Quality overload: Two top shows debut simultaneously

Since life is never
easy for TV viewers, here's a new complication: Two excellent shows –
maybe the best new ones this season – debut simultaneously.

That's 10 p.m.
Tuesday (March 13). A week later, one moves to 9 p.m., the other
stays at 10. Here are the two short stories I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For Auli'i Cravalho,
this is a huge leap – from Hawaiian sunshine to Pennsylvania grit.

Still, she's made a
bigger jump – from obscurity to stardom in Disney's animated

And now? At 17, she
has her first on-camera role, in NBC's passionate “Rise,”
stepping into a world that's far from her own.

She plays a teen
waitress, auditioning for the school musical. Lilette is “an
introvert, quite unlike me,” Cravalho said. She faces a bleak
economy and a critical mother.

That's far from
Cravalho's world, but there are some links. “She grows up in a
single-parent household, as I have,” Cravalho said. “She has big
dreams, but grows up in a small town.”

Many teens are like
that, with mega-dreams about sports or show business.

For Josh Radnor,
that began in a high school “Cabaret” in Columbus, Ohio. “I
had a guidance counselor who pulled me aside and said, 'You are not
allowed to stop acting.'”

Rosie Perez recalls
a field trip when she was about 12, to see “The Wiz” on Broadway.
“I remember ... this young, black girl talking about 'Home,' and it
resonated with me. It was the first time I cried in public and I
wasn't embarrassed. It changed me as a person.”

In “Rise,” they
play a theater director and his assistant, with Lilette as their

This is a small
town, Cravalho said, with bleak expectations. That's “something
(Lilette) doesn't want for herself – but something that she's used
to other people putting on her.”

It's nothing like
Cravalho's sunny childhood. “I've been singing for as long as I can

She was a big reader
(her family didn't have a TV) and occasional performer who was an
understudy in her school musical. Then came “Moana” and a chance
to rise to fame.

(The other story)

By Mike Hughes

In many places,
lawyers might face a blur of dull words and drab cases .

Then there's the
setting for ABC's “For the People” -- the federal court for the
Southern District of New York.

Its real-life cases
have ranged from the sinking of the Titanic to the deflating of
footballs, from treason and terrorism to the Watergate and Teapot
Dome scandals. Its defendants have included Bernie Madoff, Martha
Stewart, Bess Myerson, Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs.

And now we see it
through the eyes of young lawyers on both sides. “It's a very, very
personal show,” said Rege-Jean Page.

Three young actors
(including Page) play prosecutors; three play public defenders. They
are smart, but inexperienced, thrust into a big-stakes arena.

They “are doing
their best to run the machine right,” Page said. “I think seeing
people struggle to serve ... justice is hugely inspiring to me.”

And to others.
“Every episode, halfway through I'm thinking, 'Maybe I'll quit
acting and become a public defender,” Jasmin Savoy Brown said.

She plays Allison, a
public defender with a tangled personal life. As the show starts, she
shares her apartment with another defender (Sandra, played by Britt
Robertson) and a prosecutor (Seth, Ben Rappaport).

Seth is Jasmin's
lover, of course. That happens a lot in shows from Shonda Rhimes.

Other producers may
shy away from sex-in-the-workplace issues, but not Rhimes. “I think
it's very clear what's OK and what's not,” she said.

In her “Grey's
Anatomy” and “Scandal,” doctors and politicians are romantic
and lustful, but they approach their work diligently. So do the
“People” lawyers.

That reflects
reality, said Hope Davis, who plays a supervisor. She followed some
real-life public defenders, who are often outmanned and outspent.
“They're fierce and they're fighters .... They're so passionate
about it.”

-- “Rise,” NBC;
and “For the People,” ABC.

-- Both debut at 10
p.m. March 13; a week later, “Rise” moves to 9 p.m., “People”
stays at 10.