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Pelley slides over to a full-time position with 60 Minutes -- but not smoothly


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After a six-year run as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley is walking the plank -- to a full-time position at 60 Minutes.

The former WFAA-TV/KXAS-TV reporter is not thrilled, despite all the niceties in Wednesday afternoon’s CBS publicity release, which makes it official after the news had leaked out earlier.

“I find my heart filled with gratitude for the opportunity to know you, humility in light of your sacrifices, and hope for the future of journalism because of the standards you live by,” he says in a statement directed at his Evening News colleagues. “CBS has been great to me for nearly 30 years. I’m glad to accept this assignment with continuing gratitude.”

CBS notes that the still third-place Evening News “grew its audience in each of the first five seasons, the longest run of growth for any network evening news broadcast in the history of the modern ratings system.” But the audience stopped growing in the past year after Pelley took over on June 6, 2011, replacing Katie Couric. CBS journeyman Anthony Mason will replace Pelley “in the coming weeks” as the Evening News’ interim anchor while the network looks for a more permanent replacement.

Pelley joined 60 Minutes as a correspondent in 2004, and the ever-resilient program currently ranks among prime-time’s 10 most popular weekly attractions, according to Nielsen Media Research.

CBS News President David Rhodes, with whom Pelley reportedly had growing differences, said that the “milestone 50th season of 60 Minutes requires Scott’s full contribution, and we look forward to important reporting from him for many years to come.”

Pelley spent his last seven years in Dallas at WFAA before being recruited by CBS in 1989. His reporting skills were honed by the station’s late news director, Marty Haag.

“Everything that I learned from Marty Haag and (former assignments editor) Bert Shipp at WFAA are lessons I employ at the Evening News every day,” Pelley told unclebarky.com less than three months after becoming the Evening News anchor at age 54. “WFAA was the greatest training ground possible for a young correspondent. The traditions of news under Marty Haag were the highest that you will ever see. And that informed everything we did at WFAA.”

Pelley, a Lubbock, TX native who attended Texas Tech University but did not graduate, brought a no-nonsense demeanor to the Evening News. He was capable of half-smiles and occasional eye twinkles, but mostly positioned himself as a whole-grained purist compared to ABC’s dashing, fluff-prone David Muir and NBC’s Lester Holt, who still anchors NBC’s junk food news magazine program, Dateline.

The captain of the CBS News ship had no use for the opinion-laced journalism on cable’s Fox News Channel or MSNBC.

“I grew up in this business during a time when the values of CBS News were spread more widely throughout journalism in America,” Pelley said six years ago. “And it is just part of my DNA to drive stories right down the middle and to listen to all opinions. And after you’ve written the script, to ask yourself, ‘Have we been fair to everyone?’ It is literally the way I grew up as an individual, and it’s the only way I know how to do this.”

Pelley remains married to Jane Boone, whom he wed in 1983 while she worked for the competing KXAS-TV.

In a 1997 interview with your friendly content provider, Pelley spoke glowingly of being “married to a magnificent woman. And if it wasn’t for that, I would not be able to do this job. I’m on the road a great deal. And frequently, as a family, we have plans that are interrupted by a breaking news event.”

Pelley was on the road again, in Syria, when CBS News announced his new full-time assignment. Look for his successor to be peppier and more willing to take the fork in the road than trod the straight and narrow.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Oh Romeo, WTF? ABC gets dopey with Still Star-Crossed


Anthony Steward Head, Lashana Lynch are cast as a pair of Capulets. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, May 29th at 9 p.m. (central)
Starring: Lashana Lynch, Wade Briggs, Anthony Stewart Head, Ebonee Noel, Medalion Rahimi, Sterling Sulieman, Grant Bowler, Torrance Coombs, Dan Hildebrand
Produced by: Shonda Rimes, Heather Mitchell, Betsy Beers, Mark Wilding, Michael Goldstein, Michael Offer

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Rather than hitting her stride, Shonda Rimes is stumbling around lately in the role of ABC’s empress producer in residence.

The architect of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder recently flopped with The Catch, which is newly and officially canceled. Now comes Still Star-Crossed, a completely silly exercise set in the post-Romeo and Juliet town of Verona.

Although it’s been sitting around for a good long while, ABC has made only the premiere episode available for review. Otherwise it’s “O Star-Crossed, Star-Crossed, wherefore art thou, Star-Crossed?” Not that I’d actually want to see another one.

All of this is far closer to The CW’s Reign than HBO’s Game of Thrones, with the battles between leftover Montagues and Capulets raging anew after secretly wed Romeo and Juliet (the interracial pairing of guest stars Lucien Laviscount and Clara Rugaard) drink themselves to death without inspiring viewers to care in the least.

The leftover principal characters swirl around in search of both power and peace, speaking in proclamations ranging from “Yes, my son is dead because of the poison you gave that Capulet whore!” to “Wash the stink of the night off you!”

Some might recognize Anthony Stewart Head (formerly of Buffy the Vampire), who’s aged into the imperious and conniving Lord Silvestro Capulet. Otherwise it’s a cast of unknowns, headed by Lashana Lynch as Juliet’s cousin, Rosaline Capulet, and Wade Briggs in the role of Romeo’s cousin, Benvolio Montague.

You might otherwise say “Monta-who?” or “Where’s Francis Ford Capulet?” Members of the respectively warring families flit in and out without making any lasting impressions. Recurring sword fights otherwise fill out the first hour, none of them very bloody or well-executed.

Rimes’s serial soap playbook of course includes deep-held secrets, betrayals, coincidental eavesdropping and sexual longings. None of this seems likely to resonate, even if Star-Crossed’s various duplicities and infidelities are in keeping with the modus operandi of ABC’s preceding The Bachelorette.

Goofing on The Bachelorette at least can be a bit of fun. With Still Star-Crossed, you’re only likely to get tired head -- and in a hurry.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's Dirty Dancing tries to floor it on the final night of the May "sweeps"


Abigail Breslin/Colt Prattes are the new “Baby” & Johnny. ABC photo

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Announced and scrapped twice, ABC’s “re-imagined” Dirty Dancing finally slides into prime-time on the closing night of the May “sweeps” and on the heels of the network’s latest Dancing with the Stars season finale.

Then comes NBC’s new World of Dance, which steps out on Tuesday, May 30th before Fox’s long-running So You Think You Can Dance returns for Season 14 on June 12th. Can’t a ballroom catch a break?

Three decades ago, the Dirty Dancing feature film became a surprise monster hit and made international stars of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. CBS tried to turn it into a weekly series in the following year. But its Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Cassidy and Melora Hardin, became a wallflower after just 11 episodes. It also served as another rude awakening for McLean Stevenson (cast as summer resort owner Max Kellerman), who never recovered career-wise from his impulsive decision to leave M*A*S*H.

In the here and now, ABC’s Dirty Dancing has been bloated to a 2 hour, 10 minute running time (plus 50 minutes of commercials and promos) within its three-hour slot. The original was a half-hour shorter, and better for it.

Abigail Breslin is a notably chunkier Frances “Baby” Houseman in the new version while the basically unknown Colt Prattes steps in as sculpted Johnny Castle, the resort’s misunderstood, trouble-prone lead dancer.

Appreciably more familiar to audiences are Debra Messing and the ubiquitous Bruce Greenwood as Baby’s parents, Marjorie and Dr. Jake. They have a much bigger storyline here, with Jake’s rigidity and distaste for “vulgar” displays clashing with Marjorie’s longings to cut loose and have sex again after a year’s deprivation.

It’s odd, then, that the family car drive to Kellerman’s Lodge is a far looser affair, with Marjorie, Baby and her older sister, Lisa (an unconvincingly cast Sarah Hyland from Modern Family) breaking into “Big Girls Don’t Cry” before rather easily persuading Jake to join in. After that, though, he’s about as much fun as lumbago.

Onetime Woody Allen movie staple Tony Roberts is sprinkled in as Kellerman, although at age 77 he now eerily resembles Keith Richards. Billy Dee Williams has a few scenes as bandleader Tito Suarez while Katey Sagal gets more to do as the divorced and duplicitous Vivian Pressman, who’s well-practiced at luring Johnny to her lair.

Former Dancing with the Stars champ Nicole Schwerzinger (she won the 10th edition) plays the more prominent role of Johnny’s partner/lover, Penny Johnson. As the movie wears on, she proves to be rather amazingly understanding about Johnny’s growing interest in Baby.

There’s much singing and dancing, and just about everyone gets to do it, even Greenwood’s stolid Jake. He’s actually something of a revelation as a piano man/crooner, knocking out an affecting “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” after Marjorie at last lowers the boom.

Breslin and Prattes are more or less adequate in the pivotal lead roles, but certainly no match for the smoldering chemistry that Swayze and Grey displayed both on and off the dance floor. Prattes’ abs are more than a match for Swayze’s, though. As for Baby, well, let’s just say that Breslin’s physique is “different.”

The ABC remake bookends itself with New York City, circa 1975. A 30-year-old Baby is in the audience for a Broadway performance of Dirty Dancing: The Musical before she wistfully recalls her coming-of-age summer of 1963. After all of that plays out again, the film returns to 1975 for an epilogue that rather ham-handedly reconnects the two principals instead of letting things end with the original’s climactic group performance of “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” (an Oscar-winner for Best Original Song).

The new Dirty Dancing, cast with an eye toward diversity, ends up being neither disastrous or necessary. Still, it’s not as though ABC is daring to remake Citizen Kane or The Graduate. Some things should just be left alone, but Dirty Dancing wasn’t a classic of its time. It was an entertaining, energetic, unexpected commercial smash that 30 years later is getting a dusting off. Younger audiences experiencing Dirty Dancing for the first time might find this one fun to watch -- except for the extra screen time ABC devotes to the grownups and their tired, calcified marriage. Yuck!


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

What was that? It's Showtime for Twin Peaks


Kyle MacLachlan is more front & center than ever in new Twin Peaks. He can be seen in three guises in first four episodes. Showtime photo

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Well, that was really weird.

Well, why would it be otherwise?

Showtime’s continuation of Twin Peaks premiered Sunday night without any advance review opportunities and with a 2-hour chunk before the premium pay network made the next two episodes available On Demand and on its streaming site.

I succumbed to all of them as someone who had the highest regard for this series when it first hit ABC on April 8, 1990. Veteran fetishist David Lynch, who is directing all 18 new episodes and also co-writing them with co-creator Mark Frost, again seems to be determinedly going nowhere -- and certainly nowhere fast. In Episode 4, his hard-of-hearing FBI character, deputy director Gordon Cole, speaks volumes in telling his partner Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer), “I hate to admit this, but I don’t understand this situation at all.”

Likewise, I’m sure.

Twin Peaks and its initial central mystery -- “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” -- began as a transfixing, quirky, nothing-else-ever-like-it addition to ABC’s prime-time lineup. Midway through a very meandering and preposterous Season 2, the killer was revealed at the network’s insistence. It turned out to be Laura’s father, Leland (Ray Wise), who had been possessed by the demonic “BOB.” In the final episode, burned off by ABC on June 10, 1991, the “shadow self” of FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) emerged from the nightmare-infused, red-curtained Black Lodge. The closing scene showed his “doppelgänger” to be the new host of the long-haired killer BOB. It all made perfect sense -- as long as you were on an acid trip.

Lynch subsequently made a big-screen Twin Peaks prequel, Fire Walk With Me. MacLachlan wanted little to do with it, and was seen only sporadically. This is decidedly not the case with Showtime’s Twin Peaks. As the first four episodes show, MacLachlan is all in, even if he’s yet to even be in the Pacific Northwest town from which the series draws its name.

MacLachlan’s vivid performances, as the suit-and-tied Cooper, the long-haired, possessed Cooper and in a new guise as “Dougie Jones,” are the principal respites from Lynch’s gelatinous pacing. His camera lingers -- and lingers some more. Some of the new supporting parts are acted out with a mechanical, porn film depth. And Lynch remains hopelessly devoted to mondo bizarro, prolonged special effects, with the start of Episode 3 showing him at either the top or bottom of his game.

Lynch’s twisted brutalization of women likewise continues. There’s a decapitation. And later a punch to the face followed by a gunshot to the head after a lengthy scene of physical restraint and mental torture. Another woman also is dispatched via a bullet through her brain. It all seems to be part of the director’s basic playbook. And it’s past time for him to be called out on it.

The very limited scenes within the actual town of Twin Peaks mostly revolve around goofy and largely purposeless goings-on at the sheriff’s office. Michael Horse, Harry Goaz and Kimmy Robertson all return, respectively as Tommy “Hawk” Hill, Andy Brennan and his wife, Lucy Brennan. Andy has become particularly aggravating, and then some. Michael Ontkean, co-lead in the original Twin Peaks as Sheriff Harry S. Truman, declined to return. Robert Forster steps in to play his lawman brother, Frank, while Harry is said to be ill.

Other members of the charter Twin Peaks ensemble drop in and out briefly on an assembly line. Wise’s aforementioned deceased (or is he?) Leland Palmer is seen for barely a few seconds in the Black Lodge. He has two words for Cooper: “Find Laura.”

Those who make it all the way to Episode 4 will find it fairly rich in guest stars. Richard Chamberlain, Michael Cera, Ethan Suplee, Naomi Watts and David Duchovny (who has transitioned to FBI agent Denise Bryson) are all part of the party mix. Cera, as the Brennans’ wayward son, Wally Brando, is completely extraneous in terms of “plot” advancement, but seems to be enjoying himself as a mockup of Marlon Brando’s defiant Johnny Strabler from The Wild One.

Episode 4 also showcases Cooper’s reincarnation as Dougie, a combination of Frankenstein’s monster (without the scars or bolts) and the simpleton Chance from the Peter Sellers vehicle Being There. How he got to be Dougie is basically impossible to explain in print. But watching Dougie’s evolution into “Mr. Jackpots” at a Vegas casino may be the most fun anyone will have with these first four episodes.

Besides Ferrer, two other returning Twin Peaks cast members, Catherine Coulson (“The Log Lady”) and Warren Frost (Dr. Will Hayward), died after their brief scenes were filmed. The re-do wrapped in April of last year, with everyone sworn to the utmost secrecy. Not that they could have explained what takes place during these first four episodes, or likely henceforth.

In its glorified early episodes, the original Twin Peaks was something to behold. But in the nearly 26 years since it left ABC, a number of other TV auteurs have emerged and surpassed Lynch, who’s now well beyond middle-aged crazy at age 71. Vince Gilligan (FX’s Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Noah Hawley (FX’s Fargo and Legion) and Ryan Murphy (FX’s American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Feud anthologies) are among those with a talent for blending the absurd with the basically plausible.

Lynch perhaps has no interest in such “conventions” -- or is incapable of them. But Twin Peaks is rambling on anyway, providing little morsels of enjoyment amid all the numbing nonsense. Viewers can be virtually assured that little if anything will be made clear in the end. And if that’s all right with you, then take the ride while remembering this: “When you get there, you will already be there.”

Those are watchwords from Episode 3 -- uttered shortly before a whole lot of vomiting kicks in. Enjoy.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The CW catches reboot fever with Dynasty


Natalie Kelley/Grant Show play a pair of new Carringtons. CW photo

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Follow the bouncing reboots. Earlier in the week, ABC officially became the new network of American Idol after Fox rode it to ratings gold for 15 mostly glorious seasons.

Now The CW, intent on broadening its audience beyond 18-to-34-year-olds, is hoping to make a soapy splash with one of ABC’s onetime hits. Dynasty is joining the network’s new fall lineup, with former Melrose Place heartthrob Grant Show now grown into the role of business tycoon Blake Carrington while Nathalie Kelley (The Vampire Diaries) steps in as Krystle Carrington. Except it’s now spelled Cristal. The original roles were played by the late John Forsythe and Linda Evans.

Dynasty ran from 1981 to ’89 on ABC, which also offered an appreciably less successful spinoff, The Colbys.

The CW otherwise is adding the military drama Valor this autumn. It still fills only two hours of prime-time on weeknights, so the cancellation corral again is smallish. Not invited back are Reign, Frequency, The Vampire Diaries and No Tomorrow (indeed).

Here are The CW’s two new fall series:

Dynasty (drama) -- Vixen Fallon Carrington (Elizabeth Gillies) thinks she’s set to become her father’s COO until his fiancee, Cristal, pops into the picture. Fallon immediately begins scheming to bring her down, with help from her father’s biggest rival, Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke). There’s also Cristal’s nephew, Sammy Jo (Rafael de la Fuente), who blows into town with a “suitcase full of secrets” from his aunt’s past. In the original Dynasty, Sammy Jo was a woman played by Heather Locklear. So far there’s no Alexis Carrington Colby, portrayed with storied scenery-chewing intensity in the old Dynasty by Joan Collins.

Valor (drama) -- Matt Barr, formerly a recurring character on the newly canceled Sleepy Hollow, quickly bounces back as commanding officer Leland Gallo, whose Shadow Raiders helicopter unit just had a very bad outing. Only Gallo and the unit’s lone woman pilot, Officer Nora Madani (Christina Ochoa), return from a top-secret mission to Somalia. So what really happened and did anyone else survive? Gallo and Madani soon “find themselves torn between duty, honor and desire” while wondering who to trust.

Here is The CW’s night-by-night fall lineup:


The Flash
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow



Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Jane the Virgin

These are The CW’s two announced midseason series:

Black Lightning (drama) -- Charter high school principal Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) has a secret. Nine years ago, he used to be Black Lightning, a masked superhero with the power to harness and control electricity. Then he got burned out. But then crime, corruption and gangs began re-infesting New Orleans. So here we go again.

Life Sentence (comedy/drama) -- This one has an awfully long and tedious description. Suffice it to say that for eight years Stella (Lucy Hale) thought she was dying of cancer, but suddenly isn’t. Now she must face the long-term ramifications of all those impulsive “live in the moment” decisions she made.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS picks six, including a Big Bang Theory prequel, for new fall schedule


Iain Armitage plays a 9-year-old, East Texas brainiac in Young Sheldon, a spinoff prequel of The Big Bang Theory. CBS photo

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No. 1 in total viewers for nine consecutive seasons and 14 of the last 15, CBS nonetheless is adding more newcomers to its fall schedule than any of its rivals.

The network’s six freshman series are one more than ABC and three more than either NBC or CBS. Even so, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays will stay the same in the early stages of next season.

A trio of new action dramas and a like number of comedies are being readied for this fall, with The Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon likely to draw the most attention. The two shows will be paired on Thursdays following CBS’ five-game NFL football schedule, with Young Sheldon first getting a one-shot Monday night preview on Sept. 25th. Newcomer Iain Armitage plays nine-year-old Sheldon Cooper, whose big brain already has advanced him to an East Texas high school. Big Bang star Jim Parsons narrates in an approach reminiscent of ABC’s The Wonder Years, veteran CBS scheduler and senior executive vice president Kelly Kahl said in a Wednesday morning briefing.

CBS has renewed five freshman series -- Bull, Kevin Can Wait, Man With a Plan, Superior Donuts and MacGyver, although Matt LeBlanc’s Man with a Plan isn’t scheduled to return until midseason. There’s still room in the cancellation corral, though, for 2 Broke Girls, The Great Indoors, Training Day, Doubt, Pure Genius, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders and The Odd Couple.

The network also plans to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of 60 Minutes throughout next season while adding Oprah Winfrey as a correspondent. NBC has scheduled Megyn Kelly’s new newsmagazine show directly opposite 60 Minutes, but “we won’t take too many early shots at Megyn Kelly -- yet,” CBS Corporation chairman/president/CEO Leslie Moonves told TV critics.

Moonves also confirmed that CBS had talks about rebooting American Idol before ABC ended up buying it for a midseason launch. “We looked at it very seriously, but the economics made absolutely no sense to us,” he said.

One big stumbling block: CBS “wouldn’t have any piece of selling the ‘back end’ “ Moonves said. He earlier noted that for the first time in history, less than 50 percent of CBS’ revenues are from advertising. “The back end is now worth more than the front end.”

In other words, CBS now is making more money selling the rights to its shows in rerun syndication, to streaming services such as Hulu and to other “platforms.” In that context, the network has at least part ownership, via CBS Television Studios, of all five of the freshman series it picked up for second seasons, Kahl said. CBS Television Studios also is a profit-sharing production partner in all of the network’s new fall series except Young Sheldon, which is solely the property of Warner Bros. Television.

Here are CBS’ six new fall series:

SEAL Team (drama) -- David Boreanaz bounces from a long run on Fox’s Bones to playing the commander of an elite special ops unit specializing in “unwavering patriotism and fearless dedication.”

S.W.A.T. (drama) -- “Hondo” Harrelson rides again, with Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) starring in the role made reasonably famous by Steve Forrest in the 1975 original on ABC.

Wisdom of the Crowd (drama) -- Jeremy Piven (Entourage) returns to series TV as “visionary tech innovator” Jeffrey Tanner. How so? He creates a “cutting-edge crowdsourcing app” to solve his daughter’s murder and thereby “revolutionizes” the art of catching criminals.

Young Sheldon (comedy) -- It can be tough fitting in as a pre-teen at an East Texas high school “where church and football are king.” But li’l Sheldon is gonna make it after all, as we already know.

Me, Myself & I (comedy) -- It’s an obvious effort to piggyback on the success of NBC’s time-spanning This Is Us, with Saturday Night Live veteran Bobby Moynihan the principal star as a “present day” 40-year-old version of a guy named Alex. Other actors will play Alex at the ages of 14 and 65. Jaleel “Urkel” White also is in the cast as present day Darryl.

9JKL (comedy) -- Mark Feuerstein (Royal Pains) stars as divorced actor Josh Roberts, a character inspired by his real life. Languishing between projects, he finds himself living in a New York apartment “sandwiched between” his meddlesome parents and a competitive brother and sister-in-law, plus their new baby. TV vets Linda Lavin and Elliott Gould play the pain-in-the-butt parents.

Here is CBS’ night-by-night new fall lineup.

Monday (during Thursday Night Football)
The Big Bang Theory
Kevin Can Wait
Me, Myself & I

After Football
Kevin Can Wait
Me, Myself & I
Superior Donuts

NCIS: New Orleans

Seal Team
Criminal Minds

Football from Sept. 28 to Oct. 26 before a regular lineup of:
The Big Bang Theory
Young Sheldon
Life In Pieces

Hawaii Five-0
Blue Bloods

Crimetime Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours

60 Minutes
Wisdom of the Crowd
NCIS: Los Angeles
Madam Secretary

CBS also announced these two midseason series:

Instinct (drama) -- Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) plays a former CIA operative who gets pulled back in to help apprehend -- what else -- a serial killer. He’d otherwise been a college professor teaching psychopathic behavior courses to “packed classes of adoring students.”

By the Book (comedy) -- Shades of ABC’s new The Gospel of Kevin, with Jay R. Ferguson (Mad Men and ABC’s recently axed The Real O’Neals) playing a wayward “modern day man” and New York film critic who decides to live “strictly in accordance with the Bible.” The cast also includes TV vet Camryn Manheim.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Two paws up for ABC's Downward Dog


Martin (left), Nan and Jason of Downward Dog. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, May 17th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC before moving to Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
Starring: Allison Tolman, Lucas Neff, Samm Hodges, Kirby Howell Baptiste, Barry Rothbart
Produced by: Michael Killen, Samm Hodges, Jimmy Miller, Sam Hansen, Kathy Dzubiek, Kat Likkel, John Hoberg

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The following favorable review of Downward Dog is not influenced by my surname, although you still might want to consider the source.

After all, I was among a bare handful of TV critics who didn’t actively dislike ABC’s earlier talking creature sitcom, Imaginary Mary, which since has been canceled. We all have our outliers from time to time. But Downward Dog is a genuine gem that also prompts the question, “Why did ABC wait so long to give it a slice of prime-time?”

The key figures are Martin (who gets his hangdog voice from co-executive producer Samm Hodges) and his owner, Nan (breakout star Allison Tolman from Fargo, Season One). He’s a ruminating mutt who laments his various fates and impulses while she toils for a basically impossible boss at a Pittsburgh-based ad agency.

ABC’s series version is adapted from a short form web series, and this time the transition is smooth. The four episodes of Downward Dog made available for review are snarky, charming, funny and recurrently philosophical when Martin “talks” to the camera. Here’s a dog who drops the the word “reductionistic” in Episode 3 and frets in Episode 4 that “sometimes ‘dog culture’ feels almost like a breeding ground for anti-intellectualism.”

But Martin’s gooiest yet resonant observation comes in Wednesday’s premiere half-hour after he reflects on the time he spent behind bars in a shelter before Nan chose him.

“It’s so vulnerable to love somebody this much,” he says of his oft-frazzled owner. “Like to know that no matter what they do or how mad you get at them, you always come running back to them. Like, I literally can’t quit her.”

Not that Martin doesn’t have his meltdowns. Balking at being left alone too much, he acts out by chewing up a pair of Nan’s boots and later something far more important to her. He also resents being locked in “the sex room” whenever Nan and her nominally ex-boyfriend, Jason (a heavily bearded Lucas Neff from Raising Hope), succumb anew to one another, usually after heavy consumption of wine.

Jason primarily is a layabout, but also a sweet-natured good guy who enjoys taking Martin for walks and other outings while Nan strives to convince her jerky boss Kevin (Barry Rothbart) to accept one of her ideas. By happenstance -- and with an unintended strong assist from Martin -- she comes up with the slogan, “Look At How Beautiful You Are” whatever your body shape or looks. Kevin instantly hates it, but a visiting corporate potentate sees the potential. Subsequent episodes deal in part with the formulation of the campaign, with Nan and her best pal, Jenn (a well-cast Kirby Howell Baptiste), scheming on how to push it past Kevin.

Tolman brings an abundance of natural appeal to the role of Nan while Martin bares his emotions and then wonders about them. An electronically operated dog door (with its battery attached to his collar) convinces Martin that his mind is a dormant super-power. But in a later episode, he discovers that being trained to do tricks just isn’t his thing. “I think I’ve finally let go of that desire to be impressive,” Martin concludes.

Downward Dog obviously could have gone very wrong. Instead it gets almost everything irresistibly right, whether it’s Martin’s simple yet challenging life (“I’m only human,” he reasons) or the accompanying two-legged human endeavors that shift his mind into overdrive and this series into the realm of the near-sublime.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC adds five freshman for the fall while readying American Idol for a midseason splash (updated)


Jason Ritter gets enlightened in The Gospel of Kevin. ABC photo

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Third out of the box with its new season plans, struggling ABC has five newbies for this fall and a rebooted American Idol on its bench awaiting big decisions on who will host (likely Ryan Seacrest) and who will judge (who knows?).

The Disney-owned network drooped in the 2016-17 prime-time ratings, running third in total viewers and fourth among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds. ABC’s publicity materials tout a second-place tie in the 18-to-49 demographic if sports programming is excluded. But the network in turn isn’t subtracting its annual high-rated Oscar-cast from this alternative facts equation.

Autumn’s quintet of freshmen series includes another new hour from ubiquitous Marvel -- Marvel’s Inhumans -- and Kyra Sedgwick’s return to weekly TV as the star of Ten Days in the Valley.

ABC’s cancellation corral is far more crowded. The latest reluctant inhabitants are Last Man Standing, Dr. Ken, Notorious, The Catch, Imaginary Mary, American Crime, The Real O’Neals, Secrets and Lies, Conviction, The Match Game and Time After Time.

(ABC announced later Tuesday that Scandal will be dropped after its seventh and final season in 2017-2018. And later still, network entertainment president Channing Dungy told ad buyers at ABC’s “upfront” presentation that Katy Perry will be Idol’s “anchor judge.”

Continuing in this vein, Dungy also brought on the original cast of Roseanne late Tuesday afternoon after telling ad buyers the show will return with all of them and with all new episodes sometime in 2018. She then announced a midseason Grey’s Anatomy spinoff. None of this news was included in the network’s mid-morning release of its new season plans.)

Downward Dog, announced last May as a midseason replacement series, will get a belated premiere on Wednesday, May 17th. And Still Star-Crossed is set for a May 29th launch. Both series could be added to ABC’s list of returnees if the ratings measure up.

The fall lineup also has a trio of notable night shifts, with Shark Tank moving from its longtime Friday perch to Sundays, Once Upon A Time segueing from Sundays to Fridays and black-ish going from Wednesdays to Tuesdays.

Here are ABC’s five new fall series:

The Good Doctor (drama) -- A young sawbones with autism and “savant syndrome” segues from a “quiet country life” to a prestigious, big-city hospital’s surgical unit. Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) stars as Dr. Shaun Murphy. Daniel Dae Kim, still with CBS’ Hawaii Five-0, does double-duty by going off-camera as one of this series’ co-executive producers.

The Gospel of Kevin (drama) -- Former Parenthood co-star Jason Ritter is the “cluelessly self-serving” Kevin Finn until a celestial being named Yvette appears and suggests that he save the world. Presto, Kevin’s now a dedicated do-gooder.

Marvel’s Inhumans (drama) -- Not sure how many more Marvel series and movies the universe can withstand. But here’s another one, this time built around the “epic adventures” of Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans. Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) stars. ABC says the first two episodes will be shown globally in IMAX theaters for two weeks before the entire series downshifts to television screens “with additional content that can only be seen on ABC.”

Ten Days In the Valley (drama) -- The aforementioned Sedgwick, who previously starred in TNT’s long-running The Closer, is front and center as “overworked television producer” Jane Sadler. She becomes overwrought as well when her young daughter goes missing. And “just like her controversial police TV show, everything is a mystery, everyone has a secret and no one can be trusted.” Malcolm-Jamal Warner is also in the cast.

The Mayor (comedy) -- Rapper Courtney Rose (newcomer Brandon Michael Hall) yearns to become a music star but is getting nowhere. So he runs for mayor of his California hometown in hopes of generating some buzz. But “in the most terrifying of outcomes,” he wins.

Here is ABC’s night-by-night fall schedule:

Dancing with the Stars
The Good Doctor

The Middle
Fresh Off the Boat
The Mayor
The Gospel of Kevin

The Goldbergs
Modern Family
American Housewife
Designated Survivor

Grey’s Anatomy
How to Get Away with Murder

Once Upon a Time
Marvel’s Inhumans

Saturday Night Football

America’s Funniest Home Videos
To Tell the Truth
Shark Tank
Ten Days in the Valley

ABC also has announced these midseason series:

The Crossing (drama) -- It’s best to let ABC’s publicity department describe this one. “Refugees from a war-town country seek asylum in a small American fishing town, only the country these people are from is America -- and the war they are fleeing hasn’t happened yet.” The network adds that things “will never be the same” for both the townies and the newcomers. Steve Zahn (Treme) heads an ensemble cast.

Deception (drama) -- Superstar magician Cameron Black finds he no longer can pull rabbits from a hat -- onstage at least -- after his career is “ruined by scandal.” So he joins the FBI as the agency’s first crime solving illusionist. Newcomer Jack Cutmore-Scott stars.

For the People (drama) -- A band of brand new lawyers works out of New York for both the defense and the prosecution in this latest outing from Shonda Rimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal). Ben Rappaport, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Anna Deavere Smith are among the principals.

Alex, Inc. (comedy) -- Former Scrubs star Zach Braff is back in the game as radio journalist Alex Schuman, who’s also a husband, father and “about to do something crazy” by starting his own company. Based on the podcast StartUp.

Splitting Up Together (comedy) -- This one’s adapted from a same-named Danish series, with Jenna Fischer and Oliver Hudson starring as a couple “whose marriage is reignited by their divorce.”

Dancing with the Stars Junior (alternative/reality) -- Celebrity kids and kids of celebrities team with professional junior ballroom dancers and compete for something. Hosts and judges to be announced later.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Idol thoughts tied to Fox's new season announcement


Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane produces & stars in The Orville. Fox photo

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Fox replicated NBC’s minimalist approach Monday by announcing just three new series this fall. They’ll be dealt with later. But first some revelatory words from Fox Television Group co-chairman/CEO Dana Walden on why Fox is losing its all-time signature show, American Idol, to a poacher next season.

ABC has announced a pickup of Idol for a planned 2018 launch, with the host and judges yet to be determined. But Ryan Seacrest, the show’s charter host, is now part of the ABC family as co-host of the newly titled Live with Kelly and Ryan. So a deal for him to return is now appreciably more probable, even if he’d have to split some weekly time between New York and Los Angeles.

“Yes, it feels bad (that Idol is) coming back on another network,” Walden told TV critics during an early morning teleconference. But as she elaborated, it seemed clear that Fox’s insistence on creative changes and truth-telling to Idol’s audience clashed with FreMantleMedia’s cold, hard business decision to bring the show back as quickly as possible. Fox heavily promoted 2016 as Idol’s farewell season after a 15-year run. But Seacrest’s sign-off -- “Goodnight America -- for now” -- hinted at future possibilities.

“We thought it would be extremely fraudulent to bring the show back quickly . . . We and FreMantle just had very different points of view,” Walden said.

“There was clearly a ratings trend,” she added. “It was not going in the right direction.”

But after learning of other suitors, Fox resumed talks with FreMantle on the possibility of bringing Idol back later rather than sooner. NBC initially seemed to have the inside track, which “kind of made sense to us,” Walden said, because the Peacock has both Simon Cowell and Jennifer Lopez under contract, respectively for America’s Got Talent and Shades of Blue.

Although “we did not see the excitement and enthusiasm for the show to come back,” Fox made an offer to reboot Idol in 2020, Walden said. “Ultimately that fell apart.”

FreMantle also became concerned about declining audiences and revenues for other international editions of Idol after the U.S. version shut down, Walden said. “We saw 2020 as being a respectful amount of time,” she said. FreMantle strongly disagreed and also rebuffed Fox’s push for a significant makeover, Walden said. “Obviously, FreMantle does not want to change that show, and perhaps they shouldn’t.”

Fox otherwise is not shy about reboots. A new 10-episode arc of The X-Files is set for midseason and Walden said the network also is open to more episodes down the road for Prison Break and 24: Legacy. Their reincarnations performed decently this season, but not to the point where there’s any rush.

Fox’s three new series for the fall include The Gifted, its first series from the Marvel assembly line of movies and TV/streaming productions. The pilot was filmed in North Texas this spring, but Fox so far has not answered a question on whether the show’s future base of operations will be elsewhere. Fall’s other newcomers are The Orville, an outer space comedy/drama created by and starring Seth MacFarlane, and Ghosted, which outwardly looks like a comedic version of The X-Files. A surprise renewal is The Exorcist, which will remain on Friday nights in tandem with Hell’s Kitchen. Fox also announced that New Girl will return for its last season, although not this fall.

Now penned in the cancellation corral are Pitch, Bones, Sleepy Hollow, Scream Queens, Making History, APB, Son of Zorn, Rosewood, Shots Fired, Kicking & Screaming, and My Kitchen Rules.

It was not the best of seasons for Fox. Despite having Super Bowl LI and a scintillating seven-game World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, the network ran fourth in total viewers and second among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds.

Here are Fox’s three new fall series:

The Gifted (drama) -- A suburban couple discovers that their two teenage kids have mutant powers. A “relentless government agency” known as Sentinel Services of course wants to track them down. So it’s time to go on the run. Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Amy Acker (Person of Interest) star as the parents, Reed and Caitlin Strucker. As noted previously, this is Fox’s first throw-in with Marvel, which often has its name in the title, but this time doesn’t.

The Orville (comedy/drama) -- Family Guy maestro Seth MacFarlane stars as Planetary Union officer Ed Mercer, who helms the U.S.S. Orville in a 25th century galaxy. Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) is his ex-wife and First Officer Kelly Grayson. There’s also a “gelatinous creature” named Yaphit, who’s voiced by Norm Macdonald.

Ghosted (comedy) -- Leroy Wright (Craig Robinson/The Office) and Max Jennifer (Adam Scott/Parks and Recreation) reluctantly team up to save the human race from aliens. Leroy’s the cynical skeptic and Max, the true believer. And if you haven’t heard this before, well, c’mon now.

Here is Fox’s night-by-night new fall lineup:

The Gifted

Lethal Weapon
The Mick
Brooklyn Nine-Nine


The Orville

Hell’s Kitchen
The Exorcist

Fox College Football

NFL on Fox
The OT/Bob’s Burgers
The Simpsons
Family Guy
The Last Man On Earth

Fox also has announced these midseason series:

9-1-1 (drama) -- FX auteur Ryan Murphy (the American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Feud anthology series) rebounds from the cancellation of his Scream Queens with this “fast-paced exploration into the lives and careers of first responders.” Only Angela Bassett has been signed to star so far.

The Resident (drama) -- Another series that purports to reveal what really happens behind the scenes of high-powered hospitals. Veteran Bruce Greenwood and Matt Czuchry from The Good Wife are among the ensemble cast.

LA to Vegas (comedy) -- An airline crew and a batch of eccentric passengers take off from Los Angeles to Vegas every weekend in hopes of coming back a big winner. Behind the camera are Will Ferrell and Steve Levitan (Modern Family), so this could be more than meets the eye. Dylan McDermott as Captain Dave contributes “a performance that will be the surprise of the season,” vows Fox Television Group co-chairman/CEO Gary Newman. And TV executives never lie or exaggerate.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC is first out of the gate with a new fall lineup with little new


More, more: Thursdays this fall will start with W&G redo. NBC photo

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All aglow with another win among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds -- its third in the last four seasons -- NBC again is adding just three new series to its latest fall lineup.

Only one of them is a bonafide newcomer, though. The Brave billed as “patriotic and riveting” in the Peacock’s Mother’s Day announcement, will dramatize the exploits of a Special Ops unit deployed to “some of the most dangerous places in the world.” It’s been chosen to close out NBC’s Monday prime-time lineup in a coveted slot following The Voice.

NBC otherwise is rebooting Will & Grace for a “12-episode event” while also padding producer Dick Wolf’s wallet with another extension of his Law & Order franchise. Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders is an eight-episode answer to FX’s American Crime Story anthology series. Its principal star is Edie Falco of Nurse Jackie and The Sopranos fame.

The Peacock also added just three new series last fall. This Is Us became a critically acclaimed hit while The Good Place and Timeless also will be returning. The latter drama was canceled and then uncanceled by NBC, which also has announced a trio of new scripted dramas and two freshman sitcoms for midseason launches.

Thursdays will be completely revamped in what NBC bills as “the return of Must See TV.” This includes moving This Is Us from Tuesdays.

Settling into the cancellation corral are Grimm, Trial & Error, The Blacklist: Redemption, Chicago Justice, Emerald City, Powerless and The New Celebrity Apprentice. Two new series originally announced as midseason replacements last May -- Midnight, Texas and Marlon, are set to premiere this summer, respectively on July 24th and Aug. 16th.

(On Saturday, May 20th, NBC again reversed itself by renewing Trial & Error for a second season after initially not including it among the announced returning shows for 2017-18.)

Here are NBC’s three new fall series -- more or less:

The Brave (drama) -- Anne Heche is the best-known cast member in the role of D.I.A deputy director Patricia Campbell. She orchestrates the Special Ops missions from afar, with daring Adam Dalton (Mike Vogel) in charge on the ground.

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Brothers (drama) -- Back in 1994, both Fox and CBS dramatized the bloody exploits of Eric and Lyle Menendez in scripted May ratings “sweeps” presentations. NBC now takes its turn after ABC took the plunge in January of this year with a two-hour documentary titled Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers -- American Sons, American Murderers. There oughta be a law.

Will & Grace (comedy) -- Original stars Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally are all reprising their roles in what was a breakthrough broadcast network series back in 1998. W&G ran until 2006, with all four principals winning at least one acting Emmy. Both McCormack and Hayes played openly gay characters. NBC has upped the number of episodes to 12 after originally announcing a 10-episode order.

Here is NBC’s night-by-night fall 2017 lineup:

The Voice
The Brave

The Voice
The Good Place
Chicago Fire

The Blacklist
Law & Order: SVU
Chicago P.D.

Will & Grace
Great News
This Is Us
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders

Dateline NBC

Dateline Saturday Night Mystery
Saturday Night Live encores

Football Night in America
Sunday Night Football

These are NBC’s announced new midseason series:

Good Girls (drama) -- Three suburban moms rob a supermarket using toy guns. But the store manager recognizes one of them and their haul is more than expected. So call the cops and the chase is on in what NBC describes as a “comedy-infused drama that mixes a little Thelma & Louise with a bit of Breaking Bad.” There are no name brand stars.

Reverie (drama) -- A former hostage negotiator turned college professor after an “unimaginable personal tragedy” returns to action to “save ordinary people who have lost themselves in a highly advanced virtual-reality program in which you can literally live your dreams.” Huh? Sarah Shahi and Dennis Haysbert star.

Rise (drama) -- Devoted teacher/family guy Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor) puts self-doubt behind him and starts running his school’s decayed theater department. Shades of Mr. Holland’s Opus, remarkable things start happening.

A.P. BIO (comedy) -- A philosophy scholar gets bypassed for a dream job and instead becomes a high school Advanced Placement biology teacher. Except he really doesn’t want to do that. Patton Oswalt stars.

Champions (comedy) -- Vince is a “charismatic gym owner” and his younger brother, Michael, a “gorgeous idiot.” Their regimen of womanizing and working out is altered when a teen son is dumped on them by Priya (guest star Mindy Kaling), who had a high school fling with Vince.

Ellen’s Game of Games (alternative/reality) -- Ellen DeGeneres hosts “super-sized versions” of the games played on her daytime show. NBC promises that she’ll be both “mischievous and hilarious.”

The Awesome Show (alternative/reality) -- Yeah, sure. Chris Hardwick, currently also hosting NBC’s The Wall, presides over a “rollercoaster ride through the world of innovation.”

Genius Junior (alternative/reality) -- This time it’s Neil Patrick Harris calling the shots in a game show celebrating “the smartest kids in America.” The winning team gets a “life-changing prize.”

The Handmade Project (alternative/reality) -- Co-hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman present a “lighthearted competition celebrating the creativity and craftiness in all of us.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

I Love Dick takes Amazon Prime into a thoroughly adult book store


Twisted triangle: Kathryn Hahn, Griffin Dunne and Kevin Bacon are united and divided by lusty letters in I Love Dick. Amazon photo

Premiering: All eight Season 1 episodes begin streaming Friday, May 12th on Amazon Prime
Starring: Kathryn Hahn, Kevin Bacon, Griffin Dunne, Roberta Colindrez, India Menuez, Lily Mojekwu
Produced by: Jill Soloway, Andrea Sperling, Victor Hsu, Sarah Gubbins, Kevin Bacon, Heidi Schreck

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Basically twisted, but very daringly so, Amazon Prime’s I Love Dick has a title that in fact fits like a customized condom.

The eight-part, seriously dark comedy uses a play on words. But it’s very much about explicit sex and the thorny sexual politics therein. Author Chris Kraus, whose same-named book came out 20 years ago, has described it as her “lonely girl phenomenology.” And most women likely won’t want to have what she’s having.

The uncommon venue for all of this hot-blooded angst is little Marfa, Texas, where I Love Dick also was filmed. Kathryn Hahn plays Chris, a frustrated, two-bit filmmaker whose husband, Sylvere (Griffin Dunne), intends to reexamine the Holocaust as part of a fellowship bankrolled by Dick Jarrett (capable Kevin Bacon), a wealthy artist who hasn’t done anything new for the past decade. The character is somewhat modeled after the late minimalist artist Donald Judd, who made his marks on Marfa after relocating from New York City in 1971.

In I Love Dick, the plan at first is for Chris and Sylvere to drive from New York to Marfa before she flies off to a Venice festival where her film has been accepted. But she’s more or less stranded in Marfa, and dubbed “the Holocaust wife” after her film is abruptly dumped over an issue of music rights. It takes scant time for Chris to become obsessively infatuated with Dick, even after he tells her, “Unfortunately, most films made by women -- Aren’t. That. Good.” Chris retreats to a restroom to narrate, “Dear Dick. Game on.”

It’s the first of many “Dear Dick” passages, some of them displayed in white block letters on a red backdrop. Chris amasses page upon page of them, stating her desires to have Dick and plenty of him. The letters also end up being a sexual turn-on for Chris and Sylvere, whose couplings have been infrequent and unsatisfying until a third party enters the picture via her dramatic readings. But then things get increasingly public, much to Dick’s dislike.

I Love Dick very much shows as well as tells. Jill Soloway, the principal executive producer who also provides Transparent for Amazon, does not shy away from full frontal nudity and occasional scenes from pornographic films. Episode 6 (the entire first season was made available for review) includes a very stark public “conceptual art piece” on the part of Toby (India Menuez), a young redhead who was introduced to porno at an early age by her cousin.

Toby, who appears completely in the altogether for a good part of this half-hour episode, might remind some of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Particularly when the middle-aged Solvere tells her in Episode 2, “You’re so beautiful. So achingly beautiful.” The mood is immediately broken when she retorts, “You’re awful.”

Another supporting character, the androgynous Devon (Roberta Colindrez), is a handyman/woman who lives in a trailer home near Chris and Solvere. Devon otherwise helms a little avant garde theater group that comes to the fore in the concluding episode. Not all that convincingly, however, unless one believes that even Marfa’s roughnecks are happily part of the act.

The long under appreciated Hahn, who also has a recurring role in Transparent, boldly throws herself into this neurotic, psychotic, soul-and-skin-baring role. As her tormented husband notes in Episode 6, she’s objectifying Dick the way that men have been objectifying women for centuries. But many potential viewers of both sexes may well be put off by the oft-graphic “messaging” of I Love Dick, which sheds its darkly comedic touch in later episodes and risks becoming a polemic -- without quite becoming so.

Oddly, the famed and mysterious “Marfa Lights” never figure into these proceedings, either visually or referentially. But the Hotel Paisano and Lost Horse Saloon get some face time, as do the beautiful stretches of basically nothing.

I Love Dick ends with a certain degree of closure, but not enough to close the door for a Season 2. Amazon -- or its rival streaming services for that matter -- have never come close to anything quite like this. Your appetite may vary, as did mine. But we live in dramatically changing times, with more than enough viewing venues to accommodate a series that is completely willing to offend sensibilities while also engaging them.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net