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Tuned In: New fall shows pack more promo than punch

Thursday, July 03, 2003

By Rob Owens, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Are you sick of promos for the new fall shows yet? NBC, in particular, is guilty of replaying the same punch lines from its new sitcoms to the point of wringing all laughs from them. The preview for "Happy Family" gives away every surprise in that show's pilot.

After watching all the fall pilots in preparation for the start of the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Hollywood next week, I'm disappointed to report that there are few shows to get excited about.

Cops and procedural crime shows will further dominate the prime-time landscape this fall with no fewer than a dozen new law enforcement series joining the already ample ranks of multiple editions of "CSI" and "Law & Order." It's not that all of these shows are bad -- some are competently made -- but they're unnecessary.

The family comedy ranks continue to swell, too, following ABC's return to the genre last fall. Sadly, too many of these shows are crude and not as family-friendly as the networks intend (or maybe the bar for what's acceptable for children to see and hear is just lower in Hollywood).

Like a book and its cover, it's tough to judge a series by its pilot. That said, there are two broadcast network shows I'm most intrigued by: ABC's "I'm With Her" and CBS's "Joan of Arcadia."

"I'm With Her," airing Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. this fall, is a romantic comedy written by Chris Henchy, husband of Brooke Shields. Henchy draws from personal experience for this story of a regular Joe dating a big-shot Hollywood actress. Yes, it's a little "Notting Hill," but this sitcom is sweet, funny and down to earth.

In "Joan of Arcadia," airing Fridays at 8 p.m., a teenage girl hears God speaking directly to her. He takes a variety of forms, from a teenage boy to a woman who works in the school cafeteria. The show is unstuffy enough that it allows Joan to suggest that God is snippy -- He's got a good comeback -- but not so loose that it's likely to offend many people. "Joan's" only weak spot comes in scenes with Joan's father (Joe Mantegna) on the job as a cop. It feels like we've stumbled from a unique dramedy into another "CSI" clone.

Only a presentation of "Joan of Arcadia" was available, so my interest in "Joan" remains qualified until I can see a full pilot. (A presentation runs only about 30 minutes, so the creators will have to film additional footage of this one-hour drama to get to the 42-44 minutes of program time needed to fill the time slot.)

Another program that's likely to get good buzz in the coming months: HBO's "Carnivale," which follows a traveling circus through the Dust Bowl in 1934. It's dark and dense, a series on slow boil that brings to mind "Twin Peaks" and "American Gothic."

Another 'Brother'

CBS's "Big Brother" returns for a fourth edition at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Producers have added another twist to this summer "reality" show. Of the 13 people in the house, eight are former couples who don't know their exes will be locked up with them for up to three months.

Executive producer Arnold Shapiro said prospective contestants were screened to make sure no one with a divorce, children or record of domestic abuse would be invited to participate in the game.

That being said ...

"You can do the most thorough background checks known to mankind, but something can still slip through the cracks," Shapiro said, alluding to the uncovered escapades of cast members from past editions of the show. He acknowledged that some contestants this year have DUIs on their records but said nothing of a violent nature has turned up.

Just in case, let's hope all steak knives have been removed from the kitchen lest someone try to make mincemeat of his or her ex.

So appropriate

During last Wednesday's edition of the tawdry Fox show "Paradise Hotel," an ad ran for a prescription drug that's used to treat herpes.

I'm not sure if that speaks more to the show's audience or the participants, who are encouraged to "hook up" or be ousted.

Coming soon

"Trading Spaces" fans take note: A new iteration of the TLC series premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday. "Trading Spaces: Family" features entire families swapping houses and redecorating rooms. ... The first season of The WB's "Smallville" will be released on DVD Sept. 23 for $64.92. It will contain audio commentaries on two episodes, deleted scenes and a featurette.

Pax TV MIA?

Back in May when the broadcast networks announced their new fall schedules, Pax TV was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps it was because the seventh network, available locally on some cable systems, developed no new shows for fall.

Only two original scripted programs return -- "Doc" and "Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye" -- and those will now air just once a week. "Doc" airs at 8 p.m. Sundays, followed by "Sue Thomas" at 9. "Just Cause" was canceled.

Reruns of "America's Funniest Home Videos" will air at 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, followed by reruns of "Early Edition" at 9.

Other series returning with new episodes include "Supermarket Sweep" (6 p.m.) and "It's a Miracle" (11 p.m.) sthrough Fridays and "Miracle Pets" (6 p.m.) and "Candid Camera" (7 p.m.) on Sundays.

Pax TV is in a transitional phase, waiting to see if NBC, which owns a percentage of the network, opts to buy it outright.

Nice work

Channel 11 reporter Becky Thompson's series of stories on gambling last week was a pleasant surprise, especially since it wasn't a sweeps month. WPXI sent Thompson to Detroit to see the effect casinos have had on that city and what Pittsburgh might expect if we get casinos here.

In this era of slashed newsroom budgets, TV reporters are rarely sent anywhere, which isn't inherently bad since in the past a local presence at a national story was often more out of show than out of necessity. Thompson, who used to work in Detroit, offered reports that were relevant and an example of the kind of solid enterprise stories local stations should pursue more often.

WQED rescheduling

"Avoiding Armageddon," a PBS program that aired nationally earlier this year, will premiere in Pittsburgh this month, airing at 10 p.m. July 13, 20 and 27 and Aug. 3.

Channel 11 specials

WPXI will air "A Star-Spangled Salute: Live Coverage of the WDVE/Citiparks Fireworks" tomorrow from 9 to 10 p.m. Anchors David Johnson and Gina Redmond will host the program, which repeats tomorrow at 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. on PCNC.

Johnson's Hill District reports will air at 7:30 p.m. July 19 as a collection, "David Johnson Reports: One Year on Centre Avenue."


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments online under TV Forum.

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