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New TV fall preview, with Canadian and American debut dates

- September 15th, 2014

Gotham cast, with Donal Logue and Ben McKenzie at front

The beginning of the fall TV season is like the beginning of any season in professional sports. Everyone feels like a winner during training camp. Optimism abounds. Then you start to play the games, and the mood changes quickly for many.

Pre-season “lying to yourself” aside, what do the new shows look like this fall … really?

The fantasy/superhero genre continues to take over television, in terms of volume at least, if not necessarily ratings. Gotham, Constantine and The Flash are the newest entries, and I have to say, they all look pretty good in their own way. With the understanding, of course, that on the lightness-to-darkness scale, it goes The Flash, Constantine, Gotham, so target each series based on your content preferences.

I’ve written before that I was impressed by the pilot episode of Gotham, which stars Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith, among many others. And having been one of the people who was rolling his eyes at the thought of a Batman prequel, impressing me was no small feat in this case. It’s pretty violent by network TV standards, though, so be forewarned. Constantine, starring Matt Ryan, is based on characters that appear in the comic series Hellblazer. The Flash, starring Grant Gustin, is a spinoff of Arrow.

Outside of the superhero/fantasy world, perhaps the most talked-about new series is Stalker. Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott star as detectives who handle stalking cases – including voyeurism, cyber harassment and romantic fixation, etc. – for the Threat Assessment Unit of the LAPD.

When creator Kevin Williamson appeared at the Television Critics Association event in Los Angeles in July, the session actually got a little stormy. Stalker is something of a polarizing series, if we lived in a world with three poles. Some people see it as shining a light on a growing problem in society, and that’s a good thing. Some people see it as a de facto glorification of stalking, a “how to” if you will, and that’s a bad thing. And some people see it as merely a TV show, and think that the people in the other two camps should take a chill pill. In any case, there will be no shortage of Stalker talkers.

There are still more new shows centred on U.S. politics and government (State of Affairs with Katherine Heigl, Madam Secretary with Tea Leoni), more time travellers (Forever), more computer geniuses (Scorpion), a notable spinoff (NCIS: New Orleans with Scott Bakula), and a notable remake (Gracepoint, based on the British series Broadchurch). The Affair, with Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney, is particularly intense in a rip-your-life-apart kind of way.

Sadly, none of the new sitcoms really jumps out at me as instant hit material, although series such as Black-ish and Cristela are demographically designed to resonate with big chunks of the U.S. population. Marry Me with Casey Wilson and Ken Marino is getting some positive buzz. And as for Selfie starring Doctor Who alumnus Karen Gillan, well, I didn’t despise it as much as many of my colleagues in the critics’ community.

First shows cancelled? For me, two candidates are Bad Judge with Kate Walsh, and yet another young-adult-relationship comedy called Manhattan Love Story.

NEW SHOWS
(Networks always can change their plans, so this is what we know as of now, please check local listings closer to broadcast)

Sept. 17
Red Band Society (Fox)
The Mysteries of Laura (NBC, CTV)

Sept. 21
Madam Secretary (CBS, Global)

Sept. 22
Gotham (Fox, CTV)
Scorpion (CBS, City)
Forever (ABC, CTV)

Sept. 23
NCIS: New Orleans (CBS, Global)

Sept. 24
Black-ish (ABC, City)

Sept. 25
How To Get Away With Murder (ABC, CTV)

Sept. 28
Canada’s Smartest Person (CBC)

Sept. 30
Selfie (ABC)
Manhattan Love Story (ABC)
The Honourable Woman (CBC)

Oct. 1
Stalker (CBS, Global)

Oct. 2
Gracepoint (Fox, Global)
Bad Judge (NBC, Oct. 3 on Global)
A to Z (NBC, Oct. 3 on Global)

Oct. 4
Survivor’s Remorse (Super Channel)

Oct. 5
Mulaney (Fox, Global)
CBC Selects: Janet King (CBC)

Oct. 6
Strange Empire (CBC)

Oct. 7
The Flash (CW, CTV)

Oct. 10
Cristela (ABC, CHCH)

Oct. 12
The Affair (TMN/MC)

Oct. 13
Jane the Virgin (CW)

Oct. 14
Marry Me (NBC, Oct. 17 on Global)

Oct. 17
Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways (HBO Canada)

Oct. 24
Constantine (NBC, Global)

Oct. 30
The McCarthys (CBS, CTV)

Nov. 2
Olive Kitteridge (HBO Canada)

Nov. 17
State of Affairs (NBC, Global)

Nov. 25
Ascension (CBC)

Dec. 12
Marco Polo (Netflix)

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Returning TV fall preview, with Canadian and American debut dates

- September 15th, 2014

Jon Cryer as Alan Harper and Ashton Kutcher as Walden Schmidt in Two and a Half Men

Should Two and a Half Men be renamed Two Men and a Baby?

Two and a Half Men raised eyebrows this summer when it was revealed that one of the main story lines for its 12th and final season will involve Walden (Ashton Kutcher) and Alan (Jon Cryer) posing as a gay couple in order to try to adopt a baby. Walden wants to adopt a kid on his own, but he finds it almost impossible to do so as a single male, thus the ruse.

Some groups immediately were offended by this story line, saying it disrespects the ongoing struggle to make gay marriage legal everywhere in the U.S. The response from Two and a Half Men’s executives and actors essentially was, in no way will this devalue or discredit gay marriage. Rather, they say the story line merely is borrowing from real life, in that, presently in California (where Two and a Half Men is set), it probably is easier to adopt as a gay couple than as a single man (I’m just going by what I’m told, since I haven’t tried to adopt a kid in California in either circumstance).

The bottom line for me is, let’s actually wait to see how they handle it, rather than getting all animated about what we haven’t even watched yet.

And speaking of animation, there will be a convergence of cartoon titans in the season premiere of Family Guy, as the Griffin clan travels to Springfield to visit with The Simpsons. This would be like the cast of Friends visiting the cast of Seinfeld back in the day, or the cast of the afore-mentioned Two and a Half Men dropping in on the cast of The Big Bang Theory.

It will be interesting to see what happens on The Big Bang Theory now that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) are engaged. You know, I’ve always wondered how Penny could afford her own apartment, while Leonard and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) have to share what essentially is the exact same apartment. Leonard and Sheldon both have good jobs, while Penny always has struggled. With the prospect of a joint bank account for Penny and Leonard on the horizon, maybe season eight will provide a better window into their mysterious finances.

With the TV landscape so cluttered, it’s always intriguing to keep an eye on the lucky shows that actually graduated past their rookie seasons, to see if they can maintain their momentum, not to mention their audiences. On the drama side, the notable sophomore shows include Sleepy Hollow, The Blacklist, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Resurrection. On the comedy side, we have The Goldbergs, Mom, The Millers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

A critical favourite, Andy Samberg’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine has invaded the Sunday night “animation domination” block, in an effort to attract more eyeballs. Hey, Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs a bigger audience, and creaky old “animation domination” needs a transfusion. So it’s either going to be a win-win or a lose-lose.

And as we creep closer to Halloween, keep an eye peeled for spooky favourites American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. This year’s American Horror Story is subtitled Freak Show, and is set in the early 1950s. Hey, the early ’50s always have seemed spooky enough to me even without the freaks.

RETURNING SHOWS
(Networks always can change their plans, so this is what we know as of now, please check local listings closer to broadcast)

Sept. 15
Dancing with the Stars (ABC, CTV Two, M3)

Sept. 16
New Girl (Fox, Sept. 18 on City)
The Mindy Project (Sept. 18 on City)

Sept. 18
The Bachelor Canada (City)
Haven (Showcase)

Sept. 21
The Good Wife (CBS, Global)

Sept. 22
The Voice (NBC, CTV Two)
The Blacklist (NBC, Global)
The Big Bang Theory (CBS, CTV)
Sleepy Hollow (Fox, Global)
Saving Hope (CTV)

Sept. 23
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC, CTV)
NCIS (CBS, Global)
Chicago Fire (NBC, Global)
Person of Interest (CBS, CTV)

Sept. 24
Modern Family (ABC, City)
The Goldbergs (ABC)
Survivor (CBS, Global)
Chicago PD (NBC, Global)
Law & Order: SVU (NBC, CTV)
Nashville (ABC)
The Middle (ABC, Sept. 26 on City)

Sept. 25
Scandal (ABC, City)
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, CTV)
Parenthood (NBC, Global)
Bones (Fox, Global)

Sept. 26
The Amazing Race (CBS, CTV)
Hawaii Five-0 (CBS, Global)
Blue Bloods (CBS, CTV)
Shark Tank (ABC, CTV Two)

Sept. 28
Family Guy (Fox, Global)
The Simpsons (Fox, Global)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox, City)
CSI (CBS, CTV)
Once Upon a Time (ABC, CTV)
Resurrection (ABC, CTV)
Revenge (ABC, City)
Heartland (CBC)

Sept. 29
Mom (CBS, City)
Castle (ABC, CTV)
NCIS: LA (CBS, Global)

Oct. 1
Criminal Minds (CBS, CTV)
Reign (M3, Oct. 2 on CW, CTV Two)

Oct. 2
The Vampire Diaries (CW, CTV Two)

Oct. 3
Last Man Standing (ABC, CHCH)

Oct. 5
Homeland (Super Channel)

Oct. 6
Murdoch Mysteries (CBC)
The Originals (CW, CHCH)

Oct. 7
Rick Mercer Report (CBC)
This Hour Has 22 Minutes (CBC)
Supernatural (CW)

Oct. 8
American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX Canada)
Arrow (CW, CTV)

Oct. 9
Doc Zone (CBC)
The Nature of Things (CBC)

Oct. 12
The Walking Dead (AMC)

Oct. 14
About a Boy (NBC, Friday on Global)

Oct. 15
Dragons’ Den (CBC)
Republic of Doyle (CBC)

Oct. 17
Marketplace (CBC)

Oct. 22
The 100 (CW)

Oct. 24
Grimm (NBC, CTV)
The Fifth Estate (CBC)

Oct. 27
2 Broke Girls (CBS, City)

Oct. 30
Two and a Half Men (CBS, CTV)
The Millers (CBS, CTV)
Elementary (CBS, Global)

Nov. 7
MasterChef Junior (Fox, CTV Two)

Nov. 9
The Newsroom (HBO Canada)
The Comeback (HBO Canada)
Getting On (HBO Canada)

Dec. 7
Lost Girl (Showcase)

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Sons of Anarchy pay a visit to Z Nation on a Package Deal and it isn’t Utopia; television’s must-sees this week

- September 7th, 2014

Z Nation

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Sept. 7

1 Boardwalk Empire
Fifth and final season debut
Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) recalls his roots as a poor kid in Atlantic City while simultaneously plotting his next move in the event that Prohibition is repealed.
When: Sunday on HBO Canada

2 Sons of Anarchy
Seventh and final season debut
Jax (Charlie Hunnam) eschews legitimacy and makes vengeance a club priority, while Gemma (Katey Sagal) and Juice (Theo Rossi) continue their unholy alliance of secrets.
When: Tuesday on Super Channel

3 Z Nation
Debut (pictured above)
No, the “Z” in this case does not stand for zebras or zeppelins or zippers or Zooey Deschanel. It’s more zombies, dammit, in a new series starring Tom Everett Scott.
When: Friday on Space

4 CCMA Awards
Live
Rick Mercer and Jann Arden host the annual Canadian country music hardware handout. Performers include Autumn Hill, Gord Bamford, Terri Clark and The Road Hammers
When: Sunday on CBC, CMT

5 Package Deal
Season-two debut
Sheldon (Harland Williams) and Ryan (Jay Malone) aren’t amused when they find out Danny (Randal Edwards) went to see the new James Bond movie with Kim (Julia Voth).
When: Friday on City

6 Hell’s Kitchen
Season-13 debut
Eighteen aspiring chefs are split into two teams. The winners this week spend time with Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck. The losers set up the living arrangements.
When: Wednesday on Fox, City

7 Fashion Rocks
Live
Ryan Seacrest hosts a concert honouring the relationship between fashion and music. Like, that needs to be honoured? Performers include The Band Perry, Duran Duran and Kiss.
When: Tuesday on CBS, Global

8 Love Prison
Debut
A carefree bachelor and a single mother who’ve “dated” online for six months finally meet in person, spending a week together on an island. Hey, what could go wrong, Gilligan?
Monday on A&E

9 The Biggest Loser: Glory Days
Debut
Twenty former athletes, including NFLers Scott Mitchell and Damien Woody, and Olympic gold medal-winning tennis player Zina Garrison, aim to regain control of their lives.
When: Thursday on NBC, Yes TV

10 Utopia
Debut
Fifteen pioneer wannabes move to a remote location where they begin the process of creating their own civilization from scratch. First rule: Telemarketing is forbidden.
When: Sunday, Tuesday and Friday on Fox, City

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Three reasons soccer is scoring far more often on North American TV

- July 12th, 2014

Capture world cup

There is a channel in Canada called Bite TV, and yes, wouldn’t it be appropriate if Luis Suarez were given his own show?

Suarez, of course, is the Uruguayan soccer star who was booted out of the World Cup for biting an opponent. It was the third time in his career that Suarez has been suspended for gnawing on human flesh (on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO and HBO Canada, the host joked that if Suarez bites seven more people, he gets a free person with FIFA’s “frequent biter” card).

But with the 2014 World Cup final set to air Sunday, July 13 on CBC and ABC, here’s something else to gnaw upon: Soccer has kind of arrived as a major North American viewing spectacle.

No, not all soccer. But soccer at the highest level is capable of drawing big North American TV audiences now, and in my humble opinion, this fairly recent transformation has occurred for three main reasons:

1 High-definition TV.

No sport has benefited more from the high-definition revolution than soccer. The game lends itself to the shape of a high-def screen, much better than the old box-shaped screens. And since soccer players don’t wear helmets or caps or masks, you get to see their faces and expressions (and teeth), which is more important than you think when you’re trying to introduce a sport to someone who doesn’t know much about it.

2 Availability.

With the explosion of sports specialty channels and pay services, mostly through Rogers and Bell, the biggest and best soccer leagues in the world – the Premier League in Britain, La Liga in Spain, the Champions League, which gathers the best club teams from across Europe, etc. – are much more accessible now to North American TV audiences than they ever were before. For example, personally I am a fan of Manchester City in the Premier League, and over the past few seasons, I have been able to see virtually every one of Man City’s games from the comfort of my own home. That was unthinkable a decade ago, or even a half-dozen years ago. And the more you watch the best leagues, the more interest you’ll have in something such as the World Cup, which essentially is a big all-star tournament with players competing for their home countries.

3 No commercials.

This wouldn’t be the first thing you’d care about if you didn’t care about soccer at all. But if you do have even a marginal interest in soccer, or if you’re just catching onto it a little bit, you will begin to notice something remarkable. A soccer game starts. The first half goes for 45 minutes, plus injury time. There are no ads. No TV timeouts. There will be some commercials at halftime. Then the second half begins, and it’s the same thing. And you start to get used to that. Watch five soccer games, then try watching an NFL or CFL or NHL or NBA game. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself shouting at the TV, “How is this normal? Why do we put up with this in North America? All these ads and stoppages are driving me bonkers!”

Maybe a sport with no ads speaks more to a generation that has grown accustomed to watching TV shows with no ads, through online services or premium cable channels. Is that the soccer generation?

Regardless of the hows and whys, more North American TV viewers than ever are getting a kick out of big-time soccer. It’s up to savvy TV executives – and players such as Luis Suarez – to make a meal of it.

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

 

Canada’s Smartest Person: Competition or job fair?

- April 22nd, 2014

capture dyakowski

When you first hear CBC is seeking Canada’s Smartest Person, it sounds like a job posting to run the CBC.

But despite the challenges facing CBC with regard to government budget cuts and the loss of the NHL contract to Rogers, how you parlay the title of Canada’s Smartest Person into other successes will be up to you.

Canada’s Smartest Person, which aired as a two-hour special in 2012, is returning to CBC this fall as a nine-episode series. It will be taped in front of a live studio audience.

The application process currently is under way, having begun last week and remaining open until June 15. But waiting until the last minute would not be, um, a smart thing to do. Details are available at cbc.ca/smartestperson.

Applicants must be 16 years of age or older as of January 2014. So no annoying whiz-kids, please.

Canada’s Smartest Person is based upon the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which in recent years has endeavored to redefine what it means to be smart. According to the theory, there are six main categories of intelligence: Logical, visual, physical, linguistic, musical and social. Most people have strength in two or three of these areas, but few excel in all of them.

Which essentially means, you don’t necessarily have to be a rocket scientist. Back in 2012, Peter Dyakowski – an offensive lineman with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, pictured above – emerged with the title of Canada’s Smartest Person.

Dyakowski now has a corner office at CBC. I kid, I kid. But nonetheless, being named Canada’s Smartest Person would be a pretty impressive thing to put on a resume.

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv