2010 Fall TV Preview

Coming this fall: feel-good Friday

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Remember Friday nights on broadcast TV when it was a real night of original scripted programming?

"L.A. Law"?
"Full House"?
"The X-Files"?

You are so old.

Which, ironically, makes you the target audience on Fridays this fall as broadcasters, who have already thrown in the towel on Saturdays, struggle to take back Friday nights.

For decades, Friday was a viable night for the broadcast TV networks, and shows such as those mentioned above prospered. But over the years, broadcasters let the night slip away; it has become one of their least-watched nights of the week. And, for the past several years, Saturday evening has been the boneyard where "Ugly Betty" and "Dollhouse" were sent to die; the repository of cheap, non-scripted fare, such as "America's Next Top Model" reruns, "Don't Forget the Lyrics" and "Wife Swap"; and the home of such newsmagazines as "Dateline" and "20/20."

Now there's an increasing realization among execs that if they don't take Friday seriously, it will become another Saturday, and another opportunity to make money will have slipped away.

CBS, the one network that has clung to the notion of scripted series on Fridays all these years, has profited from older-skewing dramas. They have starred the likes of Jennifer (" 'Love' to My Friends") Hewitt as the bosom-heaving dead people talker-to in "Ghost Whisperer" and Rob ("Remember Him From 'Northern Exposure' ") Morrow as a detective with a braniac brother who solves his crimes for him in "Numb3rs."

Imitation being the sincerest form of television, the other broadcasters worked like little beavers to concoct some superbly CBS-ish shows for Friday nights this fall. They've come up with big-tent shows, in which each episode has a beginning, a middle and an end, as God intended. (No intertwined story lines from week to week, or "Lost"-esque sideways-universe head-scratchers, thanks.) Shows that are not looking for the next hot bit of on-air talent but that instead star good-looking people you've known for a long time, and enjoy looking at, doing heroic, chest-thumpy things that make you feel good at the end of the week.

CBS saw it coming and, for this fall, created The Mother of All CBS Friday dramas: "Blue Bloods."

It stars Tom Selleck -- previously known as Vietnam vet Thomas Magnum, Monica's older ophthalmologist boyfriend Dr. Richard Burke, and 12-stepping Paradise, Mass., police chief Jesse Stone.

Shows don't get much more CBS-on-Friday than "Blue Bloods," a procedural crime drama with dashes of serialization, starring Selleck as Frank Reagan, the New York police chief and cop-family patriarch. In true CBS fashion, he's surrounded by hot younger family members, including Donnie Wahlberg, who have been thrown in to make Selleck look heroic and to bring in whatever younger viewers they can persuade to watch CBS.

NBC's homage to CBS, "Outlaw," stars Jimmy Smits as a playboy gambler Cyrus Garza, who abruptly decides to quit the U.S. Supreme Court, where he had always adhered to a strict interpretation of the law, because he has just realized the system is flawed. And, also, there's that quarter-of-a-million-dollar gambling debt. Garza returns to private practice to heroically represent "the little guy" and, along the way, he's going to make plenty of powerful people mightily unhappy.

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