Fox turns to a familiar face to lure viewers next season

May 13, 2013

Kiefer Sutherland is back as Jack Bauer, Seth MacFarlane has his first live-action TV comedy, Ichabod Crane is the next TV action hero and — for one brief, shining moment — a commercial broadcast network will air a series in which Neil deGrasse Tyson gets all the screen time.

Looking to replace lost ratings traction as its “American Idol” winds down, Fox network is diving into the miniseries business feet first. That immersion includes a dusting-off of its canceled hit drama series “24,” a “mind-bending thriller” from filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, a reboot of NBC’s ’80s miniseries “Shogun” and a dramatization of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, among others.

In a presentation to advertisers Monday afternoon at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre, the network also talked up its 11 full-length series for next season. That tally is Fox’s biggest programming investment ever, programming chief Kevin Reilly told them — more than double last season’s five (though six short of the batch that NBC unveiled to the same advertisers that morning at Radio City Music Hall).

“This was not our best season,” Reilly said during the presentation, stating the obvious.

Sutherland, a darling of advertisers, didn’t show up, even to talk up the return of his “24.” The new miniseries, “24: Live Another Day,” actually will clock only 12 hours in another really bad day for Jack Bauer, skipping over the less eventful hours — naptime, and maybe lunch.


The military-set family comedy “Enlisted” centers on three brothers, Randy (Parker Young, left), Pete (Geoff Stults) and Derrick (Chris Lowell) Waits, who, when the best of the best are sent overseas, stay behind and serve on the Rear Detachment unit, a small Florida Army base where they are tasked with taking care of deployed soldiers' families. (Jordin Althaus/Fox)

The “24” project will kick off a slate of miniseries that the network hopes will bring back viewers, including the “Shogun” remake and the Shyamalan thriller — based on the bestseller “Pines” — that stars a man (Matt Dillon) leading a search for missing federal agents in what appears to be a bucolic Idaho town.

Miniseries were once an important part of the broadcast-TV landscape, but then were all but dead on broadcast TV until such basic-cable networks as FX and History started pulling in record ratings, and a boatload of Emmys, with “American Horror Story,” “Hatfields & McCoys,” and “The Bible.”

In a nod to the cablers, broadcasters are now calling them “event series” and trumpeting that “a Who’s-Who of Hollywood is coming through the door, willing to participate,” as Reilly bragged Monday. “24:LAD” will debut during next year’s May ratings “sweep” and run well into the summer.

Fox’s two flailing singing competitions, “The X Factor” and “Idol,” will nonetheless get three-hour chunks of the network’s 15-hour prime time — “X” in the fall, “Idol” in the spring.

Earlier Monday, Reilly insisted to reporters on a conference call that this season’s sharp “Idol” ratings decline was owing to format changes, and not bickering judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey (with poor Keith Urban caught in the middle). Judge Randy Jackson has already tweeted that he’s off the show.

Reilly confirmed that the “Idol” panel will be shrunk to three judges, but declined to discuss their fate except to give a vague comment that they’d all be welcome back. The reporters, however, were not born yesterday.

Things got testy at the Beacon Theatre in the afternoon, when the reality-TV stars of Fox were presented on-stage in tableau — a sort of Reality TV Last Supper.

“Where’s Randy?” snarked “X Factor” perpetrator Simon Cowell at “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest on stage, after Seacrest corrected his pronunciation of Mario Lopez’s name — Mario being Cowell’s “X” host, who was standing just one celeb away from Cowell on stage.

“Ask Kevin,” shot back Seacrest, who was the only “Idol” personality in the tableau, which was noticeably missing Carey, Minaj, Urban and Jackson.

Advertisers responded most enthusiastically to Fox’s new drama “Sleepy Hollow,” in which the coward made famous by Washington Irving two centuries ago will return — this time as an action hero, as envisioned by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci of “Star Trek” “Transformers” and “Fringe” fame.

That rival for the wealthy chick’s hand who dressed up as a headless horseman to scare Ichabod out of town? Turns out, he was actually one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as described in the Bible’s Book of Revelation; he also thinks heedlessness is a new fashion trend and is bringing it to the masses. His own head-free state makes it awkward for police when they accost him and bark, “Put your hands on your head! — ,” and they aren’t sure he can hear them, which will make the reading of the Miranda rights uncomfortable.

No wonder exhuming Icahbod seems the logical step.

“Sleepy Hollow” is getting the Monday time slot, following “Bones.”

Advertisers also responded warmly to the new drama “Rake,” starring Greg Kinnear as a brilliant, charming, chaotic, self-destructive, gambling-addicted criminal defense attorney — think “House” with courtrooms.

There’s also “Almost Human,” from J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman (”Fringe”), a show set 35 years in the future and which follows a part-machine cop teamed with a part-human robot — the explanation of which in the first episode you do not want to miss.

Fox will take another whack at creating a four-comedy block on Tuesdays. In the fall, that kicks off with MacFarlane’s first live-action, multi-camera comedy, “Dads.”

“Dads” will star Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as successful gaming entrepreneurs whose pain-in-the-neck dads, Martin Mull and Peter Riegert, move in, and hilarity ensues.

“Dads” and another new comedy called “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — starring Andy Samberg as a smart-aleck manchild detective, and Andre Braugher as Smart Aleck’s superior/Samberg’s straight man — are the new lead-ins to the returning “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project.”

“New Girl” will get the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot next season, because the game is on Fox.

Reilly announced Tuesday that — finally — MacFarlane’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s universe-spanning science series, “Cosmos,” will debut next TV season. Its 13 episodes will star astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was shown to advertisers in clips of his appearances on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” and Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show,” by way of demonstrating to them the guy’s pop-cred.

MacFarlane persuaded Fox to make this passion project when the network was trying to secure his services for some show or another, urban legend has it. Anyway, Fox’s hope is that it’s so entertaining and so flashy, even people who have no interest in science — aka most Fox viewers — will watch anyway.

Gordon Ramsay, on the other hand, Fox viewers just cannot get enough of. So Fox has ordered a fifth series from him: “Junior Masterchef,” which will air Friday nights in the fall.

Later in the season, two comedies will air on Friday nights: the returning “Raising Hope” and the new “Enlisted.” In the latter show, Geoff Stultz stars as a soldier returning home to reconnect with his two younger brothers on a small Florida Army base, where he’s going to lead a group of misfits — because if he were leading a group of well-trained professionals, it would be a drama and star Kiefer Sutherland.

Leno’s here. (No Seth.)

Earlier in the day, Seth Meyers was a no-show at NBC’s clambake at Radio City Music Hall.

The “SNL” longtimer will move to “Late Night” when Jimmy Fallon takes over the “Tonight Show,” after NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

NBC decided that Meyers rated his own announcement Sunday, which it sent out awhile before sending out a second announcement, unveiling its other plans for next TV season.

Instead, after an hour or so of blah-blah-blah-ing, and trailers for a whopping 17 new series, it was left to poor Jay Leno to bring down the house full of ad execs and TV station suits.

Leno, who’s being pushed — again — from the “Tonight Show,” once again gamely sang a duet with Fallon, celebrating his own ouster. This time, it was a videotaped reworking of “Les Miserables’ ” “One Day More.” Their version was called “Eight Months More” — as in, the number of months (sort of) between now and when Fallon takes over “Tonight.”

Wild applause from the advertisers, who had given everything else they saw at the presentation varying degrees of polite applause. Michael J. Fox’s new comedy, “The Michael J. Fox Show,” and James Spader’s new drama, “Blacklist” got maybe the highest levels of the polite applause.

Not coincidentally, “Blacklist” is getting NBC’s best time slot, following “The Voice” on Monday. And the Peacock Network has scheduled “The Michael J. Fox Show” in the formerly great Thursday-at-9:30-p.m. half-hour, because NBC believes that’s the show’s best shot at making its Thursday a “Must See” again.

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to Jay Leno,” NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt told the packed hall. He opened the festivities by joking that he was stepping down in 2014 so that Leno could run NBC’s programming development. Greenblatt had also gotten just polite applause from the ad execs. “I’m glad I made it to the podium before the applause died,” he joked.

Walters’s retirement

Barbara Walters made official Monday on “The View” her plans to retire from journalism in 2014.

“After all the speculation and rumors and so forth last month, I promised you that if I had anything to announce about my future plans, you would hear it first here,” said Walters, while the other ladies of “The View” cooed over her. “So here it goes.”

After 37 years with ABC News (after a stint at NBC News, where she joined the “Today” show in ’61 and eventually became co-host), Babs will call it a wrap next summer.

“No one was more surprised than I,” Babs said Sunday, about becoming a well-known on-air talent on “Today.” “I wasn’t beautiful, like many of the women on the program before me, [and] I had trouble pronouncing my r’s. I still do!”

In 1976, she joined ABC, where she became the first female co-anchor of its evening news; three years later, she became a co-host of “20/20.”

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/
tvblog
.

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