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FOX: We got ‘Idol,’ yes we do

Beyond the network's reality juggernaut: ‘Justice,’ ‘Standoff’ and more

We got ‘Idol,’ yes we do, we got ‘Idol,’ how ‘bout you?
FOX president Peter Liguori has a juggernaut on his schedule, and he knows it. Come January through May, no network has a chance of stopping the force that is “American Idol,” which airs two, sometimes three times a week. Liguori admitted that FOX is dominant through the “Idol” season and in summer, and that ratings fall off September through December. It even creates some programming problems for him, considering that “Idol” is always looming to interrupt other show’s seasons, but Liguori admits he’ll “happily deal” with any scheduling issues that come with such a Godzilla of a hit. ”It’s a phenomenon,” he says. When asked if “Idol” will ever see a drop, he says “eventually it stands up to logic and reason that this show has got to notice some ratings erosion,” but admits he’s thought that before, and been proved wrong.

Asked about “Reunion,” which as Test Pattern readers know, irked me and many of them by leaving viewers hanging when it was canceled just a few episodes into a complicated plot, Liguori admitted future situations should be dealt with better. Ideas he favors include a final episode that would wrap up the plot of a canceled show – which he notes was tough for “Reunion” to do since it was trying to cover 20 years. He also favors publishing an online conversation with the show’s head writer or producer to discuss what would have happened. He says “Reunion” creator Jon Harmon Feldman was offered the opportunity to “wrap up ‘Reunion’ (presumably in one episode) but that the show’s premise made that “just too daunting for him.”

Can’t get enough music reality shows? New reality show “Celebrity Duets” will feature singing stars and celebrities famous for talents other than singing working together. The musical artists will include Cyndi Lauper, Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle. When asked how FOX landed such notable artists, Liguori said that Prince’s appearance on the “American Idol” finale helped open the door for other big names. “Celebrity Duets” will premiere on Tuesday, Aug. 29, then move to Thursdays.

Speaking of Thursdays, FOX’s “The O.C.” has perhaps the lamb to the slaughter timeslot of the week. It’s scheduled to run against monster hits “CSI,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and game show “Deal or No Deal.” Of the timeslot, Liguori admits ”it is a challenge,” and compares the show’s characters growing up and graduating from high school to FOX’s attempt to grow up as its famously young audience ages.

Notes from the FOX hunt:

  • No decision has been made on whether the trapped-in-a-bunker reality show “Unan1mous” will return, said Liguori.
  • When asked about eternal favorite “The Simpsons,” Liguori laughed “I’m gonna be dead and buried before ‘The Simpsons’ ever gets removed from our air.” Adding another animated show to Sunday nights (presumably in the spot occupied by the awful “War at Home”) is a priority, he said.
  • Upcoming include Kiefer Sutherland, Natalie Portman, Michael Imperioli and Eric Idle. Dr. Phil will appear on the Halloween episode, and the White Stripes will guest-star on an episode as themselves.
  • While TiVo and other DVRs are always a concern to networks, Liguori believes his FOX is lucky in a way, having certain shows that all but demand to be watched on the night they air. ”You’d be hard-pressed to TiVo the finale of ‘American Idol’ … [or] the ‘24’ finale,” he said.

Young hostage negotiators in love on ‘Standoff’They’re hostage negotiators! They’re partners! They’re in love! They always want to talk it out with the crazy criminals, while their buddies on the SWAT team want to shoot first, ask questions later. That’s pretty much all you need to know about FOX’s new Tuesday-night drama, “Standoff.” About the best thing the show has going for it is that it leads into “House.”

Depending on what shows you’ve been into before, some of the cast may look familiar. Male lead Ron Livingston is better known as Carrie’s boyfriend Jack Berger on “Sex and the City”; Gina Torres was Zoe in “Firefly” and “Serenity”; Michael Cudlitz’s credits include “Prison Break,” “Band of Brothers,” and “90210.”

Creator/producer Craig Silverstein was asked how he’ll differentiate the many hostage dramas his show hopes to tackle. Not all will be straightforward, some will be “quirkier” situations, he said. “This unit also negotiates kidnappings, high-risk suicides. They put down prison riots,” he said. And when asked if the hostages and negotiating team staff will always be saved, he denied it, saying “there will be some losses.” Critics’ questions seemed to indicate that I’m about the only one who didn’t see chemistry with romantic leads Livingston and Rosemarie Dewitt, so perhaps the show has an appeal that I’m just missing.

‘Standoff’ extras:

  • Female lead Rosemarie Dewitt is the granddaughter of the fighter James J. Braddock, on whose life “Cinderella Man” was based.
  • Asked if she misses her “Firefly” role, Gina Torres allowed “occasionally I miss the spaceship,” but noted that like Zoe, her character in “Standoff” still carries a gun.
  • Ron Livingston compared his “Sex and the City” role to being a nude centerfold, saying “If you take pretty much any girl in America, and if you stick a Miss October sash on her, she’s not buying drinks for the rest of her life. I think being one of Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriends is sort of like the romantic lead stamp of approval.”

Will ‘Everybody Love’ Raymond’s brother ‘Til Death’?“Everybody Loves Raymond” was a monster hit that never struck home with me. I thought the show painted women as shrill, men as bumbling, and marriage as a horrible hornet’s nest from which any sane person should flee. Obviously, millions upon millions of viewers disagreed, including my own mother. Will those same millions turn out to see the actor who played Raymond’s brother, Brad Garrett, continuing that image of marriage? That’s what “Til Death” is counting on.

Garrett plays Eddie and Joely Fisher plays his wife, Joy, married for decades. Garrett’s character moans about how husbands just want to have fun, but wives want to “walk fun into the woods and shoot it dead.” Laughing yet? Maybe a toilet joke will do it for you, then, there’s at least one of those. Or maybe the premise that a newlywed couple moves in next door to Eddie and Joy, shoving in the face of the gloomy longlyweds all the idealism of a new bride and groom. And of course, the young husband also happens to be the new vice-principal at the school where Eddie teaches.

Real-life married couple Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith produce this show and another new show about marriage that happens to air on ABC in the exact same day and time slot — Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET. Plenty was made of the fact that they’re competing against themselves. If either show makes it, I suppose “Til Death” has to be favored, thanks to the star power of Garrett and the pull of the “Raymond” name. Garrett was quite humorous on his panel (at one point, breaking into a Bill Cosby impersonation), but in the pilot he seems like such an Eeyore – always incurably glum. But remember, this is coming from a non-“Raymond” lover, so my opinion may not be the majority view.

‘Death’ notes:

  • Garrett has an interesting movie career, and is contributing the voice of the French chef to the 2007 animated film “Ratatouille.” Joked Garrett about his film options “I’m very picky and not in demand.”
  • Garrett said he didn’t think TV viewers want to watch a marriage that works. Slightly odd words from a man who did an impersonation of Bill Cosby – the Huxtable marriage being one of TV’s strongest and the show one of its most popular.
  • “Til Death” is not the “Everybody Loves Raymond” sequel for which many fans were hoping. Garrett said when the “Raymond” writers weren’t available, he didn’t want to take the character of Robert Barone forward without them.

‘Vanished’: Not to be confused with ‘Kidnapped’
FOX’s “Vanished trotted out a 15-person panel, definitely one of the largest seen so far. I joked to another critic that the panel might be larger than the show’s audience, and he parried back that we might spend more time sitting in the panel than the show would spend on the air.

That said, of this show and its seeming twin, I prefer “Vanished.” “Kidnapped” features a seemingly purely innocent victim, a child, whereas the woman at the center of “Vanished” seems to have a puzzling past, and may indeed have not been kidnapped at all. “I don’t think anything about “Vanished” is straight-ahead,” said creator/producer Josh Berman, who later added “Everybody in the show obviously is hiding a secret.”

The cast includes Rebecca Gayheart as a relentless reporter pursuing the story, Gale Harold and Ming-Na as FBI agents on the cast, and John Allen Nelson as the senator whose second wife (Joanne Kelly) is the missing woman. While Kelly’s character’s disappearance is at the center of the mystery, the producers are also making dramatic promises to tie in a conspiracy of centuries-old historic importance, leaving the majority of the critics to envision some kind of “DaVinci Code”-like biblical secret.

“Vanished” extras:

  • Otto Preminger’s 1944 classic “Laura,” in which a detective falls in love with a woman while investigating her murder, was an inspiration for the producers.
  • Rebecca Gayheart’s famous curls are no more, at least for this role. The actress appeared in the pilot and at the panel with straight hair.
  • Actor John Allen Nelson plays a senator from Georgia, but the actor, himself born in Texas, does not use his southern accent.

Victor Garber goes on the hunt for ‘Justice’
Can viewers stand one more legal drama? FOX is hoping to break into what would seem an already overcrowded market with the generically named “Justice,” starring a fresh-off-“Alias” Victor Garber as a high-powered defense attorney leading a legal team. His crew is high-powered, highly paid and the gadgets and computer simulations they use are high-tech. 

Expect the media to come in for more than its share of stereotyping. The pilot introduces us to legal show “American Crime” and its blonde, brassy host, a Nancy Grace clone if ever there was one. The show does have an interesting twist: After each episode’s case is tried (we presume they’ll win more than they lose), viewers will be shown the actual crime, giving them a chance to see if the client the firm defended was guilty or innocent, information even the lawyers on the show may not have. Producer Jonathan Shapiro, a one-time Rhodes Scholar, was himself a federal prosecutor for 10 years in Washington, D.C., and will draw from his own experiences on the show.

The case in the pilot will be familiar to anyone who followed the Michael Peterson murder case out of Durham. N.C. Peterson, an author, was found guilty of the murder of his wife Kathleen. His lawyers claimed her death was an accident. The case was made into the acclaimed Sundance Channel documentary “The Staircase.” And “Justice” viewers should look for more familiar cases – one upcoming show will focus on a fictional case similar to the Heidi Fleiss “Hollywood madam” case. But it remains to me seen if Garber has enough star power, and if the show’s ending promise of “see what really happens” will be enough to draw an audience.

From the ‘Justice’ league:

  • Shapiro has appeared on a legal show with Nancy Grace, and said he’d love to have “Justice” become so popular that people such as Larry King and Grace herself will want to appear on the show. My guess is that Grace won’t exactly appreciate the portrayal of herself as someone who convicts people via the media, and won’t be calling Shapiro for a part any time soon.
  • Shapiro notes that defense attorneys used to be people’s heroes, citing “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” Atticus Finch, voted the number-one movie hero by the American Film Institute. “Everybody hates lawyers, except that they all love their lawyer,” he said.
  • Victor Garber said that when he read the first ten pages of “Alias,” he knew he wanted to play Jack Bristow, and that he felt the same about the “Justice” script. “When I read it, I thought, ‘I want to play this guy because it’s challenging, it’s dimensional, and it’s very different from anything I’ve done,’” he said.

‘Happy Hour’: Best watched with a buzz on
Before starting the cast and producer panel for “Happy Hour,” FOX served drinks (befitting the 10 a.m. time, they were morning drinks, sort of — bloody Marys, mimosas and English coffee, a Kahlua drink). This was not a bad idea. With enough drinks, perhaps “Happy Hour” can seem to stand out from the numerous other comedies with unknown, handsome casts that attempt to draw humor from the twentysomething-thirtysomething lifestyle.

“Happy Hour” focuses on six young adults living in Chicago. When Henry’s girlfriend dumps him, he seeks out an apartment with Larry, who’s just been dumped in a different way – his old roomie, Brad, moved out to live with his controlling fiancé. The one woman who’s not cracking the whip over the men is Amanda, Larry’s childhood friend and Henry’s new boss. She supposedly has weight issues, though no one outside the 90210 area code will spot an excess ounce on her.

The show’s producers have strong pedigrees — married couple Jeff and Jackie Filgo produced “That 70s Show” and Tom Werner has plenty of famous shows on his resume. But it’s unclear how the show hopes to stand out. The title comes from Larry’s desire to live a Rat Pack life and his penchant for 4 p.m. martinis, but in 2006, can fresh humor be derived from the “Swingers”/Rat Pack fad?  I’m not sure. But the mimosa wasn’t bad.

Scribbles from the ‘Happy Hour’ napkins:

  • Lex Medlin, who plays martini-happy Larry, has been seen in more than 100 commercials, including the ad where he calls his parents using the name “Bob Wehadababyitsaboy.” (In real life, Medlin and wife have a girl.)
  • In one scene, a glum Amanda (Beth Lacke) consumes an entire pizza. It’s supposed to be Chicago deep-dish, but true Midwesterners will recognize it’s not near as thick as Windy City deep-dish needs to be. Still, Lacke is a Midwesterner herself, raised in Eau Claire, Wisc., and the Chicago suburbs, so she comes by her Midwestern accent naturally.
  • Though the main cast is quite young, their parents and family members may come into play. ”I love the parents so much on ‘70s’,’ said Jackie Filgo. “I love writing for people who have more and more life experience.”