Comedies were soaring ... then sort of crashed

This is an updated version of the TV comedy round-up, one piece of the six-part season preview I sent to papers. The updates involve "Murphy Brown" and "Forever," which weren't available previously. Scroll down and you'll see the stories on mini-series and on non-fiction; scroll up and you'll see the others.


By Mike Hughes

For a moment, fans
of traditional comedies – the kind done with a studio audience –
were delighted.

“Roseanne” and
“Will & Grace” were back and funny. They joined other top
returning shows – led by “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mom” --
with new ones (including “The Cool Kids”) on the way.

Then it all crashed.
Roseanne Barr was dropped from “Roseanne,” which became “The
Conners.” Also, “Big Bang” announced this will be its final
season. And many of the comedy newcomers are so-so.

Still, there's hope
– and there's a new “Murphy Brown.” Here's a comedy preview:

The best

-- “The Kids Are
Alright” (8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Oct. 16, ABC). In real life, Tim
Doyle grew up in an Irish Catholic family, surrounded by six
brothers. Now he turns that into a vibrant comedy, centering on the
one boy who wants a stealth life in theater. Mary McCormack and
Michael Cutlitz avoid all cliches as the bright and caring, if
overwhelmed, parents.

-- “Hold the
Sunset” (arrived Sept. 12, Britbox). After triumphing with “Fawlty
Towers,” John Cleese managed to wait 39 years before doing another
sitution comedy. Now, at 78, he's one piece of this British delight.
He and his neighbor, both widowed, are ready to marry; then her grown
kids manage to crumble in loud and funny ways.

-- “Forever”
(Sept. 14, Amazon Prime). A husband and wife (Fred Armisen and Maya
Rudolph) make a drastic decision: This year's vacation will involve
skiing, not fishing. The result is done with quiet, offbeat charm;
it's Armisen's third cable gem, alongside “Portlandia” and
“Documentary Now.”

-- “The Cool Kids”
(8:30 p.m. Fridays, Fox, Sept. 28). Here is a throwback comedy –
broad, silly, noisy and surprisingly appealing. Martin Mull, Leslie
Jordan and David Alan Grier figure they're the cool ones in this
retirement community ... then are reluctant to let Vicki Lawrence
share the turf. Jordan's brash style is the perfect counterpoint for
the droll approaches of the other skilled pros.

The rest

-- “Rel” (9:30
p.m. Sundays, Fox, Sept. 30, but debuted Sept. 9). Borrowing from his
real life, Lil Rel Howery plays a divorced dad. This is broad –
sometimes too broad – humor, sometimes stabilized by Sinbad as
Rel's dad.

-- “Single
Parents” (9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC, Sept. 26). At an upscale
school, one guy (Taran Killam) wants to be a superdad; others (Brad
Garrett, Leighton Meester, Jake Choi) just want to get by. Then they
decide to convert him, with fairly funny results.

-- “Murphy Brown”
(9:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, Sept. 27). This is no match for the great
comedies, ones where laughs flow naturally from dialog; instead,
“Murphy” is too often a series of disconnected one-liners. Still,
some of those lines are sharp and smart; there are enough to keep us

-- “Last Man
Standing” (8 p.m. Fridays, Fox, Sept. 28). OK, this isn't
completely new; it had six successful seasons, before ABC canceled
it. After a year off, it's back, recasting some of the kids. We're
rooting for it ... but the opener is fairly stiff and only mildly

-- “The
Neighborhood” (8 p.m. Mondays, CBS, Oct. 1). Calvin (Cedric the
Entertainer) is happy with this mostly black neighborhood in Los
Angeles. Then his new neighbor (Max Greenfield) seems too friendly,
too suburban ... and way too white. It's an erratic comedy, but one
that tries hard.

-- “Happy
Together” (8:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS, Oct. 1). For a year, Harry
Styles – a hot pop star, fresh from One Direction – secretly
lived in the quiet home of Ben Winston. Now Winston (who produces
James Corden's shows) has exaggerated this for a comedy. These
middle-class folks (Amber Stevens West and Damon Wayans Jr.) are very
likable; the show is merely OK.

-- “I Feel Bad”
(9:30 p.m. Thursdays, NBC, Oct. 4, but debuts 10 p.m. Wednesday,
Sept. 19). Emet (Serayu Blue) has a great career, a nice husband
(Paul Adelstein), good kids ... and zero time. Is she really happy?
Is she supposed to be? It's an intelligent comedy, if not always an
entertaining one.

And more

There are some other
comedies we haven't seen yet. Two of the most notable are:

-- “Camping” (10
p.m. Sundays, Oct. 14, HBO). Jenni Konner and her former “Girls”
star, Lena Dunham, have written and directed this tale of families
trying to have fun in the wild. Kathryn (Jennifer Garner) is
organized and enthusiastic; her husband (David Tennant) is not.

-- “The Kominsky
Method” (Nov. 16, Netflix). Chuck Lorre, the comedy master of “Big
Bang” and “Mom” and more, has Oscar-winners Michael Douglas,
73, and Alan Arkin, 84. They play Hollywood veterans, which they are.

Good news: Mini-series -- ones where stories actually end -- are back

This is the fifth of six stories in the TV season preview I sent to papers. Scroll down and you'll see one on non-fiction; scroll up and you'll see the others.

By Mike Hughes

The good news is
that mini-series are back, big-time.

They had vanished --
so thoroughly that the Emmys temporarily dropped the mini-series
category. Now they've returned, working to tell a deep story, yet
have a real ending. The newcomers include:

The best

-- “Escape at
Dannemora” (Nov. 18, Showtime). Three years ago, the world was
intrigued by the search for two escaped convicts in upstate New York.
Now that story is told from all sides by director Ben Stiller. Benico
Del Toro and Paul Dano are excellent as the cons, but the highlight
is Patricia Arquette's brilliant performance as the prison employee
who was part of the scheme.

The rest

-- “Jack Irish”
(arrived Sept. 10, www.acorn,tv). Guy Pearce, a movie co-star in the
U.S., returns to Australia for his second mini-series as Irish, a
trouble-prone lawyer. It's a good one, with an intense plot that has
international implications.

-- “The Romanoffs”
(Oct. 12, Amazon Prime). Here's an anthology, with a difference:
Characters claim to be descended from Russia's last royal family.
Matthew Weiner created it, with stars including Diane Lane, Amanda
Peet and (from Weiner's “Mad Men”) John Slattery and Christina

-- “Clique” (10
p.m. Wednesdays, Pop, Nov. 7). This six-week, seven-hour British tale
starts with two girlhood friends reaching the University of
Edinburgh. Then one is lured into an elite group leading a lavish –
and dangerous?-- life. Her friend tries to lure her back.

-- “Dirty John”
(this fall, date pending, Bravo). Debra Newell – an interior
designer with talent and taste – knew she liked John Meehan, a
slick and handsome guy. She didn't know he was an ex-con scam artist.
That true story became a podcast and then this film with Connie
Britton and Eric Bana.

-- And “Masterpiece
Theatre” (9 p.m. Sundays, PBS) keeps turning out masterful
miniseries. The current one (“The Miniaturist”) is dark and
dreary, but on Sept. 30, two terrific shows will return, back-to-back
-- “Durrells in Corfu” at 8 p.m. and “Poldark” at 9. That
will be followed Oct. 21 with “The Woman in White,” a five-week
tale that starts with the sighting of a mysterious woman.


Yes, non-fiction still thrives in TV's fantasy, fictiony world

This story concludes the six-part season-preview package I sent to papers. If you scroll up (once I get them all posted), you'll see the other five stories.


By Mike Hughes

Amid a cascade of
make-believe, TV also has its non-fiction moments. Here are examples
this fall:

The best

-- “Great American
Read” (8 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS, Sept. 11). The opener was an overview,
but the remaining episodes offer a fun romp through genres. That
starts Sept. 18 with the broad question of “Who am I?” Upcoming
subjects are: heroes; villains and monsters; romance; and “other
worlds.” During this time, we can keep voting; the Oct. 23 finale
will reveal Americans' favorite book.

-- “Jane Fonda in
Five Acts” (8-10:15 p.m., HBO, Sept. 24). Here is a huge and varied
life, most of which was captured on film. Fonda is frank about every
phase – from Army recruiting celebrity to anti-war activist
(including regrets about her Hanoi trip), from pin-up beauty to
feminism activist, plus a couple of Oscars and much more. It's great

-- “The Mayo
Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science,” 9-11 p.m. Sept. 25, PBS. In a
then-little town (Rochester, Minn.), some Catholic nuns and two
atheistic doctors combined to create medical history. The Mayo
patients have ranged from nearby farmers to Bill Clinton and the
Dalai Lama. This documentary skillfully mixes history with current
portraits of doctors and patients.

The rest (series)

-- “Warriors of
Liberty City” (8 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 16, Starz). Most people know
Luther Campbell as Uncle Luke, the 2 Live Crew rapper who gave the
world “Me So Horny.” But in his alternate life, he leads a
program that helps nudge kids in his tough Miami neighborhood toward
college football scholarships. This is a fairly interesting
documentary ... leading into “America to Me,” the excellent
series that started Aug, 26.

-- “Dancing With
the Stars: Juniors” (8 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Oct. 7). Now the dancers
are celebrity kids, ages 9-14, paired with professional junior
ballroom dancers. There are two past champions involved – Jordan
Fisher co-hosting (with Frankie Muniz) and Adam Rippon as one of the

-- “The Alec
Baldwin Show” (10 p.m. Sundays, ABC, Oct. 14). Once ABC's biggest
ratings night – with “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey's
Anatomy” and such – Sundays now become non-scripted and
lower-cost. In this show, Baldwin will do long-form interviews.

-- “Native
America” (9 p.m. Tuesdays, PBS, Oct. 23). Spanning centuries and
crossing the continent, this four-week series tells of stone
skyscrapers and of pyramids in Mississippi and Mexico. It describes
America's first democracy, 500 years before the Declaration of
Independence ... and tells how horses, brought here for war, became
part of a mobile lifestyle.

-- “Real Country”
(10 p.m. Tuesdays, USA, Nov. 13). Shania Twain is producing the show
and on the panel with Jake Owen and Travis Tritt. They'll judge
individuals, duos and groups, picking a champion after eight weeks.
There will also be visits by Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, Wynonna
Judd and more.

-- Also: There are
plenty of other cable shows, of course. Ashlee Simpson – whose
sister Jessica once scored with a young-marrieds reality show –
tries the same with her second husband Evan Ross. “Ashlee+Evan”
(10 p.m. Sundays on E) started Sept. 9. A few other examples: Tom
Arnold's “The Hunt for Trump Tapes,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, starting
Sept. 18 on Viceland; Geraldo Rivera's “Murder in the Family,”
starting Nov. 3 on Reelz; and two people with Netflix shows that will
go beyond their usual comedy: “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” with
celebrity conversations, starts Sept. 14; “Patriot Act With Hasan
Minhaj” is Oct. 28.


-- “Dark Money”
(10-11:30 p.m. Oct. 1, PBS). Ever since a Supreme Court ruling
de-regulated campaigns, Montana voters have been flooded with
political ads. Most ads are negative, some are false and many are
hard to trace to their actual source. Voters eventually turned
against them, making those attacks help (not hurt) the targets. But
getting to that point took an intense effort by reporters, including
one who lived in his car. It's a potent film, under the “POV”

-- “The Circus”
(9-11 p.m. Oct. 8-9, PBS. Here is true Americana, an “American
Experience” film that captures the dreamers, scoundrels, geniuses
and liars. (P.T. Barnum was all of those, but not the first.) It's a
fun story, filled with serious moments and colorful characters.

For cable and digital, it's a Burt Reynolds weekend

There have been a lot of quick schedule changes, after the death Thursday of Burt Reynolds. The previous blog listed some, but here's one I'm sending to papers, with more networks and more details:

By Mike Hughes

Scouring through
their shelves, cable and digital channels are finding plenty of Burt
Reynolds shows.

Reynolds died
Thursday of cardiac arrest at 82. By Friday, some channels were
adjusting their schedules:

On cable

-- “Fast N' Loud”
episode, creating a replica of the 1977 Trans Am in Smokey & The
Bandit” ... including visiting Reynolds to settle a bet. 9 a.m.
Saturday (Sept. 8), Discovery.

-- “The Bandit,”
a documentary about “Smokey” and Reynolds, noon Saturday (Sept.
8), CMT.

On digital:

-- Johnny Carson
reruns, 11:30 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday, Antenna.

-- “Gunsmoke,” 1
p.m. ET Monday through Saturday (Sept. 10-15), MeTV. Each is an
episode with Reynolds co-starring.

-- “Sonny and
Cher” episodes, with Reynolds as guest, 2 a.m. ET Tuesday night,
Sept. 11 (technically, Wednesday morning, Sept. 12), GetTV; then 11
p.m. Oct. 21.

-- “Dan August,”
noon to 5 p.m. ET Sept. 15 and 22, GetTV; also, Midnight to 4 a.m.
Oct. 21 (technically Oct. 22).

-- “Hawk,” four
episodes each time – Sept. 15 ET, starting 12:50 a.m. (technically
Sept. 16); and Sept. 22, starting 1:10 a.m. (Sept. 23), GetTV. Also,
noon to 5 a.m. Sept. 23.



Catch some Burt Reynods memories this weekend

We can catch some quick Burt Reynolds reruns this weekend,

After Reynolds' death -- Thursday (Sept. 6), at 82, of cardiac arrest -- Antenna TV (a digital channel) quickly scheduled some of his visits to Johnny Carson. Another digital channel, MeTV, is rerunning some of his "Gunsmoke" episodes. And CMT scheduled "Bandit," a documentary about the "Smokey & The Bandit" movies.

Those are the ones that solidified Reynolds' image as the good-ol'-boy Southern hero. Ironically, he was originally a Northerner.

Reynolds birthplace used to be listed as Waycross, Ga. In truth, he's said, he was born in Lansing, Michigan. He was about 10 when his family moved to Florida, where his dad was a small-town police chief.

And yes, that was a big change for a Northern family. “It was in the
dead of summer,” Reynods recalled in 1990. “My sister ... got out
and she said, 'Dear God, I'm in Hell.'"

The quickly scheduled shows are:

-- “The Bandit,”
8 and 10 p.m. Friday (Sept. 7), CMT; then noon Saturday.

-- Johnny Carson
reruns, 11:30 p.m. ET, Antenna (via digital and cable); through Sunday, each will be an episode
with Reynolds as guest

-- “Gunsmoke,” 1
p.m., MeTV, will start Reynolds episodes Monday (Sept. 10) and continue them
through next Saturday, Sept. 15.