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Coming this fall (er, scratch that): Coming this spring/summer


Kiefer Sutherland as you know who in you know what. Fox photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Within the next six weeks or so, the Big Four broadcast networks will all announce their new fall lineups.

But in reality, they might well have just as much or more new stuff this spring and summer. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC have now all announced their plans for what not that long ago was a throwaway time of the year. But the runaway success of Under the Dome on CBS has everyone much more invested this time around.

We’re just going to detail the new series coming your way in the next several months. And we’ll start with NBC, since they’re the last to announce while also boasting that the six new scripted series “mark the most for any broadcast network in 21 years.”


The Night Shift (drama) -- Zoom in on the “irreverent and special breed” of men and women working the overnight shift at fictional San Antonio Memorial Hospital. The stars include Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under and a few short-lived drama series since then. Premieres Tuesday, May 27

Undateable (comedy) -- A bunch of guys hang out at a bar while hoping to get lucky rather than continuing to strike out. Chris D’Elia from Whitney heads the cast. Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) is the executive producer. Premieres Thursday, May 29

Crossbones (drama) -- Arrgh, this one originally was intended for midseason. But it could be worth the wait to see John Malkovich starring as Blackbeard and reigning over a “rogue nation of thieves, outlaws and miscreant sailors.” Premieres Friday, May 30

Taxi Brooklyn (“action comedy”, which means it’s an hour) -- Thrill to the “fractious, closely bonded partnership between a streetwise Marseilles-born New York City taxi driver and an intensely driven NYPD detective.” The stars are Chyler Leigh, Ally Walker, Jennifer Esposito and Jacky Ido. Premieres Wednesday, June 25

Welcome to Sweden (comedy) -- The executive producers are Amy and Greg Poehler, so this could be good. Greg stars as a dutiful hubby who moves to the native Sweden of his wife (Joseph Bornebusch) after she accepts a “prestigious banking position.” NBC says the cast also includes Patrick Duffy, Lena Olin and Illeana Douglas. Premieres Thursday, July 10

Working the Engels (comedy) -- Andrea Martin of SCTV fame plays the matriarch of a family left with a “mountain of debt” after Dad dies and leaves his storefront law firm in disrepair. Premieres Thursday, July 10

Food Fighters (unscripted) -- Adam Richman, formerly the over-eating star of Man vs. Food (he’s since dropped 70 pounds), hosts a competition in which America’s “best amateur cooks” pit their signature dishes against professional chefs. Premieres Tuesday, July 22


Black Box (drama) -- A bipolar world famous neurologist tries to keep her head on straight at a “state-of-the-art medical institution” dubbed The Cube. Kelly Reilly stars, with the uniquely named Ditch Davey also in the ensemble. Premieres Thursday, April 24

The Quest (unscripted) -- ABC promises to “literally take contestants and audiences to an amazing, imaginative realm where the ogres are advancing in the woods, the dragons are stirring, agents of a dark lord are infiltrating the keep” . . . and so on. Premieres Thursday, June 19

Rising Star (unscripted) -- Believe it or not, this one “completely reinvents the traditional singing competition.” Why, you ask? Because “for the first time ever, the audience has the final say in real time.” Deposed American Idol maestro Ken Warwick is the main executive producer. Premieres Sunday, June 22

The Astronaut Wives Club (drama) -- Based on the book by Lily Koppel (no relation to Ted), the 10-episode limited series tells the stories behind the spouses of America’s first batch of path-finding rocket riders. There are no familiar stars in the cast. Premieres Thursday, July 24


Reckless (drama) -- Billed as a “sultry” legal hour set in Charleston, S.C., this is what happens when a “gorgeous Yankee litigator and a charming southern attorney must hide their intense mutual attraction as a police sex scandal threatens to tear the city apart.” Actors named Anna Wood and Cam Gigandet play the principals. Premieres Sunday, June 29

Extant (drama) -- This is the network’s ambitious attempt to ride the momentum of Under the Dome, which returns for Season 2 on Monday, June 30. Halle Berry stars as astronaut Molly Watts, who hopes to reconnect with her family after a year in outer space. While up there she had some “mystifying experiences” that lead to “events that will ultimately change the course of human history.” Goran Visnjic from ER plays Molly’s hubby, John. Premieres Wednesday, July 9


24: Live Another Day (drama) -- Kiefer Sutherland’s ever-resilient Jack Bauer is back, this time for a 12-hour effort to “thwart an unthinkable terrorist attack that could change the world forever.” It’s set in London, with Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) also returning. Premieres Monday, May 5

Riot (comedy) -- “The nation’s funniest celebrities and comedians” come up against a series of mondo song, dance and sketch challenges on a set tilted, for some reason, at a 22-degree angle. Steve Carell is among the executive producers. Premieres Tuesday, May 13

Gang Related (drama) -- Former Lost star Terry O’Quinn takes yet another shot at making one stick. This time he’s “elite Gang Task Force” leader Sam Chapel, whose principal foe is a ruthless Latino gang known as Los Angelicos. A gaggle of younger cast members execute his orders, including former gang member turned detective Ryan Lopez (Ramon Rodriguez). Premieres Thursday, May 22

I Wanna Marry “Harry” (unscripted) -- Cut from the same cloth as Fox’s Joe Millionaire, this one stars an everyday English “bloke” who’s given an “upper crust makeover.” Will the 12 American gold diggers in search of “Prince Charming” be duped into thinking he’s royalty? Oh for crap sakes. Premieres Tuesday, May 27

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Best to try something other than CBS' Friends With Better Lives


The vexed sextet of Friends with Better Lives. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, March 31st 8 p.m. (central) on CBS before moving to regular Monday, 7:30 p.m. slot on April 14th.
Starring: Kevin Connolly, Majandra Delfino, James Van Der Beek, Zoe Lister-Jones, Brooklyn Decker, Rick Donald
Produced by: Dana Klein, Dave Hemingson, Aaron Kaplan

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
From NBC’s Friends to the same network’s Friends With Benefits to CBS’ new Friends With Better Lives.

Elongating the title does not make for a better sitcom. But here we go with another sextet of youngish pals in various states of unrest.

Entourage emigre Kevin Connolly and Majandra Delfino play Bobby and Andi, whose seven-year marriage is getting bogged down with a toddler in the house and another baby comin’ ‘round the bend. It’s the second new mid-season sitcom in which the kid-plagued parents at first appear to at long last be having sex but instead are merely catching up on Homeland episodes. The other is NBC’s About A Boy.

James Van Der Beek, the one-time philosopher teen of Dawson’s Creek, is the outwardly jaunty Will, who’s cryin’ on the inside after his wife dumped him. He’s also a doctor, as is Bobby.

Zoe Lister-Jones plays Kate, a terminally unsatisfied sour ball single whose signature flashback line is, “God, his wiener smelled weird.”

Jules and Lowell (Brooklyn Decker, Rick Donald) are the newly minted lovebirds. She’s more than a little vacuous and he’s more than a little hard to take as a prettily perfect Prince Charming.

Put them all together, add a way too giggly laff track and you have a show that’s easily stolen by Lister-Jones’ caustic Kate. Unfortunately it’s mostly petty theft.

Monday nights are already readily “adult” on CBS, with 2 Broke Girls leading the double entendre charge while Mom and Mike & Molly also contribute their share of off-color jokes. Besides the smelly wiener riff, Friends With Better Lives has a double shot of breast pump jokes (“What’s up with lefty?”), an extended exchange on “nut cheese,” a “pap smear” reference, several oral sex ba-da-booms and Kate’s recollection of what it was like to date a guy with one testicle. “It was right in the middle,” she says. “Comin’ at me like the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The laff track goes positively nuts.

Previewing on Monday after the special one-hour episode of How I Met Your Mother, the newbie will tuck itself into its regular 7:30 p.m. slot on April 14th, following 2 Broke Girls as the night’s new lead-off hitter.

Maybe Friends With Better Lives can somehow mature into something quite a bit more than what goes down during its first outing. For now it’s pretty much something you wouldn’t wish on your best friends. Saucy, grumpy Kate is in there slugging away, though. So if this doesn’t work out, she might be perfect for an arc on Two and a Half Men or maybe even as the star of ABC’s next edition of The Bachelorette. “Lex, I’d really like to give you a rose, but that smelly wiener is a real turn-off. So I can’t.”


GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Still aglow: a sit-down with a vintage Hollywood star in Eva Marie Saint: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival


Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest.

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Not to get all gooey. But amid all the superficial crap and anti-hero emphasis on prime-time television, it’s sometimes both relaxing and reassuring to spend a little time with a viewer friendly network that knows how to treat a still glowing vintage Hollywood star.

Eva Marie Saint, preparing to turn 90 on the Fourth of July, has outlived an incredible array of her former big-screen co-stars, including Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck and Frank Sinatra. The one-hour Eva Marie Saint: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (Monday, March 31st at 7 p.m. central on Turner Classic Movies) finds her onstage with the always amiable Robert Osborne, who’s become the face of TCM as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Osborne is no Grand Inquisitor, but he does ask pertinent, knowledgeable questions. And their stroll down her memory lane is illustrated with a very well-chosen collection of still photographs and clips from the likes of On The Waterfront, North by Northwest, Raintree County and Exodus. There’s even a scene from the 1949 TV production of June Moon, which co-starred Jack Lemmon.

Saint won her only Oscar for her very first film, 1954’s classic On the Waterfront with Brando. It also was her only nomination. She’s shown accepting the award after presenter Sinatra invokes her name. “I may have the baby right here,” she said at the time. Two days later, Saint had her first child. She’s been married to TV director/producer Jeffrey Hayden (The Donna Reed Show) since 1951. He’s shown beaming from an audience of admirers at the venerable Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where this special was taped last year.

“I don’t think two actors can be married,” she tells Osborne. “There’s such jealousy.”

Saint’s parents seemingly were heaven-sent. Their only shared vice was a three packs a day cigarette regimen, she recalls. But Saint survived all that secondary smoke while thriving on her parents’ support. She remembers the day she fell in love with acting while appearing in a school play.

When she broke this news to her parents, her father replied, “Honey, whatever you want to do, just do your best.” Saint clasps Osborne’s hand and her voice breaks while she re-tells this little anecdote.

On another occasion, Saint thought she had the only female role in a Broadway production of Mr. Roberts that co-starred Henry Fonda. But after previews, it was taken away from her and given to -- irony of ironies -- Brando’s sister, Jocelyn.

On the subway ride back to her parents’ apartment in Queens, Saint remembers deciding to stick it out and remain with the play as an understudy (who in the end never got to perform onstage in Mr. Roberts). “When I got home, my mom had put a little silver star on my bedroom door . . . And I had to take the star down,” Saint recalls. But mom and dad remained firmly in her corner.


Robert Osborne and Eva Marie Saint recall the way it was. TCM photo

Saint also remembers all of her leading men fondly. Still, some of the anecdotes are fascinating. Alfred Hitchcock, who directed North by Northwest, was primarily “interested in the external of the lady,” not the character’s inner feelings, Saint recalls. When he spotted her off-camera drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup while still in costume, Hitchcock immediately demanded that a proper china cup and saucer be substituted.

During the filming of Exodus with Newman, director Otto Preminger found fault with his kissing and then demonstrated the proper way to do it. A photo from the making of that 1960 epic shows Preminger leaning in for a smooch. Saint says she winked at Newman throughout. ”I mean, he’s telling Paul Newman how to kiss!? So that was a joke that Paul and I had forever.”

Saint primarily became a television actress later in her career, winning an Emmy for the 1990 miniseries People Like Us while also doing a guest shot on a two-part episode of The Love Boat. But her latest credit is for the feature film Winter’s Tale, which was released last month and co-stars Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Connelly. It was largely panned. Not her fault.

Monday’s special ends with Osborne telling Saint, “I hope you never change.” They end up kissing one another’s hands before he raises her right arm in triumph and calls her “The Champ.” In this case, that’s allowed.

TCM is garnishing Eva Marie Saint: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival with three of her most notable films. On The Waterfront follows at 8 p.m. (central) before a 10:30 p.m. repeat of the special. Viewers might then want to set their recording devices for Raintree County (11:30 p.m.) and North by Northwest (2:30 a.m. on Tuesday).

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Christopher Meloni re-seeds comedy roots in Fox's Surviving Jack


Father/son: Christopher Meloni & Connor Buckley of Surviving Jack. Fox photo

Premiering: Thursday, March 27th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Christopher Meloni, Connor Buckley, Rachael Harris, Claudia Lee, Kevin Hernandez, Tyler Foden
Produced by: Justin Halpern, Bill Lawrence, Patrick Schumacher, Jeff Ingold

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Justin Halpern is still writing what he knows -- which still isn’t much more than sitcoms about hard-ass dads who bedevil their sons and always say the wrong thing until they say the right thing.

Fox’s Surviving Jack shows considerable progress, though, when compared to Halpern’s 2010 CBS atrocity, $#*! My Dad Says. That was spawned by his Twitter feed. This one is based on Halpern’s autobiographical book, I Suck At Girls.

William Shatner made his maiden voyage as a comedy series regular in $#*! My Dad Says. Christopher Meloni, the gruff title character in Surviving Jack, is best known for his latter day dramatic roles in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, True Blood and Oz. But he cut his TV teeth in comedy, even if few remember him anymore from a string of 1990s flops that began with The Fanelli Boys and continued with The Boys, Dinosaurs (in which he voiced Spike) and Misery Loves Company.

We bring this up not to bury Meloni but to praise him for his fine comedic work in Surviving Jack. It’s perhaps fittingly set in 1991, when The Fanelli Boys still roamed the earth until its last telecast in February of that year. Meloni played Frankie Fanelli. OK, enough.

Surviving Jack’s opening credits include Suzanne Somers demonstrating a ThighMaster. Then it’s time for Meloni to break some balls as hard-driving, gruff-edged Jack Dunlevy, who’s first seen commanding his tallish teen son, Frankie (Connor Buckley), to run a lap around the block at 3 in the morning. The kid’s otherwise preparing to start his first year in high school.

Jack’s an oncologist by trade but becomes something of a full-time parent when his wife, Joanne (Rachael Harris), decides to start law school. The Dunlevys also have a knockout teen daughter named Rachel (Claudia Lee). Frankie’s semi-doofus best pals, George and Mikey (Kevin Hernandez, Tyler Foden), round out the cast.

Meloni pretty much crushes his role in the first two episodes sent for preview. Surviving Jack demands no less, but also calls for Jack to be more than a bellowing, coarse wrecking ball. Instead he’s even-voiced throughout, repeatedly assuring his skeptical wife, “I got this.” For constant, high-decibel dad yelling, go to ABC’s 1980s-set The Goldbergs.

Surviving Jack is being launched in a post-American Idol Thursday slot, which a few seasons back would have been the equivalent of rocket fuel. Now Idol is barely unleaded gas, with its ratings continuing to sink from week to week. So Surviving Jack will have to make it under its own power, with Meloni the drive shaft and the supporting players all doing their parts.

The opening half-hour sets the premise before focusing on Frankie’s awkwardness with girls and Jack’s hammer-and-tong remedies for that. Next week’s Episode 2 is built around Jack’s drill instructor training regimen after his son and friends ask for help in making the varsity baseball team.

Through it all, Jack is a man of a few choice words. Although he strings a fair number of them together near the end of Episode 2, telling Frankie, “Look, I don’t have friends. I think they’re something people use to distract themselves from the fear of death and the eternal darkness that follows.”

But warm -- or more accurately, lukewarm -- moments intercede before the final bells in both half-hours. And Meloni delivers them like a champ while also dominating during an American Gladiators face-off that jump-starts next week’s episode.

Surviving Jack at its best is amusing and at worst is still worth your time. Maybe that’s not saying much. But it’s also saying a lot in a season where higher profile sitcoms starring Michael J. Fox, Sean Hayes and Robin Williams have already been rejected. Now it’s name brand Christopher Meloni’s turn to get in the ring and re-plant his comedy roots. After almost 20 years of disuse, he can only hope they finally take hold.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Syfy's Creature Shop Challenge adheres to "reality competition" playbook while also turning a few new pages


Featured creatures Gigi Edgley and Brian Henson. Syfy photo

Premiering: Tuesday, March 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Featuring: Brian Henson, Gigi Edgley, Beth Hathaway, Kirk Thatcher and 10 contestants
Produced by: Brian Henson, Lisa Henson, Joseph Freed, Rob Bagshaw

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
All the usual “reality competition” show trappings are glaringly and sometimes groaningly evident in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge.

Notably and visually unique, however, are the tasks facing 10 contestants seeking a “coveted job” within the Muppet-driven Henson empire. See for yourself when the eight-episode series launches Tuesday, March 25th on Syfy.

The still revered Jim Henson died in 1990. But his son, Brian, lives on to helm the Henson ship and chart new courses with his sister, Lisa. She’s behind the scenes for Creature Shop Challenge while brother Brian serves as both lead judge and overall maitre d’. As such he’s not the most riveting of TV personalities, whether smiling benignly or saying repeatedly, “Let’s move on to.” But like his father, he does seem like a really nice guy.

The 10 supplicants, most of whom have previous experience in the creature-building trade, are all wide-eyed and gushy upon first meeting Henson and host Gig Edgley, an Australian actress who played Chiana on Syfy’s Farscape series.

“Oh my God, it’s Brian Henson!” says one. ”I’m just out of my mind excited,” says another.

They’re all identified by first names only. Robert, 29, from Kissimmee, FL, works at Disney World. “Jim Henson is better than Disney,” he tells the camera. “Oh God, I’m gonna get fired.” Someone probably encouraged him to say that. And he may be right, given Disney’s notorious vigilance in protecting its brand. But if Robert ends up winning, who cares? He can whistle while he works at the Creature Shop.

Contestants are quickly presented with their first challenge. Working in teams of two and given just two days, they must design and create an original sea creature discovered on the ocean floor by a submarine search light. And whatever they come up with must be big enough to completely conceal a human performer within. The designated mentor is designer Peter Brooke, who of course is genial and encouraging during his few moments on camera.

Even squeezably soft reality competition shows need a little edgy drama, though. Providing it is cranky 41-year-old Russ, who’s teamed with chatty 28-year-old Tina. He carps throughout their attempts to build what turns out to be a creature named Ethel.

“Tina has put herself in charge,” says Russ. “She never shuts up enough for you to get your point across.” Therefore, he deduces, she’s going to be a “pain in the ass.”

Russ even unleashes a bleeped f-bomb upon finally telling Tina face to face, “If you’re going to agree with me, then (#$@!) agree with me.” Not to give away too much, but this automatically means that Russ won’t be going home at the end of Episode 1. You want to keep a guy like him around for a while. Maybe he can even have a nicely choreographed redemptive moment.

The show picks up when the creations are finally finished and put to the test in front of judges Henson, creature designer Kirk Thatcher (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) and creature fabricator Beth Hathaway (Jurassic Park). Each of the five finished products undergoes a “screen test” before judges render verdicts. It’s fun to watch what they’ve somehow managed to throw together from scratch.

“My overall impression is it’s very cartoon-y,” Thatcher tells one of the teams. But everyone also gets some praise before Henson shifts into “Let’s move on to” mode.

Russ and Tina continue to bicker, both during the judging process and backstage after it. Even Henson says this is “appalling.” And here’s a guy who’s probably not easily appalled. After two teams are declared “safe,” it’s time for Henson to say, “The judges and I were most impressed with . . .” This means it’s also time for the music to swell en route to a commercial break. The buildup is then repeated upon return.

Only one member of a team is evicted, leaving nine contestants still in the running for next week’s task. Creature Shop Challenge is inviting enough to merit another look. Not for its pro forma adherence to the “reality competition” handbook but for whatever creative hoops await its very eager group of contestants.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Sham and a shame: missing Malaysian plane offers CNN's Reliable Sources and Fox News Channel's Media Buzz a chance to be clearly biased

DSCN4213 DSCN4214

Howard Kurtz, Brian Stelter during their competing Sunday programs. Photos: Ed Bark

Coverage of the mystery behind a Malaysian commercial jet’s disappearance likely will ebb just a bit after Monday morning’s official government announcement that “Flight 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” according to new data.

“I urge the media to respect their privacy and allow them the space they need at this very difficult time,” Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said of those grieving the loss of the plane’s 239 passengers and crew.

He’s obviously naive in that respect. But let’s rewind to Sunday morning, when the supposedly objective media analysis shows on CNN and Fox News Channel again went head to head in the 10 a.m. hour. Topic A, of course, was cable news coverage of Flight 370. And no one would disagree with the statement that CNN has been on this story virtually non-stop while its principal rivals, FNC and MSNBC, have devoted far less air time to it.

Howard Kurtz, who anchored CNN’s Reliable Sources for 15 years, now presides over FNC’s Media Buzz . On the topic of Flight 370, Kurtz did what his old bosses at CNN never would have allowed. Namely, he ripped and twitted CNN’s coverage throughout Media Buzz.

Kurtz’s Reliable Sources successor, former New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter, in contrast gave his new employer’s coverage a virtual free pass. He instead opened his program by ridiculing Fox News Channel -- and Bill O’Reilly in particular -- for being critical of CNN.

In other words, both hosts prostituted themselves in the service of the network that signs their paychecks. There was nothing really objective about either program’s approach. Kurtz and Stelter merely escalated the warfare between CNN and FNC. Nothing more, nothing less from two guys who dissect media coverage for a living but bowed to their corporate masters Sunday.

Let’s start with Kurtz, whose opening panel of three media experts just happened to include two Fox News contributors. He first teased Media Buzz with a clip of CNN anchor Don Lemon asking some guests whether the “supernatural power of God” could have played a role in the disappearance of Flight 370.

Kurtz then spoke of “unproven theories and crazy talk” going hand in hand with “endless hours of air time and the chance for ratings.” Six more clips were shown as evidence -- three of them from CNN and one from its sister network, HLN, which invited a psychic to weight in on Flight 370. MSNBC and FNC each got a token clip.

Fox News contributor Lauren Ashburn, who also joins Kurtz during his show’s new and silly “Video Verdict” segment, noted that “CNN’s ratings have doubled, though, as the result of this. And it’s a pure ratings grab. And it’s working.”

Kurtz soon happily showed a CNN clip that included the opinions of a personality from Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid series.

“It’s like crack,” Kurtz concluded, recycling a riff he had used earlier to bash CNN on FNC’s The O’Reilly Factor. “It’s an easy way to get your numbers up. But I don’t know that it helps your long-term brand.”

He wasn’t finished, of course. Before a commercial break, Kurtz displayed and mocked a freeze-frame of a CNN tagline that read “Solving Plane Mystery Could Take Years.” It appeared under a “Breaking News” banner.

After schmoozing at length with another Fox News personality -- Greg Gutfeld promoting his new book Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War On You -- Kurtz took another shot at CNN’s Lemon for publicizing a “Black Hole Theory” regarding the disappearance of Flight 370.

“Don Lemon is a smart guy,” he added. “I don’t know why he’s saying things about black holes on the air. I think our collective credibility is disappearing into a black hole.” Kurtz should know. His has all but vanished.

After scolding Ellen DeGeneres for cozying up to President Obama during his recent appearance on her show -- “She totally embraced Obamacare” -- Kurtz neared the finish line with a “Top Tweet” that said, “Can you imagine if CNN had been around when Gilligan, the Skipper and their castaways were lost? What a spectacle.”

Kurtz mildly called Fox News to task for supposedly ramping up its Flight 370 coverage in the face of CNN’s recent ratings gains with a 24/7 approach. But CNN took 90 percent of the fire from Media Buzz. That’s not how it would have gone down on his old Reliable Sources program. But Kurtz surely will get a “good boy” head pat for how he handled matters Sunday.

Alas, Stelter was no better -- and arguably even worse.

“I’ve invited some of the best media experts I know to examine the continuing coverage of Malaysia Air Flight 370,” he told viewers at the outset.

In fact, he invited just one media critic, who for the most part slavishly praised CNN. More on that later.

Stelter noted that “CNN has been covering the missing Malaysian airplane pretty much around the clock. That’s no news to most of you watching at home.” In return, the network has gotten “lots of praise, lots of viewers, but also thumbs down from some media watchers,” he added.

Thumbs down from a lot of media watchers, actually. But Stelter immediately trained his sights on Fox News Channel in general and Bill O’Reilly in particular.

O’Reilly told his viewers last week that CNN’s constant coverage and theorizing of what might have happened to Flight 370 is “corrupting the news business, I think.”

Stelter showed an O’Reilly clip before twitting him: “On the bright side for Mr. Reilly, though, this has given him opportunities to mock CNN for its role in leading the coverage.”

A corroborating clip showed O’Reilly joking that there’s no truth to a rumor that CNN has hired Courtney Love as a commentator after she claimed to know the whereabouts of Flight 370.

Back to you, Brian, who said he hoped O’Reilly hadn’t bumped into FNC colleagues Sean Hannity or Megyn Kelly, whose shows supposedly were throwing out the same kinds of theories he had decried. As evidence, Stelter cued a clip of retired general Thomas McInerney telling Hannity that Flight 370 may have been hijacked and hidden in Pakistan. Or perhaps Iran, McInerney said in a later interview on FNC.

“It seems a little like a war within Fox,” Stelter contended before showing a clip of another FNC host, Greta Van Susteren, admonishing those who thought the coverage of Flight 370 had become excessive. In Stelter’s view, it “kind of sounded like she was rooting for CNN.”

Stelter should have made an effort to interview latter day CNN boss Jeff Zucker, the former NBC chieftain whose game plan clearly is to “own” any big breaking story by covering it non-stop. CNN previously has gone “all in” on the Carnival Cruise disaster and the Boston Marathon bombings. It’s a programming strategy, pure and simple. And if Zucker didn’t want to talk about it, Stelter should have told viewers.

Instead his media expert of choice was Erik Wempler of The Washington Post, who said he so far had watched 60 to 70 hours of CNN’s Flight 370 coverage. Not surprisingly, he very much approves.

“I like over-coverage,” Wemple said. “I like it when news organizations obsess over something.”

Furthermore, “if Jeff Zucker doesn’t go all out on this story, he should be fired,” Wempler said.

CNN, with resources around the world and striving to establish an identity, “HAS to do this,” Wempler emphasized. “If it doesn’t do this, your leadership should be fired and marched right out of their offices. It (CNN) HAS to do this, for its survival, for its future. It has no other option.”

O’Reilly’s naysaying perhaps is because he’d gotten “nervous” about his show being beaten a few times by CNN in the key 25-to-54-year-old demographic, Wemple said.

Stelter tepidly threw in a brief observation on how CNN “of course has had some ‘off’ moments in the coverage.” But the clip he chose was Lemon’s relatively tame “power of God” query rather than the psychic or “Naked and Afraid” visuals used on Kurtz’s Media Buzz.

“I mean, that’s pure idiocy,” Wemple said of Lemon’s God moment. “I think that needs to be and deserves to be condemned.”

Stelter of course couldn’t let that pass. He responded by carrying a little more water for his bosses. “You don’t think there’s a way to bring up God, though, on a Sunday evening like that?” he asked.

“No. I would be against it,” said Wemple, who otherwise gushed in approval of CNN. As Stelter surely knew he would.

Reliable Sources otherwise didn’t invite any other media analysts to debate the overall caliber of CNN’s coverage. Instead the host used Fox News Channel as a punching bag. Kurtz did much the same by slamming his old network.

The takeaway: both Media Buzz and Reliable Sources are toothless “watchdogs” when push comes to shove. After Sunday’s displays, Kurtz and Stelter have no business taking other media outlets to task for any perceived shortcomings or ethical lapses. Why would anyone take them seriously? They’ve squandered any trust and instead behaved like the toadies they’ve become.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CW's The 100 is well-grounded on earth, in space


Eliza Taylor (second from right) heads the cast of The 100. CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 19th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Eliza Taylor, Thomas McDonell, Bob Morely, Marie Avgeropoulos, Eli Goree, Devon Bostick, Richard Harmon, Christopher Larkin, Henry Ian Cusick, Paige Turco, Isaiah Washington, Lindsay Morgan
Produced by: Matthew Miller, Jason Rothenberg, Bharat Nalluri, Leslie Morgenstein, Gina Girolamo

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Elements of Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Lord of the Flies and Avatar are blended into a surprisingly refreshing smoothie in The CW’s The 100.

Why the network took so long to premiere it is a puzzlement. Why The CW doesn’t simply call itself Syfy Junior is another open question. But The 100 at last is achieving liftoff. And although some of the mostly young cast’s performances are less than Shakespearean, this is a pretty solid hour of escapism operating on two fronts -- Earth and outer space.

Let’s touch on the basics. It’s been 97 years since a “nuclear apocalypse” wiped life from the face of the Earth. Escaping the carnage were 400 inhabitants of 12 international space stations. They now all live in a yellow submarine, er, inter-connected galactic “Ark.” But resources are running dry, patience is running thin and edicts are running amok. One of them is this: 100 juvenile prisoners will be loaded into a “drop ship” and jettisoned to Earth to test its inhabitability. They’re supposed to land on Mount Weather, where “enough perishables” exist to keep them alive for a while.

But wouldn’t you know, “they dropped us on the wrong damn mountain,” says plucky Clarke Griffin (newcomer Eliza Taylor). Derisively dubbed “Princess,” she’s the daughter of the Ark’s chief medical officer, tight-jawed Abby Griffin (Paige Turco from Person of Interest).

While the kids squabble on terra firma, the principle adults in outer space also make life pretty interesting during their segments. Abby’s arch enemy is scheming vice chancellor Marcus Kane (Henry Ian Cusick of Lost), who yearns to wrest the chancellorship from the more even-handed Jaha (Isiah Washington/Grey’s Anatomy).

Jaha’s son, Wells (Eli Goree), is also among the teen lab rats dispatched to Earth. He’s a nice guy compared to the really nasty John Murphy (Richard Harmon) and the ‘tude-copping Bellamy Blake (Bob Morley), whose spirited sister, Octavia (Mare Avgeropoulos), is no picnic either. Add dare-devilish Finn (Thomas McDonell), cuddly, nerdy Jasper (Devon Bostick) and tech-savvy Monty (Christopher Larkin). Supporting cast-offs also pop in and out, most notably in Episodes 3 and 4. That’s when a tragic 13-year-old named Charlotte (Izabela Vidovic) very much makes her presence felt.

Each of the first four episodes ends with a mini-cliffhanger. In fact, Wednesday’s opener pretty much ends the way the first hour of Lost did. “We are not alone,” Clarke deduces after one of her colleagues runs into some serious misfortune before being dragged off at the start of Episode 2. So far there are no “Smoke Monsters.” There is, however, a thick, acidic fog that arrives without warning and barbecues anyone in its wake.

The 100 can be fairly graphic at times. Makeup artists have done nice jobs applying cuts, bruises and worse. Back on the Ark, it’s more a case of verbal combat. Although in a series of Episode 3 flashbacks, viewers can witness the way in which Ark wrongdoers are executed. It’s called “floating.”

Jockeying between the worlds of the imperiled Ark and the endangered new earthlings turns out to be an effective means of mixing and matching story lines. The more seasoned adults in outer space are better actors but the kids get to make most of the chilling new discoveries. It’s all enough to rope a viewer in, even if you’re well north of The CW’s 18-to-34-year-old target audience. The 100 ends up being sci-fi fun for all ages -- with a spine tingle or two also within these realms of possibilities.


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Doll & Em is too much of a trinket for HBO


Dolly Wells & Emily Mortimer of Doll & Em. HBO photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 19th at 9 p.m. (central) on HBO with back-to-back episodes for three Wednesdays
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Dolly Wells, with cameos by Susan Sarandon, Chloe Sevigny, John Cusack, Andy Garcia
Produced by: Andrew Eaton, Lucy Lumsden, Emily Mortimer, Dolly Wells, Azazel Jacobs

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HBO’s slim, trim shooting budget for the short-run series Doll & Em probably wouldn’t get the network’s big, sprawling Game of Thrones through even a single day of filming.

Billed as a “semi-improvised comedy” that in fact lapses into too much drama, it’s getting what amounts to a Wednesday night afterthought slot for a three-week run of six half-hour episodes. There’s some enjoyment to be had from the lead performances of real-life best friends Emily Mortimer (The Newsroom) and Dolly Wells (Bridget Jones’s Diary). A brisk walk would be better for you, though.

Mortimer plays London-born actress Em, who’s prepping for a Hollywood movie when the sobbing Doll calls from abroad after her boyfriend breaks up with her. So Em flies Doll in and commiserates before hiring her as a personal assistant. The first of Wednesday’s two episodes moves along sluggishly on this front before the second picks up a bit at a pre-production party featuring appearances by Susan Sarandon and Chloe Sevigny.

Sevigny, whose new series Those Who Kill was yanked by the A&E network after just two episodes, makes no lasting impression at all in either the second or fourth episodes. But Sarandon registers as the protective, demanding mother of a kindergarten age boy who initially upbraids Dolly but later mellows out while they jointly smoke some pot.

John Cusack and Andy Garcia also play themselves, the latter to good effect in Episode 5. And Bradley Cooper is part of the opening credits. He’s standing with Em on the red carpet of the Independent Spirit Awards when she gets the distress call from Doll.

Meanwhile, Em and Doll’s misadventures and misunderstandings never quite get rolling. And the movie Em is starring in, titled “Valerie Lee,” seems to have the laziest shooting schedule in the history of filmdom. Not that we ever really know what it’s about. For the most part, Em is merely made to feel inadequate by a diminutive director named Mike (Aaron Himelstein). But Doll’s star is rising, particularly after she weeps uncontrollably as an extra at a funeral service where Em can’t quite summon the tears.

It’s all very familiar turf. The underling becomes something of the overlord while feelings are bruised and tempers fray. All of which turns Doll & Em into a non-comedy by the end of Episode 5. It wasn’t all that amusing anyway.

Whether improvising or following the script, Mortimer, Wells and Azazel Jacobs are credited with writing all six episodes. All except Episode 5 end with the song “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” by War.

The overriding question, though, is “Why couldn’t this be better?” Doll & Em instead comes off as a mis-firing vanity project that seems to be too much of a trifle to merit HBO’s oft-rarefied air. Shuffling it off to Wednesdays seems to be the network’s way of acknowledging as much.


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NBC's Crisis hopes to captivate by taking a whole classroom hostage


Rachael Taylor and Gillian Anderson play estranged sisters in Crisis. NBC photo

Premiering: Sunday, March 16th at 9 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Gillian Anderson, Rachael Taylor, Lance Gross, James Lafferty, Adam Scott Miller, Max Martini, Halston Sage, Stevie Lynn Jones, Max Schneider, Michael Beach, Joshua Erenberg, Rebecca Spence
Produced by: Rand Ravich, Far Shariat, Phillip Noyce

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Well, it’s always something. And NBC hopes to have Something Really Big with Crisis.

It’s the drum-pounding, hyper-scored saga of a mass kidnapping. More than two dozen over-privileged kids of Washington, D.C. power brokers are used as bait by forces with a still unknown agenda after the first two episodes sent for review.

Captives include Kyle Devore (Adam Scott Miller), son of the president of the United States, and Amber Fitch (Halston Sage), whose corporate tycoon mom is rich enough to blithely lay out $24 million in untraceable cash if it will get her daughter back. Mother Meg is icily played by Gillian Anderson of The X Files fame. She’s also been a recurring character on NBC’s Hannibal.

Crisis has roughly five times the number of hostages of CBS’ ratings-deprived Hostages, which ended its 13-episode run earlier this season and won’t be invited back. Its overall problem is similar, though. Even with more characters to imperil, can Crisis sustain itself over multiple seasons? Or will viewers quickly weary of whatever failed rescue attempts and red herrings await them?

The central Svengali of Crisis appears to be ex-CIA agent Francis Gibson, played by the capable Dermot Mulroney. He’s outwardly a shaky, spineless sort who’s been written out of the lives of both his wife, Janice (Rebecca Spence), and his daughter, Beth Ann (Stevie Lynn Jones), now a captive.

Francis operates under the guise of being a last-minute chaperone on a bus trip that he knows will go awry. His clandestine role quickly becomes clearer once the students are herded into a spacious hideout and then barked at by white-masked captors. Their voices have been altered to make them sound pretty much like the late Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer character -- when drunk -- on Saturday Night Live. This probably wasn’t intentional.

On the law enforcement side, Meg Fitch’s kid sister, Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor), is a hard-driving FBI agent from whom she’s been estranged. There’s also rookie Secret Service agent Marcus Finley (Lance Gross), a last minute replacement to help escort the school bus on its fateful journey. Marcus takes a bullet but keeps on ticking. Enough so to run off with pudgy Anton Roth (Joshua Erenberg), a 12-year-old who’s been advanced two grades and feels like an outcast. He joins NBC’s mid-season wave of precocious pre-teens, who also can be found on the new series About a Boy, Growing Up Fisher and Believe.

Crisis has some nice scenes between Marcus and Anton in these first two episodes. Meanwhile, back at hostage central, “The Children of the World’s Most Powerful Parents” -- as they’re billed in media accounts -- are squabbling with one another. A blondie boy named Luke lashes out when his new designer shirt gets ripped in Episode 2. He even calls one of his fellow captives “Food Stamps.” This may prompt some viewers to stick around in hopes that Luke’s captors will treat him to a hot lead enema in a future episode.

The mood music in Crisis can be over-wrought at times -- and downright over-bearing when a male vocalist breaks into “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” But the first two hours are nicely paced and eventful, with the ad hoc partnership between Marcus and an initially resistant Susie gaining traction as the stakes increase.

Crisis will be battling ABC’s Revenge at 9 p.m. (central) on Sundays while NBC’s new Believe and ABC’s Resurrection clash in the preceding hour. Both of the latter two series got off to strong ratings starts with their first episodes, although Believe had the advantage of being previewed after Monday’s edition of The Voice before moving to its regular slot.

As a side note, one-word titles have been very much in vogue lately on the Big Four broadcast networks. Besides Believe, Crisis and Resurrection, the midseason arrivals have included Rake, Enlisted, Mixology, Intelligence and the Season 2 return of Hannibal.

The TV critic community thanks them for this. Because it sure beats the hell out of typing Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

GRADE: B-minus

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SPOILER ALERT: do not read this if you don't want a detailed critique of how True Detective ended Season One


Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson of True Detective. HBO photo

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True fans of HBO’s True Detective have seen the Season 1 finale by now -- many of them more than once no doubt.

So let’s talk about how creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto chose to end it, with the proviso that if you don’t want to know, DON’T READ ANY FURTHER.

It’s all a matter of opinion, of course. But in the grand scheme of TV history, some finales have played better than others. The last episodes of series such as The Fugitive, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Newhart, Six Feet Under, The Shield and The Larry Sanders Show (to name a few) generally have been applauded.

But the closers for Lost, Seinfeld, The Sopranos and Dexter are among those that received widely mixed reactions. Actually, in the case of Dexter, almost total condemnation -- and deservedly so.

True Detective had more leeway than any of the above. Lead actors Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were signed for just one eight-episode arc, with the understanding that new actors and an entirely different locale would be deployed for Season 2. So their respective characters, Louisiana detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, had far less time to grow on viewers, making them more expendable in the process.

I’m not going to get into the intricacies of their crime-solving or any dangled loose ends. In the end, Rust and Marty prevailed, even if crazed, abused, scar-faced hillbilly Errol Childress likely was not “The Yellow King” at the head of a long history of brutal killings, including ritualistic child sacrifices. True Detective centered more on the disparate relationship of its two highly flawed principles than the whodunit hanging over them. But viewers had every right to expect a resolution -- and they got one.

In a pre-arranged interview with hitfix.com after Sunday’s finale, Pizzolatto told TV critic Alan Sepinwall that “it would have been the easiest thing in the world to kill one or both of these guys.”

Not sure about that. Although it would have made for a substantially darker ending, I think True Detective could have made a far bolder statement by letting both men die deep in the heart-of-darkness lair of Errol’s “Carcosa.” Each had been very seriously wounded by the elusive boogeyman who drove them apart and back together again. Only a bullet to the head from the gut-stabbed Rust stopped Errol from finishing off one man, then the other. Marty then crawled over to him. “He cut me pretty good,” said Rust while Marty bled along with him.

Dying together, as hard-won friends who had bucked all odds before getting their man, oddly also would have meant going in peace. They had slain some of their personal dragons and become blood brothers on the road to Carcosa. Their friendship now cut deeper than any wounds they had sustained or inflicted on one another. How perfectly imperfect -- to die undetected on an obscure, deeply hidden battlefield while authorities continued to play their various blame games.

But no. Marty had made a somewhat magic phone call before joining Rust in his chilling, prolonged pursuit of twisted Errol Childress. And so a veritable task force of cops somehow found them in the dark, with no address to go by other than somewhere off a very rural Highway 27. “Here! Here! We’re here!” Marty shouted from the bowels of the killer’s cave. The cavalry came to the rescue -- just like in the movies.

Both men convalesced in Lafayette General Hospital. They were lauded for a job well done, even though Rust remained in a coma while Marty was visited by his long-estranged wife and their two daughters.

“We didn’t get ‘em all,” Rust finally said upon returning to consciousness.

“And we ain’t gonna get ‘em all,” Marty told him. “That ain’t the kind of world it is. But we got ours.”

For me, that exchange would have had more impact as some of their last words to each other in the killer’s cave. True Detective instead played the born again, redemptive card, with the heretofore godless Rust talking about the vision he had of his daughter (and father) while lying in a coma.

“And all I had to do was let go,” he told Marty during their closing scene together outside the hospital. “And I did. I said, ‘Darkness -- yeah-h-h.’ And I disappeared. But I could still feel her love there, even more than before. There was nothin’ but that love. And I woke up.”

Rust was weeping at this point, giving McConaughey one last terrific scene to firm up the Emmy award he almost certainly will win to go along with his Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club. The new Rust also had a New Testament: “Once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winnin’. “

True Detective ended on that declaration, with the camera turning to the night sky for a final image of twinkling stars dotting the darkness.

For me it seemed too tacked on. Might Rust now become just the sort of preacher he so disdained? But for others -- perhaps many others -- this ending may have seemed heaven-sent.

Whatever your view, True Detective still boldly registered as a distinctive, original drama. Its images oftentimes were as arresting as the acting. The “journey” lasted for just eight hours, all of which were well-spent. The post-mortems will go on and on. Did it end well by not ending badly? Or would Rust and Marty locked in a shared death’s embrace have been truer to the nature of True Detective?

Answer me that.

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NBC's Believe quickly prompts serious doubts (about how it ever got on the air)


Thrust together: Bo and Tate of the new drama Believe. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, March 10th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC before moving to regular Sunday, 8 p.m. (central) slot on March 16th
Starring: Johnny Sequoyah, Jake McLaughlin, Delroy Lindo, Kyle MacLachlan, Jamie Chung, Arian Moayed
Produced by: Alfonso Cuaron, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Jonas Pate, Hans Tobeason

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NBC’s midseason parade of precocious pre-teens continues with the saga of a 10-year-old girl whose gifts include summoning a swirl of birds to temporarily ward off those who would do her harm.

The Peacock’s new Tuesday night comedies, About A Boy and Growing Up Fisher, both are built around 11-year-olds of the male species. This is from a post- Cosby Show network that came to believe kids went against the grain of “smart” shows intended to lure “upscale” viewers. Shows such as Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, Miami Vice and the Law & Order franchise. And I’m not making that up. NBC used to avoid kids like a plague of pitches for a new Mickey Rooney series.

Judging from the thoroughly lackluster first episode, the network definitely should have avoid Believe. This is doubly disappointing because its executive producers include Alfonso Cuaron, who just won the best director Oscar for Gravity, and J.J. Abrams (Lost, Fringe, etc. Neither could have been paying all that much attention.

Previewing Monday after The Voice before moving to its regular Sunday 8 p.m. (central) slot, Believe rapidly congeals into a ponderously paced tale of a little girl named Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), her mysterious group of protectors and sinister forces who would use her assortment of powers for their own undisclosed gains.

For some reason, “The Believers,” headed by a solemn guy named Milton Winter (Delroy Lindo), decide that Bo’s latest protector and running mate should be a death row inmate named Tate (Jake McLaughlin). He’s been wrongly imprisoned, of course. And he has a surly attitude, of course. Whatever skills he brings to keeping Bo safe are neither readily nor remotely apparent. He’s fairly easily beaten up by some sort of dragon lady. Plus, “I don’t like kids.”

But Lindo’s Winter assures Tate that being constantly on the lam with Bo will be “the best years of your life.” He soon adds, “We’re not superheroes. But we are dedicated and hard-working people. We can protect you.” A satchel of cash is then dropped at Tate’s feet before the sinister forces break in and prompt another series of chase and fight scenes.

Series regular Kyle MacLachlan is briefly seen as an apparently evil manipulator named Skouras. And Rami Malek (so impressive as cynical “Snafu” Shelton in HBO’s The Pacific) guest stars to little avail as a doctor with a bed-ridden, near-death father who did a lousy job of nurturing him.

Bo and Tate are fated to hop on a bus at episode’s end, beginning some sort of journey together that will be constantly impeded by bad people. But “It’s going to be OK,” she assures him.

No, it’s not. Darkly shot and dimly plotted, the premiere episode never comes close to firming its grip. It instead plods and meanders, inviting viewers to invest elsewhere rather than buy into this poorly put-together jumble of something or other.


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Fox graces the sprawling TV universe with a new Cosmos


Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts 13-episode reboot of Cosmos. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, March 9th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox and repeating Monday, March 10th at 9 p.m. (central) on National Geographic Channel.
Hosted by: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Produced by: Seth MacFarlane, Anne Druyan, Mitchell Cannold, Brannon Braga

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Consider this improbable journey through time and space: from Carl Sagan’s classic 1980 Cosmos series on PBS to a Fox reboot whose principal executive producer is the guy behind Family Guy.

Seth MacFarlane had the good sense, though, to bypass himself as host and instead go with the modern-day Sagan, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Dyson. He brings his usual enthusiasm and animated delivery to this audacious 13-episode project. And the bigger your HD screen, the better it will play.

The full title of Sagan’s signature series was Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. This time out it’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, with Sagan’s original collaborator, Ann Druyan, back for another go at it in partnership with Tyson and MacFarlane. National Geographic Channel also is a partner. It will air Cosmos on Monday nights, beginning March 10th.

Only the first hour was sent for review. Subtitled “Standing Up in the Milky Way,” it soon puts Tyson in a “ship of the imagination” for a whirlwind tour of our “cosmic address.” At its outer reaches is “The Virgo Supercluster,” located more than 100,000 light years from home. He does not, however, encounter rush hour traffic during a journey that also zooms past the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.

Cosmos is less effective when it resorts to ground level animation to illustrate Roman Catholic scholar Giordano Bruno’s travails in the year 1600 and beyond. Absent any scientific evidence or even a telescope, he postulated that Earth is “not the center of the universe . . . it’s a planet, just like the others.”

Bruno is shown in cartoon form, both as a beautiful dreamer and in prison. “It wasn’t long before Bruno fell into the clutches of the thought police,” Tyson says. The Catholic Cardinals of The Inquisition found him guilty of heresy. And after eight years of rotting behind bars and refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake.

Bruno got little mention in Sagan’s original book version of Cosmos, a mega-bestseller that has been reissued in paperback by Ballantine Books. But he’s a heroic, significant figure in the first episode of the new Cosmos. And he’s voiced by none other than MacFarlane, who does it straight up.

Tyson concludes the first hour with a rousing trip through the “Cosmic Calendar” (“The Earth took one hell of a beating in the first billion years”) and a touching reminiscence of Sagan, whom he met as a 17-year-old. “He reached out to me and to countless others,” says Tyson, who shows viewers a paperback book that Sagan personally inscribed to him.

During his heyday, which was huge, Sagan became a regular guest on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Carson regularly parodied Sagan saying “billions and billions” with a pronounced enunciation of the “b.” He also greatly admired him.

Fox’s Cosmos can’t hope to replicate the clout of the original, which for a decade stood as the most-watched PBS series ever until Ken Burns’ The Civil War overtook it in 1990. But the reboot, with only Episode 1 to go by, looks like a noble, educational and decidedly visual effort that can only be enhanced by the HD crystal clarity that Sagan never had a chance to behold. He died in 1996 at the age of 62. Earth was most fortunate to have him.


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ABC's new Resurrection intentionally plays dead


New lease on life: Landon Gimenez, Omar Epps star in Resurrection. ABC photo

Premiering: Sunday, March 9th at 8 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Omar Epps, Frances Fisher, Kurtwood Smith, Matt Craven, Landon Gimenez, Devin Kelley, Samaire Armstrong, Sam Hazeldine
Produced by: Aaron Zelman, Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, JoAnn Alfano, Dan Attias

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Not to be confused with the earlier series The Returned -- although it will be -- ABC’s Resurrection is based on The Returned, a 2013 book by Jason Mott.

Let’s clarify further. The acclaimed French language series The Returned, which recently aired with subtitles on SundanceTV, was adapted from the 2004 film They Came Back. Season 2 currently is in production.

In both cases, deceased humans miraculously return to the living while looking the same way they did when they died. Call them the walking dead if you’d like. But they’re not decaying, staggering, bloodthirsty zombies.

The central returnee in The Returned is 15-year-old Camille, who died four years ago in a bus accident. In Resurrection (which will push Revenge back an hour on Sunday nights), eight-year-old Jacob Langston (Landon Gimenez) supposedly drowned 32 years ago. The series begins with little Jacob awakening and hyperventilating amid crops in rural China. From there he makes his way back to little Arcadia, Missouri with help from Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Martin Bellamy (Omar Epps from House).

Jacob’s now elderly parents, Lucille and Henry (Frances Fisher, Kurtwood Smith), are pretty surprised to see him. Although not as surprised as they should be, really. No one faints or anything, and Henry remains ornery.

Featured townies also include Henry’s brother, Fred (Matt Craven), who’s the clenched-up Arcadia sheriff. His doctor daughter, Maggie (Devin Kelley), is more open-minded while pastor Tom Hale (Mark Hildreth) tries to make spiritual sense of it all. As a kid he was Jacob’s best friend.

A creepy-looking bearded guy in a hoodie also lurks through the premiere episode before his identity and the circumstances of his “death” are fully revealed in Episode 2. Through it all, agent Bellamy earnestly tries to put together puzzle pieces while sheriff Fred brands him a “glorified desk jockey” with a problematic past that’s yet to be detailed.

The network has ordered just eight episodes of Resurrection, which so far comes up short of The Returned in atmosphere, acting, mood music and goose bumps. But it’s of a higher caliber than ABC’s recent rash of freshman drama flops, which include Killer Women, The Assets, Mind Games, Betrayal, Lucky 7 and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

There may be enough going on in Resurrection to develop at least a decent-sized core group of devoted fans. The first two episodes flex a fair amount of pulling power, even though nothing really jumps off the page. The series could use a more galvanizing, take-charge sleuth than Epps portrays. It also would do well to spare viewers the constant onset of string music or piano tinkles whenever something is deemed important or poignant.

Episode 2 does pack a punch with its closing scene, though, in which a key character attacks someone while yelling, “Tell me it’s all gone!” I’d like to see what that’s all about.

GRADE: B-minus

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Denis Leary's EMT comedy Sirens leers and veers on USA


Michael Mosley, Kevin Daniels, Kevin Bigley star in Sirens. USA photo

Premiering: Thursday, March 6th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on USA network
Starring: Michael Mosley, Kevin Daniels, Kevin Bigley, Jessica McNamee, Bill Nunn
Produced by: Denis Leary, Bob Fisher, Jim Serpico, Tom Sellitti

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This time he’s behind the camera. Denis Leary otherwise is in Rescue Me mode with Sirens, an oft-explicit scripted comedy series about Chicago-based EMTs.

You can find it, oddly enough, on the USA network, which otherwise is without any original sitcoms. Instead it’s home to quippy one-hour dramas such as Psych, Royal Pains, Suits and White Collar.

Three episodes of Sirens were made available for review. But for some reason none of them are Thursday’s pilot episode, which will immediately be followed by a second half-hour subtitled “A Bitch Named Karma.”

The diciest of the bunch, “Rachel McAdams Topless,” has been saved for next week. This is the one where featured rescuers Johnny, Hank and Brian (Michael Mosley, Kevin Daniels, Kevin Bigley) let it all hang out with discourses on porn, human penises and horse penises before responding to a false alarm that finds all three of them stunned by the sight of an elderly couple having relations in their kitchen.

“That was the California Raisins making a sex tape,” says Hank, who’s openly gay and in a subsequent episode references “blow job” and Neil Patrick Harris in the same riff.

The series’ fourth regular character is Theresa (Jessica McNamee), a Chicago cop who used to date Johnny. But some of Sirens’ best scenes involve gruff EMT bossman “Cash” (Bill Dunn), a recurring character who’s in two of the three episodes sent to TV critics.

Lenny Clarke, a favorite of Leary’s from Rescue Me, and Jean Smart drop in to play Johnny’s parents in the “Famous Last Words” entry. Mom’s “in my sexual prime” -- or so she thinks -- and dad has been estranged from his son since taking up with a stripper named Coco when Johnny was just 13. But were there extenuating circumstances? Meanwhile, it’s good to see Clarke has kept the weight off and if anything is even trimmer. Here’s to his health. He’s one of the industry’s really nice guys, even if his on-screen persona is still built around ample loud braying.

USA has ordered 10 episodes of Sirens, which at its best is dumb fun. Johnny, Hank and rookie EMT Brian of course keep making a fine mess of things. They also mesh together pretty well in a series that bracingly is without a detracting laugh track.

Many viewers may not laugh all that much on their own either. But there are amusements to be had in Sirens, including Brian’s worshipful respect for Rob Lowe’s The Christmas Shoes. Man does not live by porn alone it seems.

GRADE: B-minus

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George Lopez hits the fast track with FX's Saint George


Mama Alma dishes out insults while son George absorbs ‘em. FX photo

Premiering: Thursday, March 6th at 8 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: George Lopez, Jenn Lyon,Olga Merediz, Diana Maria Riva, David Zayas, Danny Trejo, Kaden Gibson
Produced by: Matt Williams, George Lopez, David McFadzean, Dete Meserve, Judd Payne

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The so-called “10/90 model” is code for assembly line comedy on a bullet train schedule in order to reach the magic 100-episode syndication mark in roughly one-third the time it traditionally has taken.

Following the lead of TBS’ Tyler Perry sitcoms, FX has its own speed racer in play with Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management. The network also has ordered a Kelsey Grammar/Martin Lawrence “buddy comedy” that has yet to be titled. While it warms up in the bullpen, FX launches George Lopez’s Saint George on Thursday, March 6th in the slot preceding Anger Management.

Ten episodes initially have been ordered. And if a certain “ratings threshold” is reached, FX will green-light 90 more half-hours to be taped at a clip of roughly 45 per year. That doesn’t give anyone much time to exhale let alone fine-tune the scripts and performances. So the first and perhaps less-rushed episode of Saint George may be about as good as it’s gonna get. Which turns out to be not very.

The sex jokes fly furiously when George’s character, conveniently named George Lopez, isn’t being verbally slapped around by his battle-ax live-in mom, Alma (Olga Merediz). She begins the opening episode by calling her son “fat, boring and stupid” before ending it by calling him a “fat ass.” Alma really knows how to nurture a guy.

George is recently divorced from his blonde, beautiful Anglo wife, Mackenzie (Jenn Lyon), with whom he has a nerdy-looking 11-year-old, very white son named Harper (Kaden Gibson). He’s been out of the dating pool for quite a while but is making strides as an entrepreneur whose energy drink is now the world’s No. 5 bestseller. George plans to next market it in the Philippines. Alma sniffs, saying that people whose only skill is making baskets with their feet will now be able to make them faster. The laugh track approves that message.

Beaten down by his mom and twitted by his ex-wife, George seeks solace as a night school history teacher in downtown L.A. The moderately attractive assistant principal, Concepcion (Diana Maria Riva), thinks he’s ripe for the picking.

“You know, every time you see me, you hit on me,” George protests.

“Then let me hit it and I’ll quit hittin’ on you,” she fires back, adding, “I know you’ve undressed me with your eyes.”

Meanwhile, George’s randy Uncle Tio (Danny Trejo) and cousin Junior (David Zayas from Dexter), are hell bent on getting him back into the dating mix. Junior takes a selfie of his penis in an effort to stand in for George in the “sexting” department. George is chagrined, because it looks “like a flaccid Tootsie Roll.”

Lopez is a pro, though. And his avid fan base may be enough to take Saint George to the promised land. The show’s roster of executive producers, besides Lopez, includes ring wise Matt Williams, who previously helmed two of ABC’s all-time sitcom success stories, Roseanne and Home Improvement.

Williams and Lopez are certainly capable of churning this stuff out and cashing in before the Hollywood sun sets on them. Just don’t expect much, if any, craftsmanship. But do expect to hear a lot from Mama Alma, whose tagline apparently is going to be, “Can I tell you something and you won’t get mad?”

She then slams home the premiere episode’s last line: “That’s what the dating world needs. Another fat ass out there.” She says this out of love, of course. Cut, print and let’s get the hell out of here.

GRADE: C-minus

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DeGeneres plays key role in making Oscars a hit (see for your selfie)


The selfie seen ‘round the world on Oscar night. Photos: Ed Bark

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
And the selfie goes to . . .

Never mind what else happened on Oscar night. Host Ellen DeGeneres and her successful effort to set a world photo retweet record is emerging as perhaps the most talked-about winner.

Not only that, “we have crashed and broke Twitter,” she boasted from the stage after earlier wading into the audience for a star-studded group shot taken by Bradley Cooper. “We have made history. It has the most retweets ever.” The total reportedly is more than 1.3 million and counting, nearly doubling the previous record of 780,000 on President Obama’s 2012 re-election night.

Networks and awards-givers will do just about anything necessary to be social media darlings in times when live tweeting and Facebook posting are keys to both sustaining and keeping an audience. Holding a crowd’s attention can be extra-important when the major winners are all pretty much as expected. Which is what happened on ABC’s three-and-a-half hour Oscar-cast.

The network certainly is more than pleased with the morning after national Nielsen ratings. They say that Sunday’s ceremony averaged 43.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched telecast in 10 years. (The boffo D-FW numbers for Sunday’s telecast are posted here.)

ABC also notes that the 11.2 million tweets for this year’s Oscars “out-paced last year by 75 percent.” DeGeneres’ overall likability obviously had something to do with that, particularly after the 2013 host, Seth MacFarlane, offended many with routines on Jews in Hollywood and stars who had showed their “boobs” on film.

Watching the Oscars a second time this morning -- after a night of live, shoot-from-the-mouth tweeting -- made me more appreciative of DeGeneres’ minimalist comedy. As noted Sunday, she got off to a strong start with an amusing monologue that refreshingly came and went without any song and dance numbers or a set-up comedy film. Poor Liza with a Z absorbed her sharpest barb while seated in the audience. “One of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators,” DeGeneres cracked. “Good job, sir.”

The humor generally was gentler, though. Riffing on nominee Jennifer Lawrence’s trip-ups last year (en route to accepting her Oscar) and this year (on the red carpet), DeGeneres said, “If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.”

DeGeneres’ recurring visits to the audience were her go-to gambit all night. Some of these fell flat. But the group selfie turned out to be a masterstroke after a rather awkward, elongated setup. Buying pizza for the hungry millionaires in attendance also proved to be a workable bit once an everyday delivery guy showed up with three pies. Watching Brad Pitt pass around plastic plates and gruff Harrison Ford likewise play along were more than DeGeneres could have expected. “Found” comedy is the best -- as long as one doesn’t have to keep searching for it.


Harrison Ford preferred to have his slice fully loaded.

DeGeneres at times struggled with the TelePrompTer when she wasn’t just winging it. But others had worse times, including presenter/introducers Zac Efron and most notably, John Travolta.

Introducing a performance of the eventual Oscar-winning song, “Let It Go” from the animated film Frozen, Travolta somehow came up with the name “Adele Dazeem” -- or something like that. The singer’s name actually is Idina Menzel. You say tomato, Travolta says rutabaga.

Presenter Bill Murray worked in a nice ad lib tribute to the recently deceased Harold Ramis, mentioning Ghostbusters, Caddyshack and Groundhog Day among his many accomplishments. And Bette Midler belted out an affecting “Wind Beneath My Wings” after the annual montage of the dead, which began with James Gandolfini and ended with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Matthew McConaughey, clean-sweeping the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild awards and Oscars for his lead role in Dallas Buyers Club, gave an entirely different acceptance speech each time out. On Sunday night, he first thanked God, “because that’s who I look up to. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.” And so on.

The Twitter-verse typically took polar-opposite sides, with mostly either effusive praise or total damnation. Said one naysayer: “Just stop the stupid God talk.”


Best actor Matthew McConaughey testifies during acceptance speech.

Earlier on Oscar night, McConaughey proved to be a perfect gentleman while presenting with the now 81-year-old Kim Novak, who in recent years has survived both a fall from a horse and breast cancer. She is most famous for the classic Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo.

“Glad to be here. It’s been a long time,” Novak said in part while McConaughey stood supportively by her side without ever cracking wise or looking askance. But the snarky tweets quickly piled up, including this one from Donald Trump: “Kim should sue her plastic surgeon!” Let a guy with hair like Trump’s be the last to throw stones.

But Twitter’s Tower of Babble -- mine included -- is what increasingly spikes the audiences for live “event programming.” Sunday’s Oscar-cast, with its star-studded selfie an additional driving force, gave both ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences ample reason to invite DeGeneres back. Her missteps will be forgotten when compared to the “genius” of arranging a picture with the likes of Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jared Leto, Kevin Spacey and Ellen herself all in one big happy gaggle where everyone’s a winner.


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