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'Gotham,' 'Jane the Virgin' among most promising new fall TV shows

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Now that reporters are back from this summer's annual Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles, what are some of the best new shows coming our way? Here are five new offerings that stood out for this critic:

"Gotham" (Fox, CTV)

These big-budget, comic book-inspired efforts are all the rage this year as TV networks try for the same home runs found in movie theatres. It helped that TCA critics got their first look at "Gotham" on a big theatre screen right on the Warner Bros. studio lot. Almost anything would look more impressive that way. Still, this critic liked this look at the boy Batman, young Bruce Wayne, much more than I expected. There is none of the camp of the '60s "Batman" series. "Gotham" plays more like a film noir detective saga, with always dependable Donal Logue ("Vikings," "Sons of Anarchy") setting the perfect tone right down to his fedora as world-weary cop Harvey Bullock. Ben McKenzie ("The O.C.") works as Logue's straight-arrow partner and Jada Pinkett Smith makes a hiss-able villainess as Fish Mooney. Stealing the pilot, however, is Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot. He's creepy-good as the weasel who grows up to be the Penguin. Bruno Heller, who guided production on HBO's failed epic "Rome" as well as "The Mentalist," makes the most of the New York City locations. "This is more 'Chinatown' than 'Batman,'" says Logue, and he's right.

"Jane the Virgin" (The CW)

This series, like several others this season, was left on the table when Canadian broadcasters made their annual purchases at the L.A. screenings. I can see why: based on a Venezuelan telenovela, there would seem to be less of an audience for it in Canada. Critics at press tour, however, were completely won over by star Gina Rodriguez, irresistible as a young Latina woman who becomes accidentally artificially inseminated. "Jane the Virgin" has all the crossover appeal of "Ugly Betty" and has fun with clich�s associated with telenovelas. If it clicks Stateside, look for somebody in Canada to add it to their schedule.

"Dick Cavett's Watergate" (PBS)

You won't have to wait until fall to see this special, scheduled to air Aug. 9 (check local listings for the PBS affiliate in your area). In the late '60s, early '70s, "The Dick Cavett Show" was the late night talk show for the college crowd. Gore Vidal, Jimi Hendrix and Woody Allen — edgier and more intellectual guests than you'd find on Johnny Carson's couch — made multiple appearances.

Forty years ago next month, former president Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace from the White House. The Watergate hearings and the Washington Post exposed Nixon's direct involvement in the affair and cover-up, but it was Cavett, in the early days, who kept the heat on Nixon by booking guests such as Ted Kennedy, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite and John Dean. The special shows how nimble-minded Cavett was really more of a forerunner to Jon Stewart than to Jimmy Fallon.

"The Roosevelts: An Intimate History" (PBS)

Master documentarian Ken Burns brings perspective to, with apologies to the Kennedys, the first family of American politics. Burns' 14-hour, seven-part series (Sept. 14-20), follows the lives of Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, eventually followed into the White House by his fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. All three made enormous contributions to the American social and political landscape, although Burns doubts Teddy or FDR could get elected today: one was too eccentric, the other too physically handicapped. Even the fact FDR used to summer in New Brunswick would likely outrage America Tea Partiers today. The series is as much about an era when the press kept secrets as it is about the sacrifices of a privileged family.

"Transparent" (Amazon)

Think Amazon is just a place to buy books on the Internet? Think again. This comedy-drama shows the company is also very much in the original content business.

"Transparent" stars Jeffrey Tambor ("Arrested Development") as the patriarch of a modern Los Angeles family. Things get "Transparent" when he comes out as transgender. The series is surprisingly moving as well as funny. Tambor, 70, who has stood out on everything from "The Larry Sanders Show" to "Hill Street Blues," called acting in this series "the most transforming experience I've had." He feels the series shows "how far television has come in terms of content and this is far more levelled and centred." All 10 episodes will be available in late September on Amazon Prime Instant Video — as if broadcasters didn't already have enough competition from Netflix, Crackle and AMC.

Canadians will have to wait longer, as Amazon Prime Instant Video isn't yet available north of the border.


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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