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ABC throws new shows at wall; some will stick

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/9/2009 (4026 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

No escape claws: Courteney Cox (left, with Busy Philipps) might have the charm to keep Cougar Town around.

MICHAEL DESMOND / ABC

No escape claws: Courteney Cox (left, with Busy Philipps) might have the charm to keep Cougar Town around.

Launching a new TV series is, at best, an iffy proposition -- statistically speaking, only about one in four new dramas and comedies survives to see a second season.

Launching a whole bunch of new shows, therefore, must be considered a huge, expensive gamble.

And launching a whole bunch of new shows all on the same night? Well, some folks would think that that's just crazy.

But that's what ABC, which happens to be one of the more successful U.S. networks these days, is doing on Wednesdays this fall -- unveiling a prime-time lineup that consists of nothing but new shows. Four comedies, one pretty funny drama; three premiering this week, with the other two arriving on Sept. 30.

Not surprisingly, the betting here is that ABC's daring strategy will produce very mixed results -- some of the Alphabet net's midweek newcomers rank among this fall's new-show crop's best, while one is an outright stinker that will surely be headed for the cancellation heap before the snow flies.

Here's a quick rundown of ABC's new Wednesday lineup:

Hank (7 p.m., premiering Sept. 30, also on Citytv) -- Cheers/Frasier alumnus Kelsey Grammer is back... but not for long, if this family-focused comedy's painfully forced pilot episode is any indication. Grammer plays the former CEO of a huge sporting-goods empire, who got caught up in the recession-mad restructuring and found himself downsized right out of his own company. Now somewhat humbled and looking for a way to restart his life and career, Hank leaves New York City behind and returns to his small-town Virginia roots. Being a big-city mogul was one thing; being a close-to-home, job-seeking dad who actually has to spend time with his family is quite another.

There are a lot of different kinds of comedy that Grammer does well, but family-man funnery isn't one of them. Hank is painful to watch.

The Middle (7:30 p.m., Sept. 30, also on Citytv) -- Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond), who co-starred with Grammer in the short-lived newsroom comedy Back to You, finds herself in an adjacent timeslot but a completely different fictional hometown in this average-Jane comedy. Heaton plays a very in-the-middle kind of mom -- middle-aged, middle-income, definitely in mid-life crisis mode -- who's trying to find fulfilment in a life that has no real highlights. She has an uninspiring husband, a couple of challenging teenagers and a younger son who's just about the squarest peg to ever approach a round hole.

The Middle isn't anywhere near as bad as Hank, but it's neither quirky enough nor sufficiently grounded in real life to make a lasting impression. Our guess: The Middle is closer to the end than it realizes.

Modern Family (tonight at 8, also on Citytv) -- It's fitting that ABC's new-show haul doesn't arrive until 8 p.m. this evening, because that's when the watch-worthy fun really does start. Ed O'Neill (Married ... With Children), Julie Bowen (Ed), Sofia Vergara (Hot Properties) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (The Class) star in this unusual study of three very different families that actually turn out to be part of the same extended clan.

Each of the households -- one average, one gay and one of the May-September variety -- is intriguing on its own; when they all get together, it's big, chaotic, genuinely amusing fun.

Cougar Town (tonight at 8:30, also on Citytv) -- Former Friend Courteney Cox returns to the network-sitcom world in this series about a woman of a certain age who suddenly finds herself single (with a teenage son) and trying to figure out how to re-enter the relationship game. Offering help and support are a single, party-minded co-worker, Laurie (Busy Philipps), and her longtime friend/neighbour Ellie (Christa Miller), who's married to very average husband Andy (Ian Gomez) and doesn't really understand the whole suddenly-single scene.

The pilot episode of Cougar Town tries a bit too hard for its own good; the jokes feel forced and some characters are more annoying than amusing. But Cox's easy appeal gives it a foundation on which to build, so there's hope for the ol' girl yet.

Eastwick (tonight at 9) -- The obvious question, when it comes to this revival of the concept that drove the huge '80s feature film The Witches of Eastwick (which starred Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Jack Nicholson), is this:

Why? By any Hollywood standard you choose to employ, the cast of this series is staring at a closetful of impossible-to-fill shoes.

But there's a whole generation out there that hasn't seen the 1987 feature, and even those folks who have probably don't remember all that much about it. CanCon poster boy Paul Gross makes his first foray into Hollywood's TV factory to tackle the devilish role of Darryl Van Horne, the newcomer who casts a hot-and-bothered spell on some of the town's most attractive womenfolk; Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price and Jaime Ray Newman co-star as the ladies who learn to love being bedeviled.

Eastwick's pilot is a pretty engaging hour; only time will tell whether viewers will be sufficiently seduced to make this a regular Wednesday-night stop. With only Leno and CSI: NY to compete against, there might be an audience ready to be wooed by Eastwick's offbeat charm.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

 

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

Read full biography

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