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Goodnight, Tonight. Not his idea, but Leno lets go

All my children: Leno ends Tonight reign amid his staff's kids. "So that's what I would like my legacy to be," he says. Photo: Ed Bark

Jay Leno bowed out with little fanfare Friday night, ending his 17-years as Tonight Show host by calling attention to the children born to his staffers during that period.

"I think it's the greatest thing we've ever done on the show," he had said earlier, urging viewers to hang with him until the very end.

At the very least it was quite a nice touch. Leno initially introduced the show's first-born, a 17-year-old named Hannah who's the daughter of the Tonight band's trombone player. How many more births have there been, he wondered, before a curtain parted to show a grand total of 68 kids gathered behind him.

"So that's what I'd like my legacy to be," he said, showing just a bit of the emotion he had kept in check all night.

Leno and his wife, Mavis, seen fleetingly in the studio audience, are childless by choice. But they won't lack for a TV home. Leno's departure, after all, will be short-lived. He'll return in the fall with a weeknight prime-time NBC show leading into late night newscasts and then to Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show, which premieres Monday.

So Leno's final words were hardly final. "Goodnight. We'll see you in September," he said after urging support for O'Brien.

His last Tonight began with a prolonged standing ovation from the studio audience before the monologue kicked in. Leno took one more jab at his downtrodden network, noting that "I'm going to be going to a secluded spot where no one can find me -- NBC prime-time."

Until late last year, it looked as though Leno would be going to a rival network after NBC chose O'Brien to carry the Tonight baton rather than lose him as it did David Letterman. But the Peacock's stunning about-face restores Leno to the catbird seat and again positions O'Brien as his followup act.

No one knows how that'll all shake out. But Leno and O'Brien, his final sit-down guest Friday, are blessing each other for now.

O'Brien said that everyone keeps telling him, "You've got big shoes to fill . . . Someday in my career I want to fill little shoes."

Leno dusted off an old clip, from April 26, 1993, in which an utterly unknown O'Brien popped onto Tonight just hours after being named as Letterman's successor on NBC's Late Night.

"If there's anything that's fun to do, it's replacing legends at NBC," said Leno, who less than a year earlier, on May 25, 1992, had succeeded Johnny Carson on Tonight.

In truth, O'Brien won't be replacing a legend this time. Leno instead is a very capable and relatable show business everyman who kept Tonight on top of the ratings after Letterman led in the very early going.

"I couldn't be happier," he told O'Brien Friday night before escorting him offstage. "You were the only choice. You were the perfect choice."

His pro forma praise was then interrupted by a loud "Conan rocks!" from the studio audience.

"I agree. Conan rocks," Leno said at a much lower decibel level. Imagine someone yelling, "Leno rocks!" on Johnny's last night. Impossible.

Carson was memorably serenaded by Bette Midler down the homestretch of his Tonight reign. It brought him to tears.

Leno made do with James Taylor singing "Sweet Baby James" from the stage before the host went over to hug him. He had requested the song, which meant a lot to him as a young man, Leno said. "He (Taylor) really had to move heaven and earth to be here."

Ratings for Leno's last Tonight almost assuredly will spike upward. But the earth didn't move the way it did for Carson's closing weeks. Times have changed, and there's a lot more television out there than there used to be. Leno's Tonight years were profitable for NBC and for the magnanimous host as well. But Leno has yet to be venerated and probably never will be. Even the late Carson made it very apparent that Letterman was his guy.

Leno joked near the end that "I get my security deposit back" for keeping Tonight No. 1 before passing the torch to only the fifth permanent host in the storied show's history.

Saturday night will find him in Atlantic City, grinding away as always while preparing to step back into the TV ring this fall in what could be a debacle or a pure genius of an idea. Whatever happens, Leno will always answer the bell. On Friday, he exited the Tonight arena graciously, a 59-year-old ratings champ who still has much to prove.

HBO's Churchill sequel wades into WWII

HBO's versions of Churchill, FDR and Stalin at Yalta Conference.

Built like Humpty Dumpty but refusing to crack, Winston Churchill smoke, drank and drove his country through the darkest days of World War II.

His gruff private demeanor and soaring public rhetoric get another going-over in HBO's Into the Storm (Sunday, May 31st, 8 p.m. central), a followup to the network's 2002 scene-setter, The Gathering Storm.

This one is something of a markdown, marquee wise at least. Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave played Churchill and his wife, Clemmie, in the first film, which won the Emmy as best made-for-TV movie. Brendan Gleeson and Janet McTeer are the principals this time out. That's not to say they're lesser actors, although this is a lesser film.

It begins in July, 1945, with the Churchills fitfully on holiday in France while awaiting Britain's post-war parliamentary elections. Will Churchill be re-approved as prime minister or be done in by the opposition Labor Party? The movie then seesaws back and forth between the war years and the waiting game in France. Beset by Hitler's onrushing Nazi forces, Churchill is steadfastly determined to go down fighting if necessary rather than cave in like the accommodating French. As he tells Clemmie, "Bloody French. They're less than useless."

Into the Storm also depicts the like-minded alliance between Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Len Cariou), which ripened in full when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and forced the U.S. to throw all of its might into the Allied effort.

"Tonight I shall sleep the sleep of the saved and thankful," Churchill tells an aide after getting the news.

Gleeson is more than serviceable as Churchill and McTeer is quietly effective as his oft put-upon wife. Cariou is a less than dynamic FDR, though, while Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (Alexy Petrenko) barely registers during their three-way gathering at the Yalta Conference. In the end, Into the Storm is instructive and interesting without being rousing or truly memorable. Instead it's rather programmatic, including the telegraphed bittersweet ending.

This should be said, though. HBO is the only current-day network with any interest in bankrolling such a film. It still aspires to make movies of worth that don't necessarily appeal to a "younger demographic." Teens and young adults won't be watching this unless they're later forced to do so in a history class.

Meanwhile, HBO subscribers of a certain age can appreciate both the topic and the heroics of those days, even if Into the Storm falls a bit short on crackle and pop.


ABC's Goode Family is Judged OK

Premiering: Wednesday, May 27th at 8 p.m. (central) on ABC
Voiced by: Mike Judge, Nancy Carell, David Herman, Linda Cardellini, Brian Doyle-Murray, Gary Anthony Williams
Produced by: Mike Judge, John Altschuler, Dave Krinsky, Michael Rotenberg, Tom Lassally

Hank Hill wouldn't know what to do with these people. Other than try to convert them 360.

From Austinite Mike Judge, creator of the dearly departed King of the Hill, comes a new animated brood whose matron wears a "Meat is Murder" T-shirt and whose hybrid is festooned with bumper stickers, including "Support Our Troops and Their Opponents."

ABC's The Goode Family, sandwiched on Wednesday nights between new episodes of Wipeout and (urp) Surviving Suburbia, is both a poke at political correctness and a dig at standard issue American "values." It's amusing in some of these pursuits, with Judge again curbing any inclinations to revisit the lower level humor of his initial creation, Beavis & Butt-head. Nor is this Family Guy, whose gross papa bear, Peter Griffin, would repulse the Goodes no end.

For better or worse, the Goodes consist of college administrator Gerald (Judge); his community activist wife, Helen (Nancy Carell); a teen daughter, Bliss (Linda Cardellini) and the adopted 16-year-old Ubuntu (David Herman), who initially was thought to be black but turned out to be a white South African. They all try to live by the motto WWAGD -- What Would Al Gore Do? Although Big Al does like a good steak.

Oversized Ubuntu appears to be more than a little slow-minded or dim-witted, although I guess no more so than Beavis -- or Butt-head. In Wednesday's premiere episode, he wants to get his driver's license while Bliss joins an abstinence group and attends its Purity Ball after tiring of mom's copulation talk.

"You're teaching our son to drive and our daughter not to have sex. Where did I go wrong?" Helen rails at Gerald.

The family dog, Che, is unhappy, too, with his enforced vegan existence. And Helen's strident, carnivorous dad, Charlie (Brian Doyle-Murray), thinks the whole family is crazy.

Goode Family can be grin-worthy, too. Helen's efforts to properly address her black neighbor Ray (Gary Anthony Williams) result in a funny series of false starts. And a mother-daughter trip to a high-end organic grocery store underscores the high price of eating delicacies such as "soy fingers." Even the reusable bags are $10 bucks each.

Next week's weaker second episode finds the hulking Ubuntu turning into a star offensive tackle for his high school football team while Bliss attempts to evade enrolling for anything at substandard Greenville Community College.

None of this is likely to have anywhere near the staying power of King of the Hill, which hung in there for 14 seasons on Fox. But as a summertime diversion, The Goode Family turns out to be perhaps just good enough.

GRADE B-minus

O'Brien's Tonight countdown kicks into full throttle

NBC's Tonight Show looms ever larger for heir Conan O'Brien, pictured on the left as a New York Times Magazine cover boy.

Let the record show that Conan O'Brien isn't a kid anymore, even if acting his age still isn't an option.

Jay Leno had just turned 42 when he took over NBC's storied Tonight Show on May 25, 1992. And his predecessor, Johnny Carson, was still a few weeks shy of his 37th birthday when he first helmed Tonight on Oct. 1, 1962.

O'Brien, as he manfully volunteered during a teleconference Tuesday, is now 46 years old with two kids after first auditioning as a relative 29-year-old nobody to supplant David Letterman on NBC's Late Night.

"I've changed since then, and I expect this show to change me a little bit more," he says of Tonight, which will be his starting on June 1st.

He's been off the air since Feb. 20th, but "It has in no way been a break," O'Brien says. Two days after bequeathing Late Night to Jimmy Fallon, he began a four-and-a-half week tour of NBC affiliate stations. Then it was on to L.A., where "we hit the ground running" while Leno slowly started to straddle the world between Tonight and a new weeknight prime-time show scheduled to premiere in September.

O'Brien, who begins many a sentence with "Ya know, it's funny," has been in the paddock for a full five years after NBC announced its Tonight succession pattern. But now the big prize is coming fast, with Leno abdicating on Friday and O'Brien appearing as his last guest before welcoming Will Ferrell and Pearl Jam this Monday.

"If nothing else, it gets me on the Tonight Show 48 hours earlier," he says of Friday's sit-down with Leno.

O'Brien's Tonight will originate from a new art deco-ish studio built on the Universal Studios lot. O'Brien says he told designers that he wanted things to "look elegant" in keeping with the show's generation-spanning history. "The space itself I think should be beautiful . . . I'm a jackass. There's no changing that. But I want guests to look good on this set."

The Tonight theme will be "turbo-charged" a bit, he says, with "different horn pieces here and there."

His monologues likely will be shorter than Leno's on most nights. O'Brien's sense of humor is more more attuned to "what visually would look funny," he says. Leno thinks more about "what would be good in a monologue." So expect more sketch humor from the new host, with his old Late Night buddy, Andy Richter, regularly in tow.

"People laugh when they just think of me being in Los Angeles," says O'Brien, whose Late Night originated from New York for 16 years. So in the early going, look for ample doses of stranger-in-a-strange-land humor, with the pale-skinned, carrot-topped host no more likely to be caught sunbathing than to welcome Joe Piscopo as a guest.

He's pretty much loading up in the first week. Tom Hanks and Green Day are scheduled to pop in on Tuesday, followed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bradley Cooper and Sheryl Crow (Wednesday); Gwyneth Paltrow and the John Mayer Trio (Thursday) and Ryan Seacrest and Chickenfoot (Friday).

Leno's presence in prime-time will mean four nightly doses of comedy/talk on NBC, in addition to O'Brien's competition on CBS, ABC and TBS, which will be launching a new George Lopez talk show this fall.

"I think at some point my show is going to have to morph into a detective show," O'Brien said. "Murder, She Wrote with a slightly different demo."

He already misses the "street culture" of New York, where O'Brien regularly walked amid the city's passing parade. "If you walk down the street here, people think you're off your meds."

O'Brien reportedly was as surprised as anyone upon learning that he'd again be Leno's followup act. But there's no rivalry or bad blood, he insists. "He's happy, I'm happy and that's actually been kind of a godsend."

Late Night staples such as "In the Year 2000." Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the Pale Force misadventures and maybe even The Masturbating Bear are likely to make the transition to Tonight, he said. But new bits of course will emerge, with Universal Studios at his full disposal.

""We've been told that anything you want to play with is yours to play with," O'Brien says. "This is like being in one of those McDonald's playlands."

Above all, he'll trust his gut, having learned over the years that "funny is just funny. Stuff that really makes me laugh hard works on other people."

"The worst mistake I could make would be to over-think it," O'Brien says of his overall approach.

In that sense one must still be impetuous -- even at an advanced age as Tonight hosts go.

Fox's Mental has House in mind, but also a mind of its own

Telegenic Chris Vance has a beautiful mind, too, in Fox's Mental.

Premiering: Tuesday, May 26th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Chris Vance, Annabella Sciorra, Jacqueline McKenzie, Derek Webster, Nicholas Gonzalez, Marisa Ramirez
Produced by: Deborah Joy LeVine, Dan Levine

Far more jovial and inclusive than Fox's House organ, Dr. Jack Gallagher of Mental nonetheless is in a series of much the same mind.

His methods are unorthodox, the staff initially resents him and his boss is a woman who reluctantly fights his battles while also resisting urges to rekindle a previous romance.

Star Chris Vance and House's Hugh Laurie also are Britishers, an increasingly common trait among lead actors in U.S.-made drama series. But Vance's character actually hails from the U.K., allowing him to keep his very pleasant accent intact while also smiling beguilingly, something House never does.

Launching Tuesday after a House repeat, Fox's Mental at worst is a passably good series buoyed by the overall appeal of its head healer.

"So how'd you end up being a shrink?" asks stern redhead Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones, who resents Gallagher getting the position she wanted as Director of Mental Health Services at a Los Angeles hospital.

"Guess I've always had brains on the brain," he jauntily replies.

He arrives in showy fashion, stripping down naked for all to see in order to replicate the actions of a "highly delusional" patient named Vincent Martin (guest star Silas Weir Mitchell). This of course has a calming effect on the patient, but initially rankles hospital administrator Nora Skoff (Annabella Sciorra).

"Move in, doctor," she warns, "but don't get too comfortable. Another stunt like that and you'll be out -- on your very public ass."

Ah, they all say that. To no avail, but in the service of your basic cliched way of building dramatic tension.

Still, Dr. Gallagher is way too likable to attract all that much animosity, whether he's leading patients in a taboo outdoor dance session or sending two interns out on a little detective mission.

He also uses the British term "bang-on" to good effect in lieu of saying "exactly." Quite a bloke, 'at one.

Mental resorts a little too much to prototypically "deranged" music whenever a patient freaks out. But Dr. John Gallagher is a dream mentalist -- and dreamy, too -- in his determination to "treat the person, not just the disease."

It all makes for a pleasant summertime surprise -- a reasonably literate scripted drama in what will be an oncoming tidal wave of mostly reality swill from the Big Four broadcast networks and li'l CW.

Mental is by comparison quite thoughtful. And therefore all the more appreciated.


Idol finale crunches competition, comes up short of past glories

Newest Idol Kris Allen sings his lungs out Wednesday night.

Rival networks would like to have this "problem."

Wednesday night's Season 8 finale of American Idol easily had more viewers than the combined competing programming on ABC, CBS, NBC and The CW. But its 28.8 million viewers marked the first time in five years that an Idol closer had fallen short of the 30 million mark in the national Nielsens.

Kris Allen's upset victory over Adam Lambert instead tied the Season 3 finale's total audience, which is the second lowest in the show's eight-edition history. Season 1, which began in the summer, has the smallest finale audience -- 22.8 million. Here are the Idol viewer totals for the eight finales to date:

Season 1 -- 22.8 million
Season 2 -- 38.1 million
Season 3 -- 28.8 million
Season 4 -- 30.3 million
Season 5 -- 36.4 million
Season 6 -- 30.8 million
Season 7 -- 31.7 million
Season 8 -- 28.8 million

The Tuesday and Wednesday editions of Idol remained network television's No. 1 and No. 2 shows for the 2008-09 regular season, which officially ended Wednesday.

Auditions this summer for Season 9 will include the show's third stop in Dallas, Fox4 announced during Wednesday's post-finale 9 p.m. newscast.

The CW cancels comedies and Sundays, shrinks Fridays, adds a vampire show

Nina Dobrev as Elena in The Vampire Diaries CW photo

The CW will go into battle this fall with three new shows, one-and-a-half fewer nights and no comedies.

Sundays, disastrously outsourced last fall to Media Rights Capital, are being given back to affiliate stations. CW also has subtracted an hour from its Friday night schedule, leaving the returning Smallville alone on an island this September.

Canceled as anticipated is Everybody Hates Chris after a four-season run. CW now has gotten entirely out of the predominantly black "urban" comedy business, at least for the near future.

The network's three new series include the previously announced re-do of Melrose Place, which will be paired with 90210 on Tuesdays. Evicted is Privileged after one season.

CW also is seeking program compatibility on two other fronts. It's teaming the returning Supernatural with a newcomer, The Vampire Diaries, on Thursdays. And the Wednesday night schedule has another installment of America's Next Top Model and The Beautiful Life, a scripted series about models.

Here are further details on CW's three new fall series:

Melrose Place (drama) -- Original series star Laura Leighton returns as "still beautiful" landlady Sydney Andrews. She's basically messed up all of her tenants' lives, including the "handsome and rebellious" David Breck (Shaun Sipos), with whom she's had an affair after first shacking up with the kid's father. And so on.

The Vampire Diaries (drama) -- Two orphaned teens whose parents were killed in a car wreck try to keep their chins up in the small town of Mystic Falls, Virginia. But the still grieving Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) is fated to hook up at high school with two clandestine vampire brothers who wage a war for her soul. One's a nice guy while the other (played by Ian Somerhalder of Lost) is "the embodiment of vampire violence and brutality." He probably should be on the wrestling team.

The Beautiful Life (drama) -- Slinky Mischa Barton from The O.C. fronts an Ashton Kutcher-produced series about sexy, cutthroat high fashion models.

Here's CW's night-by-night fall lineup, with all times central:


7 p.m. -- Gossip Girl
8 p.m. One Tree Hill


7 p.m. -- 90210
8 p.m. -- Melrose Place


7 p.m. -- America's Next Top Model
8 p.m. -- The Beautiful Life


7 p.m. -- The Vampire Diaries
8 p.m. -- Supernatural


7 p.m. -- Smallville

CW also has a midseason series in mind. Parental Discretion Advised is about a 15-year-old girl named Lux (Britt Robertson from Swingtown) whose quest to became an emancipated minor leads to her bar-owning, infantile father, Nate "Baze" Bazile (Kristoffer Polaha, Mad Men). Lux also learns that her biological mother hosts the Morning Madness radio show, which she's been listening to for most of her life. And that's all, folks.

Idle thoughts on Idol as the finale nears

American Idol finalists Kris Allen and Adam Lambert.

The singing's over, the votes are in and we're down to two guys again -- just like last year at this time.

If longshot Kris Allen wins, he'd be the first married contestant to do so in American Idol's blockbuster eight seasons.

If season-long favorite Adam Lambert's the pick, he'd be the first presumed gay contestant to cross the finish line in first place.

Either way it's been quite a season for Fox's king of all cash cows. The ratings have dipped, but then again, what hasn't? Idol remains a runaway No. 1 in the shrinking broadcast network universe. And Wednesday's two-hour finale will trample everything in its wake before the winner is forced to release yet another treacly written-for-Idol ditty -- "No Boundaries" in this case -- as his first post-show single.

I've seen every Idol episode this season, so here are some random thoughts on what went wrong and right.

***Don't ever rush the show. Idol ran eight minutes past its allotted time earlier this spring, delaying the start of a returning new episode of Fringe. That's mainly because four judges are yapping this season. On the next performance night, only two judges were allowed to comment per contestant, in order to speed things up.

Let's get serious. Most Fox series that have lasted for more than a season owe their existences to Idol and its super-potent lead-in audiences. That dates all the way back to the first season of House. So Idol has earned the right to go as long as it needs to go. You don't penalize television's all-time breadwinner for taking a little extra time. Instead you just push everything else back to wherever it belongs. Second fiddles don't call the tune.

****On the other hand, get rid of the extra judge. Kara DioGuardi may have succeeded in making Paula Abdul occasionally sound a bit more lucid this season. But she's become almost every bit as sycophantic, particularly where Lambert's concerned. Rather than sass Simon Cowell, she's cowed to him. End result: she's brought nothing new to the party. So buh-bye.

***Always let Simon go last. The show fiddled for a while with rotating the judges' comments, a la Dancing with the Stars. This left Paula in a complete quandary when she had to go first. Viewers are accustomed to having Simon lower the machete after the others have had their mostly inconsequential says. He's the straw that stirs the drink, and has been from Day One. Don't pretend otherwise.

***Deep six the "Judges' Save." It created little except a lot of phony baloney pseudo-drama at the end of the show, when a viewer evictee had to sing one more time in hopes of earning a reprieve. Only one save was allowed for the entire season, and Matt Giraud was the beneficiary. Viewers got it right the first time, though, and soon punched him out again.

***Keep the duets. And if anything, expand them to include more of the Top 10 finalists. In this case, the show got down to the Final Four before Kris Allen and Danny Gokey were paired up, and then Adam Lambert with Allison Iraheta. It added a nice dynamic, and Idol should make more use of twosomes next season.

***Announce the individual vote totals. Sometimes one wonders whether host Ryan Seacrest is just throwing numbers out there when he says that more than 37 million viewers weighed in. So how about showing each contestant exactly where they stand after the field is winnowed down to 10. Declare them "safe" in the descending order of their vote totals, and then display them for all to see. Viewers might be more proactive if they see that one of their faves escaped eviction by a hair.

OK, all that's left now is to predict who will win. I'm gonna go with an upset by Kris Allen, although he'll need an oversized turnout from tween and teen girls to pull it off.

Still, Lambert is the one who should win. He's brought something unique and original to the Idol firmament, and it goes well beyond his sexuality. I'm long past sick of Abdul and DioGuardi cooing over him. But Lambert has been the measuring stick all season. Or as a New York Times writer put it, the Elvis to Allen's Pat Boone.

Lambert's much more a poodle than a hound dog. But he's still best of show.

CBS adds four newcomers, axes two oldies, rescues Medium

Alex O'Loughlin, Julianna Margulies star in new CBS fall dramas.

Without A Trace and The Unit no longer are in CBS' picture, but Medium and an NCIS spinoff are.

The No. 1 network in total viewers announced its new fall schedule and some midseason entries Wednesday. Three new dramas and a comedy are coming this September while Medium will be compatibly paired with Ghost Whisperer on Friday nights after NBC gave up the ghost. CBS has a track record of profiting at NBC's expense. It picked up JAG after the Peacock dropped it. And you know how that went.

To make room for Medium, CBS canceled its Canadian import, Flashpoint, which had settled in between Ghost Whisperer and Numb3rs. The first-year series Eleventh Hour also was dropped.

Without a Trace, which had a seven-season run, will be supplanted on Tuesday nights at 9 (central) by a new legal drama starring Julianna Margulies. On Sunday nights, The Unit's spot goes to Cold Case which is being moved back an hour. The Unit premiered in March 2006.

CBS also announced that Rules of Engagement again will await a midseason berth. This season's biggest freshman hit, The Mentalist, will be moved from Tuesday's at 8 p.m. to Thursdays at 9 p.m., where it will inherit a lead-in audience from the network's still potent CSI: Crime Scene Investigation before going head-to-head with NBC's The Jay Leno Show.

Here are CBS' four new fall series:

NCIS: Los Angeles (drama) -- The spinoff, introduced this spring, stars Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J. O'Donnell plays special agent "G" Callen, a "chameleon" who infiltrates the criminal underworld in various guises. Cool J is Navy SEAL Sam Hanna, a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Good Wife (drama) -- Julianna Margulies, best known for her starring role on ER, stars as defense attorney Alicia Florrick. She re-enters the legal profession after her husband is jailed in a public sex and political corruption scandal. Nice. Hubby is played by fellow TV vet Chris Noth (Law & Order, Sex and the City).

Three Rivers (drama) -- Hunky Alex O'Loughlin, cast as a vampire in CBS' short-lived Moonlight, is recast as blood-drawing Dr. Andy Yablonski, an organ transplant surgeon. He heads a team where "every moment counts during dealings with "donor families in their darkest hours."

Accidentally On Purpose (comedy) -- Jenna Elfman, who came to prominence in ABC's Dharma & Greg, returns to prime-time as a newspaper film critic who unexpectedly becomes pregnant during a dalliance with her younger "boy toy." They decide to keep the baby and live together platonically while her boss (played by Grant Show) tries to renew their un-platonic relationship.

Here's CBS' night-by-night fall schedule, with all times central


7 p.m. -- How I Met Your Mother
7:30 p.m. -- Accidentally On Puurpose
8 p.m. -- Two and a Half Men
8:30 p.m. -- The Big Bang Theory
9 p.m. -- CSI: Miami


7 p.m. -- NCIS
8 p.m. -- NCIS: Los Angeles
9 p.m. -- The Good Wife


7 p.m. The New Adventures of Old Christine
7:30 p.m. -- Gary Unmarried
8 p.m. -- Criminal Minds
9 p.m. -- CSI: NY


7 p.m. -- Survivor
8 p.m. -- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
9 p.m. -- The Mentalist


7 p.m. -- Ghost Whisperer
8 p.m. -- Medium
9 p.m. -- Numb3rs


7 p.m. -- Crimetime Saturday
8 p.m. -- Crimetime Saturday
9 p.m. -- 48 Hours Mystery


6 p.m. -- 60 Minutes
7 p.m. -- The Amazing Race
8 p.m. -- Three Rivers
9 p.m. -- Cold Case

CBS also has announced these midseason new series:

Miami Trauma (drama) -- A crack team of surgeons strut their stuff and clash with one another in a medical hour from CSI franchise creator Jerry Bruckheimer. Starring a cast of unknowns.

The Bridge (drama) -- Charismatic cop Frank Leo (newcomer Aaron Douglas) "battles criminals on the street, corruption in the ranks and his own bosses." Boy, they're always coming up with original concepts, aren't they?

Arranged Marriage (reality) -- Three adults yearning to get hitched allow their family and friends to "choose someone for them to marry based on shared goals, values, experiences and the commitment to make it work." Then cameras follow them around.

Undercover Boss (reality) -- High-level corporate execs secretly slip into the "lowest level jobs within their companies." They supposedly learn about themselves, how the company is really run and what their employees think of them. Oh, if only this was set at The Dallas Morning News -- and I was still there. Happy happy, joy joy. But no dice.

NBC cancels Earl, reprieves Chuck, delays 30 Rock, pushes Friday Night Lights to summer in Phase 2 rollout of new season (updated)

Chuck and Law & Order have been reprieved, but My Name Is Earl and Life are goners, NBC officially announced Tuesday.

Medium also is missing in action, but there are reports that CBS might rescue the series.

The network also provided specific nights and times for its fall and midseason schedule after unveiling six new series earlier this month as part of a two-ply rollout strategy. For the first time in its history, NBC will have more unscripted than scripted programming this fall.

Chuck is set to return on Mondays in January in partnership with Subway, which will have "significant integration into the show," NBC says. Maybe Chuck can be a hero by saving a hero sandwich? The possibilities are endless.

Law & Order will get a fall startup, on Fridays, for its 20th season. That will tie it with Gunsmoke as the longest running prime-time drama series ever. Under the current plan, 30 Rock won't return until after a "multi-week" run of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday.

Also, made-in-Austin Friday Night Lights for now is waylaid until summer 2010 rather than midseason. But its DirecTV run is scheduled to start in the fall under the second year of that joint agreement.

NBC is touting a "shared time period strategy" that will enable it to show "all-new content" year-around. That's in large part because its prime-time window has been significantly reduced on weeknights with the Monday-Friday 9 p.m. (central) presence of The Jay Leno Show. The Peacock also will have the Winter Olympics from Feb. 12-28.

Here's NBC's night-by-night fall schedule, with all times central. (Note: Leno will be at 9 p.m each weeknight, so we're not going to keep typing that in).


7 p.m. -- Heroes
8 p.m. -- Trauma


7 to 9 p.m. -- The Biggest Loser


7 p.m. -- Parenthood
8 p.m. -- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit


7 p.m. -- SNL Weekend Update Thursday
7:30 p.m. -- Parks and Recreation
8 p.m. -- The Office
8:30 p.m. -- Community


7 p.m. -- Law & Order
8 p.m. -- Southland


7 p.m. -- Dateline NBC
8 p.m. -- Trauma repeat
9 p.m. -- Law & Order: SVU repeat


6 p.m. -- Football Night in America
7:20 p.m. -- NBC Sunday Night Football

Here's NBC's night-by-night midseason schedule:


7 p.m. -- Chuck
8 p.m. -- Day One


7 p.m. -- The Biggest Loser
8:30 p.m. -- 100 Questions


7 p.m. -- Mercy
8 p.m. -- Law & Order: SVU


7 p.m. -- Community
7:30 p.m. -- Parks and Recreation
8 p.m. -- The Office
8:30 p.m. -- 30 Rock


7 p.m. -- Law & Order
7:30 p.m. -- Southland


7 p.m. -- Dateline NBC
8 p.m. -- Southland repeat
9 p.m. -- Law & Order: SVU repeat


6 p.m. -- Dateline NBC
7 p.m. -- The Marriage Ref
8 p.m. -- The Celebrity Apprentice

ABC's new fall lineup flaunts star-powered comedy

New ABC shows for Patricia Heaton, Kelsey Grammer, Courteney Cox.

ABC will load up with eight new series this fall, including restarts for former prime-time comedy kingpins Kelsey Grammer, Courteney Cox, Patricia Heaton and Ed O'Neill.

The network also has renewed Scrubs, Better Off Ted and Castle, although only the latter series is getting a September start. Both Scrubs and Better Off Ted will be plugged in on Tuesdays after Dancing with the Stars finishes its fall run.

ABC's entire Wednesday night will be stocked with newcomers, four of them comedies fronted in order by Grammer, Heaton, O'Neil and Cox. The network entered last fall with just one half-hour sitcom -- Samantha Who? -- on its entire schedule. And that's been canceled. Lost as usual will return in January, for its final season.

Here are ABC's eight new fall series, announced Tuesday:

Hank (comedy) -- Grammer of Frasier fame plays an out-of-work "titan of industry" forced to reconnect with his wife and kids. Meanwhile he envisions a "return to greatness," but instead is thrown a curveball.

Cougar Town (comedy) -- ABC is very succinct with its description of this one. Friends alum Cox stars as a "recently divorced single mother exploring the honest truths about dating and aging in our beauty and youth obsessed culture."

The Middle (comedy) -- Shades of Everybody Loves Raymond, Heaton's a middle-class mom again. The Hecks -- mom, pop and three kids -- are "just trying to keep their heads above water" down home in Indiana. Hey, my late Midwestern mom's maiden name is Heck. But she had five kids, and we scraped by in Wisconsin. Thought you'd want to know.

Modern Family (comedy) -- Ed O'Neill of Married . . . With Children stars in what ABC describes as "a modern look at the complications that come with being a family in 2009." It's filmed from the perspective of an unseen documentarian, a la The Office.

Eastwick (drama) -- Adapted from the late John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick, it stars Rebecca Romijn as a transformed New England siren.

The Forgotten (drama) -- Crime-meister Jerry Bruckheimer (the CSI franchise, Cold Case) is back in his element with a whodunit in which a "team of dedicated amateurs work on cases involving unidentified victims." Englishman Rupert Penry-Jones heads the cast.

Flash Forward (drama) -- Hate it when the entire world blacks out. 'Cause that's when "humanity is given a glimpse into its near future, and every man, woman and child is forced to come to grips with whether their destinies can be avoided or fulfilled." Joseph Fiennes stars.

Shark Tank (alternative) -- Reality maestro Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) is at it again, too. In this one, commoners with big ideas but little cash submit themselves for approval to a "shark tank" composed of five self-made multi-millionaires. But as ABC describes it, "convincing real-life millionaires to part with their own money is no easy task, because when the idea is poor, the Sharks will tear into the ill-prepared presenters and pass on the idea with a simple, "I'm out!' " All righty then.

Here's ABC's night-by-night fall lineup, with all times central:


7 p.m. -- Dancing with the Stars (performance show)
9 p.m. -- Castle


7 p.m. -- Shark Tank
8 p.m. -- Dancing with the Stars (results show)
9 p.m. -- The Forgotten


7 p.m. -- Hank
7:30 p.m. -- The Middle
8 p.m. --- Modern Family
8:30 p.m. -- Cougar Town
9 p.m. -- Eastwick


7 p.m. -- Flash Forward
8 p.m. -- Grey's Anatomy
9 p.m. -- Private Practice


7 p.m. -- Supernanny
8 p.m. -- Ugly Betty
9 p.m. -- 20/20


7 p.m. -- Saturday Night College Football


6 p.m. -- America's Funniest Home Videos
7 p.m. -- Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
8 p.m. -- Desperate Housewives
9 p.m. -- Brothers & Sisters

ABC also announced these new midseason series:

The Deep End (drama) -- Young L.A. lawyers struggle to survive in a "cutthroat arena" of sex, greed, romance and betrayal. Starring a cast of mostly newcomers, plus Billy Zane (Samantha Who?)

Happy Town (drama) -- Except, not really. Haplin, Minnesota, a k a "Happy Town," has been peaceful for nearly a decade after a string of unsolved kidnappings. But now "dark truths" are emerging. Graybeard Sam Neill co-stars amid a cast of unknowns.

V (drama) -- The 1980s NBC miniseries is "re-imagined," with The Visitors again trying to dupe trusting earthlings. Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliet of Lost) heads the cast. But she also remains with Lost despite getting up-close and personal with a nuclear explosion in last week's season-ender.

Fox's Glee gives it the old golly gee

Glee principals Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison and Cory Monteith.

Premiering: Tuesday, May 19th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Jessalyn Gilsig, Jayma Mays, Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer, Kevin McHale, Jenna Ushkowitz, Mark Salling, Amber Riley, Dianna Agron
Produced by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Dante Di Loreto

This might seem like Simon Cowell dampening another double gush by fellow American Idol judges Paula Abdul and Kara DioGuardi.

For all of its on-air buildup -- including a super-gush by the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post -- Tuesday's "special preview" of Fox's Glee is merely good, not super-duper great.

It's High School Musical with a more adult motif, centering on a crushingly cute teacher determined to return his high school's post-pubescent Mickey Mouse Club to its former glory. Behind the camera is Ryan Murphy, who certainly isn't repeating himself. He's otherwise best known as the producer of FX's Nip/Tuck.

Watchable and at times even lovable, Glee deploys most of the standard cliches in moving toward its promised land. Glee Club maestro Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) of course can find nothing but a handful of outcasts to join his singin'/dancin' crusade. Then along comes closeted show-stopper Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), who's also the McKinley High football team's star quarterback.

His teammates of course think he's gone sissy on them. Particularly a thug named Puck (Mark Salling), who looks like a 25-year-old parolee from San Quentin. But by the end of Tuesday's opener, Finn has unshackled all inhibitions and is singin' up a storm with oft-taunted Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), who at the very least sees herself as the next Kristen Chenoweth.

Amid all of this, Glee's breakout character may be throaty cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). But alas, the actress playing her is billed only as a "guest star." They're going to have to remedy that.

Sylvester makes Glee's first impression while whipping her squad into shape as another school year begins.

"Ya think this is hard?" she barks. Try being water-boarded. That's hard."

Meanwhile, Will sees a Glee Club void when its previous director, Sandy Ryerson (another delish, scene-stealing performance by Dallasite Stephen Tobolowsky), leaves school and becomes a medicinal marijuana dealer.

You've probably already seen this scene a dozen or more times already during the Glee promotional blitz. It's the one where Will says, "I'd like to take over Glee Club." And principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba) shoots back, "Would you like to captain the Titanic, too?"

Back home, Will has that sinking feeling. Terri Schuester (Jessalyn Gilsig), his wife of five years, is a shopaholic who wants him to get a real job. "It's not a bad thing to want things," he's told.

Will's true soulmate, who still pines for him, is fellow teacher Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays). But complications arise, which won't be divulged here even though you might see them coming.

Billed as a "musical comedy" in Fox press materials, Glee can be cute 'n' funny as well as sappy and predictable. Its musical selections Tuesday night include Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" (performed by Ohio's state champion glee club); Peter, Paul and Mary's "Leaving On a Jet Plane" and Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."

The latter pop anthem closes Glee, as it did with The Sopranos' controversial finale. But Glee's not going anywhere. It's already slotted on Fox's fall schedule, to be suitably paired with So You Think You Can Dance on Wednesday nights.

What Glee isn't -- thankfully -- is yet another "procedural" crime hour. It dares to be different, even if it's also hoping to ride the coattails of Disney's HSM.

By the end of Monday's first hour, the show's band of misfits already has become amazingly accomplished on stage. Their learning curve unaccountably flattens out in a hurry.

Glee itself falls appreciably short of amazing but does manage to tantalize. It has ample room to bloom, grow and get its groove on. Or as Will says in closing, "Good, guys. That's a 9. We need a 10."

For now, Glee itself is a 7.


Fox accentuates African-Americans in new fall lineup

The casts of Fox's Brothers and The Cleveland Show.

Fox is adding three new prime-time series and one late-nighter this fall, with three-fourths of its incoming freshman class featuring predominantly African-American casts.

The No. 1 network among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds also will return Dollhouse for a second season despite its very lowly ratings on Friday nights. You likewise can't kill 'Til Death. The Brad Garrett sitcom will return after barely airing this season. And So You Think You Can Dance will be in the fall mix for the first time after ending its fifth annual summer run, which begins Thursday.

Fox also announced Monday that 24 will return for its eighth season on Jan. 17th, with the locale shifted to New York. The network additionally plans to launch at least three new midseason shows.

Here are the fall newcomers.

Brothers (comedy) -- Recent NFL retiree Michael Strahan plays recent NFL retiree Mike Trainor, who's ordered back home to Houston by his momma (CCH Pounder from The Shield). She wants him to help his wheelchair-bound brother, Chill (Daryl "Chill" Mitchell) keep his struggling restaurant afloat. Carl Weathers of Rocky fame stars as the two brothers' football-coaching father, but "really it's mom who calls the shots," says Fox.

The Cleveland Show (comedy) -- Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane spins off that show's Cleveland Brown into a show of his own. He'll be hooking up with his high school sweetheart, Donna, after her marriage goes sour. She's equipped with two high-maintenance kids.

Glee (drama) -- Sneak-previewing Tuesday night after American Idol, it'll then rest until fall. Matthew Morrison stars as a teacher determined to reinvent his high school glee club, which of course is well-stocked with underdogs who haven't yet reached for the stars. Fox has been promoting the show incessantly for the past month or so. The series' creator is Nip/Tuck's Ryan Murphy.

The Wanda Sykes Show (comedy) -- She's supplanting MADtv in what Fox describes as a "high-energy one-hour show" featuring "biting commentary (that we've already figured out) and heated panel discussions with recurring personalities."

Here's Fox's night-by-night fall lineup, with all times central:


7 p.m. -- House
8 p.m. -- Lie To Me


7 p.m. -- So You Think You Can Dance (performance show)


7 p.m. -- So You Think You Can Dance (results show)
8 p.m. -- Glee


7 p.m. -- Bones
8 p.m. -- Fringe


7 p.m. -- Brothers
7:30 p.m. -- 'Til Death
8 p.m. -- Dollhouse


7 p.m. -- Cops
7:30 p.m. -- Cops
8 p.m. -- America's Most Wanted
11 p.m. -- The Wanda Sykes Show
Midnight -- "Animation Domination" encores


6 p.m. -- The OT (NFL post-game show)
7 p.m. -- The Simpsons
7:30 p.m. -- The Cleveland Show
8 p.m. -- Family Guy
8:30 p.m. -- American Dad

These are the three announced midseason shows:

Human Target (drama) -- DC Comics graphic novel hero Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) makes himself a bullseye in the interest of saving clients' lives. Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley co-star.

Past Life (drama) -- A pair of "past-life" detectives investigate "whether what is happening to you today is the result of who you were before." Starring are relative unknowns Kelli Giddish and Nicholas Bishop, with Richard Schiff from The West Wing playing her character's mentor.

Sons of Tucson (comedy) -- The three Gunderson brothers hire a "charming wayward schemer" to impersonate their father after the real one goes to jail. Fox says the show is "in the tradition" of Malcolm In the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show.

Brute camp: Spike TV's 4th and Long finds Irvin throwin' down

All smiles for now: Bill Bates, Michael Irvin and Joe Avezzano

Premiering: Monday, May 18th at 9 p.m. (central) on Spike TV
Starring: Michael Irvin, Bill Bates, Joe Avezzano, other former/current Cowboys and 12 NFL hopefuls
Produced by: Todd Nelson, JD Roth, Michael Irvin

First off, Fourth and Long isn't for the faint of stomach -- whether you're a participant or a viewer.

There's a whole lotta ralphin' goin' on during Monday's premiere, with would-be Dallas Cowboys receiver Montrell Jones the star player in this particular competition before host/taskmaster Michael Irvin implores him to "get that sickness out of you!"

No one can accuse Irvin and his two principal henchmen, ex-Cowboy Bill Bates and former special teams coach Joe Avezzano, of running a cushy Camp Cupcake at the Cotton Bowl. That's where 12 NFL washouts gather to earn a single berth on the 80-man Dallas Cowboys training camp roster. You can feel the pain in the first hour, where an intimidating, clad-in-black Irvin makes it clear that he's not passing out any roses.

"I don't want to hear any of that (bleep) about a reality TV show," he barks, notifying one and all that this is a football tryout camp that won't tolerate any signs of weakness.

Avezzano later lobs the line of the night: "We love the Dallas Cowboys. So we can't turn over to them some slap-dick that just thinks that this is some frivolous little thing going on here."

"Coach Joe" handles the six receivers, Bates takes charge of the defensive backs and a scowling Irvin presides as Major Payne in a 10-episode series that should have more than enough violence and upchucking to please Spike TV's young male target audience. Also appearing in Monday's opener are former Cowboys Nate Newton (who collects the contestants' cell phones and other trinkets) and Drew Pearson, purveyor of a pep talk about how he, too, was an undrafted free agent.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also makes a cameo appearance, theatrically shaking hands with Irvin in the opening minutes before telling him, "Give me a ballplayer."

All of the hopefuls have excuses as to why "I'm not in the NFL." They range from injuries to too much partying to duplicitous agents. Luke Swan, a 24-year-old receiver from Uncle Barky's alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tore his hamstring off the bone as a college player. But now, "I'm back. I'm healthy. I've trained hard. I want my opportunity."

They arrive in the dead of night at the Cotton Bowl before Irvin makes a grand entrance to the sound of martial music.

"It's fourth and long, gentlemen," he informs his supplicants. "You think you got what it takes to move the chains in your life?"

Rather than a mini-manse, the 12 hopefuls end up taking residence in the Cotton Bowl locker rooms, where they'll spend their nights recovering from their days.

Day One is a hellish combination of full-contact punt covering drills -- "the basic rule is someone's gonna kick someone else's ass," says Avezzano -- and a series of 110-yard runs that end up totaling 1,980. Irvin witnesses enough vomiting and gasping to make him wanna puke.

"I'm seeing guys kneeling down when you've got an opportunity of a lifetime," he rages. "You've got to have the desire to override your fatigue."

One hopeful is sent home Monday after Irvin, Avezzano and Bates convene in the "War Room" to pass judgment after picking three possible evictees. Irvin then lowers the boom: "This is the end of the line. The Cowboys cannot use you,"

In next week's episode, the Cotton Bowl field is hosed down into a mud bath to simulate bad weather conditions. In reality, it's a device to make 4th and Long an even nastier, splashier picture show.

Whoever emerges to make the Cowboys' pre-season roster seemingly will have earned his spot. This is a show that at times makes Marine Corps boot camp look like Jellystone Park. Irvin and company ride these would-be Cowboys the way a cowboy breaks a bronc. Oddly enough, that's entertainment.


Leno announces last Tonight guest, repeats vows to never take a vacation

Jay Leno's last Tonight Show guest will be his successor, Conan O'Brien.

He'll also welcome musical guest James Taylor on his May 29th sign-off, Leno said Thursday during a wide-ranging teleconference with TV critics.

Leno, who began hosting Tonight on May 25, 1992, also said he plans to exit in an offbeat manner before gearing up for the September premiere of his new, five nights a week 9 p.m. (central) show.

"I have something really unusual and different planned, something out of left field that we're going to end on," he said. He also called it "really personal," but otherwise "I don't want to give it away."

O'Brien will become Tonight's fifth permanent host on June 1st. The line of succession began with Steve Allen and has continued through the reigns of Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Leno.

"I'm glad it's going to Conan," he said of Tonight, which has been No. 1 in the late night ratings for 13 consecutive years. "So when you bring the rental car back and there are no dents and a full tank, then yeah, you're happy."

Leno typically will hit the road immediately after his stewardship of Tonight ends.

"I end on a Friday, I'm in Atlantic City on a Saturday," he said. "No, I'm not a take-a-break guy."

"I mean, I've never taken a vacation . . . and I never missed a day at school," Leno added. "And do what, go to Hawaii? That's my idea of hell."

A recent brief hospitalization for exhaustion didn't give him pause.

"No, no alarm went off," Leno said. "My only reaction was this was a huge mistake. I should have never went to the hospital."

NBC, desperate to keep Leno rather than see him return to late night on a rival network, initially proposed a half-hour show that would have aired week-nightly at 7 p.m. (central), Leno said. He didn't think that would be enough time and also would be too early in the night.

He initially resisted the 9 p.m. idea, too, but asked NBC to research whether audiences might like a break from crime dramas at that hour, particularly on CBS.

"The thing is there's plenty of drama on television. There's more drama than there's ever been," Leno said, mentioning the TNT and FX networks as major suppliers beyond the broadcast realm. "All of the research came back that people sort of wanted some comedy . . . There's no laughs at (9) o'clock."

Leno said he didn't expect to outdraw the likes of CBS' competing CSI: Miami and CSI: NY in the early going. But he hopes to make ratings gains when those shows are in reruns and he's pounding out cost-effective fresh material.

"We can do five shows for the price of one scripted drama," Leno said. "If we win (in the ratings), that would be gravy. If we can hold our own, that'd be great."

Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, told advertisers earlier this month that Leno might do commercials within his new show.

Terming Silverman "very enthusiastic," Leno said, "If it were up to him, I would be up there doing the monologue with a McDonald's hat and a Budweiser jacket on. I don't know. We'll look at it and see . . . Right now it's somewhere between Ben's enthusiasm and no."

Leno said he's never been caught up in the celebrity pecking order. His attitude toward show business is "You don't fall in love with a hooker."

"If this show's a success, I'll be over the moon and it'll be wonderful," he said. If not, he'll simply do more club dates and stick with his longtime friends, including vacation-less wife, Mavis. "I've made more than enough money in my life."

Here's Leno's announced guest list for his final week of Tonight shows;

Monday (May 25) -- Mel Gibson and Lyle Lovett
Tuesday -- Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dwight Yoakam
Wednesday -- Wanda Sykes and Sarah McLachlan
Thursday -- Billy Crystal and Prince
Friday -- Conan O'Brien and James Taylor

Random bursts: Nimoy Treks through Letterman Top 10 list; Rather puts on a 'fro to report on burrito lunch

Thursday's edition of CBS' Late Show with David Letterman beamed up the original Mr. Spock to count down 10 "Lines Never Before Said in a Star Trek Film." Here are three crackups:

9. We're entering a breach in the space-time continuum or a wormhole or some crazy crap like that.

7. Welcome aboard the Starship Enterprise -- today's in-flight movie is Big Momma's House 2.

4. My baby-daddy is a Vulcan -- on the next Maury.

Meanwhile, on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Dan Rather agreeably flipped his wig for a mock 1973 report titled "Nixon Has a Burrito." Seeing is believing, so here's the video:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Nixon Has a Burrito
Daily Show
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Fox states his case for optimism in worthy ABC special

Michael J. Fox with wife Tracy Pollan and Cubs manager Lou Piniella

In sickness and in health, no one has ever thought ill of Michael J. Fox. OK, with the exception of Rush Limbaugh.

He's always been a likable guy -- both on-camera and off-. So it hit hard when the former star of Family Ties, Spin City and the Back to the Future movies disclosed in 1998 that he's afflicted with the so far incurable Parkinson's Disease.

Actually he's had it for 20 years, Fox notes in Thursday's ABC special Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist (9 p.m. central). "It's slowed me down a bit, but it hasn't stopped me," he says.

His first words in tonight's special -- "Oh what a great day" -- underscore Fox's approach to living with a disease that has waylaid a full-time acting career and birthed The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Thanks to him, it's become the world's largest funder of Parkinson's research.

Incurable Optimist, a video companion to his new book, Always Looking Up, is a free-form search for what makes optimism tick. Its centerpiece is his visit to secluded Bhutan, whose government regularly measures the Himalayan nation's Gross National Happiness.

While in Bhutan, "my symptoms have been really diminished," Fox discovers. "It's really a remarkable thing. It gives me a hopeful feeling."

He also visits cancer survivor Lance Armstrong; attends Barack Obama's inauguration with his oldest son, Sam; tries to learn golf in the company of Bill Murray; and commiserates with long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans and players. There's a trip to a dairy farm, too, where optimism reigns despite increasing difficulties in making ends meet.

Fox's wife, Tracy Pollan, whom he met on the set of Family Ties, is also a supporting/supportive player. But his overall good cheer "can get a little irritating at times," she tells him good-naturedly.

This is an altogether uplifting and inspiring hour. It won't cure cancer -- or Parkinson's Disease. But it's good for the soul and great to see Fox still out and about. He's 47 now, but you'd never know it. Being in good spirits is Fox's Fountain of Youth, keeping the kid in him alive while he keeps living life to the fullest he can.


NBC spills beans on part of its new season, promises a second helping in 15 days

Former SNL mainstay Chevy Chase and Maura Tierney from ER.

Fourth-place NBC went roughly halfway toward unveiling its 2009-10 season plans Monday, promising to get back with more details on May 19th.

It's an odd way to do business, but perhaps preferable to last May's unveiling of an elongated 18-month schedule that quickly went by the wayside.

Among the Peacock's six announced newcomers are an adaptation of the 1989 film Parenthood featuring a trio of familiar TV faces and the new comedy series Community, starring graybeard Chevy Chase and Joel McHale of The Soup.

NBC also announced the renewals of two spring series -- Southland and Parks and Recreation -- plus six new half-hours of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday, which debuted last fall down the homestretch of the presidential campaign.

As expected, Heroes and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit also were picked up. But the fates of series such as My Name Is Earl, Law & Order, Chuck and Medium still hang in the balance, with the latter the likeliest survivor.

Also absent from Monday's announcement were nights and times for any of NBC's new and returning series, save for Jay Leno's previously announced entrenchment at 9 p.m. (central) with a new Monday-Friday talk/comedy hour. The official title is The Jay Leno Show.

As previously announced, the network also has committed to new seasons of Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, The Office, The Biggest Loser and Celebrity Apprentice.

Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, said in a clunkily composed statement that the Peacock "will strive to make viewers feel and our shows represent the full range of human emotion from laughter to tears."

Here are the six newcomers announced Monday:

Parenthood (drama) -- A "contemporary re-imagining" of the Ron Howard-directed 1989 hit film is built around the "colorful and imperfect" Braverman family. Fronting the cast are TV venerables Peter Krause (Six Feet Under/Dirty Sexy Money), Craig T. Nelson (Coach) and Maura Tierney (ER.)

Point of fact: NBC tried and failed earlier with Parenthood in a 1990 drama series starring Ed Begley, Jr., and two little knowns at the time -- Leonardo DiCaprio and David Arquette.

Community (comedy) -- Chevy Chase returns to NBC for the first time since leaving SNL after its inaugural 1975-76 season. Depicting the "higher education and lower expectations" at fictional Greendale Community College, the ensemble sitcom is centered on Joel McHale (The Soup) as a fast-talking, conniving lawyer whose degree has been revoked.

Trauma (drama) -- Peter Berg, executive producer of Friday Night Lights, orchestrates what NBC bills as "the first high-octane medical series to live exclusively in the field where the real action is." Included in the cast is FNL alum Kevin Rankin, who played the partially paralyzed Herc.

Mercy (drama) -- More medical adventures, with the emphasis on the dedicated nurses of Mercy Hospital. There are no big names in the cast.

Day One (drama) -- Earth is staggered by a global catastrophe, forcing an "eclectic band of survivors" to cope in a series scheduled to launch after the 2010 Winter Olympics on NBC. Another no-name cast will be in play.

100 Questions (comedy) -- A young woman named Charlotte (Sophie Winkleman of Peep Show) learns about life, love and the high-larious implications of same while taking a 100-question "compatibility test" put together by her dating counselor.

Presenting Jimmy Fallon at half his current age

Everybody's gotta start someplace. Here's Jimmy Fallon as a 17-year-old doing his first standup bit at Bananas Comedy Club in Poughkeepsie, NY. He's wearing a jailbird shirt while doing brief impressions of John Travolta, Sylvester Stallone, Cliff Clavin of Cheers, etc. The talent's pretty raw, but kind of shines through. And the clip's just a bit over a minute long, so your time will be pretty well spent.

The 34-year-old Saturday Night Live alum is now in his third month of hosting NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. And yeah, he's gotten better.
Ed Bark