The battles begin: TV characters make war, not love


This continues the TV season-preview package. The previous three blogs took overviews and then focused on science-fiction; this one looks at military shows.They're part of a six-story package I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

Suddenly, TV seems
obsessed with calling in the troops.

“The Brave” --
which is virtually all that NBC is introducing this fall – has a
crack special-assignments team. So does CBS' “SEAL Team” ... and
CW's “Valor.” Then there's “The Long Road Home,” an intense
National Geographic mini-series, based on a real-life Iraq crisis.
Even CBS' “S.W.A.T.,” a cop show, often feels high-tech and
military.

Kelly Kahl, CBS's
programming chief, shrugs off the trend: “Yeah, we have 'S.W.A.T.'
Yeah, we have 'SEAL Team' .... These are very popular genres on our
network.”

Each show is about
an elite task force, doing daring missions. “It's just so cool,”
said Anna Fricke, a 'Valor' producer. “I thing there is a fantasy
element to: 'These are the best of the best.'”

Besides, said Kyle
Jarrow, a “Valor” writer-producer, this reflects reality: “We're
not involved in a major ground war right now, (but) American special
ops are in something like over 100 countries.”

The new shows are”

THE BEST:

“The Long Road
Home” (National Geographic). Here's a true story, taken from Martha
Raddatz's superb book. On Easter Week of 2004, a new unit was
settling into what was considered a safe area of Baghdad; then it
drove into a trap. Over eight weeks, the mini-series leaps between
the trapped soldiers, the rescue attempts and the people at home.
(Tuesdays, Nov. 7)

FAIRLY GOOD:

-- “S.W.A.T.,”
CBS. This isn't a military show, but it feels that way when the
police rumble in with their weapons and tactics. That sounds ominous
in the era of Ferguson, Mo., and beyond; fortunately, this remake has
African-Americans as star (Shemar Moore) and producer, with a Taiwan
native (Justin Lin) directing the pilot. It mixes fierce action with
a sense of community. (10 p.m. Thursdays, CBS)

AND THE REST

-- “Valor” (CW),
“The Brave” (NBC) and “SEAL Team” (CBS). Good luck telling
these apart. Each has an elite unit doing rescues and hits. Each is
quick, slick, visceral and moderately involving. And each has women
in this new military mix. In “Valor,” Christina Ochoa – fresh
from “Blood Drive” -- is a helicopter pilot; “The Brave”
opener has women as the boss (Anne Heche) and as the gutsy kidnap
victim. Two will be back-to-back on Mondays -- “Valor” at 9 p.m.
(starting Oct. 9), “The Brave” at 10 (Sept. 25); “SEAL Team”
is 9 p.m. Wednesdays (Sept. 27).

Want sci-fi? The new TV season has space ships, runaway kids and killer hair


OK, now it's time to view the new-TV-season shows, by category. The two previous blogs take an overview of the season; this one -- and three that follow -- break things down by genre. They're all part of the season-preview package I sent to papers. Let's start with science-fiction:

By Mike Hughes

Science-fiction
shows used to be confined to odd little corners of the TV universe.
They were on cable or the CW or other places where grown-ups might
not notice them.

Not any more. Now
they're a key part of TV ... and a dominant force in movie theaters.

“In the '80s and
'90s, the technology couldn't let you do a Marvel Comics or DC Comics
superhero show in a film the way they could today,” said David
Madden, a Fox network programmer. But now “you can really deliver a
show like 'The Gifted' or 'The Orville' ... with the kind of quality
that probably couldn't have been rendered 15 years ago.”

His network's “The
Orville” will be the first show to arrive; it debuts Sept. 10, two
weeks before the season officially starts. Fox also has a fantasy
comedy (“Ghosted”), plus a block on Mondays, with the new “The
Gifted” and the returning “Lucifer.”

ABC has a similar
block on Fridays – the new “Inhumans” and the returning “Once
Upon a Time.” Even CBS jumps in – briefly; it debuts “Star
Trek: Discovery” on Sept. 24, then slides it to its streaming
channel, CBS All Access.

There's a lot more
on the streaming sites, plus plenty of returning shows (including
half of CW's line-up) and more that arrive at mid-season: Fox has 10
“X-Files” episodes waiting, alongside NBC's “Timeless,” ABC's
“Agents of SHIELD: and CW's “Originals,” “Black Lightning”
and “The 100.”

Despite modest
Nielsen ratings, sci-fi seems to be profitable. “Once Upon a Time”
and “SHIELD” double their ratings via delayed viewing, said ABC's
Channing Dungey. Then they sell well overseas, becoming “very
important shows for our broader portfolio.” Here are the new shows:

THE BEST

-- “Future Man,”
Hulu. Josh Futterman spends days as a janitor and nights playing
videogames, getting the best score ever on one game. That impresses
futuristic warriors, who summon him to save their world. They find
him disappointing, he finds them perplexing and we'll find it to be
fun. (Nov. 14)

THE REST:

-- “The Orville,”
Fox. We expect Seth MacFarlane to deliver laughs; he's done that with
“Family Guy” and other cartoon hits. But now he's trying – an
uneasy balance between action, drama and comedy. This is a big show,
impressive in its details; alongside its good moments, however, there
are many that seem flat or forced. (8 p.m. Sundays on Sept. 10 and
17, then 9 p.m. Thursdays)

-- “The Gifted,”
Fox. A government official (Stephen Moyer) is trying to rid the world
of people with special powers. Then he find out that includes your
own teen-agers. With his wife (Amy Acker) and kids, he's on the run.
The result ia an OK blend of action and family drama. (9 p.m.
Mondays, Oct. 2)

-- “Inhumans,”
ABC. Inside the moon, there's an unseen kingdom. The leader never
talks. (Yes, that part does sound appealing.) His wife, Medusa, has
hair that's both gorgeous and lethal. Her sister has a big dog that's
sort of like an advanced GPS system – which transports you
anywhere. That includes Hawaii, where this advenure soon takes us.
It's as weird as it sounds ... but not as exciting. (9 p.m. Fridays,
but the Sept. 29 opener starts at 8)

ALSO:

-- “Star Trek:
Discovery” debuts at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 24 on CBS, then promptly has a
second hour on CBS All Access, It continues on that site for six more
Sundays this fall and then seven beginning in January. For the first
time, the captain isn't the top-billed role; instead, the first mate
(played by Sonequa Martin-Green of “Walking Dead”) stars. Jason
Isaacs plays the captain; the cast also includes Rainn Wilson, James
Frain and Michelle Yeo.

-- And yes, Marvel
is everywhere. Its “Runaways” arrives Nov. 21 on Hulu.

 

The new TV seasons -- soldiers, sci-fi and scares from real life


The previous blog took an overview of the current TV world; this one views some of this fall's key trends. These are part of the season-preview package I sent to papers; coming next are separate breakdowns on the new sci-fi, military, comedy and drama shows.

 

By Mike Hughes

What can we expect
from this new TV season? Well ... a lot of everything.

There will be an
overload of scary sci-fi creatures and of scary, real-life killers.
There will be new batches of soldiers and singers and such. And there
will be quirks; for instance:

-- The new “Star
Trek” show doesn't look much like a “Star Trek” ... but another
show (Fox's “The Orville”) DOES look and feel like “Trek.”

-- Most networks are
trying fantasy shows; Fox has three new ones this fall, plus an
“X-Files” return at mid-season. But the CW -- which has been
sci-fi obsessed – has no new ones. It's adding a military show --
“'Valor is extending the CW brand,” producer Mark Pedowitz said
-- and a “Dynasty” remake.

Yes, “Dynasty”
is back; that's one of this year's mini-trends. Here's a sampling:

The old is new

TV keeps
reharvesting its old shows. This fall brings remakes of “Dynasty”
and “S.W.A.T.,” plus the return of “Will & Grace”; by
spring, we'll have “Roseanne,” “X-Files” and “American
Idol.”

Some of that
requires scrambling. “Roseanne” will forget that it killed Dan in
the series finale; “Will & Grace” will also ignore its
finish. “The finale was written when there was no anticipation of
ever continuing the show,” said NBC chief Bob Greenblatt.

Occasionally -- “Lethal Weapon,” “MacGyver,” “Hawaii
Five-0” -- such things succeed, so new ideas

keep popping up.
“You can't imagine the re-dos we're batting back,” said NBC's
Jennifer Salke.

She won't mention
which shows she's rejected, but the mind swirls. So far, no one has
tried remakes of “F Troop,” “My Mother the Car” or “Cap'n
Billy's Mississippi Music Hall.”

True crime prospers

A year ago, “The
People v. O.J. Simpson” gobbled up praise and awards. Hollywood
noticed.

“There's an
audience that loves those true crime, lurid stories,” Greenblatt
said.

There are the quick,
one-time stories. They fill up news magazines (“Dateline,”
“20/20,” “48 Hours”), cable movies and more. Oxygen has
switched over to all-true-cirme, joining Investigation Discovery.

And there are bigger
projects, hoping for O.J.-style depth.

The “Law &
Order” producers will re-tell the Menendez Brothers case over eight
NBC hours, with Edie Falco (“Sopranos”) as colorful lawyer Leslie
Abramson. Writer-producer Rene Balcer, Greenblatt says, has “a
treasure trove of information and research.”

In November,
Lifetime will have kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart telling her story,
in both a movie and a documentary. At the same time, Oscar-nominated
documentary-maker Joe Berlinger retells the story of the Clutter
Family murders – the subject of Truman Capote's “In Cold Blood.”
And in January, the “O.J.” producers are back on FX, with the
lushly filmed “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.”

And more

-- After the
failures of its music shows – from “Duets” to “Boy Band” --
ABC will try an “American Idol” revival, spending a fortune for
Ryan Seacrest to host and Katy Perry to judge. Fox, which once soared
with “Idol,” counters with a music show called “The Four,”
but may wait until summer. “I don't anticipate that we'll put it up
against 'The Voice' and 'American Idol,'” programmer Dana Walden
said.

-- Cable and the
streaming channels have already launched strong dramas, including
“Mr. Mercedes” and “Get Shorty.” That was just a warm-up, as
evidenced by the Sept. 10 line-up: HBO starts its ambitious “The
Deuce” ... Starz returns its popular “Outlander” ... and
Sundance launches a compelling, three-night mini-series: “Top of
the Lake: China Girl.”

-- And PBS keeps
swiping attention, peaking Sept. 17 with Ken Burns' epic “The
Vietnam War.” For 10 nights and 20 hours, the best TV will be on a
free channel that doesn't have commercials.

 

As the new season nears, networks grope for viewers ... now or later


This is the start of the TV-season preview that I'm sending to papers. I'll get to the shows in the stories that follow; first, let's take an overview of the changing TV world:

By Mike Hughes

Whether we're ready
or not, the new TV season is here.

It starts Sept. 10
(a little bit) and Sept. 25 (a lot). It's packed; it gives us too
much of a good thing ... and too much of a bad thing ... and way too
much of a mediocre thing.

“There's probably
still more great TV ... than the year before,” said John Landgraf,
head of the FX networks. But even that quality “doesn't seem quite
as special or as joyful (in) the glut of oversupply.”

He's seen the number
of scripted series go from 216 in 2010 to 455 last year, possibly
hitting 500 this year. Some of that, he implied, involves
loss-leaders – the strategy (copied from Silicon Valley companies)
of losing money to build a dominant company that will eventually make
a fortune.

But what does that
say for the old networks, the ones that splash their new seasons each
fall?

Fewer people watch
their shows when scheduled. Still, said NBC chief Bob Greenblatt,
“delayed viewing and digital are not only keeping us afloat, but
actually going pretty strong.”

NBC's “This is Us”
pilot was eventually seen by more people than the powerhouse “ER”
pilot, he said. The difference: “ER” did it in one splendid
night; “This is Us” needed 10 months to top it.

In five years, he
said, the “platforms on which you can watch our content” have
gone from one to 14. In two years, the number of people downloading
an NBC app has almost tripled.

Others follow that
pattern. ABC (or its parent company, Disney) owns most of its shows,
said network chief Channing Dungey, getting revenue at every step,
from streaming to international sales. “We make money in a lot of
different ways.”

That peaks with
shows that appeal to young people or fantasy fans. Still, older shows
also get around.

“'NCIS' was
recently named the most-watched show on the planet,” said Kelly
Kahl, the CBS chief. There's more, he said: “One series we know of
has all of its previous seasons airing on all three major streaming
services – Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. (That's) 'Blue Bloods.'”

When Tom Selleck
reached CBS in “Magnum, P.I.,” viewers had few alternatives at 9
p.m. Thursdays. They could watch “Barney Miller” on ABC, try a
movie on NBC or maybe go to PBS.

Now, 37 years later,
his “Blue Bloods” is in a crowded world of streaming, cable and
networks ... whose new shows are stretching for our attention.

Linklater: His slacker-free life creates impossible movies


At times, Richard Linklater makes a movie that delights the masses. "School of Rock" is great fun; "Boyhood" is a masterpiece. But beyond that, he keep making interesting movies in interesting ways. Now a documentry (9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, on most PBS stations), profiles him. Here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By Mike Hughes

A quiet calm seems
to encase Richard Linklater.

It's like he doesn't
understand that what he's trying is impossible. Maybe that's why he
gets it done.

In an era of
mega-million-dollar movies, Linklater made his first one for $3,000,
editing it at the public-access studio in Austin, Texas. He made his
second (“Slacker,” 1991) for $23,000; it got national
distribution. A decade later, he made “Tape” -- with three movie
stars, no less – for $100,000.

“People used to
obsess about that more,” said Linklater, subject of a PBS
documentary. “I don't think anyone talks about budgets anymore, in
the low-budget realm. They just figure it didn't cost much.”

Still, stories about
his work spread. Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) says “Slacker” is
what got him started.

Those skills let
Linklater do other impossible things – including “Boyhood,”
filmed over 12 years as the actors (including kids, one of them his
daughter) aged. It beat the mega-movies at awards time.

And they let him
resist taking outside offers. Only twice, Linklater said, has he make
a movie “that I didn't originate, that was probably going to get
made with or without me.” Both had special appeal:

-- “School of
Rock” (2003) drew him, he said, because of the “music and the
Jack Black character.” It became a huge hit, spawning a Broadway
show and an Emmy-nominated Nickelodeon series.

-- The unsuccessful
“Bad News Bears” remake (2005) drew him because of “the
baseball-ness.”

Baseball, after all,
was a prime force in Linklater's youth. “We really thought he would
be a sportswriter,” his stepmother says in the film.

He was born in
Houston, but spent much of his youth in Huntsville, Texas. That's the
home of Sam Houston State University, where his divorced mother
taught and where Linklater had a baseball scholarship. But a heart
condition in his sophomore year forced him to quit.

That led him to what
he calls, in the film, “my best semester ever.” Linklater, who
had won a high school literary competition, spent much of it in the
library, absorbing the classics.

He then worked an
offshore oil rig, spending his off-time in Houston movie theaters. He
took the money to Austin, where he started the film society, bought a
camera and made movies.

“Austin, I found
very pleasant – and all of Texas, I found very easy to make movies
in,” said Linklater, 57. And the city seemed to savor him. Already
known for its music, it became an indie-movie spot.

Karen Bernstein,
co-director of the PBS film, arrived in 2001, a decade after
“Slacker” opened. “I saw ... this sort of clamor to have any
kind of place in Rick's movies or Rick's work with the Austin Film
Society,” she said.

Louis Black, the
other co-director, has covered Linklater from the beginning, as
co-founder of both the Texas Chronicle and the South by Southwest
festival. “Rick has developed so many artists,” he said, citing
Texas natives Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke.

Hawke had already
been a teen star when he worked with Linklater and Julie Delpy to
develop the intimate story of strangers who met on a train. Few
people saw “Before Sunrise” (1995), which Linklater calls “the
lowest-grossing film ever to spawn a sequel.”

More would see the
sequels; “Before Sunset” (2004) and “Before Midnight” (2013)
both drew Academy Award nominations for their collaborative scripts.

In between those
successes, Linklater had a string of five straight box-office
failures – none of which seemed important when the world discovered
“Boyhood.” It won an Oscar (for Patricia Arquette) and was
nominated for five others, including best picture and Linklater's
direction and script. The Golden Globes named it best drama; most
other groups named it best picture.

Linklater did the
awards circuit ... then was back to business. “Rick is a very
practical man,” Delpy says in the film. He is, McConaughey adds,
“so Buddhist he doesn't even know he's Buddhist.”

He's calm and
efficient, getting things done. Which lets him keep making impossible
movies.

-- “American
Masters: Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny,” 9 p.m. Friday, PBS;
check local listings