Tag Archives: sitcom

Cast a wide net among channels when sampling new fall shows

The fall TV season always marks a reset of sorts, signaling an influx of new shows and a respite from reruns.

That’s the way it’s been since TV began, back when there were only three or four networks and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Well, almost.

But despite this time-honored ritual of rebirth, series’ comings and goings have evolved into a seamless affair that flows year-round, boosted by the ever-escalating number of video outlets.

Dubbed “Peak TV,” this latter-day embarrassment of riches is noted by FX network’s president with a mixture of wonder and dismay.

Speaking to the Television Critics Association recently, John Landgraf forecast that a new peak of some 500 different scripted series would be introduced by TV outlets in 2017.

Of these, he said, “only” about 150 would be offered by the six major English-language broadcasters (ABC, CW, CBS, Fox and NBC, plus PBS).

The rest would emerge on cable and streaming services.

“I do this for a living, I think I have a pretty good memory, and I certainly can’t come close to keeping track of it all,” sighed Landgraf, adding, “While there’s more great television than at any time in history, audiences are having more trouble than ever distinguishing the great from the merely competent.”

Not to mention more trouble even stumbling on shows that viewers might consider great but instead get lost in the shuffle.

For instance, how many viewers will happen upon StartUp, one of the most distinctive and addictive dramas on any lineup? Starring Martin Freeman and Adam Brody in a steamy Miami mashup of techies and drug lords, it premieres Sept. 6 on Crackle, the streaming network known, if at all, for Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

On MTV, where “gym, tan, laundry” was once the mantra thanks to Jersey Shore, a much smarter situation awaits on Mary + Jane (premiering Sept. 5), a devilish comedy about two gal pals who run a marijuana delivery service in Los Angeles.

And on Hulu, where you may typically binge on Forensic Files reruns, you might be happy to discover Hugh Laurie in the psychological drama Chance (Oct. 19) as a physician perilously different from his role as life-saving Dr. House.

These new arrivals might well escape your notice in the fall onslaught.

But word of other new shows is impossible to miss.

In particular, NBC leveraged its sprawling, much-watched Rio Games to beat the drum for fall newcomers like This Is Us and Timeless.

Both those series are sure to be heavily sampled by the audience. But while many viewers may embrace This Is Us (Sept. 20) as a tenderhearted and touching dramedy about divergent characters who have a lot in common, other viewers may dismiss the show as saccharine and labored.

And while some viewers may see Timeless (Oct. 3) as thrilling and eye-popping, others may dismiss this time-travel romp as clunky in concept and a misappropriation of lavish computer-generated imagery.

While ABC’s sitcom Speechless (Sept. 21) can congratulate itself for its special-needs focus — the family’s teenage son has cerebral palsy (as does the actor who plays him) — some viewers nonetheless may find it cartoonish and, well, not very funny.

While Michael Weatherly is certifiably a fan-fave from his years on NCIS, his much-awaited new CBS drama, Bull (Sept. 20), seems over-reliant on his fast-talking, glib portrayal. For some viewers, his performance as a charming trial consultant gaming the legal system may quickly wear thin.

And while Notorious (Sept. 22) will plant its flag in the Shonda Rimes-ruled landscape of ABC’s Thursday lineup, this dismal poppycock (a hunky defense attorney joins forces with a hot TV producer to promote their respective professional interests) may succeed primarily by exposing how hard it is to pull off what Rimes does so well.

None of this is to suggest that the commercial broadcast networks aren’t a party to TV’s current Golden Age.

Television, almost anywhere you look, is enjoying a renaissance.

But for the most part, broadcast TV has been overtaken by its cable and streaming competition while being forced to chase conflicting goals — to please a necessarily mass audience while taking enough creative risks to not get left in the dust by its more nimble rivals.

Millions of viewers are satisfied with the results.

Now, as ever, broadcast TV serves as a home for the expected, a 22-episodes-a-season respite where the viewer can feel comfortable, not challenged.

Meanwhile, surprises and creative daring greet viewers who look elsewhere — and result, sometimes, in explosive success (consider HBO’s Game of Thrones or AMC’s The Walking Dead, neither of which would have ever gained admittance by broadcast gatekeepers).

Granted, mining shows from the mountain of Peak TV can be a daunting task, especially since on niche media platforms, as with mainstream broadcast, there’s plenty of fool’s gold cluttering the view.

But if this fall season is any indication, TV’s current Golden Age is aglow — and this gold rush clearly leads toward cable and streaming.

Actress Charlotte Rae tells ‘The Facts of My Life’ in memoir

In “The Facts of Life,” Charlotte Rae played the unflappable Mrs. Garrett, a girls’ school housemother who smoothly guided her charges through crises and comedy.

Rae says she implored the TV show’s producers to let her character “lose her temper, yell at the kids. Let her be a human being.”

They declined. But as Rae, 89, recounts in her new autobiography, her own life bore little resemblance to the sitcom-grade serenity of Edna Garrett’s, instead marked by challenges that included son Andy’s autism and her husband’s late-in-life disclosure that he was bisexual and wanted an open marriage.

“The Facts of My Life” paints Rae as a woman determined to face the world with grace and humor, come what may, and one dedicated to her family, friends and a career that stretched from 1950s TV to Broadway.

That’s partly why she decided to do the book, to bolster others tackling their own difficulties and dreams, Rae said in an interview.

And because her other son, Larry Strauss, a writer and teacher, said she should.

“He said, ‘Ma, I think it’s time we did your memoir. You talk to me and I’ll do it,”” she recalled. “He was very sensitive to what I was talking about and wonderful (writing about) his brother, very sensitive and beautiful.”

The book, to be published by BearManor Media on Nov. 1, opens with what’s described as a “nightmare come true,” then 16-year-old Andy Strauss locked in the juvenile ward at New York’s Bellevue Hospital because he’d been deemed dangerous.

Andy’s diagnosis of autism had been long in coming at a time when there was far less understanding of or attention to the disorder, Rae said. Her son, who had other conditions including epilepsy, died in his mid-40s of a heart attack.

She saw his illness as the “most devastating thing” in her life, said Rae, who has also faced alcoholism and heart problems. Then her husband of 25 years, composer and sound editor John Strauss, who like Rae had turned to Alcoholics Anonymous for help, was urged by his AA sponsor to be honest with himself and his wife about his sexuality.

“I felt there was something wrong with me and took it personally,” Rae said. “But I gradually realized what he was going through. My God, the poor guy, hiding it and being ashamed.”

The pair divorced, and John Strauss died in 2011. He had found a long-time partner (the nice Jewish man of his dreams, Rae said) but she has remained single.

“Between the children and my career, I just didn’t have time. It didn’t happen,” Rae said. “There were people I had little flings with that were lovely, but nobody I wanted to marry.”

Son Larry, his family and others keep her busy and content, she said.

“I have wonderful friends. I’m not just a lonely old lady,” said Rae, a Wisconsin native who splits her time between Los Angeles and New York.

Her career has been divided between screen, stage and cabaret appearances (fans may recall Mrs. Garrett singing “O Holy Night” on a holiday episode). Her extensive TV work ranged from “The Phil Silvers Show” in the 1950s to “Car 54, Where Are You?” in the 1960s to “Girl Meets World” in 2014.

After introducing Mrs. Garrett on “Diff’rent Strokes,” Rae carried her over to “The Facts of Life” spin-off in 1979. The long-running series brought her an Emmy nomination, financial security and lasting friendships with co-stars Nancy McKeon, Lisa Whelchel, Kim Fields and Mindy Cohn.

(She recalls, with delight, visiting McKeon and her husband at their ranch near Austin, Texas, and having a “jammie party” with their daughters.)

Rae also appeared in movies, with her latest role this year in the Meryl Streep-starring “Ricki and the Flash.” On Broadway, she earned two Tony nominations in the ‘60s for “Pickwick” and “Morning, Noon and Night.”

But it’s an off-Broadway play, Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days,” that she considers her career highlight and most challenging role, “like ‘Hamlet’ to a man,” Rae said, paraphrasing British actress Peggy Ashcroft’s description of it.

The play is essentially a monologue, its primary character a woman who is stuck in an onstage mound of earth but keeps her chin up, literally and otherwise.

“It’s going through life and getting through life with joy and anticipation and acceptance. She’s a noble soul,” Rae said.

Perhaps like the actress herself?

“I try. I try. And most of the time I’m pretty good at it,” she said.

Meet the 10 semifinalists for World’s Funniest Person

The 10 semifinalists in the World’s Funniest Person competition are:

– Mustapha El Atrassi, France. Born in France to a Moroccan family, El Atrassi began doing stand-up as a teenager. He appeared in a one-man show in Paris at age 16 and two years later had his own sitcom in Morocco. Since 2008, he’s hosted a morning radio show in France.

– Ishmo Leikola, Finland. He does stand-up in both English and Finnish, appearing at clubs throughout Europe. He won his country’s stand-up rookie of the year award in 2003 and has been honored five times as the favorite performer at Tomatoes! Tomatoes!, the Nordic countries’ largest comedy festival.

– Vittorrio Leonardi, South Africa. Leonardi has appeared in comedy clubs throughout South Africa, given talks on comedy to Mensa members and taught comedy at St. Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls in Pretoria. He’s also the resident emcee at several South African comedy clubs.

– Saad Haroon, Pakistan. A founding member of the Pakistani improv group Blackfish and other comedy troupes, Saad also created the English-language Pakistani show “The Real News,” a mix of political and social satire. He’s performed on comedy tours in several countries, including the United States.

– Nitin Mirani, United Arab Emirates. Mirani bills himself as “Dubai’s much-loved comedic genius.” He has performed his Komic Sutra comedy show in India, the United States, Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Maldives and several Middle Eastern countries. The publication DNA India called his show, “A laugh riot!”

– Archie Bezos, Spain. Bezos has been described as a Spanish pioneer among openly gay comedians. He made his TV debut in 2012 with an appearance on a Comedy Central show featuring upcoming comedians. The following year he won the top award at Madrid’s FIC comedy festival and recently toured Spain with his “Gay’s Anatomy” comedy show.

– Vivek Mahbubani, an ethnic Indian comic representing his native China. Mahbubani, who performs in English and Cantonese, was honored as Hong Kong’s funniest Chinese comedian in 2007 and its funniest English-language comedian in 2008.

– Tiffany Haddish, USA. Raised in foster homes in Los Angeles, Haddish says her social worker steered her toward a comedy camp for children after hearing her stories about her imaginary friends. She’s appeared on “Def Comedy Jam,” Comedy Central’s “Reality Bites” and recently took part in a USO Comedy Tour in Japan.

– Waddah Swar, Saudi Arabia. Originally from Bahrain, Swar has been described by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the pioneers of Middle Eastern comedy. He won the “Funniest in the Arab World” competition at the Kit Kat Comedy Break Show in Dubai in 2013.

– Lioz Shem Tov, Israel. A visual comedian, Tov frequently uses a range of props to work comically bad magic tricks into his act, which he can perform in either Hebrew or English. He made it to the semifinal round of the NBC series “Last Comic Standing” in 2008.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ star Dawn Wells answers the question: What Would Mary Ann Do?

As the title suggests, What Would Mary Ann Do?, by Dawn Wells with Steve Stinson, is a book of advice. Wells, who played the wholesome, naïve Mary Ann in the classic 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, subtitled the book A Good Girl’s Guide To Life, and it’s a subtitle that refers to both Wells and Mary Ann. Wells offers suggestions for living through the eyes of the actress as well as the character. The book also is full of photos from Wells’ acting career.

I spoke with Wells shortly before the book’s September publication date.

What’s the target audience for What Would Mary Ann Do? I probably raised a generation that are parents of teenagers now, and the attraction to Mary Ann has been the wholesomeness, the honesty, the pitching in and helping. (She represents) the kind of values that seem to be going out the window. It’s hard, as a parent, to corral the teenagers. I don’t have children, but I can see (the teen years are a) difficult time. I have men say to me, “I married a Mary Ann,” or “I want to raise a Mary Ann.” I thought, “There’s something in this character, in this silly little show, that has more value than we think.” 

Could you see parlaying this book into a manners/advice column? It’s very interesting that you say that. I had an experience at a barbecue/fundraiser last year. This girl, probably 13 or 14, sat down next to me for an autograph while I was signing them for other people. I had never seen a child so beautiful. One of those faces that just takes your breath away. I said to her, “I’m going to tell you something,” and her mother was standing there, and I said, “Say no.” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Because of how you look, you are going to be asked so many things that you don’t understand. Boys can’t help themselves, etc. Start out with ‘no.’” We started to laugh about it. I don’t know that young people would read (an advice column), but they might. That’s kind of a cute idea. I have to roll it around in my brain.

In the book you write about your idea for the British-style red phone booths to be used as cellphone stations. I think it’s sheer brilliance. I get so tired of being in a room and everybody’s talking to somebody else (on their phones). You can’t help but overhear. Privacy is gone. I think we all need private time and private moments. I think it would be nice if you had to go into a booth to have your conversation. We’re all invaded by all of that. Where is our privacy? Where are our own quiet thoughts?

In the book you write about “the lesson of seven castaways” — about how they made the island a “safe haven for humanity,” which is especially applicable today, with the devastation in Gaza and Ferguson, Missouri. What would it take for everyone to coexist in peace and harmony? I’m not sure it’s possible. We are observing it now, firsthand. I get tears in my eyes half the time. Remember the peace marches years ago? Martin Luther King and all that. We in Nevada felt like we had something to do with Montgomery, Alabama. Now, can we do something in Gaza? With the people we elect? The people we elect have a huge responsibility. I don’t know where the world is going.

A few days ago, Huffington Post ran a piece titled “11 TV Shows That Defined Your Childhood, Ranked From Worst To Best.” Gilligan’s Island came in at No. 3. What does that ranking mean to you? First of all, I think it would mean an awful lot to the creator (Sherwood Schwartz), who is gone. That he had the vision. Of course, we were bad-rapped: “The worst show ever on television!” “It’ll never last 30 seconds!” CBS didn’t want to put it on the air. Until they showed it to the public — when they had those audiences and it was rated one of the highest ever. I think it was fun and silly at the time. But it sustained because we need it. We need that escape. It’s not Judy Garland tap dancing. It’s more relatable. You saw the camaraderie between these seven misfits trying to get along. I do think Mary Ann was part of the stability. I don’t think that was part of the writers’ vision from the beginning — “Mary Ann’s got to be the peacemaker.” No. The creator had a purity and a childlike vision of life through these seven characters. You loved the Skipper! We didn’t bully Gilligan. With what’s going on today, Gilligan would be thrown off the island.

You also write about Russell Johnson (The Professor), who had a gay son and then became an AIDS advocate when his son became ill. Are you aware of a gay following? I’m very much aware of the gay following and very supportive. I think Mary Ann would’ve been your buddy! I respected Russell so much. It was a tough time. He went out on a limb and he talked about it and the pride he had with (his son) David. That was a big step way back then.

Where do you stand on the subject of same-sex marriage? I’m supportive. I think we are more alike than different. I think we need to embrace who we are today and stop fighting. If there is love around, it’s love, there’s nothing offensive about that.

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Mormon-owned NBC station refuses gay-themed sitcom

A Mormon church-owned NBC affiliate in Utah won’t air an upcoming sitcom about a gay couple that invites a surrogate mother into their home as they try to have a baby because the station deems the content inappropriate for its audience.

“The New Normal” is set to debut Sept. 11 on NBC.

“After viewing the pilot episode of ‘The New Normal,’ we have made the decision to keep it off our fall schedule,” Jeff Simpson, CEO of KSL’s parent company, Bonneville International, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told the Deseret News.

“For our brand, this program simply feels inappropriate on several dimensions, especially during family viewing time,” Simpson told the newspaper, which also is owned by the Mormon church.

Simpson did not respond to a request for comment Monday from The Associated Press.

He told the newspaper the show’s offensive dialogue and explicit content make it an inappropriate fit for the station.

NBC defended the program, noting it makes “a statement about the changing definition of the nuclear family.”

“The show is against bigotry and hatred in every form and will make that point whenever characters say outrageous or unacceptable things about race, religion, sexual identity, disability, or tolerance of people outside the definitions of ‘normal,”” the network said in a statement Monday.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation sharply criticized KSL’s decision.

“Same-sex families are a beloved part of American television thanks to shows like Modern Family, Glee and Grey’s Anatomy,” GLAAD President Herndon Graddick said. “While audiences, critics and advertisers have all supported LGBT stories, KSL is demonstrating how deeply out of touch it is with the rest of the country.”

Over the years, KSL has deemed several other shows inappropriate for its viewers, including “Saturday Night Live,” which instead airs on Salt Lake City’s KUCW.

Last year, the station declined to air the short-lived 1960s period drama “The Playboy Club,” noting it, too, was inappropriate material for its audience.

In 2002, KSL decided not to broadcast an episode of the “Tonight” show because it was set to feature the creators of a stage act called “Puppetry of the Penis.”

A year later, KSL joined WNDU-TV, the NBC affiliate owned by the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., in declining to air the short-lived new sitcom, “Coupling.” The show was a remake of a BBC sitcom focusing on the sex lives of a group of friends.

The university-owned station noted at the time that the show’s sexual jokes “push the envelope well beyond the boundaries of our community’s standards.”

KSL officials said their decision came after a barrage of Utah viewer complaints over network promotions for the show.

Bonneville International, KSL’s parent company, also owns radio stations in Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix.

NBC picks up lesbian sit-com

NBC has picked up a half-hour sitcom pilot that revolves around a lesbian couple, reports AfterEllen.com.

Titled, “I Hate It That I Love You,” the romantic comedy series was created by Jhoni Marchenko, the writer and Emmy-award winning producer of “Will & Grace,” “Men in Trees” and “Murphy Brown.”

The fact that the show has the same name as a song by Rihanna, who is currently making tabloid headlines for an alleged lesbian fling, is apparently coincidental. Natajah Burton wrote a tell-all memoir called “A Low Down Dirty Shame” in which she says she had an affair with a star she identifies as “a Barbadian pop R & B artist.”

“(She was) one of the reasons I started writing my book – she was that voice, that light into my life,” Burton told RadarOnline.com, adding that she wants to become a role model for LGBT youth of color.

“Young black gays don’t have any positive role models to look up to,” she said. “White kids have Ellen and Rosie O’Donnell, but black kids don’t have anyone. There is still so much homophobia in the African-American community, and it is beyond tough to come out – when I did I was called all manner of names, I had guys throwing condoms at me in the street, I was called fa***t, carpet muncher, I was told I was going to hell.”

The book is scheduled for release in March. There’s no word yet on when the NBC series will launch.