powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes


Behind the Candelabra: HBO's Liberace biopic tinkles his ivories


Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra. HBO photos

HBO, latter day home of showy head cases in outlandish hairpieces, is back in the groove with Behind the Candelabra.

Phil Spector, its featured March attraction, starred a bewigged Al Pacino in the title role with Helen Mirren striving to make sense of him en route to the egomaniacal record producer’s murder trial.

Candelabra (Sunday, May 26th at 8 p.m. central) bursts with even more star power -- and toupees. Michael Douglas is Liberace and Matt Damon plays lover/confidant Scott Thorson in a two-hour film that brims with entertainment value whatever your mindset going in. The constellation of supporting players includes Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Paul Reiser, a deliciously absurd Rob Lowe and an unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds as “Lee’s” mother, Frances.

There’s also behind-the-camera firepower to spare. The late Marvin Hamlisch is musical director, with Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, the Ocean’s films) directing and longtime impresario Jerry Weintraub (The Karate Kid movies, His Way) putting it all together as executive producer. For the most part they’ve pulled it off, with Douglas absolutely fearless as the bejeweled, closeted, legendary Vegas bauble while Damon effectively navigates his way from semi-bumpkin to bubble baths to full-blown cocaine addict.

The much-awaited HBO treatment comes 25 years after CBS and ABC double-dipped in 1988 with dueling Liberace films that aired in the year after his Feb. 4, 1987 death from complications due to AIDS. Victor Garber starred in CBS’ Liberace: Behind the Music, with Maureen Stapleton as his mother, Frances. Andrew Robinson had the title role in ABC’s Liberace, in which Rue McClanahan played Frances. The Scott Thorson roles respectively were borne by relative unknowns Michael Dolan and Maris Vilainis, neither of whom had nearly the screen time Damon gets in HBO’s adaptation of Thorson’s 1988 book.

HBO covers the last 10 years of Liberace’s life, beginning with a chance 1977 meeting in a bar between Thorson and Bob Black (Bakula), who essentially is Liberace’s pimp. Thorson, a vulnerable bisexual animal trainer from a broken home, is agog at seeing Liberace work his keyboard magic during the film’s overly extended early excerpt from a typical Vegas performance.

“I love to give people a good time,” he tells Thorson during a between-shows trip to the showman’s dressing room. Douglas owns this part from that moment on, walking a balance beam between flat-out parody and a semblance of nuance. In short, the aging Liberace needs a friend, someone to watch over him at home and onstage. Long, champagne-fueled soaks also are part of the bargain, in addition to frequent sex with a randy sugar daddy who’s had some work done both below the belt and above the neck.

“How do you stay hard for so long?” Thorson wonders at one point. Those aforementioned CBS and ABC movies weren’t about to touch that particular terrain.

Liberace also is a self-professed devout Catholic who had an epiphany when near death -- from kidney failure -- in the days after the Kennedy assassination. The film flashes back to a hospital visitation from a mystical, glowing nun. Despite his sexuality, “I was saved,” he tells Thorson. “Because God looks upon me with special favor.” Believe what you will.


Although intermittently serious-minded, Behind the Candelabra never becomes a drudge or a dirge. It’s a biopic with a voyeuristic bent. And how can it not be when the centerpiece is a pre-Elton John/Lady Gaga pathfinder who describes his home furnishings as “palatial kitsch?”

Most actors of Douglas’ stature wouldn’t dare submit themselves body and soul to a role fraught with Mommie Dearest peril. Douglas not only inhabits Liberace but deconstructs him in a scene where he stands flabbily in a towel without his overhead rug. There’s also a priceless look at a snoring, sound asleep Liberace whose eyes remain partly open after massive reconstructive surgery by Lowe’s Dr. Jack Startz.

A few words about Lowe. He’s never been better -- or funnier -- as a plastics man whose own face is stretched tighter than a $10 spending limit at a Vegas crap table. He richly deserves some sort of award for this -- although it won’t be from the American Medical Association. Watching Lowe sip a drink through a mouth hole the size of a straw is about as much fun as one can have at the movies.

Meanwhile, Aykroyd capably drops in and out as Liberace’s stern manager, Seymour Heller. And Reynolds makes the most of her two main scenes as Liberace’s mother, even if it could be just about anyone beneath all that camouflage.

Bakula’s Bob Black is a basically generic character, although he does have one of the film’s signature lines after an increasingly plump Thorson frets about both going under the knife (to be remade in Liberace’s image) and adhering to Dr. Startz’s supposedly safe diet of pills and booze. “Honey, in gay years, you’re Judy during the Sid Luft obese period,” Black tells him.

The Thorson role requires a not inconsiderable transformation, in both looks and temperament. And Damon pretty much handles this load, powering up down the stretch as a raging coke head who’s been both jilted and defrocked.

Some of the film’s transitions can be a bit abrupt, particularly Thorson’s ill-explained succumbing to nose candy. Liberace’s feelings for him remain strong, even as his eyes wander off to another young prize. But Thorson had been warned early on that everyone’s expendable.

Behind the Candelabra by and large is an uncompromising look at the private arrangement between a household name in public denial and a rube who came to enjoy his many and varied creature comforts. But the film backs off in the end, resorting to a somewhat trite denouement in which everybody’s happy -- through tears, of course.

Never mind, though. Douglas, Damon and company put on a crowd-pleaser that even Liberace couldn’t top during all those many-splendored stage performances. A film that could have been so very bad turns out to be pretty mah-velous.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Forget about any lifelines for NBC's Save Me (now that's the spirit)


Anne Heche is newly blessed out in Save Me. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, May 23rd with back-to-back half-hour episodes starting at 7 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Anne Heche, Michael Landes, Madison Davenport, Alexandra Breckenridge, Heather Burns, Joy Osmanski
Produced by: John Scott Shepherd, Scott Winant, Neal H. Moritz, Vivian Cannon, Alexa Junge, Darlene Hunt

It’s not a good sign -- from above or anywhere else -- when a network launches a previously announced “midseason” series on the day after the latest play-for-keeps TV season officially ends.

The hallelujah choir also is singing off-key when that same network decides to burn off two episodes per Thursday but can’t be bothered to make more than the first one available for review. Such are the realities for NBC’s Save Me, a spiritual sitcom getting basically the same brushoff Fox gave to The Goodwin Games earlier this week.

Bounce-around Anne Heche stars as a former weekend weathercaster whose marriage has become a cold front. Her bartender husband, Tom (Michael Landes), blames her for ruining things and sending him into the arms of a mistress. After the standard issue narrative setup -- “I’d become an angry, drunken bitch” -- a typically besotted Beth Harper (Heche) staggers home from a neighborhood party and delivers herself unto a refrigerated hero sandwich after having another big swig. Go ahead, choke on it. She does, but arises from a near-death experience convinced that she’s now been touched by God -- or at worst an angel.

During the course of her return to the living, Beth actually says, “I asked myself, ‘Self.’ “ Look no further for the caliber of writing within a first episodes that just doesn’t deliver much of anything.

The new Beth is determined to make amends to friends while re-claiming hubby and re-connecting with a tune-out teenaged daughter named Emily (Madison Davenport). “I was lost. And Now I’m found,” she proclaims.

Meanwhile, Tom’s girlfriend, Carly (Alexandra Breckenridge), is piping mad about his wavering interest in divorce. “You’re cheating on me -- with your whacked-out wife!” she bellows before eventually being struck from above by a lightening bolt that may or may not have been summoned by Beth.

God isn’t about to waste a lightening bolt or any form of divine intervention on Save Me. And NBC for its part has already exiled it to a prime-time purgatory. TV networks continue to work in mysterious ways. But sometimes they’re still smart enough to know when they have a stinker.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Motive gives ABC a second self-contained cop drama amid all those serials


Kristin Lehman doubles down on crime in Motive. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, May 20th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC before moving to regular Thursday, 8 p.m. slot
Starring: Kristin Lehman, Louis Ferreira, Lauren Holly, Roger Cross, Brendan Penny, Cameron Bright
Produced by: Daniel Cerone, James Thorpe, Louise Clark, Rob Merilees, Rob LaBelle, Erin Haskett, Lindsay Macadam

This one just might find an audience on a network that’s still enamored of serial dramas but does very well with its only remaining one-shot “crime procedural” hour.

We’re talking about Castle, and the Canadian import Motive is in that mode. Throw a murder out there, solve it by episode’s end and move on to the next one in a new self-contained episode. CBS has been doing this for years, and it’s now No. 1 with a bullet in both total viewers and, for the first time in 21 seasons, advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds.

Motive has a bit of a gimmick, though, even if it’s been done before, most notably and indelibly with Columbo. Identify the killer during the opening minutes. Then let the gumshoes do their work while viewers are still left guessing -- up until the closing minutes -- as to why the murder was committed.

Monday’s premiere, with Motive then moving to its regular Thursday berth, quickly fingers a high school band member who’s initially taunted by low-lifes at a football game. His victim, also identified in short order, is a popular high school science teacher. You won’t have to do any heavy lifting, because ABC has weekly on-screen print IDs for “The Killer” and “The Victim.”

Connecting the dots after the corpse is found are homicide detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman from AMC’s The Killing) and partner Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira). The inevitable forensic lab slicer/dicer, Dr. Betty Rogers, is played by former Picket Fences star Lauren Holly, who’s also been a recurring player on NCIS.

Angie and Oscar get along fine, but can’t resist needling each other. Both actors know how to do this without over-doing it. She also has a teenage son, Manny (a recurring Cameron Bright), who’s first seen in the sack with a very voluptuous young woman who tells Angie her breasts are surgically inflated. Mom rolls her eyes but isn’t overly upset. Later on, she cheers Manny on at a drag racing competition. The lineup of teens wanting a mother like that might well equal the distance between Earth and Mars.

Meanwhile, the first two crimes are puzzled out in not always convincing fashion. Angie tends to have a lot of hunches. But in an hour’s time, minus commercials, the culprits also tend to cooperate by playing right into her hands.

This is especially true in the Thursday, May 23rd Episode 2, in which the killer is a former prosecutor running for mayor on a hardline law and order platform. A teenage girl is on his hit-and-run receiving end. And he’s way too over-zealous about framing a hunky teen playboy who’s been happily bouncing from one conquest to another, including the victim.

Motive uses flashbacks as walk-ups to its eventual murders. It’s a reasonably involving series made better by the chemistry between the two leads. Unlike Fox’s backhanded treatment of The Goodwin Games, ABC is giving Motive a substantial promotional push and slotting its first episode after a two-hour performance edition of Dancing with the Stars.

As a whodunit with the who already answered, Motive is more than passable and quite a bit better than two of this season’s string-along ABC clunkers -- Zero Hour and Red Widow. They’ve been canceled, but this series seems to have more of a clue about what it takes to carry on.

GRADE: B-minus

Email questions or comments to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's new and well-hidden The Goodwin Games: not a bad little comedy, but who knew?


The Goodwin Games sneaks into prime-time Monday. Fox photo

Premiering: Monday, May 20th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Scott Foley, Becki Newton, T.J. Miller, Beau Bridges, Melissa Tang, Kat Foster
Produced by: Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, Chris Harris, Peyton Reed

Somebody up there (in Fox’s boardrooms) really doesn’t seem to like The Goodwin Games.

It’s stealth-premiering on Monday, May 20th between repeats of Raising Hope and New Girl. But this information initially was found elsewhere and certainly not on the official Fox media site. The series’ “Fact Sheet” still lists this fairly agreeable comedy as a “midseason” replacement with no further elaboration. As for the on-air promotional drums, well, they haven’t been loud enough to stir any creatures, not even a mouse.

Goodwin Games is from the creative team behind How I Met Your Mother, which hasn’t done too badly for itself. And it premieres a week after Fox announced its 2013-14 prime-time lineup, which last May included The Goodwin Games. It even made the headlines in a network publicity release, touted as an “inventive new comedy.” Ah, but that was then. Now it’s just a burn-off, with Episode 1 sacrificed opposite down-to-the-wire performance editions of both NBC’s The Voice and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Here’s the premise. Benjamin Goodwin (Beau Bridges, seen only via his videotaped will) is the late father of three estranged, maladjusted adults. None of them knew the old man was worth $23 million at the time of his passing.

Oldest son Henry Goodwin (Scott Foley) is a 36-year-old, nose-in-the-air surgeon who gets the news of dad’s death while heading to the operating room. “Prep for surgery,” he orders. “I’ll process.”

Chloe Goodwin (Becki Newton), 34, is a child math whiz who lately has taken on the role of struggling actress. She’s auditioning for a role when the news comes. A funny throwaway line ensues -- not from her but from one of the casting people.

Jimmy Goodwin (T.J. Miller) is 32 and just out of prison after serving time tied to another small-time theft. Dad’s death is by no means his biggest concern. He’s still in debt to a loan shark who wants his money now.

The three of them head off to little Granby, New Hampshire for the funeral. Squabbles resume -- and intensify during the unveiling of Benjamin’s will by an unyielding estate attorney named April (Melissa Tang). His three offspring learn that to inherit the cash they’ll have to accept a series of challenges that he dubs The Goodwin Games. A simple game of Trivial Pursuit is hurdle No. 1, with a mystery guy named Elijah also participating.

“I don’t think we ever finished a game without an injury,” Jimmy notes.

Some decently inventive twists and turns ensue as Jimmy, Henry and especially Chloe vie for dad’s fortune. Jimmy may be a simpleton, but he has both a squishy-soft heart and a cute little daughter who knows his score.

“I was on a super-long business trip,” he says, apologizing for missing her birthday. But she knows he was in jail, and delivers a sweet little lecture about being better in the future.

Future episodes, provided Fox actually airs them, will continue these high stakes games of cat-and-mouse among the three fractious but slowly bonding siblings. Henry’s first love, Lucinda (Kat Foster), with whom he’s also reconnecting, adds another spoke to the ensemble.

Goodwin Games isn’t an Olympian comedy but it’s by no means an out-and-out clunker either. It would have been nice to see it get a fairer shot much earlier in the season, particularly after Fox created a vacancy between Raising Hope and New Girl with its quick axing of Ben and Kate.

It’s now almost assuredly too late to slot Goodwin Games between reruns of those comedies while many Americans turn their eyes to outdoor pursuits and vacation plans. Most Americans, whatever their intentions, won’t even know this newcomer is on the air. But it is, with even Fox looking the other way.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Abnormal's increasingly the new normal for CW's fall season


Robbie Amell stars in The Tomorrow People. CW photo

The little CW network might as well go ahead and rename itself Syfy Junior. Four of its five new scripted series for next season are otherworldly and the other is set in 16th century Scotland.

The network already is home to Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Arrow and Beauty and the Beast. And all those heavily ornamented posers on America’s Next Top Model also can seem as though they’ve just arrived from another planet.

Three of the newcomers are for this fall, with a Vampire Diaries spinoff called The Originals likely to generate the most buzz on a network that got a bit of a lift last season from Arrow.

Cancellations include 90210, Gossip Girls, Emily Owens, M.D. and Cult, which most TV watchers new knew was on in the first place. The returning Nikita will get a six-episode kiss-off on a night and date yet to be announced. Returnees Hart of Dixie, Supernatural, Beauty and the Beast and The Carrie Diaries all are relocating to new nights.

Here are CW’s three new fall series:

The Originals (drama) -- Set in New Orleans, this Vampire Diaries offshoot centers on Klaus Mikaelson, the “original vampire-werewolf hybrid.” A veteran of 48 episodes of VD, he’s still played by Joseph Morgan. An alliance with witches is brewing -- this can only be toil and trouble -- when Klaus returns to the city his family helped build. Why? He’s heard that someone is plotting against him.

The Tomorrow People (drama) -- The title characters are humans “born with paranormal abilities,” which don’t include a glimpse into the future staying power of this series. Stephen (Robbie Amell) thought he was normal until he began teleporting in his sleep. So he eventually hooks up with three other Tomorrow People, who of course are being “hunted down by a paramilitary group of scientists known as Ultra.” Greg Berlanti, executive producer of Arrow, is at the controls.

Reign (drama) -- Newcomer Adelaide Kane stars as “headstrong” teen Mary, who’s nearing the start of her tumultuous Queen of Scots tenure. She has an arranged engagement to “dashing” Prince Francis (Toby Regbo), who’s intrigued but still reluctant to commit. His “roguish” half-brother Bash (Torrance Coombs) has his own agenda. Uh-oh -- royal triangle.

This is CW’s announced fall schedule:

Hart of Dixie
Beauty and the Beast

The Originals

The Tomorrow People

The Vampire Diaries

The Carrie Diaries
America’s Next Top Model

Here are the three midseason newcomers:

Star-Crossed (drama) -- Emery and Roman first meet as six-year-olds. She’s a small-town human girl and he’s an Atrian from outer space. They quickly become friends before Roman is tracked down and taken away. Years later, she learns he’s still alive, imprisoned with fellow Atrians in a closely guarded camp known as the Sector. And so on. The principal love birds are played by Aimee Teegarden (Friday Night Lights) and Matt Lanter (90210).

The 100 (drama) -- Lo, it’s been 97 years since “nuclear Armageddon” destroyed Earth. The last survivors were 400 denizens of 12 international space stations. They’d been orbiting at the time and since have multiplied to 4,000. Now, in a bold experiment, 100 juvenile human prisoners are exiled on Earth to see if the place is still livable. Starring a cast of largely unknowns, plus Henry Ian Cusick from Lost and Paige Turco (Person of Interest, Damages).

Famous In 12 (reality) -- Can a family become famous in just 12 weeks time? Hey, that’s an eternity in these times. Then again, this family will be on the CW network, so the odds perhaps are insurmountable. It’s billed as a “unique social experiment” in which the guinea pigs will “each get a series of challenges to create a public profile fit for a Kardashian.” Furthermore, they’ll “exploit all forms of social media to wage a campaign of fame.” Hoo boy.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS makes a Robin's nest as part of rise in new fall comedies


Robin Williams & Sarah Michelle Gellar in The Crazy Ones. CBS photo

CBS is amping up its comedy content, highlighted by a new Thursday night pairing of Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar.

A runaway No. 1 in total viewers and first with advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds for the first time in 21 seasons, CBS will go with four new sitcoms and a lone freshman drama in the fall. It’s also adding a comedy rerun component to Saturday nights.

The network’s success story is marred only by the unusual number of failures among last season’s newcomers. Only the Sherlock Holmes drama Elementary has been renewed while Vegas, Golden Boy, Partners, Made In Jersey and The Job have been canceled. CBS also has axed CSI: NY after nine seasons while likewise dropping Rules of Engagement after a long run of off-and-on scheduling. The Monday night comedy Mike & Molly is being held until midseason.

CBS has done some night-swapping, too, with Person of Interest moving from Thursdays to Tuesdays while Hawaii Five-0 goes from Mondays to Fridays. The Person of Interest transfer gives the network a super-potent drama trio that also includes NCIS and its L.A. spinoff. Meanwhile, ABC will set forth with four untested new series on Tuesdays this fall. That now seems like a possible suicide mission.

The other major CBS move is a comedy bulk-up on Thursdays, with the Williams-Gellar series and another new sitcom starring Will Arnett joining incumbents The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. The network has left well enough alone by keeping its Wednesday and Sunday lineups intact.

Here are CBS’ five announced new fall series:

The Crazy Ones (comedy) -- Williams stars as the eccentric -- what else? -- head of an advertising agency, with Gellar cast as his even-keeled daughter and business partner. The supporting cast includes former Lone Star star James Wolk, who’s currently playing up-and-coming young ad man Bob Benson on AMC’s Mad Men. On CBS, Wolk co-stars as a “dashing and talented” ad agency staffer named Zach. So it looks as though his participation in Mad Men could either be curtailed or end entirely. The show’s executive producer is David E. Kelley, who previously has specialized in comedy-laced dramas such as Boston Legal and Ally McBeal.

The Millers (comedy) -- Quickly rebounding from NBC’s disastrous Up All Night, Arnett plays a newly divorced local news reporter preparing to leap back into the singles game until his parents tell him they’re also splitting after a 43-year run. So of course mom moves in with him. The parents are played by Margo Martindale (FX’s The Americans) and Beau Bridges.

Mom (comedy) -- Producer Chuck Lorre gets his fourth CBS comedy series, with Anna Faris (The House Bunny) playing a “newly sober” single mom with two kids and a “critical, estranged” mom played by Allison Janney (The West Wing). Lorre also helms The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly.

We Are Men (comedy) -- Four single guys living in an apartment complex unexpectedly bond over “their many missteps in love.” Tony Shalhoub (Monk) and Jerry O’Connell (The Defenders) head the cast.

Hostages (drama) -- Toni Collette (United States of Tara) stars as an elite surgeon who’s “thrust into a chilling political conspiracy” when her family is taken hostage by a renegade FBI agent played by Dylan McDermott (The Practice). Further complicating her life, Collette’s character is ordered to assassinate the president of the United States while operating on him. Jerry Bruckheimer (the CSI franchise) is executive producer.

Here is the new fall schedule announced by CBS:

How I Met Your Mother
We Are Men
2 Broke Girls

NCIS: Los Angeles
Person of Interest

Criminal Minds
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

The Big Bang Theory
The Millers
The Crazy Ones
Two and a Half Men

Undercover Boss
Hawaii Five-0
Blue Bloods

Comedytime Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours

60 Minutes
The Amazing Race
The Good Wife
The Mentalist

CBS has three new midseason series in waiting, including a high-tech thriller that will replace Hostages on Monday nights after its shorter run series finale in January. The tack is similar to ABC’s aggressive plan to offer some of its returning serial dramas in two uninterrupted 12-episode chunks bridged by special events and limited series.

Here are the three midseason entries:

Intelligence (drama) -- Lost star Josh Holloway returns to action as a high-tech intelligence dude with a super-computer microchip in his noggin. This makes him the “first human ever to be connected directly into the worldwide information grid and have complete access to Internet, WiFi, telephone and satellite data,” says CBS. Yeah, but is he a good tweeter? Another familiar TV face, Marg Helgenberger from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, also is back in play as our hero’s boss lady.

Reckless (drama) -- A beauteous Yankee litigator and a charismatic Southern attorney must keep their “intense mutual attraction” under wraps while a police sex scandal potentially tears Charleston, S.C. apart. Relative unknowns Anna Wood and Cam Gigandet play the principals, with help from Gregory Harrison (Trapper John, M.D.) as a former father-in-law who’s still a powerbroker.

Friends with Better Lives (comedy) -- Six pals are in different stages. All are outwardly content but also wondering if their friends are even happier. James Van Der Beek, back from playing himself on ABC’s canceled Don’t Trust the B -- In Apartment 23, is the best known member of the ensemble cast.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC makes Dancing a one-step while otherwise crowding its fall schedule with eight new series


Marvel’s New Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D will take on NCIS this fall. ABC photo

Struggling ABC will go into battle this fall with more freshman series than any other rival -- including an all-new Tuesday night -- and a one-step Dancing with the Stars airing only on Mondays.

The No. 4 network in the key 18-to-49 demographic is making room by canceling a flotilla of series. The casualties, most of them previously announced, include Body of Proof, Red Widow, Malibu Country, Happy Endings, Family Tools, How to Live with Your Parents (For the rest of Your Life), Last Resort, 666 Park Avenue, Zero Hour, Private Practice and Don’t Trust the B -- In Apartment 23.

The new season’s stand-alone DWTS, with both performances and results on the same night, possibly could still have a viewer vote-in component, ABC entertainment president Paul Lee said Tuesday in a teleconference with TV writers. Ratings sagged badly this season while viewership continued to skew beyond the advertiser-prized 18-to-49 age range.

Lee said he hoped that a condensed DWTS will “build a sense of occasion.” ABC also is determined to find ways to “help us age it down” he said.

With DWTS out of the picture, the network’s all-new Tuesday night lineup will start off with Marvel’s New Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, a spinoff of The Avengers movie helmed by fave rave sci-fi producer Josh Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Firefly). It will have super-stiff competition opposite CBS’ NCIS, this season’s most popular scripted series.

Thursday night’s leadoff hitter, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, is a spinoff of ABC’s Once Upon a Time. It joins returnees Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal on what Lee called “a powerful night of empowered women.”

ABC also announced five midseason series, including Killer Women. Publicity materials say it stars Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) as “ballsy, badass” Molly Parker, the only woman on the Texas Rangers law enforcement team. Still, for some reason the title is plural.

Lee said the network plans to air some of its established serial dramas in separate blocs of 12 episodes to avoid interruptive repeats. Candidates for this treatment are Grey’s, Once Upon a Time, Revenge and Scandal, with limited-run series (mostly to be announced later) bridging the gaps.

Here are ABC’s eight fall newcomers:

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (drama) -- Clark Gregg resumes his role of Agent Phil Coulson from last year’s The Avengers, which was directed by Whedon. His new team, comprised of largely unknown actors, will “investigate the new, the strange and the unknown around the globe.”

Lucky 7 (drama) -- A group of Astoria, Queens gas station employees finally hits a lottery jackpot after chipping in together for months. So now what’ll they do? Isiah Whitlock, Jr. from The Wire tops the cast.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (drama) -- John Lithgow plays the White Rabbit and Sophie Lowe (Beautiful Kate) is Alice. They join other famed characters in “a tumble down the rabbit hole to this Wonderland where nothing is impossible.”

Betrayal (drama) -- A photographer and an attorney, both married, fall instantly in love before finding themselves on opposite ends of a high profile murder investigation. Starring Hannah Ware (Boss) and Stuart Townsend (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), with old reliable James Cromwell chipping in.

The Goldbergs (comedy) -- Set in the 1980s, this one’s about “a loving family like any other, just with a lot more yelling.” Co-stars Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and George Segal are the best-known of the ensemble group.

Super Fun Night (comedy) -- Three female best friends have a standing date night every Friday until some inevitable sitcom “monkey wrenches” intrude. The three principals are played by Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids), Lauren Ash (Lars and the Real Girl) and Liza Lapira from ABC’s axed Don’t Trust the B -- in Apartment 23.

Trophy Wife (comedy) -- Bradley Whitford of The West Wing fame plays the third husband of a “reformed party girl” named Kate (Malin Akerman of Suburgatory). Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins also are in the mix as the Whitford character’s ex-wives.

Back in the Game (comedy) -- An up-against-it single mom and her son move in with her cantankerous, estranged father, played by James Caan. His nickname is “The Cannon,” which likely rules out subtlety. Maggie Lawson (Psych) co-stars.

This is the fall schedule announced by ABC:

Dancing with the Stars

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Goldberg’s
Trophy Wife
Lucky 7

The Middle
Back in the Game
Modern Family
Super Fun Night

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
Grey’s Anatomy

Last Man Standing
The Neighbors
Shark Tank

Saturday Night College Football

America’s Funniest Home Videos
Once Upon a Time

Here are the five midseason series announced by ABC:

Killer Women (drama) -- We’ve pretty much been over this one, but it’s always fun to write “ballsy, badass” again. Which is the network’s eye-catching description of Molly Parker (Tricia Helfer), the only female Texas Ranger amid men who want to see her fail.

Mind Games (drama) -- Steve Zahn (Treme) and the well-traveled Christian Slater (three prime-time series flops in a row) star as brothers running a “unique agency committed to solving clients’ problems using the hard science of psychological manipulation.”

Resurrection (drama) -- Deceased loved ones walk anew, puzzling the citizenry of Arcadia Missouri. Principal among them is an eight-year-old boy who wakes up alone in a rural China rice paddy with no idea of how he got there. He then returns to his hometown of Arcadia, whose denizens include veteran actors Omar Epps (House), Kurtwood Smith (That ‘70s Show) and Frances Fisher.

Mixology (comedy) -- A recently dumped dude named Tom (Blake Lee/Parks and Recreation) is tossed “back into the dating pool, whether he likes it or not.”

The Quest (reality) -- A dozen “lucky” contestants embark on the journey of a lifetime upon entering “the world of Everealm.” It’s billed as “a land of magic and malevolence, where mythical creatures lurk in the woods, agents of darkness stir in the shadows and mystical beings infiltrate the keep.” The keep? ABC leaves it at that.

The network also has ordered Toy Story of Terror, a special from the makers of the blockbuster Toy Story films. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen actually are lending their voices, which makes this much more enticing than if it were Scott Baio and Joey Lawrence in a typical TV markdown.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's fall lineup announcements overshadowed by Jack Bauer's return next summer

Brooklyn99_2shotFF SHsh_03-tom-gray_0459_kva1

Andy Samberg, and Andre Braugher front new comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine while Sleepy Hollow stars newcomer Tom Mison. Fox photos

Knocked off its perch as No. 1 with 18-to-49-year-olds after an eight-season run, Fox will re-load in the fall with three new comedies, two new dramas and another Gordon Ramsay spinoff.

But the network’s biggest announcement Monday morning won’t be a reality until after the 2013-14 TV season is history. Set to premiere in the summer of 2014 is a new 12-episode edition of 24, with star Kiefer Sutherland back as Jack Bauer after his Touch series was canceled. 24: Live Another Day again will occur in “real time,” but some hours will be skipped, says Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly.

Fox also is dropping The Cleveland Show, but its creator, Seth MacFarlane, is getting his first live-action series as compensation. Preciously announced cancelations include Ben and Kate, Fringe and The Mob Doctor. Two of this season’s newcomers, The Mindy Project and The Following, have been invited back. But the latter serial killer drama again won’t return until midseason.

The network also is planning a 2014 “Event Series” titled Wayward Pines. Starring Matt Dillon, it’s adapted from the novel Pines by Blake Crouch and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, who’s had a string of box office failures after the huge success of The Sixth Sense and lesser hits such as Unbreakable and Signs.

Fox’s most star-driven fall newcomer is a comedy fronted by Saturday Night Live alum Andy Samberg and the venerable Andre Braugher. And the network has Greg Kinnear tabbed for a midseason drama. A Season 3 episode of New Girl will get the post-Super Bowl slot next February, along with a new comedy to be named later.

Here are the six fall newcomers:

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (comedy) -- Samberg and Braugher respectively play a “talented, but carefree” detective and an authoritarian new commanding officer intent on reining him in. Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) also is on hand as a police sergeant with twin daughters named Cagney and Lacey.

Dads (comedy) -- MacFarlane is executive producer of this dysfunctional family sitcom starring Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as co-founders of a video game company whose cantankerous fathers (played by Martin Mull and Peter Riegert) suddenly move in with them.

Enlisted (comedy) -- Fox describes this as “an irreverent but heartfelt” outing centered on three brothers stationed at a small Florida Army base. Together they’re “not quite good enough to be sent overseas, yet not bad enough to be kicked out.” Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell and Derrick Hill star.

Sleepy Hollow (drama) -- Fox begins by asking this question: “What if you suddenly woke up from the throes of death 250 years in the future to find the world is on the brink of destruction, caused by unimaginable events, and you are humanity’s last hope?” Of course, Fox could just as easily ask, “What if you saw ABC having some success with Once Upon A Time and decided you wanted a piece of that?” Tom Mison (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) stars as the reborn Ichabod Crane.

Almost Human (drama) -- J.J. Abrams (Lost, Fringe, Revolution) is behind another bizarro hour. This one originates 35 years into the future, where human police officers are partnered with human-like androids. Friday Night Lights alum Minka Kelly, back in the game after a stint in ABC’s short-lived remake of Charlie’s Angels, is the most familiar TV face.

Junior Masterchef (reality) -- Kids from eight to 13 dive into the culinary arts. Ramsay, restaurateur/winemaker Joe Bastianich and chef Graham Elliot are the judges. Ramsay presumably won’t curse the kiddoes too much.

This is the fall (and “late fall”) schedule announced by Fox:

Bones (fall), Almost Human (late fall)
Sleepy Hollow

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
New Girl
The Mindy Project

The X Factor

The X Factor

Junior Masterchef (fall), Bones (late fall)
Sleepy Hollow encores (fall), Raising Hope/Enlisted (late fall)

Fox Sports Saturday

The OT
The Simpsons
Bob’s Burgers
Family Guy
American Dad

Here are Fox’s announced midseason shows:

Rake (drama) -- Adapted from an Australian hit series, it starts Greg Kinnear as a divorced criminal defense lawyer whose life is a combination of chaos and comedy.

Gang Related (drama) -- A former gang member joins the L.A. police force. The series supposedly explores “how every villain has a noble cause and every hero has a dark side.”

Murder Police (comedy) -- The cop show genre in cartoon form, with voices behind the camera including Chi McBride, Will Sasso and Jane Lynch.

Surviving Jack (comedy) -- Law & Order: SVU alum Christopher Meloni plays the title character in this adaptation of Justin Halpern’s autobiographical book I Suck at Girls. It’s set in 1990s California.

Us & Them (comedy) -- Fox describes it as “an outrageous but authentic” laugher about “a pair of young lovers whose path to happily-ever-after is complicated by the screwed-up circus of people closest to them.” Jason Ritter (The Event) and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm In the Middle) are among the stars.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC rebuilds Thursdays, accentuates star power in new fall schedule

NUP_154886_1967 NUP_155255_4406

Michael J. Fox as news anchor; Dracula star Jonathan Rhys Meyers. NBC photos

Returning to the network where he emerged as a major star more than 30 years ago, Michael J. Fox is the big ticket item on a new NBC prime-time lineup laden with fellow familiar TV faces.

Fourth in total viewers and No. 3 among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, the Peacock is adding three new comedies and a like number of dramas this fall while saving 11 more series for later debuts. Besides Fox, autumn includes new vehicles for Sean Hayes, James Spader, Blair Underwood and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

In late night news, NBC also announced, as expected, that Saturday Night Live mainstay Seth Meyers will take over for Jimmy Fallon early next year when Fallon replaces Jay Leno as host of the still No. 1 Tonight Show.

NBC had surged to the top last fall among 18-to-49-year-olds, largely on the strength of Sunday Night Football and The Voice. But without the NFL and during an extended layoff for The Voice, the network plunged into a ratings free fall.

The four comedies NBC introduced last fall -- Go On, The New Normal, Guys with Kids and Animal Practice -- have all been canceled. Other casualties include Whitney, Up All Night, Rock Center with Brian Williams, 30 Rock, 1600 Penn, Deception, Do No Harm, Smash, Ready For Love, Fashion Star and The Office, which as previously announced will end its long run with a Thursday, May 16th finale.

The fates of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice and Hannibal will be announced in “the next few weeks,” NBC says. Community, although renewed for a fifth season, does not yet have a spot on either NBC’s fall or midseason schedule.

Only two of the current season’s freshmen series, Revolution and Chicago Fire, are officially graduating to sophomore years. Thursdays, not that long ago an impregnable stronghold for NBC, will house all three new fall comedies, a transplanted Parenthood and returnee Parks and Recreation in the leadoff spot.

Here are the six fall newcomers:

The Michael J. Fox Show (comedy) -- Fox’s Family Ties, launched in fall 1982, became a Thursday night powerhouse for NBC after being slotted behind The Cosby Show two seasons later. Now he’s back on that night as New York news anchor Mike Henry, who had left the business for five years to spend more time with his family while undergoing treatment for Parkinson’s Disease (which Fox has in real life). The boss who coaxes him back onto the air is played by Wendell Pierce of Treme and The Wire.

Sean Saves the World (comedy) -- Sean Hayes, who also came to fame on Thursdays as the scene-stealing second banana on Will & Grace, will be back in those surroundings as the Fox show’s lead-in. He plays a divorced gay dad whose teen daughter moves in with him and gives the old topsy turvy to both his personal and professional life. The requisite “pushy” mom is played by Linda Lavin of Alice fame.

Welcome to the Family (comedy) -- It’s a cross-cultural collision course when the parents of a budding college student learn she’s pregnant. The teen father, who’s Hispanic, gets this news via a text message while delivering his high school’s valedictorian speech. “What follows is a crash course in cultural blending,” says NBC. Stars include Mike O’Malley (Glee), Richard Chavira (Desperate Housewives) and Mary McComack (In Plain Sight).

Ironside (drama) -- Having struck out with recent “re-imagined” re-dos of Knight Rider and Bionic Woman, NBC takes another shot with an update of this old Raymond Burr crime-stopper. Blair Underwood (L.A. Law, In Treatment) is tough guy Robert Ironside, whose wheelchair won’t stop him from solving New York’s “most difficult and notorious crimes.” He has help from a “handpicked team of specialists” who’d better “stay on their toes.” Because that’s the way gruff, demanding Ironside rolls.

Dracula (drama) -- Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who had a distinctive run as Henry VIII on Showtime’s The Tudors, is the latest to have a go at the world’s most famous fictional blood-sucker. The series is set in late 19th century London, with Dracula posing as an American entrepreneur intent on introducing modern science to Victorian society. He sill can’t withstand the sun, though.

The Blacklist (drama) -- James Spader (Boston Legal, The Office) is quickly back in business as the star of NBC’s answer to Homeland. He plays “Concierge of Crime” Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former government agent turned fugitive who offers to help apprehend the world’s most-wanted terrorist. Just one catch: he’ll only collaborate with FBI newcomer Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (Megan Boone). Hmm, what’s his real game? And might she have some deep, dark secrets of her own?

This is the fall schedule announced by NBC:

The Voice
The Blacklist

The Biggest Loser
The Voice
Chicago Fire

Law & Order: SVU

Parks and Recreation
Welcome to the Family
Sean Saves the World
The Michael J. Fox Show

Dateline NBC


Football Night in America
Sunday Night Football

Hoping to capitalize on the “promotional platform” provided by the Winter Olympics, NBC plans to launch six more new series in midseason. Since schedules are subject to change -- and most definitely will -- we’ll just give you the rundowns of the Peacock’s post-Olympics half-dozen.

About A Boy (comedy) -- Drawn from the Nick Hornby novel and the 2002 Hugh Grant movie, it stars David Walton (Bent) as man-child Will Freeman, who’s independently wealthy after writing a big hit song. But then a single mom named Fiona (Minnie Driver) moves next door with her “oddly charming” 11-year-old son Marcus (Benjamin Stockham). Complications ensue.

The Family Guide (comedy) -- J.K. Simmons (instantly rebounding from ABC’s almost instantly canceled Family Tools) plays a soon-to-be-divorced blind man whose wife, Joyce (Parker Posey), is a free spirit who smokes a pipe. Jason Bateman also stars, off-camera, as the adult narrative voice of their 11-year-old son, Henry (Eli Baker).

Crossbones (drama) -- Avast mateys, it’s 1715 on the Bahamian island of New Providence, where the sinister pirate Blackbeard (John Malkovich) rules over a “rogue nation of thieves, outlaws and miscreant sailors.” An assassin is hired to take him out, but that turns out to be not so easy.

Believe (drama) -- An orphaned girl named Bo (Johnny Sequoyah) is raised by a small group known as the “True Believers.” Therefore she can levitate, control nature and even make uncanny predictions. Co-stars include Kyle MacLachlan and Delroy Lindo.

Crisis (drama) -- The children of D.C.’s elite are on a field trip when their bus is hijacked by a “vengeful mastermind.” So how far will their powerful parents go to gain their release? Starring are Dermot Mulroney and Gillian Anderson, who’s returning to series TV for the first time since The X-Files.

American Dream Builders (reality) -- Nate Berkus hosts a competition among designers, builders, architects and landscapers. Their challenges are “extreme home renovations.” Hasn’t this already been done before?

Two more new dramas -- Chicago PD, The Night Shift -- a comedy (Undateable and a pair of reality series (Food Fighters, The Million Second Quiz) have been ordered by NBC but don’t have homes yet in either the fall or midseason.

And that’s a wrap.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Lame duck Leno just keeps winning. How do we know? His network tells us so


Hey kids, is there even a slight chance this could happen all over again?

You know, a second pullback at some point from a premature evacuation of Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show.

Just wondering in light of a Thursday NBC publicity release headlined, “Jay Leno Delivers Dominant Wins Over Late Show and Kimmel for the week of April 29-May 3.” That’s not only in total viewers. It’s also among the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds that Leno’s announced replacement, Jimmy Fallon, supposedly will entrance when he takes over The Tonight Show after next year’s Winter Olympic games.

This wasn’t just a throwaway release. This was four pages worth of detailed ratings information from the late night terrain -- both broadcast and cable. And it paints a picture of a ratings giant -- that would be Leno -- who only seems to be getting stronger despite little if any help on most nights from NBC’s little-watched 9 p.m. (central) entertainment programming.

Here’s a telling paragraph from NBC’s numbers crunchers: “Jay has now accumulated bigger 18-to-49 audiences than (David Letterman’s) Late Show for the last 24 weeks in a row and topped Kimmel for 15 of their 17 head-to-head weeks. In total viewers, Jay has out-delivered Late Show for 28 weeks in a row and Kimmel for 17 of 17 weeks.”

It’s almost as if Leno himself were writing this material -- and not the network that plans to toss him a second time. Basically, NBC is putting out information that also could be headlined, “Our Guy Remains the Undisputed Heavyweight Champ, But We’re Still Dumb Enough to Throw Him Out of the Ring Anyway -- Just Like Last Time.”

In the latest ratings week, Leno’s Tonight averaged 3.4 million viewers according to the Nielsen Media Research numbers cited by NBC. Letterman ran second with 2.8 million viewers followed by Jimmy Kimmel’s 2.5 million.

Among 18-to-49-year-olds, Leno had 1.039 million, with Kimmel at 820,000 and Letterman with 760,000. NBC says it was Leno’s biggest margin over Kimmel in three weeks.

Interestingly, Leno also had more 18-to-49-year-olds watching him last week than Comedy Central’s The Daily Show (889,000) and The Colbert Report (762,000) and TBS’ Conan (508,000). All of the late-nighters were in first-run mode, save for a Friday Kimmel repeat, during the first full week of the May “sweeps,” which began on April 25th.

Leno just turned 63, with only Letterman an older guy in this universe. Fallon is 38, young enough to be Leno’s son. But he’s still pretty green as a talk show host, with just a little over four years under his belt. During that time, Fallon has excelled in impromptu bits with big-name talent that quickly go “viral” on youtube and elsewhere. But his monologues are still brief and, all in all, pretty lousy. And that’s Leno’s strength in the key keep-‘em-in-the-tent early stages of any late night talk show.

So what if Leno maintains his dominance -- or even builds on it as the date of his ouster draws nearer? Improbable as it sounds, could NBC get another case of the yips?

Whatever happens, Leno currently is showing that he’s still marketable if he chooses to set sail on another network. Fox came close to signing Conan O’Brien, but in the end couldn’t close the deal with some of its most important affiliate stations. Would Leno be seen as a more proven quantity, with perhaps five more years left in the tank?

Or is it even remotely possible that CBS would turn to Leno, keep his show in L.A. and put Letterman, 66, out to pasture after years of losing to Leno? Stranger things have happened in late night. And the way Leno is performing, they might just keep happening.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO's Family Tree: a sturdy oak of a comedy


Chris O’Dowd, Nina Conti & cheeky monkey of Family Tree. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, May 12th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Nina Conti, Tom Bennett, Michael McKean, Lisa Palfrey, Jim Piddock
Produced by: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock

He’s the king of the feature film “mockumentary,” with credits including This Is Spinal Tap, Best of Show and A Mighty Wind. Now Christopher Guest deftly down-shifts to the small-screen for the half-hour comedy Family Tree

Then again, “It’s Not TV, it’s HBO,” gone but not forgotten after being used for 13 years until 2009. As the director of all eight Season 1 episodes, Guest has fashioned a distinctly unique premise while also latching onto the core storyline of Jodie Foster’s 2011 film The Beaver. That’s the one where Mel Gibson played a depressed man who began communicating via a hand puppet after his wife tossed him out.

In this case, though, be our guest and filch a little. Because Family Tree (premiering Sunday, May 12th at 9:30 p.m. central) has so much else going for it beyond the acerbic stuffed monkey long used by the central character’s sister as her “inner voice.” Even though the unnamed imp of an ape is quite the scene-stealer.

OK, let’s further explain. Thirty-year-old Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd) is a jobless British bloke whose longtime girlfriend sacked him half a year ago. In the first episode’s establishing scene, Tom, sister Bea (real-life ventriloquist Nina Conti) and her monkey (carefully strapped in a car seat) are heading to their father Keith’s (Michael McKean) house after he summons them.

Tom’s and Bea’s great aunt Victoria has recently died, they learn. And she left him a musty old box filled with family artifacts. These include a framed picture of an imposing bearded man in uniform who possibly might be Tom’s great grandfather, Harry Chadwick. Having little better to do, he pays a visit to friendly Glenn Pfister (co-executive producer Jim Piddock), owner of Pfister’s Bits & Bobs. And so the detective work begins, with Tom hoping to discover that his ancestors amounted to something more than he’s been so far.

Along on some of their jaunts is Tom’s best friend, Pete Stupples (Tom Bennett), a doofus live wire who works in a zoo and enjoys setting up blind dates that never work out. Four episodes were sent for review, and the second is flat-out hilarious. Subtitled “Treading the Boards,” it discloses the true identity of Tom’s great grandfather in a manner that few but Guest could both envision and pull off.

The first half of Family Tree is set in the U.K., with Episodes 5 through 8 migrating to the United States after Tom discovers more about his ancestors. HBO publicity materials say that “many of the actors on the show who are already known to viewers from Guest’s feature films” will pop up in the second batch of half-hours.

It’d be a shame, though, to lose the other Chadwicks -- let alone Pete -- in the trip across the pond. McKean, a veteran of Guest’s feature films, is a big and very funny part of these proceedings, particularly when he’s loudly enjoying fake British TV series DVDs. (Tom and Pete prefer TV drama series, with a truly inspired sendup coming in Episode 4.)

McKean’s character also has a latter day Polish wife named Luba (Lisa Palfrey), whose cooking, diction and odd tastes are sprinkled into the first three episodes before being poured on in Episode 4.

Finally, let’s not forget Bea and her monkey, whose steady stream of insult-laced truth-telling invariably is not well-received by its targets. At the very least, they have to be presenters at this year’s prime-time Emmy ceremony. That surely would be memorable, even if Oscar host Seth MacFarlane recently set that stage by mouthing Ted the stuffed bear from his hit comedy movie Ted.

Family Tree may have too generic a title, but there’s otherwise nothing commonplace here. Potentially the best new comedy series of this season arrives on the eve of the Big Four broadcast networks trotting out their latest fall schedules after another season-long batch of sitcom clinkers.

“This is not a show that would work on a traditional network. HBO is the perfect place for it,” Guest says in the accompanying HBO materials.

That may be a little self-serving on HBO’s part, even though it almost goes without saying in contemporary TV times. Family Tree is sturdily planted on a network that knows enough to let Guest go out on a limb without sawing any of them off from out under him.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The address is CBS -- even for prime-time's most-courted viewers

JonnyLeeMiller_101969_SHOT_18_0057b 103250_D0462b

Jonny Lee Miller & Mark Harmon of Elementary & NCIS. CBS photos

George H.W. Bush was president, Joan Lunden still co-hosted Good Morning America and David Letterman continued to fester at NBC the last time this happened.

It was the close of the 1991-’92 television season, and CBS had just emerged as No. 1 in prime-time among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds. Now that’s going to happen again after decades of jokes about skewing north of Forest Lawn and being America’s most-watched network in nursing homes (which it probably still is).

Fox’s eight-season winning streak in the key 18-to-49 demographic will come to an end when the 2012-’13 season officially concludes on Wednesday, May 22nd. Before that, ABC and NBC traded firsts. But as of the ratings week ending April 28th, CBS has an insurmountable lead of 3.7 million to 3.2 million over Fox, with NBC (3 million) and ABC (2.8 million) likewise out of contention.

CBS as usual will win in the total viewers margin, although this time it’s a mega-rout. The network is averaging 12 million viewers in the season-to-date averages, followed by ABC (7.8 million), Fox (7.1 million) and NBC (7 million).

Back in ’91’92, CBS’ top 20-rated prime-time shows were 60 Minutes, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, Murder, She Wrote, Major Dad, the CBS Sunday Night Movie, Evening Shade and Northern Exposure.

In the ongoing season, its big hitters include NCIS and its L.A. spinoff, The Big Bang Theory, Person of Interest, Elementary, Two and a Half Men, Blue Bloods, the latest editions of Survivor and again, 60 Minutes.

It’s true that CBS still has a far lower percentage of 18-to-49-year-olds than any of its rivals. But there’s power in tonnage. And NCIS’ overall haul of 17.3 million viewers for its April 23rd episode included 3.6 million in the 18-to-49 age range. Fox’s American Idol drew 4.1 million 18-to-49-year-olds last week for its Wednesday performance show and 3.5 million for the Thursday results edition. That’s close to being a wash, with Idol continuing to trend downward. And who would have ever thought that NCIS basically would reach parity with Idol on the 18-to-49 scorecard while blowing it out in the total viewer Nielsens. (Idol’s totals were 12.4 million and 11.4 million last week.)

CBS otherwise punishes Idol on a weekly basis whenever a new episode of its biggest 18-to-49 performer, Big Bang Theory, competes with the first half-hour of Idol’s Thursday results show. Last week, Big Bang had 5.7 million viewers in this age range.

Prime-time’s most popular network, now by any important measurement, still suffers from a lack of buzz-worthy shows. Big Bang and The Good Wife garner some attention. But far more blog blab is devoted to dissecting episodes of NBC’s Community or Parks & Recreation while fretting whether either little-watched comedy will return next season. Both are deemed to be cooler, smarter shows than a flabby old episode of CBS’ Blue Bloods, which last week ranked 14th in prime-time with 10.5 million viewers despite its Friday habitat. (Only Saturday is a lower TV viewing night.)

CBS’ seemingly never-ending string of successful “procedural” crime shows is not an optimum way to attract attention from TV critics, including this one. Still, attention should be paid -- at least now and then -- to the lone Big 4 broadcast network that continues to laugh in the face of its myriad cable competitors. CBS is still making the old broadcast model work -- and without three or more hours worth of “reality” competition shows each week. Think of where NBC, ABC and Fox would be this season without The Voice, Dancing with the Stars and even a declining Idol.

The Big Four broadcast networks -- and little CW -- all will announce their new fall schedules the week of May 13th. And CBS has “problems” its rivals would all love to have. Three of its “on the bubble” crime dramas -- CSI: NY, Vegas and Golden Boy -- still have total viewer ratings that would make them top-of-the-rung hits in the ABC, NBC or Fox lineups. Still, you’ve gotta keep replenishing the inventory.

Whatever its scheduling decisions, CBS will march into next season as the No. 1 network among 18-to-49-year-olds for the first time in 21 years. So save the Depends jokes for the also-rans while CBS celebrates by trading in some of its old Buicks for a few skateboards.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

IFC's Maron: morose without remorse -- and quite funny, too


Marc Maron in his element -- a garage-based podcast. IFC photo

Premiering; Friday, May 3rd at 9 p.m. (central) on IFC
Starring: Marc Maron
Produced by: Marc Maron, Denis Leary, Jim Serpico, Olivia Wingate, Dunan Birmingham

Here’s a man who’s accomplished the seemingly impossible -- making Lewis Black seem upbeat and Larry David positively cheery.

He’s Marc Maron, real-life host of the podcast WTF with Marc Maron and star sour ball of IFC’s darkly amusing Maron. Its 10-episode Season One launches Friday, May 3rd, with the network describing it as a “fictionalized version of Marc’s life.” Probably not that fictionalized, though.

The first three half-hour episodes were made available for review, and each has a prominent male guest star. It’s Dave Foley in Episode 1 (subtitled “Internet Troll”), Denis Leary in “Dead Possum” and Judd Hirsch in “Marc’s Dad,” which also features appearances by Jeff Garlin and Andy Kindler as themselves.

Maron, who logged more than 40 appearances on NBC’s old Late Night with Conan O’Brien, remains a living room, bedroom and guest bathroom shy of becoming a household name. But he does have a gloomily lit garage, from where his podcasts originate.

Maron otherwise chronicles his misadventures, which in Friday’s premiere include a defecating cat with a stomach virus and an embarrassing in-person confrontation with a tweeter dubbed Dragonmaster, who delights in ridiculing him with slayers such as “Marc Maron is sad and draining with his soul-sucking jokes.”

Foley, who plays himself, is always game for just about anything. In “Internet Troll,” he’s A-OK with peeing behind a Glendale, CA dumpster. Even Maron is disgusted.

Leary, a co-executive producer of the show, drops in near the start of Episode 2 to ask Maron on his podcast, “How’s your self-esteem?”

“It’s OK. I hate myself,” Leary’s told before warning Maron he’s courting a “massive heart attack from pent-up anger.” The two of them then discover a bad smell afflicting Maron’s house. It turns out to be a dead possum in a crawl space. Will Maron, assisted by a kid named Kyle (Josh Brener) who idolizes him, find the fortitude to get in there and remove it? Hah!

Maron’s divorced parents, Larry and Toni, are played by Hirsch and Sally Kellerman. She’s briefly seen making him miserable in Episode 2 and he’s a much bigger part of Episode 3 after pulling up unannounced in an RV in hopes of persuading his estranged son to invest in a new vitamin line called “Maron’s Mix.”

Hirsch is in terrific form here, whether belittling Marc’s visions of podcast glory or hearing his son tell him how rotten their family vacations were. That’s because dad was manic in planning them but depressive while taking them. (“Going whitewater rafting with a crying man is no fun for a kid.”)

Maron, 49, seems to be effortlessly gliding through his angst, laughing only rarely while giving viewers far more reason to do so. One of the show’s beauties is its namesake saying matter-of-factly, “It’s easy to maintain your integrity when no one else is offering to buy it out.”

Marc Maron may not have that problem for too much longer. He’ll probably never be wildly famous, which likely wouldn’t please him anyway. But Maron should put him more firmly on the map as a seriously funny guy who takes in stray cats but swears off dogs because they’re “too needy.”

Take it from him, “If there’s gonna be somebody crying and panting in my house, it’s gonna be me.” Meow to all that.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Lifetime's Dear Mom, Love Cher sings an old sweet song -- with Georgia on its mind

dmlc1 cher_4757_chermom_f5lowres

Then and now: Cher with her mom, Georgia Holt. Lifetime photos

Cher is not reluctant to put her own name in the title for TV tributes to others, as she doubly did for 1998’s Sonny & Me: Cher Remembers.

Even so, Dear Mom, Love Cher provides ample room for 86-year-old Georgia Holt, who had the then Cherilyn Sarkisian by the first of her six husbands, John Sarkisian. The one-hour documentary film, which is consistently interesting and revelatory, premieres Monday, May 6th at 9 p.m. (central) on Lifetime.

Cher is Cher, though. So the film’s first words are from an off-camera woman who trumpets, “Ladies and gentlemen, the one, the only -- Cher!”

Cher, 66, and her 61-year-old kid sister, Georganne LaPiere Bartylak (from Georgia’s third marriage to John Southall), are soon seen on a couch together in a collective convivial mood. Cher occasionally interjects, telling Georgia at one point, “I think we can walk the narrow razor of white trash only so long.” All three then laugh uproariously.

Georgia, who double-dipped with two marriages to two of her six husbands, once had a budding acting/singing career that never quite jelled amid the chaos of her recurring man trouble. She was born Jackie Jean Crouch on June 9, 1926 in Kensett, Arkansas. Dad was 21 at the time. But her mother, Lynda, was just 13.

“I’m a child that’s never grown up because I never got to be a child,” Georgia says. She’s still very much a looker with a trim figure and sporting a piled high platinum blonde wig. Numerous adjustments also have been made to Cher, of course. But that’s off-topic in the swiftly moving Dear Mom, Love Cher, which easily could have used another hour.

The archival film and black-and-white still photos are terrific throughout, with mom telling tales about her friendship with Lucille Ball, the crush Ozzie Nelson seemed to have on her and how close she came to aborting Cher rather than returning to a miserable marriage. Georgia got as far as a clinic before deciding she couldn’t go through with it. “So that’s how you’re here,” she tells Cher.

Georgia also recalls the time she was almost cast in the movie The Asphalt Jungle. But at the last minute, the role went to an unknown named Marilyn Monroe.

In 1981, while dating a man 20 years her junior -- Craig Spencer -- she resurrected her singing career at his prompting and recorded a country-western album with former members of the late Elvis Presley’s band. But it was never released until tapes were recently discovered in her garage. As of Tuesday this week, Honky Tonk Woman at last is a reality. It also includes a duet with Cher, “I’m Just Your Yesterday,” recorded in 2011. The film fleetingly showcases Georgia’s still resonant singing voice.

“It happened just as it was supposed to,” she says during a current-day conversation with Craig Spencer. They hold hands and seem to be in throes of a perfect Hollywood ending, even though Georgia has never married him.

Dear Mom, Love Cher is both a pleasant and evocative way to spend an hour. Once upon a time -- and seemingly all the time -- Georgia and her pre-teen daughters always seemed to be dirt broke. But they made something out of near-nothing, with Cher a household name, Georganne a successful realtor after an acting career in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and Georgia re-blossoming rather than withering on a vine.

Her grandchildren by Cher -- Chaz Bono and Elijah Blue Allman -- also appear briefly in the film. “She’s always accepted me,” says Chaz, whose gender transition has drawn more public attention than his mom in recent years.

Many viewers might be left wanting more after this very watchable film breezes by. That’s the Old Hollywood way, and Dear Mom, Love Cher makes a virtue of it.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net