only barely lowers his voice to inform Brenda, "I have a small penis. But I know how to use it." That's reality TV gold. Maybe they ought to give him his own show instead.

My Generation clearly has a lot of puzzle pieces, and they don't always quite fit together. Still, it's a reasonably textured serial soap with at least a few characters worth caring about.

Boy, though, that poor Kenneth "The Nerd" Finley. He really takes it in the grill when asked to model a shower gift he's bought for Dawn "The Punk" Barbuso, who's living very platonically at his place while Rolly strives to survive in Afghanistan. Problem is, you might be just as inclined to laugh out loud as to feel Kenneth's heartbreak. It's the one time where My Generation really ladles it on way too thick. Please, hold the syrup next time.

GRADE: B-minus

NEW SEASON: NBC's Outsourced deftly finds the funny without being an Ugly American about it

The cast of Outsourced flanks NBC programming head Jeff Gaspin (5th from right) at summertime party in Beverly Hills. Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 23rd at 8:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Ben Rappaport, Rizwan Manji, Sacha Dhawan, Anisha Nagarajan, Rebecca Hazlewood, Diedrich Bader, Pippa Black, Parveesh Cheena
Produced by: Robert Borden, Ken Kwapis, Alex Beattie

There are perils aplenty here. Or at least many people might be looking very hard to find ways in which NBC's Outsourced offends their sensibilities.

After all, it dares to make a little fun of the name Manmeet. But in turn, this very promising workplace comedy (which follows The Office on Thursday nights) also jumps at the chance to twit the peculiarities of the American culture as seen through the eyes of the natives populating a call center in India.

The setting is the new home abroad for Mid America Novelties and its young manager, Todd Dempsy (Ben Rappaport).

"We had to do a little right-sizing," his boss tells him when Dempsy arrives at work to find rows of empty desks. With $40,000 in student loan debts, he grudgingly accepts the new assignment and quickly encounters Rajiv (Rizwan Manji), who covets his job but is willing to bide his time.

Dempsy isn't an Ugly American type of boss. He's willing to work with the locals and try to understand their culture. In return they must sell the ridiculous junk that Mid America Novelties purveys, ranging from a farting garden gnome to a red brassiere-clad animated bosom dubbed "Jingle Jugs" to a mistletoe that straps onto the crotch area during Christmas season.

"This is how you celebrate the birthday of the son of your God?" inquires the comely Aisha (Rebecca Hazlewood).

Dempsy prefers to see all of this as the "definition of freedom," in which U.S. consumers can spend their money on anything -- including a deer head that sings "Sweet Home Alabama."

He has something of a mentor in Charlie Davies (Diedrich Bader from The Drew Carey Show), who's in India running the All-American Hunter call center. There's also lush Tonya (Pippa Black), manager of the Koala Airlines facility.

Davies pointedly warns Dempsy about the digestive challenges of Indian food shortly before Dempsy challenges each of his new charges to sell at least one "Add-on" during their first full shift together. For instance, the buyer of a Green Bay Packers foam finger also might be talked into ordering an accompanying cheese hat. Dempsy models it and takes no offense at the ensuing laughter.

Particularly challenged is introverted Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan), who speaks in a barely audible whisper and ends up being the last call-taker without an Add-on" to her credit. This is resolved in a very amusing way, endearing Madhuri to viewers in a way that nicely caps the first episode of Outsourced.

There's lots of room to grow here. And also much to lampoon from the perspectives of both sides of the cultural divide. Outsourced isn't mean-spirited or abrasive. It has an edge but not a serrated one. From this perspective it's the new season's most pleasant surprise -- a comedy that on paper is easy to slam but in reality navigates some tricky terrain without getting all clenched up about it.

GRADE: A-minus

NEW SEASON: CBS sends Shatner into over-kill with $#*! My Dad Says

William Shatner, Jonathan Sadowski of $#*! My Dad Says. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 23rd at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: William Shatner, Jonathan Sadowski, Nicole Sullivan, Will Sasso
Produced by: David Kohan, Max Mutchnick, Justin Halpern, Patrick Schmacker

It really is a pain in the ass to correctly type the title of $#*! My Dad Says, which just as easily could be &%@! My Dad Says or even *&!$ My Dad Says.

CBS also notes that some DVR search functions are "perplexed" by the title. The network encourages viewers to instead go directly to their programming guides if they'd like to record this new sitcom rather than watch it live. Or as my late old man used to say, "Grease your fanny and slide on the ice."

Anyway, I'm going to eliminate the hieroglyphics and hereafter call this thing My Dad Says. Adapted from Justin Halpern's much more profane Twitter feed and a resultant bestselling book, it stars William Shatner in his first sitcom as the immensely cranky Ed (hey, no fair!!!). Living alone and marinating in his own bile, he's visited one night by youngest son Henry (Jonathan Sadowski), whom he hasn't seen in two years.

Ed cocks his shotgun in hopes it's an intruder. It is, but at least he recognizes him.

"I almost decorated my Buick with your balls," Ed bellows.

"C'mon, dad, you wouldn't do that to your Buick."

That's pretty much the tenor of Thursday's opener, in which Shatner labors through the rhythms of the live studio audience sitcom format while coughing up a steady stream of pointed and oft-blue insults that would make him a fine nursing home partner for Archie Bunker.

Henry, who's been laid off and is down to his last nickel, is looking for a way to ask Dad for money. But he also occasionally joins in the double entendre festivities, sensing an opening after complimenting Ed on the health of his garden.

"You should see my zucchini," Dad crows.

"I think I did last night when you answered the door in your jammies."

Older son Vince (Will Sasso) also drops by. He's married to domineering Bonnie (Nicole Sullivan). Both actors are former members of Fox's MADtv ensemble, so at least they know how to play off one another.

My Dad Says, which will follow CBS' transplanted The Big Bang Theory, loads up on coarse jokes the way the network's Mike & Molly dished out fat jokes in its Monday premiere. Future episodes of both series are likely to dial it down some. But broad wrecking ball humor is initially slung in abundance.

"Son, if it looks like manure and smells like manure, it's either Wolf Blitzer or manure," Dad declares.

CNN's Blitzer might be pleased with any mention at this point. So maybe he'll be DVR-ing this episode -- providing he can figure out how to do it -- with an eye toward showing it to his grandkids.

Shatner on the other hand is already enshrined as Capt. James T. Kirk on Star Trek and Denny Crane on Boston Legal. This latest TV outing likely won't be making the cut in his personal time capsule. That is unless he really enjoys watching himself exclaiming "It's shotgun time!" when a Girl Scout knocks on his door trying to sell him cookies.


NEW SEASON: The Whole Truth comes courting on ABC

Competing lawyers played by Maura (ER) Tierney and Rob (Numb3rs Morrow unwind after another long day of trial and error. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 22nd at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Rob Morrow, Maura Tierney, Eamonn Walker, Christine Adams, Sean Wing, Anthony Ruivivar
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman, Tom Donaghy

Maybe there oughta be a law against scheduling three new legal dramas against each other in the last hour of prime-time.

NBC likely has a leg up with Law & Order: Los Angeles, which will wait a week before launching on Wednesday., Sept. 29th. The other two, ABC's The Whole Truth and CBS' The Defenders (previously reviewed in these spaces), will square off in the ongoing official first week of the fall season.

Whole Truth is from the increasingly tiresome Jerry Bruckheimer, who already has built a crime series empire on CBS with the three CSI series and has the new police series Chase on NBC this fall.

It's tough to root for Bruckheimer, who's also made untold sums of money in theaters with the Pirates of the Caribbean blockbusters. In interview sessions with TV critics -- those at which he deigns to show up -- Bruckheimer is seldom quotable and always smug-looking. He obviously can afford to be both, but it doesn't exactly endear him to the lumpen masses, let alone the TV critics reviewing another of his assembly line dramas. Pulling for Bruckheimer is akin to hoping that Donald Trump will make another million dollars today. But at least "The Donald" is a colorful full-of-himself quote machine.

Whole Truth's overriding gimmick is to let viewers in on who really did it at episode's end. Its courtroom combatants are always the same -- swaggering, loud-talking criminal attorney Jimmy Brogan (Rob Morrow) vs. the quieter but feisty Kathryn Peale (Maura Tierney).

They once were classmates at Yale Law School, with Peale still ruefully recalling that Brogan completed his bar exam an hour earlier than she did and was waiting outside with Jell-O shots. It's made her feel a bit inferior to him, but not enough to curb her enthusiasm for getting in a little dig when she thinks she has the upper hand. And vice-versa. These two talk a lot on the phone when amassing evidence for an impending trial. Gotcha. Aha, gotcha back.

Joely Richardson of Nip/Tuck and The Tudors played Peale in the pilot episode of Whole Truth, but decided to drop out for personal reasons. All of her scenes have been re-shot. It's a shame because she made a stronger first impression than Tierney.

Previously cast as a regular character in NBC's Parenthood, Tierney had to bow out after contracting breast cancer. Her hair is notably short-cropped for Whole Truth, but she's fine health-wise, Tierney has said in interviews.

Wednesday's first episode finds the two lead characters on opposite ends of a case involving a school teacher accused of murdering one of his students. It's dubbed the "Ave Maria case" because the deceased supposedly was preparing to enter the convent.

Brogan barks out orders to his legal team -- "Done, done and doner!" -- while Peale prefers to quietly quote legal axioms.

"Justice is truth in action," she tells her right-hand man, Terrence "Edge" Edgecomb (Eamonn Walker).

"Clarence Darrow," he says.

"No, Benjamin Disraeli," she corrects him. "But you're getting better."

Edgecomb is black, and Brogan has two minorities on his staff -- Alejo Salazar (Anthony Ruivivar) and Lena Boudreaux (Christine Adams). But as usual, white actors top the marquee and get most of the action in a drama that seems too calculated with its twists, turns, frowns of concern and small smiles of triumph.

Bruckheimer invariably seems to prefer going at least a little over the top rather than depend on audiences to grasp anything resembling subtlety. Whole Truth even includes video snippets of testimony during the attorneys' closing arguments, lest any of the dummies out there forget what they've seen just minutes earlier.

Whole Truth ends with Peale and Brogan meeting in a bar to compare notes, congratulate each other on jobs well done and flirt just a little. Then comes "the reveal," which lasts just a few seconds. Bruckheimer may have another long distance runner if a good number of viewers are invested enough to animatedly discuss amongst themselves. But if they yawn, he's in trouble.


NEW SEASON: ABC's Better With You manages to dodge a snarky retort

Better With You's hopes you'll be all smiles, too. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 22nd at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Jennifer Finnegan, JoAnna Garcia, Josh Cooke, Jake Lacy, Debra Jo Rupp, Kurt Fuller
Produced by: Shana Goldberg-Meehan

This one gets the fall season's dreaded not-too-bad tag.

Affixed with a laugh track, ABC's Better With You isn't as good as the three returning sitcoms surrounding it -- The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town.

Still, it's an improvement over last fall's Hank, the Kelsey Grammer groaner that likewise had its yucks piped in while the three aforementioned comedies went au naturel.

Initially titled Better Together, this is the saga of three couples in varying stages of commitment.

Maddie and Ben (Jennifer Finnegan, Josh Cooke) have been together for nine years, but not with rings on their fingers. "It's a valid life choice," she keeps saying. So much so that her parents have turned it into a drinking game.

The parents are Joel and Vicky (Kurt Fuller, Debra Jo Rupp), veterans of a 35-year marriage that pretty much has settled into a nice little happy valley of little expected, little given, little taken. Having sex has become laughable, as is the question, "You wanna fool around?"

Meanwhile, their youngest daughter, Mia (JoAnna Garcia) is all bubbly about getting married to a guy she's only been seeing for seven weeks. He's a doofus but self assured dude named Casey (Jake Lacy), for whom "grammar's not really my thing."

Maddie and Ben are threatened by her sister's impulsive decision to get hitched while Joel and Vicky are unaccountably pleased -- at least in Maddie's view.

Another development is thrown into Wednesday's premiere episode. No need to spoil it, but look for some funny one-liners from Casey once the word gets out.

This may turn out to be an OK way to while away the half-hour between The Middle and Modern Family. Lacy as Casey is the best reason to watch while Finnegan remains an appealing actress whom some might remember as a dogged prosecutor for two seasons on CBS' Close to Home crime drama.

In the end, maybe "agreeable" is a better way to go than "not too bad." Better With You so far is nothing to write home about but maybe worth letting into your living room.


New Idol judges are no surprise, but a botched live webcast provides a rude awakening

American Idol's new on-air crew couldn't be happier: From left, judges Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler, host Ryan Seacrest, judge Jennifer Lopez and "in-house mentor" Jimmy Lovine. Fox photo

American Idol's announcement of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez as the show's new judges became an online fiasco Wednesday when a promised live stream of the event never really materialized.

A steady stream of tweeters on americanidol.com and other venues denounced both the show and ongoing video and sound problems that were never fully resolved. A rerun of the announcement, from The Forum in Inglewood, CA, eventually materialized roughly 45 minutes after the promised live stream had crashed and burned. A subsequent live press conference, scheduled for 1 p.m. (central), came off without a hitch, though.

Host Ryan Seacrest presided at The Forum, first welcoming holdover judge Randy Jackson to a tumultuous reception from an assembled group of screaming fans.

"I call it Idol Season 10, the remix, baby," shouted Jackson, the show's only remaining charter judge.

Tyler and Lopez had been rumored for months to be the new judges, but contract talks with the two reportedly blew hot and cold before Fox sweetened their deals enough to land them for at least one season.

"How does it feel to be a part of this show?" Seacrest asked Tyler.

"Fabulous. Wonderful," he said. "It feels like the perfect feathered nest."

Lopez made a ridiculously grand entrance on a below-stage riser while billows of fake smoke engulfed her.

"I want to find the next Michael Jackson," she proclaimed.

Idol also has named Interscope Geffen A&M Records chairman Jimmy Lovine as its first "in-house mentor." Lovine will be seen behind the scenes, "working with and lending his expertise" to contestants," according to a Fox publicity release.

Tyler, the 62-year-old Aerosmith lead singer, will be Idol's oldest judge ever and well beyond the show's target audience of 18-to-49-year-olds.

Lopez is 41, and Jackson, 54.

The new judging team, reduced from four in the past two seasons to three, replaces Simon Cowell, who left the show under his own power, and Ellen DeGeneres and Kara DioGuardi, who were deemed expendable.

"I think we're going to have a lot of cool camaraderie," Jackson said at Wednesday's press conference.

Idol returns in January, with restored executive producer Nigel Lythgoe hoping to reverse several seasons of declining ratings after spending two years with Fox's So You Think You Can Dance.

NEW SEASON: No need to prosecute Belushi again in CBS' The Defenders

Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell are mockups of real-life Vegas lawyers in the new Wednesday legal drama The Defenders. CBS photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 22nd at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Jim Belushi, Jerry O'Connell, Jurnee Smollett, Tanya Fischer, Gillian Vigman
Produced Carol Mendelsohn, Niels Mueller, Kevin Kennedy, Joe and Harry Gantz, Davis Guggenheim

Jim Belushi is an easy target, and not just because of his size.

His According to Jim ran for a seeming eternity on ABC without ever attracting a favorable critical review. OK, maybe Pete Suckup of The On the Take Times liked it, but that really shouldn't count.

Belushi returns to the prime-time game Wednesday in CBS' The Defenders. It's a Las Vegas-set legal drama that's actually filmed in Southern California and has nothing at all to do with the same-named, Emmy-winning 1960s CBS series that starred E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed.

This version of The Defenders almost assuredly won't win any major Emmys. But that's not a sin, and it doesn't negate its overall entertainment value. Belushi is effective and fun to watch as a martini-imbibing courtroom brawler who still pines after his ex-wife. And co-star Jerry O'Connell, his man-about-town partner, also carries the ball capably.

Their characters, Nick Morelli and Pete Kaczmarek, respectively are modeled after real-life flamboyant Vegas attorneys Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese. In Wednesday's premiere episode, they represent a frail-looking accused murderer who belatedly decides to reject a plea bargain that would have landed him three years in prison. Instead he'll fight the charge and risk doing 40 years to life. At issue is whether the defendant legitimately acted in defense of his brother by shooting one of the four former high school football players who were pounding on his brother.

Joining in the defense is new associate attorney Lisa Tyler (Jurnee Smollett), who worked her way through law school by stripping. But it's not as ham-fisted as it sounds, with Smollett (Friday Night Lights) bringing intelligence and snap to the role.

The courtroom action is brisk and easily grasped, with Belushi rising to the occasion of an impassioned closing argument. After the verdict, everyone heads to see the previously cited "Junior," who turns out to be Frank Sinatra's surviving namesake.

Morelli and Kaczmarek groove on the bulbous but still big-voiced crooner as though he's a full-blown reunion of The Beatles. Maybe they can get Jerry Vale for the next episode. No real harm in that and no real reason to rag unduly on The Defenders. It's a breezy, agreeable, high-energy, low-maintenance first outing that just might prove to be something of a sleeper hit.


NEW SEASON: Spies win on style points in NBC's Undercovers

It's spying anew for Steven and Samantha Bloom NBC photos

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 22nd at 7 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Boris Kodjoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gerald McRaney, Ben Schwartz, Mekia Cox, Carter MacIntyre
Produced by: J.J. Abrams, Josh Reims, Bryan Burk

The leads are so appealing -- and the ambience so intoxicating -- that it matters little if the plot flies north of far-fetched.

NBC's Undercovers spy caper series, leading off the networks' revamped Wednesday night lineup, has a Hart to Hart-ish nougat accompanied by ample action and wardrobe changes. Its two stars -- Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Steven and Samantha Bloom -- are both stunningly good looking and steadfastly faithful to one another. This is a marriage beyond compare in the current prime-time landscape, where idyllically happy couples are rarer than steak tartare.

Creator/producer J.J. Abrams, whose credits include Lost, Fringe and Alias, directs the opening episode with an eye toward crisp action scenes, sleek looks, slick quips and globe-trotting exploits sparked by various computer downloads. The Blooms' sequential trips to Spain, France and Russia -- all within the first hour -- are patently absurd on the face of it. But in reality who really cares? It's too much fun getting there.

We're also supposed to believe that the Blooms fell in love as CIA agents before quitting the agency five years ago and opening a lately struggling L.A. catering company. That's supposedly because because Samantha pays the hard-working help too much, which in these days also stretches plausibility.

Luckily for the Blooms, a close friend who's still with the agency turns up missing while trying to close the deal on a super-sinister arms dealer. This prompts career agent Carlton Shaw (Gerald McRaney) to not-so-gently ask whether they'd like to help out. McRaney, in fine steely form, is all chomp and circumstance. So yes, the Blooms had better get with his program while viewers learn that undisclosed ulterior agency motives also are at work.

The mission at hand is sauteed with the Blooms' sexual banter ("You look incredible"/"You look pretty hot yourself") and sweetened by a field agent who greatly admires Steven's previous accomplishments and never misses a chance to tell him so. Ben Schwartz as the toadying Bill Hoyt steals several scenes during the course of these verbal genuflections. It's nice having him around.

Through it all there's never a doubt that the Blooms remain madly in love and ever-willing to steal a smooch or even a dance with one another during the course of doing business. Their race refreshingly is never an issue, and it's hoped the series will keep it that way.

Samantha also finds time to periodically instruct her frazzled sister, Lizzie (Mekia Cox), who's left to cater a big wedding back home while the Blooms globe-trot in search of missing agent Leo Nash (Carter MacIntyre) and his captors. The one-liners, particularly from Leo, get stacked a little too high during the episode's action-filled grand finale. A little sack time is then in order, and neither Bloom is going to be copping out with a headache.

The producers of Undercovers have made it clear that the Blooms will have eyes only for each other, albeit with occasional forays into "sexpionage" in the line of duty. It's nice to see two spies -- let alone two TV leads in any profession -- without traumatic back stories or wayward love lives. The Blooms are very much in bloom in a series that wouldn't work at all if they ever went on the rocks.


NEW SEASON: For richer and poorer in Fox sitcoms Running Wilde and Raising Hope

Fox turns to the certifiable, er, loony, creators of My Name Is Earl and Arrested Development for a pair of new Tuesday night comedies without laugh tracks or perhaps long-term futures. Let's look 'em over.

Accidental dad Jimmy Chance and the initially named Princess Beyonce in determinedly rough-hewn Raising Hope. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 21st at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Lucas Neff, Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Cloris Leachman, Shannon Woodward
Produced by: Greg Garcia

Greg Garcia, architect of NBC's undervalued My Name Is Earl, obviously has an affinity for the downtrodden and patently moronic amongst us.

His latest comedy, Raising Hope, features a mom and dad who readily agree that Charles Manson was a good singer. And that's a meeting of the minds that few would dare even think about let alone disseminate over the public airwaves.

The dirt poor Chances strive to mean well, though. Virginia (Martha Plimpton) and Burt (Garret Dillahunt) had their only son, Jimmy (Lucas Neff), when they were both 15. He's grown up to be a 23-year-old underachiever who lives with his parents and batty great grandma Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman).

Sent to pick up a half-gallon of the oldster's beloved bubble gum ice cream, Jimmy has a chance intimate encounter with a comely young woman who turns out to be a wanted killer. She's executed shortly after delivering a daughter she's dubbed Princess Beyonce. Jimmy's determined to do the right thing by the kid, resisting his parents' initial insistence that he drop her off at the local fire station.

Raising Hope, which also includes a gross-out scene tied to a diaper change, is not nearly as refined as Earl in its ability to wring jokes from low-rent circumstances. Leachman's character, who's mostly senile with occasional bouts of lucidity, is flatly uncomfortable to watch in Tuesday's opener. But some of the situations and one-liners click, and there's promise in the budding relationship between Jimmy and a sarcastic store clerk named Sabrina (Shannon Woodward).

For now, though, ABC's The Middle is a notably better and funnier depiction of hard-pressed working stiffs in action. Raising Hope needs a good scrubbing of scripts if it's going to ultimately find its footing. What we have at present is a little too much bubblin' crude.


Will Arnett again is full of himself in Running Wilde. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 21st at 8:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Will Arnett, Keri Russell, Stefanie Owen, David Cross, Mel Rodriguez, Robert Michael Morris, Peter Serafinowicz
Produced by:Mitch Hurwitz, Jim Vallely, Will Arnett

It's hard to imagine this one going the distance. And in this case that means more than half a season.

Will Arnett, again exhibiting the tan of Republican naysayer John Boehner, plays another smarmy, self-absorbed character in this rather wildly unappealing comedy from Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz.

It's probably almost sacrilegious to say that. But Tuesday's launch of Running Wilde has little if any curb appeal. Its setup is absurd, the lead character is impossible to like on any level and the jokes are splattered about with the precision of a three-year-old firing a paint gun. Perhaps a few stick to the wall, but not enough to matter. In short, nothing really meshes.

Arnett, an Arrested Development alum who's also played a recurring character on NBC's 30 Rock, heads the cast as rich, infantile playboy Steve Wilde. He's the value-less son of a so far unseen oil baron. The opening episode finds Steve gifting himself with a Humanitarian of the Year award while fearing that no one will attend the ceremony.

But former childhood sweetheart Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell) manages to make the scene in the interests of saving an Amazon rain forest and its tribe from the despoiling clutches of Wilde Oil. She's been living on site with her 12-year-old daughter, Puddle (Sefania Owen), who secretly yearns to return to the States and hasn't been talking for the past several months.

In what's supposed to be one of the premiere episode's signature lines, Emmy tells Steve that "you don't do charity for an award. You do good for nothing. And I guess that's what you still are."


Two supporting roles have been re-cast, including Arrested Development emigre David Cross joining in as the for now inconsequential Andy Weeks. A new character, Mr. Lunt (Robert Michael Morris), is some kind of double-dealing presence within the Wilde mansion. There's also a wealthy next door neighbor named Fa'ad Shaoulian (Peter Serafinowicz), who poses as a doctor in a fall-flat sequence designed to dupe Emmy.

She decides to stick around anyway, vowing to remake Steve and "undo every entitled impulse ever drilled into you."

It's hard to imagine caring any less whether she makes even a tiny dent.

GRADE: C-minus

NEW SEASON: Imperioli's performance spikes ABC's Detroit 1-8-7 cop drama, but who will want to be put through its wringer?

Coming soon to an Oscar pool near you -- the 79th annual Academy Awards with first-time host Ellen DeGeneres.

Assisted by ABC and Nielsen Media Research, we're going to warm you up with some fun facts and figures. But first the particulars.

The annual Barbara Walters warmup show is on Sunday, Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. (central time), with Babs welcoming DeGeneres, Eddie Murphy, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Hudson. Then comes the sycophantic red carpet arrival show at 7 p.m., followed by the marathon ceremony itself at 7:30 p.m. It's all on ABC.

For a tidy, printable list of this year's many and varied nominees, go here. For a list of who won last year -- because of course you've already largely forgotten -- go here. And for Uncle Barky's review, return to this space on Monday. Otherwise here's some finger food guaranteed to please your palate.

***Last year's Oscar-cast, hosted by Jon Stewart, drew 38.9 million viewers. That's a very nice-sized audience, but it also was one of the smallest in the last two decades.

The all-time low, since Nielsen Media Research began tabulating total viewers in 1974, came in 2003 when Chicago was voted Best Picture. But the 2003 Oscars (33 million viewers) shared the stage with Peter Jennings' periodic break-ins for Iraq war updates. Clearly the country had other things on its mind than Hollywood glitz and glamor.

***Oscar's biggest audience -- 55.2 million -- was in 1998, when Titanic won. Other than the Chicago shortfall, last year's ceremony had the lowest viewer turnout since 1987, when 37.2 million watched Platoon win for Best Picture.

***Sample Stewart joke from last year: "A lot of people say that this town is too liberal, out of touch with mainstream America, an atheistic pleasure dome, a modern-day, beachfront Sodom and Gomorrah, a moral black hole where innocence is obliterated in an endless orgy of sexual gratification and greed. I don't really have a joke here. I just thought you should know a lot of people are saying that."

***The cost of a 30-second commercial on Sunday's Oscars is an estimate $1.7 million, up a bit from Nielsen's official average of $1,646,800
for last year's show. The Super Bowl is the annual league leader, with a half-minute spot costing $2.6 million for the Feb. 4 game between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears. A decade ago, you could buy an Oscar ad for a measly $850 grand.

***Does a big advertising campaign help a film's Oscar chances? Maybe yes, maybe no. From January to November of last year, $40.26 million was spent promoting The Departed, one of the five Best Picture nominees. But no money at all was spent during that period on Letters From Iwo Jima, which also is nominated. According to Nielsen, the three other Best Picture hopefuls spent this much: Babel ($16.4 million); Queen ($14.6 million); Little Miss Sunshine ($11.9 million).

***Finally, announced presenters Sunday night include Tom Cruise and ex-wife Nicole Kidman (separately); Ben Affleck and ex-fiancee Jennifer Lopez (separately); Steve Carell, George Clooney, Cameron Diaz, Will Ferrell, Tom Hanks, Diane Keaton, Tobey Maguire, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and Reese Witherspoon.

How many of them will run afoul of Joan and Missy Rivers? Then again, how many of you have the TV Guide Channel?

NEW SEASON: It's a North Texas two-step for Monday premieres of Fox's Lone Star, NBC's Chase

Prologue: By now ya'll must know there's been lots of network TV series production in North Texas this summer -- even though Fox's Lone Star and NBC's Chase in large part are set in no-account Houston.

Now the time is nearing for both new dramas to either deliver audiences or go down for the count. Lone Star premieres at 8 p.m. (central) Monday and Chase follows at 9 p.m. Neither will have an easy road.

Lone Star is in a super-tough time slot opposite the second half of ABC's Dancing with the Stars, CBS' Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly plus NBC's massively promoted The Event.

Chase faces CBS' new version of Hawaii Five-0 and ABC's growingly popular Castle.

Pre-game rhetoric for Lone Star and Chase flowed plentifully during the recent network TV summer "press tour" in Beverly Hills.

Asked whether Lone Star amounts to a very modern-day continuation of Dallas, co-executive producer Kyle Killen said, "When I pitched it, I sold it as Dallas without the cheese. So I feel like it definitely has things in common with that. It's big. It's Texas. It's got oil. I would like to think we will go at least a couple of seasons before we have hair-pulling and cat-fights, but we may run out of ideas very quickly."

Chase star Kelli Giddish, who plays U.S. Marshal Annie Frost, says Texas doesn't need special effects because they're already built in.

"If you see me going down a river, it's me, you know, and it's the fugitive . . . And that's why it's great to be in Texas. Man, it's saturated with culture, with color. And you get all of that because we are not in the studio. It's not L.A.. It's not New York. We are out there, running, catching the bad guys."

OK, enough. It's time to put up and shut up. Here are our reviews:

Newcomer James Wolk adds considerable dash to Lone Star. Fox photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 20th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: James Wolk, Adrianne Palicki, Eloise Mumford, Jon Voight, David Keith, Mark Deklin, Bryce Johnson
Produced by: Kyle Killen, Amy Lippman, Chris Keyser

Texas con men are hardly unique to big-screen or small-. But Lone Star pulls off its con with a terrific first episode that should make leading man James Wolk a star no matter what the show's fate.

Wolk exudes charm, duplicity and vulnerability in addition to gratuitously cutting a front lawn with a push mower while bare-chested should those traits not be quite enough. Molded by his crooked father, John (David Keith), Wolk's Bob/Robert Allen leads two discordant lives in the company of two disparate women.

As Bob, he's married to Cat Thatcher (Adrienne Palicki from Friday Night Lights), the scrappy daughter of Houston oil company potentate Clint Thatcher (Jon Voight). As Robert, he's increasingly enamored of Lindsay Holloway (Eloise Mumford), a Midland nursing student whom he meets during the course of selling fake shares to oil rights that don't exist.

Bob has impressed big wheel Clint with his moxie. So much so that the old man offers him an executive position in the company while his oldest son, Trammell (Mark Deklin), stews and younger son, Drew (Bryce Johnson), mostly mews.

This is the big lottery win that con man John's been plotting. "Son, they're handing you the keys to the kingdom," he exults.

But Bob wonders what might happen if he took the job "for real" and made money on the up and up rather than bilking yokels.

"What do you know about real?" Dad retorts. "You're a con man, son. This is what you do. This is who you are."

And there's the gist of Lone Star. Neck-deep in love with two women, Bob/Robert will have to continue deceiving both of them. But he remains headstrong in his determination to wean himself from all those illicit "bidness" scams.

In a particularly effective sequence, Robert does a good turn for a convenience store clerk whose old man walks in and takes what he wants. He knows what that's like, Robert tells the kid after laying a $100 bill on him. Then, outside in his car by the gas pumps, he breaks down in frustration, pounding the steering wheel before steeling himself to take his life in a new direction.

Monday's opening episode ends, however, with Robert/Bob digging himself an even deeper hole on the domestic front. More than ever, life has him by the panhandle.

Lone Star is very much about Texas without resorting to string ties, 10-gallon hats or standard-issue country music. That is unless they change the sound track on the review DVD from contemporary pop to the equivalent of "On the Road Again."

Wolk, who's been compared to a young George Clooney, is letter-perfect in the lead role, but with strong support all around. Squint and you'll see just a few traces of what the Ewings wrought. But this is very much a series of its own time and mind. And so far it's soaring.


Chase star Kelli Giddish at July's NBC Universal party. Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 20th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Kelli Giddish, Cole Hauser, Amaury Nolasco, Rose Rollins, Jesse Metcalfe
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Jennifer Johnson, Jonathan Littman

Kingpin producer Jerry Bruckheimer has stubbed a few toes of late with the twin flops of Miami Medical on home screens and The Sorcerer's Apprentice in theaters.

But he's been mostly aces when it comes to police "procedurals," whether it's the ongoing, three-pronged CSI franchise or recent long-distance runners such as Cold Case and Without A Trace.

Chase is very much a formulaic procedural, with twangin' Annie "Boots" Frost (Kelli Giddish) heading up a hard-charging posse of U.S. Marshals headquartered in Houston but ranging far and wide.

Frost and her principal partner, Jimmy Godfrey (Cole Hauser) are first seen chasing a fugitive through Fort Worth's stockyards area. They run right through a cattle drive and a rodeo arena before two tunnels present themselves. Frost ends up picking the one the bad guy chose.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you girls shouldn't play with guns?" he asks while they scuffle.

"My mother died when I was eight. So no," she snaps after subduing him.

This is mere foreplay to the main event. A stone cold killer named Mason Boyle (Travis Fimmel from the defunct WB's defunct 2003 Tarzan series) has broken into a home, terrorized a couple and their young daughter and killed one of them. In case that's not suitably heinous, he commits four more murders while on the lam. Annie get your gun. But first stop by to comfort the surviving little girl.

"He's still out there," she says. "But I'm gonna catch 'im."

The other team members are talkative Marco Martinez (Amaury Nolasco from Prison Break), sharp-tongued Daisy Ogbaa (Rose Rollins) and new recruit Luke Watson (Jesse Metcalfe).

Luke's something of a dolt, at least when it comes to country music.

"You better get your head right, kid. You're in Texas now," Marshal Jimmy growls after Luke asks, "Who's Waylon Jennings?"

"Original outlaw cowboy," Annie adds. "Learn some music, Luke. Quickest way to see into a person's soul."

Double groan with a side order of Jimmy Dean sausage. But Chase keeps spreading it thick. As when Annie gets vexed before Jimmy tells her, "Hey, don't beat yourself up, Boots."

All concerned should beat themselves up over the premiere episode's fourth murder. Let's just say that even Barney Fife would have been smart enough to keep a close watch on this particular victim. Instead she dies with her boots on -- and her throat slit.

"Let 's find this bastard," says Jimmy.

Chase indeed has some nicely captured chase scenes. And its elemental, hunt-down-a-despicable-fugitive motif doesn't require any heavy mental exertion. The competing Hawaii Five-0 looks like a much better bargain, though, for those who want to see justice done and action aplenty. And for all North Texas has to offer, well, it's just no match for the scenic, surfin' beauty of Honolulu.


NEW SEASON: Re-married to the mob, HBO walks the walk in Boardwalk Empire

"Nucky" Thompson slings the B.S. as Prohibition nears. HBO photos

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 19th at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Anthony Laciura, Dabney Coleman, Stephen Graham, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Stuhlbarg, Vincent Piazza, Paz de la Huerta, Paul Sparks, Michael Kennneth Williams, Gretchen Mol
Produced by: Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter, Tim Van Patten, Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg

Longtime HBO corporate communicator Quentin Schaffer couldn't resist taking a little slingshot at a certain high-flying MTV show during his introduction of a session for Boardwalk Empire.

"HBO is proud to take you to the Jersey Shore," he told TV critics last month. "The difference being you're going to see some great writing, some great directing and some great storytelling."

Well-played and certainly to the point. When the TV cream rises to the top, it's often as not on HBO. Add the fact that New Jersey's underside has been very good business for a premium cable network that birthed Tony "The Situation" Soprano and now is investing heavily in the state's formative gangland years with a socko series set in the Prohibition era.

Sumptuous in appearance and graphic in words and deeds, Boardwalk Empire builds on the already imposing mobster resume of Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed, Gangs of New York). He co-executive produces this series with the likewise estimable Terence Winter, who wrote 25 episodes of The Sopranos.

Twelve episodes are scheduled for the first season, and HBO sent half of them for review. They're quite a feast, with Steve Buscemi moving from his usual supporting roles to top of the marquee as corrupt Atlantic City treasurer Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (modeled after the real-life Enoch "Nucky" Johnson).

Buscemi may not be physically imposing. But he's got the swagger and presence required to sell himself to viewers as a no-holds-barred wheeler dealer who gets what he wants -- and wants a lot.

Among those under his thumb is his somewhat dense brother, Elias (Shea Whigham), who provides muscle in his role as Atlantic City's sheriff. On the other side of the fence, rigid federal agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is determined to clip Nucky's wings. Pious, single-minded and also desperately lonely and unforgiving of himself, Van Alden resorts to self-flagellation as a means of contrition. But that particularly jarring scene will be a while in coming.

Boardwalk Empire also is populated by three big-name, real-life gangsters in their "toddler" years, as Scorsese has put it in interviews.

Michael Stuhlbarg is particularly chilling as teetotaling fixer/gambler Arnold Rothstein, instrumental in the 1919 World Series "Black Sox" scandal. Charles "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza) is on the rise while also struggling with impotency. And Al Capone (Stephen Graham) is a crass lug of a thug with a deaf son and a boss who can still order him to "go clean the Buick."

The series also weaves in a fictional, up-and-coming gangster named Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt). Newly returned from the combat horrors of World War I, Jimmy is banished by Nucky after his role in a liquor heist that ends in one too few fatalities. He ends up in Chicago, linked uneasily with the unpredictable, mercurial and always vicious Capone. The Jersey Shore and the Windy City are soulmates when it comes to rum-running for huge profit. And Boardwalk Empire meshes them perfectly without any loss of continuity or focus.

Rothstein and Capone: Young at heart with looks that can kill.

On the Jersey home front, Nucky also consorts with bimbo mistress Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta), who pretty much fits a vintage nightclub comic's joke about how "my girl is so dumb she thought that daylight savings was a bank."

Recent immigrant Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) also attracts Nucky's interest. She's got a brain and a value system, but is married to an abusive drunk. It's an intriguing triangle, with Lucy a haughty and spoiled material girl while Margaret slowly succumbs to the creature comforts Nucky can provide in return for keeping her mouth shut.

Nucky's overriding goal is to keep Atlantic City "wet as a mermaid's twat" while further lining his fat wallet. He's initially seen making a bogus speech at a Women's Temperance League rally, where he tells a concocted story about his own childhood experiences with the evils of alcohol.

Snow job completed, he counsels Jimmy on the "first rule of politics. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Boardwalk Empire is splendorous in its depictions of a vintage Atlantic City boardwalk and the party scenes at Nucky's hangout of choice, Babette's Supper Club. But recurring violence likewise is part of the scenery. And there's no shortage of bared flesh either in Nucky's bedroom, at night clubs or on a slab in a morgue.

The writing is air tight and the acting a match for it. Dabney Coleman, for one, is seen only briefly as Commodore Louis Kaestner in the first six episodes. But he takes these scenes to the bank, with Buscemi capably along for the ride.

Much is always expected of HBO, which annually dominates the Emmy Awards and whose current pair of programming chiefs aren't shy about exuding a palpable and sometimes off-putting sense of entitlement. But the proof is in the pudding, as they said with more regularity back in Prohibition times. In that respect, Boardwalk Empire is the best new drama series of the fall season -- and probably a cinch Emmy pacesetter as well.


NEW SEASON: NBC's The Event merits your affirmative RSVP

"Everyman" Sean Walker has lots on his mind in The Event. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 20th at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Jason Ritter, Laura Innes, Blair Underwood, Sarah Roemer, Scott Patterson, Zeljko Ivanek, Bill Smitrovich
Produced by: Evan Katz, Steve Stark, Jeffrey Reiner, Nick Wauters

Maybe it's silly to get hooked on these things. Silly me, I'm hooked after watching Monday night's inaugural episode of NBC's The Event.

A saturation, multi-platformed promotional campaign likely has attuned most potential viewers to the fact that this is another of those peel-away-the-layers, mythology-rich puzzlers determined to string you along week to week without telling too little or too much.

Fittingly then, the first hour's final words come from a mysterious and pivotal character played by former ER star Laura Innes. "I haven't told you everything," she tells the president (former L.A. Law star Blair Underwood) after a runaway plane has taken dead aim on his Florida retreat.

I can't wait to see the second episode. Seriously. That's because The Event skillfully builds its case via a series of time travels spanning "Thirteen Months Earlier" to the present. Stay the course and this big picture will start coming into focus, even though the true test will be how well The Event handles itself in the coming weeks. Will it be an aggravating, slowly unfolding string-along or a pulsating page-turner of a story that keeps delivering the goods?

Unfortunately for The Event, it's the second best new drama series of the season scheduled directly against the best -- Fox's terrific, Texas-centric Lone Star. But that serial drama also will have something to prove in the coming weeks. How long can it credibly sustain its story of a matinee idol con man leading two lives with two wives? So far so good, with a full review coming in a future post.

The Event's mystified central character is Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter). We initially see him in two utterly different situations. He's aboard a jetliner, brandishing a pistol and demanding access to the cockpit. And eight days earlier he's on a pleasure cruise, preparing to propose marriage to his girlfriend, Leila (Sarah Roemer).

That aforementioned "Thirteen Months Earlier" rewind takes viewers to snowy Mount Inostranka, Alaska, where Innes' character, Sophia Maguire, is first seen. It's clear that she knows what "The Event" is. But President Elias Martinez (Underwood) must not know, she insists.

Meanwhile, back on the cruise, Walker is in for some severe shocks to his young system. And he's only about a week away from boarding that plane with pistol in hand.

Some of the events in The Event remain inexplicable. But the to-and-fro storytelling otherwise is pretty air tight. It seems for all the world that extraterrestrials are involved in some way. But that's really only a guess -- and perhaps what seems to be "the obvious" will be nothing of the sort.

The producers of the series assured TV critics earlier this summer that they're well aware of all the perils and pitfalls at hand. The Event will have to deliver again and again on the promise of its pilot episode. Even Lost lost millions of viewers before finally careening to its satisfying/unsatisfying end.

The Event could do a lot worse in time, But for now, amid the joys of first discovery, it's all systems go.

GRADE: A-minus

NEW SEASON: Making new waves with a Hawaii Five-0 that also takes cues from The A-Team

Hawaii Five-O's re-imagined McGarrett and Danno. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 20th at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Taryn Manning
Produced by: Peter Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci

Death, destruction, heavy automatic weapons fire and bullet wounds for its two lead characters mark Monday's luau-free "re-imagining" of CBS' iconic Hawaii Five-0.

Its pacing, quips and vehicle-flying action scenes are reminiscent of NBC's The A-Team, which also assembled a task force of four to fight heavy-duty crime. Hannibal Smith and pals battled on a variety of fronts. Now -- as well as back then -- the base of operations is scenic Honolulu, oddly derided by Danny "Danno" Williams in an early scene as "this pineapple-infested hellhole."

James Caan's son, Scott Caan, plays the rough-hewn Danno. And yes, he still gets to book 'im or 'em, whichever the case may be.

But this Danno is much more an equal partner than James MacArthur's previous incarnation. Jack Lord and his hair helmet were completely in charge of the original. Alex O'Loughlin's version of detective Steve McGarrett is comparatively deferential. In fact there's little doubt who would win a fist fight between the two. Make book on Danno.

The saga re-begins with Naval officer McGarrett escorting a terrorist thug in a military convoy. But other bad guys have McGarrett's bloodied steely father at gunpoint in their lair. Would Steve care to free the terrorist to save dad's life? Let's just say that bad things happen to both captives after an airborne attack on the convoy.

Vowing to pick up the pieces, McGarrett lands in Hawaii and is met by guest star Jean Smart playing the governor. She offers him carte blanche immunity and full backing with no red tape if he'd care to form a task force in the interests of ridding the island of hard-core criminals. McGarrett balks, but will think about it.

Meanwhile, the divorced Danno is newly arrived in Hawaii and determined to keep his eight-year-old daughter safe after she's been relocated with her mother. Banging heads for the first time at a crime scene, McGarrett and Danno of course deduce that they'll probably be better off working together. Danno's a tough nut to crack, though. His ring tone for calls from his ex-wife is the theme music to Psycho.

Also recruited is Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim gets to remain in Hawaii after Lost), a former Honolulu cop wrongly accused of corruption. Chin Ho just happens to have a coltish cousin named Kono Kalakaua (Grace Park). First seen surfing in a super-skimp bikini, she further impresses McGarrett and Danno by punching out a boarder who's invaded her wave.

Kono later gets to strip down to bra and panties after a cocksure crook suspects her of wearing a wire. O'Loughlin also bares his nicely sculpted tattooed chest, providing additional scenic beauty beyond all those palm trees and crashing waves.

Otherwise there's plenty of mayhem in a fast-paced introductory hour that ends with the new team bantering about what they should call themselves. And although the classic theme song remains (downsized to 30 seconds), CBS could just as easily call this re-do Hawaiian Punch or Pineapple PD. Its resemblances to the original (which ran from 1968-'80) are pretty much in name only.

Still, that doesn't stop this reboot from being entertaining -- and explosive -- on its own merits. The late, reclusive Lord of the island, who died in 1998, likely would disagree with that assessment. Perhaps he'd even see the new Hawaii Five-0 as an egregious affront.

Tom Selleck pretty much feels that way about plans to make a Magnum, P.I. feature film. But he's got a new CBS series -- the upcoming Blue Bloods -- and Lord is in no shape to argue on anyone's behalf. Times change. And whatever its disconnect from the original, this Hawaii Five-0 looks ready to make its own waves.


NEW SEASON: CBS' Mike & Molly needs to trim the fat -- from its scripts

Billy Gardell & Melissa McCarthy of Mike & Molly. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 20th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Billy Gardell, Melissa McCarthy, Reno Wilson, Katy Mixon, Swoosie Kurtz, Nyambi Nyambi
Produced by: Chuck Lorre, Mark Roberts

The fat jokes fly fa(s)t and furious on CBS' new Mike & Molly.

Inheriting Monday night's coveted post-Two and a Half Men slot, it's a sitcom about two very plus-sized people who first begin meeting and bonding at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.

But the producers insisted, during a July meeting with TV critics, that M & M has little if anything to do with the title characters' girths.

"Yeah, I think you can have it both ways," said Chuck Lorre, also the maestro of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, which is moving to Thursdays. "This may sound ridiculous to come of you, but this isn't a show about weight. It's a show about people trying to make their lives better and find someone that they can have a committed relationship with."

Your friendly content provider has been around long enough to raise both eyebrows over that contention. Way back in 1982, Mickey Rooney told a roomful of TV critics that his new NBC sitcom One of the Boys, had nothing to do with his diminutive stature. His co-stars, by the way, were the then unknown Dana Carvey, Nathan Lane and Meg Ryan, who have all gone on to do a little somethin' since then.

One of the Boys' first episode in fact was replete with short jokes, rendering Rooney's disclaimer inoperative. And Mike & Molly's premiere alas is loaded, too. Let's roll a few out.

During an opening scene at a diner, dieting Chicago police officer Mike Biggs (Billy Gardell) is taking guff from both eatery owner Samuel (Nyambi Nyambi) and his squad car partner Carl McMillan (Reno Wilson).

"I would shoot you right now," says Carl. "But I don't have enough chalk to outline your body."

Meanwhile, schoolteacher Molly Flynn (Melissa McCarthy) is toiling on a cross-trainer at home while her stick-thin mother Joyce (Swoosie Kurtz) and voluptuous older sister Victoria (Katy Mixon) feast on chocolate cake.

"You're never gonna meet a good guy at the chub club," Victoria counsels, referring to Overeaters Anonymous.

"Why don't you take her to one of those lesbo clubs," mom suggests. "You know, they seem to like the beefy gals."

Mike later remarks, "My farts weigh three-and-a-half pounds."

"C'mon, gimme some love," Carl soon urges his big lug partner. "Sweet Jesus, it's like huggin' a futon."

The studio audience howls, but we're only scratching the surface. Mike & Molly is never more than a minute or two away from throwing its weight around, whether it's two overeaters impeding Carl's progress down a staircase or one of Molly's nine-year-old pupils wondering, "How can you be a cop and be so fat?"

But no, it's not about that. And if its lead characters each lost 100 pounds or so, there'd "absolutely" still be a show, says producer Lorre. "They go to OA because they're on a journey. They want to make a change in their lives. I think that speaks to a lot of people who are not satisfied with the status quo in their lives. . . These are people who are alive, and they're in a process."

It should be noted that Gardell and McCarthy do the best with the material given them. And it's also refreshing to see two sitcom characters who aren't cut from a cookie-cutter mold. Instead they like to eat their cake. Or as Lorre put it, "Television would normally have cast Chris O'Donnell and Courteney Cox as the people who meet at Overeaters Anonymous."

That's a good line. But the real breakthrough will be when the lead characters' weights are basically irrelevant to the story at hand. That's decidedly not the case in Mike & Molly -- and its assembly line of fat jokes. See Mike lean on a table and watch it come crashing down.

Even Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden only took a jab or two per week about his weight from Audrey Meadows' slim, trim Alice. On Mike & Molly, though, the girth mirth is almost epidemic. The writers simply need to spread it much, much thinner. Sorry. As noted, it's an epidemic.

NEW SEASON: NBC's Outlaw is almost indictable at first, but its second episode makes a much stronger case

Jimmy Smits begins Outlaw as a Supreme Court justice with big gambling debts. Let the chips fall where they may. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 15th at 9 p.m. (central) before moving to regular Friday 9 p.m. slot on NBC
Starring: Jimmy Smits, David Ramsey, Ellen Woglom, Carly Pope, Jesse Bradford
Produced by: David Kissinger, John Eisendrath, Richard Schwartz, Conan O'Brien

Outlaw's premise remains preposterous, but now at least merits an asterisk. That's because its second episode is so markedly better than Wednesday night's premiere, which follows the high wattage season finale of NBC's America's Got Talent.

Let's review the not-to-believed basics. Jimmy Smits plays U.S. Supreme Court justice Cyrus Garza, who's first seen very publicly in a casino playing blackjack. "Bless me, father, for I need a four," he says. In real life that's an immediate viral video on youtube and an around-the-clock gabfest on the alleged cable news channels.

Not that this would actually happen in real life. Likewise highly improbable is Garza's subsequent, prolonged debate with an anti-death penalty protester stationed outside the casino. She's in his face and then in his bed sleeping off their sex together while the womanizing Garza watches an old and suddenly cathartic Dateline clip of his deceased liberal father, Francisco, who died in a car wreck while Cyrus sat beside him.

"He's wrong. He's just wrong," pops tells an interviewer. "And deep inside of him -- he knows it."

Appointed by George W. Bush, Cyrus is "arguably the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court" and also the "Sports Shooting Ambassador of the Year," according to a sign in the casino he frequents.

But he's about to flip after first hiring a slinky, sexy private eye named Lucinda Pearl (Carly Pope). She's first seen lounging in Garza's office in a short skirt and black leather jacket. Smack-talkin' Lucinda -- "Well, I prefer strip poker, but I'm in" -- will be the newest member of Garza's crusading team of right-wrongers.

Their first case is a condemned man convicted of killing a cop whose attorney has petitioned the Supreme Court for a stay of execution. Garza breaks a 4-4 deadlock before abruptly resigning from the court to represent the same man he sided with as a justice. This very much vexes a right-wing senator who earlier had told Garza, "We put you in there. We can take you out."

Now that Garza has opted out, "you're on your own, pal," the sinister senator sneers. "I'd suggest you get a bodyguard." The implication is that Garza is being targeted for assassination. And oh yeah, he also has run up $250,000 in gambling debts.

So there you have it. Perfectly plausible, huh? Outlaw co-producer John Eisendrath, asked about the "heightened reality" at hand during the recent network summer "press tour," preferred to position the show as "in some ways a little bit of a fantasy. Wouldn't you want this lawyer and this legal team to come to your city to represent you in the case that matters the most to you?" he asked your friendly content provider.

Co-producer David Kissinger, son of former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, agreed there's a "certain amount of license" taken in Outlaw. But back in his dad's heyday, Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas had quite a colorful streak, he noted. "The current group is probably, given the process that they have to go through, a little bit tamer." But with Douglas as a distant template, Garza's deportment is "not as far-fetched as I think you're suggesting," Kissinger contended.

Sorry, not buyin' it. But the premise isn't the only problem with Wednesday's unveiling of Outlaw. Smits' acting also is grating, whether he's barking out orders to his team or later sermonizing in a courtroom.

Conan O'Brien's Conaco productions is a partner in this enterprise. And it's almost as if he's sabotaging NBC with a series that initially seems ready-made for parody on his upcoming TBS late night show. He had a fine time twitting Walker, Texas Ranger on the Peacock's old Late Night with Conan O'Brien. So maybe Outlaw could step in someday. This is after all, a show where Garza's most trusted aide, Al Druzinsky (David Ramsey), asks the bossman, "How does it feel to be an outlaw?"

"Feels great," Garza says while "I Shall Be Released" supplies the musical backdrop. Guh-roan.

Meanwhile, sexy P.I. Lucina keeps lobbing sexual double entendres at semi-uptight team member Eddie Franks (Jesse Bradford). Such as when he's grillin' burgers and stuff at an episode-closing party while she snipes, "Just keep your meat on the plate."

Best keep that wiener in a bun, too. But after a truly dreadful pilot episode, Outlaw resumes on Friday, Sept. 24th with a second hour that tackles Arizona's super-controversial immigration law with an intelligent and against-the-grain approach.

At issue is the near-fatal shooting of a legal Hispanic resident by a cop who first detains him for supposedly acting suspiciously. Garza ends up representing the cop, to the considerable consternation of the loyal Druzinsky. This pits him against a federal attorney who has branded the white cop a criminal racist. Ed Begley Jr. drops in to effectively play the judge in the case.

This Outlaw episode retains some ridiculous excesses, including an ongoing subplot in which young team member/law clerk Mereta Stockman (Ellen Woglom) retains her crush on Garza to the considerable delight of tart-tongued Lucinda. All in all, though, this is an interesting and uncommon take on a volatile issue, with Garza seemingly proceeding at cross purposes by heavily stocking the jury with Hispanics. Smits' acting also is appreciably better in this episode. And the script is much improved.

So the jury is still somewhat out on Outlaw, which makes a terrible first impression and then regroups pretty impressively. Maybe there's still a way to make this work.

GRADES: Opening episode -- D; followup episode -- B+

Finally making the team: Jimmy Johnson talks about surviving his favorite show after getting cut twice (in celebration, he even cut his hair)

It looks like a tale of two Jimmys on Survivor: Nicaragua. CBS photos

Once, twice, three times a Survivor applicant, former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson at last got what he wanted -- a chance to spend sleepless, shivering nights in the rain on a bamboo bed amid lush but primitive surroundings.

"I thought not having food would be one of the more difficult things," Johnson, says in an expansive teleconference tied to the Wednesday, Sept. 15th premiere of Survivor: Nicaragua (7 p.m. central). "I actually dealt with that OK. But the no sleep thing really got to me. You don't have any energy."

So why would a 67-year-old, two-time Super Bowl-winning coach take such a plunge? Purely for the "adventure," Johnson says repeatedly. "When I was a kid, I had these aspirations of someday going to the Amazon. In fact, I even tried to talk mommy and daddy into letting me have a Marmoset, a little monkey."

That didn't pan out. But the more he watched Survivor -- "I'm obsessed with it. I never miss a second of it" -- the more Johnson yearned to be a part of it.

He first tried out six years ago and "got turned down" for being too out of shape. "I did all the paperwork and my little video and everything," Johnson recalls.

Three years later he tried again and "was pretty much approved" until doctors discovered a 100 percent blockage in one of his arteries and a 75 percent blockage in another. He had a stent put in and then lost 30 pounds. "Survivor actually might have made me a survivor," he says. "It probably saved my life."

It also got him a spot on the pathfinding franchise's 21st edition. Only upon arrival in Nicaragua did he learn of the show's latest twist. Johnson will be the senior member of the Espada tribe, a group of 10 competitors over the age of 40 who will take on a La Flor tribe whose members are all 30 years of age or younger.

"Initially I was upset," he says. "I was upset because I wanted some of those young bucks to carry me."

In the end, though, "I think things were fair," he says. "And as the game goes on, I think you'll see why."

Johnson is sworn to secrecy on particulars. Even disclosing how much weight he lost would be a tip-off on how long he lasted as the game's marquee player.

"I lost a significant amount. I will say that," he says. "I have gained about half of it back" since Survivor: Nicaragua completed taping in mid-July.

Johnson also lost some of his famed, immovable hair -- intentionally. Vanity was never an issue, he says.

"I did have my hair (cut) shorter than it's been since I was in high school. I never combed it the whole time. When you're worried about getting something to eat and boiling some water and getting some sleep, the last thing on your mind is how you look."

He's said from the start that he has no realistic chance of winning the $1 million grand prize. After all, Johnson doesn't really need the money. Instead his game plan was to convince his fellow tribe members that "I want to help you win a million bucks." Not that everyone initially bought this.

"You sound like my other tribe mates," he tells a questioner who wonders if Johnson might really have been trying to get his rivals to "let their guard down."

Johnson says he came away being "very happy with my adventure" and also surprised at how much it took out of him.

"Anybody that's a skeptic of the show, they really don't know what they're talking about," he says. "It's as difficult as I thought it was going to be -- and more. And it's as beautiful as I thought it would be -- and more."

The game has changed over the years, he agrees. Texan Colby Donaldson, one of his all-time favorite competitors, stayed in the game by winning one immunity challenge after another on Survivor: The Australian Outback, Johnson notes. "In the early years . . . it was so important to win the challenges. Now it's become more of a social game and a conniving type game."

Johnson insists he "won't lie to people," though. "That's something I just don't do."

He expects to hear ample Survivor talk -- and see some excerpts as well -- during his weekly stints on Fox's NFL pre-game shows. But slap-happy colleague Terry Bradshaw might not want to make too much sport of him.

Bradshaw would last "about one minute" on Survivor, he says. "Terry is spoiled, I promise you. He's too accustomed to the good life."

Johnson doesn't contemplate any return engagements, though. One Survivor outing was enough for him, even if it all looks rosier in the rear view mirror.

"Unfortunately, I would have to decline," he says. "I think I've about pushed it to the limit."

NEW SEASON: Latest Nikita re-do a showcase for Maggie Q

Nikita gets the drop while looking drop-dead gorgeous. CW photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 9th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Maggie Q, Lindsy Fonseca, Shane West, Melinda Clarke, Aaron Stanford, Ashton Holmes, Tiffany Hines Hines, Xander Berkley
Produced by: Craig Silverstein, McG

Estrogen-powered new series are in fairly short supply this fall.

CBS for one has canceled four -- Ghost Whisperer, Cold Case, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Accidentally on Purpose -- and added none.

But The CW, subsidiary of CBS, retains an avid interest in showcasing the gender that also embodies its principal target audience -- 18-to-34-year-old women.

To join its club, though, you'll need a smokin' hot bod and a willingness to bare it. As was the case with Wednesday's premiere of the cheerleader series Hellcats. As is the case with Thursday's launch of a Nikita remake being paired with CW's holdover Vampire Diaries.

Hard-boiled, hard-bodied Nikita is played by Maggie Q (Maggie Denise Quigley), a 31-year-old veteran of intensive martial arts training who looks suitably smashing in her multiple action scenes. Early in Thursday's opener, she snaps the neck of a fat pig poobah while suitably dressed for his pool party in a showy fire engine red swimsuit. Now that's entertainment.

This looks to be one of CW's better series in recent seasons. It's dead serious at its core but garnished with enough eye candy to qualify as a Charlie's Angels minus one. That's no coincidence. One of Nikita's executive producers, McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol), directed both of the Charlie's Angels feature films and also has produced TV series such as Sorority Forever and Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious. So he knows this particular terrain -- both action-wise and otherwise.

Nikita's other principal star is Lyndsy Fonseca as Alex. She's an apprentice assassin being schooled by a covert unit of government known as Division. Nikita had the same employer until escaping three years ago and dedicating herself to destroying her tormentors. Her connection with Alex is more than it initially seems, with viewers let in on their not-so-little secret at episode's end.

Also featured is taut-taking Michael (Shane West), a not altogether ruthless Division operative assigned to hunt Nikita down and execute her by a despotic bossman named Percy (Xander Berkley). That of course isn't going to happen anytime soon.

Maggie Q clearly has the right skill sets for this role. She's quick with her fists, deadly with her aim and also impressive to behold in black underwear before picking out the outfit she'll wear to her next assassination shutdown. An occasional quip is also mixed in. "That could have gone better," Nikita deadpans after taking a bit longer than she'd like to subdue a pair of male Division underlings.

Unlike some series of this genre, the "mythology" is pretty straightforward. Nikita once had a taboo civilian lover who was taken out by Division. And Percy will stop at nothing to cover up a variety of misdeeds that the government is predictably clueless about.

It all makes for a romp, a stomp and an ongoing fashion show. And this time The CW has pretty much got it right.


TNT commissions pilot for potential Dallas TV series (2nd update)

There's no series commitment yet. But TNT has ordered a pilot for a potential remake of the Dallas TV series that would focus on "the offspring of bitter rivals and brothers J.R. and Bobby Ewing."

The announcement came Wednesday afternoon, with Warner Horizon Television backing a project being developed by executive producer Cynthia Cidre, who wrote the feature film Mambo Kings and created and produced the short-lived CBS serial soap, Cane.

TNT says that the descendants will "clash over the future of the Ewing dynasty while the fate of Southfork itself weighs in the balance." There's no casting yet.

Dallas ran from 1978 to 1991 on CBS, with Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy starring as J.R. and Bobby Ewing. Several reunion movies -- and a reunion special -- have since aired on CBS. But plans for a feature film appear to have crashed and burned.

"The Dallas movie isn't completely dead," Dallas Film Commission head Janis Burklund said in an email response Wednesday. "I don't believe it will come out of its coma anytime in the really near future, though."

Burkland said she hasn't heard yet whether any or all of TNT's Dallas pilot might be filmed in North Texas. TNT/TBS spokesperson Heather Sautter said via email, "At this point we aren't sure yet. Still working on details."

The original series initially spent summer months in Dallas before relocating entirely to Southern California in later years.

This dog will hunt: FX's likably scruffy Terriers scraps, claws and leaves a mark

Dogged pursuits: Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James of Terriers. FX photo
Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 8th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James, Kimberly Quinn, Laura Allen, Rockmond Dunbar, Jamie Denbo
Created by: Ted Griffin

Two slovenly goofball private eyes with thin streaks of competence are the latest additions to male-propelled FX.

Terriers, premiering Wednesday, makes for a light but hearty meal while also re-pledging allegiance to self-destructive men who live on the edge while walking a ledge between common decency and borderline depravity. If Lifetime is the uplifting network for women, FX is the downshifting destination for testosterone-fueled troublemaking in series such as Sons of Anarchy (which returned Tuesday night), Louie, Rescue Me and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

The likable slugs of Terriers are former cop and recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) and his tag-along partner, Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James). Operating out of Ocean Beach, CA, they scrape and claw for money by bungling their way through a variety of cases big and small.

Wednesday's opener finds them reclaiming a kidnapped bulldog named Winston and discovering the whereabouts of the wayward daughter of a drunken ex-partner of Dolworth's. This second assignment runs them afoul of a crooked, filthy rich developer who will be a recurring nemesis.

The supporting cast is both solid and typical. Dolworth of course has to rely on the occasional grudging good will of a detective by the name of Mrk Gustafson (Rockmond Dunbar). They go way back, but Gustafson has just about had it with Dolworth's screwups. Emphasis on "just about."

Dolworth also still pines for his ex-wife, Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn), who's both selling their old house and further lowering the boom with her planned re-marriage to an architect.

Pollack, despite his numerous shortcomings, still has the love and understanding of a beautiful blonde named Katie Nichols (Laura Allen). Dogs also figure in the storylines, but not to the point of explaining the title. But terriers by definition are "typically small, wiry, very active and fearless dogs" who initially were bred to control rats, rabbits and foxes. So I guess that's supposed to more or less describe the Dolworth/Pollack partnership.

Creator/producer Ted Griffin both wrote the Ocean's Eleven remake and was an executive producer of 2009's excellent Up In the Air feature film, which also starred George Clooney. Those are good bloodlines, and Griffin does a nice job in Terriers with banter and predicaments.

Occasional serious turns also are taken, not always to great effect. And you'll have to swallow fairly hard to buy some of the way in which the boys talk themselves into the homes and businesses of their prey.

Still, this is a breezy way to spend an hour on a network that keeps delivering interesting takes on messed up hairy apes. FX initially has ordered 13 episodes of Terriers, which has enough bite and humor to hopefully extend its lease.


NEW SEASON: CW's Hellcats bounces into view as yoo rah replica of -- "Gimme a G"

Aly Michalka (center), Ashley Tisdale of Hellcats. CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 8th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Aly Michalka, Ashley Tisdale, Sharon Leal, Heather Hemmens, Robbie Jones, Matt Barr, Gail O'Grady
Produced by: Tom Welling, Kevin Murphy, Allan Arkush

Bootys are shaken -- after first being stirred -- on The CW's new Hellcats.

That may be reason enough for many to watch this first new fall series out of the chute. Trailing Wednesday's season premiere of America's Next Top Model, it's an abs 'n' ass answer to Fox's Glee. Instead of the occasional upbeat show tune or heartfelt ballad, viewers get a writhin', tumblin', sweat-poppin' college cheerleader tryout to "Popstar" by Pretty Little Problem.

In other words, "Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame" has been supplanted by "Party like a rock star, shake it like a porn star." All on an academic scholarship, too, with coach Vanessa Lodge (Sharon Leal) willing to roll with the flow if it'll keep her program alive.

The principal Hellcats are pert 'n' peppy team captain Savannah Munroe (Ashley Tisdale segueing from her claim-to-fame Sharpay Evans role in the High School Musical movies) and incoming, 'tude-copping Marti Perkins (Aly Michalka). She's a pre-law student at Memphis' fictional Lancer University, where the sudden cancellation of her scholarship calls for desperate measures such as trying out for a vacant position as a, sniff, "football groupie."

"I'm not gonna let some grubby little goth insult the Lancer Hellcats," Savannah fires back. So it's on, even though Savannah at heart is a sweetie pie who later welcomes Marti as her roommate in the "Cheertown" dorm. Would she like wooden or padded hangers? Savannah has stocked their closets with a nice supply of both.

Marti's best pal, Dan Patch (Dallas native Matt Barr), happens to have the same name as a renowned turn-of-the-20th century, champion harness horse. But The CW's target audience of 18-to-34-year-old women is highly unlikely to know this. Just as Uncle Barky was ignorant of Pretty Little Problem's repertoire until googling. So it's a draw.

Both Dan and Marti have a strong aversion to cheerleading -- until she learns there's scholarship money to be had at the expense of an injured Hellcat named Alice Verdura (Heather Hemmens). While her wrist mends, count on her to plot non-stop against Marti, even to the point of stealing her towel in the girls' shower room. This leaves Marti in a fix until Alice's ex-boyfriend, sculpted Hellcat Lewis Flynn (Robbie Jones), comes to the rescue with a very odd bit of gamesmanship.

"Does this look crooked to you?" he asks after exposing himself to some leftover males in the locker room. "I think I might have slept on it wrong."

For some reason they flee in horror, acting as though they've just seen a giant predatory gila monster. This allows Marti to emerge from hiding.

Hellcats doesn't have a sinister Sue Sylvester -- at least not yet. It does have an embarrassing mother, though. Gail O'Grady (NYPD Blue, American Dreams) is back in harness as Wanda Perkins, a sloppy drunk who means well but makes her daughter want to run as though she's just seen a giant predatory gila monster.

As in Glee, the cheerleading competitions are threatened with extinction by funding cutbacks. So only by qualifying for Nationals can the Hellcats save themselves from being restricted to a mundane existence of merely jumping up and down at football games. And to be spared that fate, they'll have to out-booty vaunted Memphis Christian. In God we thrust.

One of Hellcats' executive producers is Smallville star Tom Welling, who soon will embark on his final season of playing Superboy turned Superman. This may seem like an odd choice for his first behind-the-camera excursion. But there are plenty of tight-fitting costumes. And Marti has been designated as the new featured "flyer."

Both Michalka and Tisdale act and cavort with vigor. So although Hellcats is patently ridiculous, it also seems largely harmless. As for higher education, viewers can learn en route to next week's big competition episode that Ronald Reagan, Meryl Streep, Katie Couric and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all were once cheerleaders.

So too was the late mega-producer and Dallas native Aaron Spelling (Dynasty, Charlie's Angels, Beverly Hills 90210 , etc), who if he were alive today might be making a series just like Hellcats. Bet he'd find a role for Tori, though.


TV THEME SONG-ville -- Season Finale

For our final pre-fall season installment, we take a return trip to Jack Lord's hair and the ever-pulsating theme song for Hawaii Five-0.

As you no doubt know by now, CBS is remaking it this season, with Alex O'Loughlin in Lord's signature role of Det. Steve McGarrett. It'll premiere on Monday, Sept. 20th in CSI: Miami's old slot.

The producers will be reprising the famed Five-0 mood music, but in shortened form, of course. Broadcast networks are loathe to let a theme song play out for fear that restive viewers will migrate elsewhere. They're wrong, of course, but audience research supposedly shows otherwise.

Watch for the classic Lord whirl-around in this original one-minute intro. Hawaii Five-0 ran from 1968-80 on CBS. Its theme music is by Morton Stevens.

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 11

Jack Webb with first partner Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) and No. 2 sidekick Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan). The original B&W version ran from 1951-59 on NBC. Dragnet returned in color from 1967-70.

Students of minimalist TV theme songs need not start with Law & Order.

Dragnet made the mold back in 1952 with its stark and enduring "Dum-de-dum-dum" open. The composer, a guy named Walter Schumann, also wrote the foreboding score for the original feature film version of The Night of the Hunter.

Sgt. Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb, underscored Dragnet's taut mood music with his terse opening narration: "This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I work here. I'm a cop."

The below clip, our penultimate pre-fall season trip to TV THEME SONG-ville, is from the original black-and-white Dragnet. We'll call it a wrap Friday with a look at the original open of a cop series that CBS is reviving this season.

TV THEME SONG-ville -- Episode 10

The theme song for Police Woman isn't particularly memorable. Nor will it ever be.

What these opening music and credits do offer, though, is a memorable tour of star Angie Dickinson's anatomy. Piping hot at the time, Dickinson played undercover(ed) vice-squad Sgt. Pepper Anderson in a series that premiered two seasons before the Charlie's Angels "jiggle" era and lasted until 1978 on NBC.

Submitted for your approval -- if not your listening pleasure -- is this selectively edited clip of Angie in action. There's nothing subtle about it. In other words, it perfectly embodies the series.