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Simon Missed and Other Early “Idol” Thoughts

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I woke up this morning in time to see the results of a poll on new “American Idol” judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler (see right) that aired at the end of Channel 2’s “Daybreak.”

The results made you wonder if the show’s Water Cooler effect would depart this season with acerbic Simon Cowell.

According to Channel 2’s unscientific poll, 42 percent felt the show was better with the new judges but 50 percent agreed with the statement “no Simon, no show.”

Better without Simon?

Did those voters actually see Wednesday’s two-hour premiere?

I watched the first hour trying to imagine what “Idol” would have been if it had started with Tyler, Lopez and holdover judge Randy Jackson.

I couldn’t imagine it would have become the TV phenomenon it became in the last decade.

The new configuration apparently means that Jackson will have more power and impact as he guides the new judges.

Lopez looks beautiful in all her hair styles and outfits, but when it comes to criticism she made Paula Abdul sound like Mike Schopp or Sean Hannity.

Tyler, the long-haired lead singer of Aerosmith who David Letterman cracked Wednesday night looked like J-Lo’s mother, does seem to have some critical potential and an ability to turn a phrase. He could – in the vernacular of the show – eventually make his role “all his own.”

But as many critics have noted, the judges might not sound better than they do in the audition episodes in which their comments are taped and edited. The hard part comes later when they assess performances live.

Of course, a 50 percent negative judge rating could spell disaster for the show’s ratings.

But it is too early to overreact. Besides, even if those 50 percent leave, “Idol” would get a respectable rating by TV network standards.

The show has leaked ratings nationally and locally. But there is nothing else on WUTV besides NFL games that gets close to the 16.2 rating it averaged a year ago, down from a 17.7 in 2009.

Wednesday’s opener had a 14.9 local rating on Channel 29, which means it probably will be about 15 or 20 percent lower than the 20.9 rating the opener had in 2010 when time-shifted viewership up to seven days later was counted.

The unknowns in the equation are the talent level, which has slipped significantly in recent years, and the heartwarming stories that accompany the contestants.

One thing that was very clear from Wednesday’s opener in New Jersey was that “Idol” is going to be warmer and fuzzier this year without Simon. And if it is warm and fuzzy in hard-bitten Jersey, it will be even warmer in the South, where many of its top candidates often come from.

* NBC’s new three-hour block of comedies Thursday night should take a hit opposite the second night of “Idol.”

It doesn’t help that the new comedy premiering at 8:30 p.m. on Channel 2, “Perfect Couples,” doesn’t live up to its name.

“Couples,” which had an early launch in December that few people or even critics were aware of, is the first of what will be a series of new romantic comedies premiering on television this spring.

Its three couples can be summarized in a few words: Dave (Kyle Bornheimer of CBS’ one-year wonder “Worst Week) and Julia (Christine Woods) are the normal couple. They would prefer to spend time with each other rather than share their anniversary with friends. Vance (David Walton) and Amy (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) like to have fights so they can have makeup sex. Rex (Hayes MacArthur) and Leigh (Olivia Munn) are the couple guided by self-help books that tell them how to behave.

Tonight’s unfunny pilot revolves around a game night. An additional episode sent for review revolves around Dave’s unhealthy eating habits and Amy’s spending habits. It led to some forced fun at Rex’s new man cave.

The man cave is a perfect metaphor for the series, since practically everything about “Perfect” is forced – the situations and the humor.

It is so lame that I bet even J-Lo would have no trouble voting it off TV.

Rating: 1 and a half stars out of 4   

pergament@msn.com

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Old Pros Sell Sex Jokes in “Retired at 35″

Mary Tyler Moore at the 45th Emmy Awards 9/19/...
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When watching the new TV Land sitcom premiering at 10:30 tonight, “Retired at 35,” I couldn’t help but think of “Seinfeld.”

Not because “Retired” is anywhere near funny as Jerry’s TV classic, but because the two old pros starring in it, George Segal and Jessica Walter, remind me of Seinfeld’s parents, Morty and Helen.

I can just envision some TV writer thinking the “Seinfeld” dynamic could be tweaked and made into a sitcom.

Segal and Walter play a married couple living in Florida who are bored and annoyed with each other. Their son, David (Johnathan McClain), is a hotshot businessman in New York City (where Jerry lived) who suddenly “retires” and stays in Florida to watch his parents’ marriage unravel and recover.

The oversexed material is old but Segal and Walter do the best they can and make it somewhat palatable. McClain, meanwhile, is burdened with playing a dull character who isn’t remotely believable.

Anyone in his uncomfortable predicament would head back East in a New York minute even if his boring job is to sell food-related wood.

The semi-enjoyable “Retired” follows the 10 p.m. second season premiere of “Hot in Cleveland,” one of the projects that made ageless Betty White the entertainer of the year in 2010. Her co-stars are Amherst’s Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves of “Frasier” and Valerie Bertinelli, who may be amused by being overshadowed by White. 

The opening prison cell cameo scene between White and her old sitcom teammate Mary Tyler Moore(see above) is the highlight of another oversexed episode that features former “Seinfeld” semi-regular Wayne Knight making a series of tasteless anatomical jokes.

Old fans of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” may get an early kick out of Moore’s mouthing of a classic line that Lou Grant (Ed Asner) initially said about Mary Richards (Moore).

White seems to have more to do than usual, apparently because the show’s writers think anything she says or does is funny – especially if it is borderline offensive. Having said that, I do like White’s final sarcastic line about men and marriage.

Taken together, the TV Land series seem to be giving viewers the message that seniors like sex and sex jokes just as much as the MTV generation.   

Ratings: “Retired”: 2 and a half stars; “Cleveland”: 2 and a half stars

* All the speculation about the future of “American Idol” in the Buffalo News Tuesday was very interesting but it seemed to downplay the importance of the departure of judge Simon Cowell. For many viewers, he  was the biggest reason to watch. Or the only reason.

* Had to laugh at Fox’s promos Sunday that called the new animated series “Bob’s Burgers” a hit after one episode aired. The second episode Sunday drew half the rating of the opener on WUTV-29, the local Fox affiliate.

* I expect that NBC would call the new David E. Kelley legal series “Harry’s Law” a hit based on its ratings in Buffalo for the opener. The series starring Kathy Bates had a 12.9 rating Monday on WGRZ-TV opposite repeats of “Hawaii Five-0” and “Castle.” That incredible rating — despite terrible local and national reviews — illustrates how much Kelley’s sense of humor has been missed since “Boston Legal” left the air. But how many viewers come back for episode two will give a clearer indication of whether the lame show is a hit.

For comparison sake, “The Golden Globes” had a 13.5 rating on Channel 2 on Sunday over three hours.

* So 79-year-old TV legend Regis Philbin is retiring almost a year after 77-year-old Larry King semi-retired and 44 years after the son in “Retired at 35.” I guess the late 70s is the new 65 in TV Land.

pergament@msn.com

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Piers Morgan Is Surprisingly Boring

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At the end of Monday’s premiere of CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” Larry King’s replacement asked first guest Oprah Winfrey to assess his opening night performance.

Winfrey concluded that he was “surprising.”

“Surprisingly bad?” joked Morgan (see above).

Of course, Winfrey was a gracious guest and wouldn’t say any such thing.

But your friendly neighborhood television critic doesn’t have to hold back.

The Brit was surprisingly fawning – he referred to Winfrey as The American Queen — for a guy who supposedly asks tough questions.

He also should be hired out as a laugh track. Morgan let out so many big laughs after routine Winfrey comments that you might have thought he was talking to Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman or Chris Rock.

Worse yet, the interview was boring.

That may have been partly due to the fact it was taped rather than live as King’s show was for decades and partly because Winfrey knew where she was willing to go and where she wasn’t going to go.

The most-lively part of the interview came when Morgan bet Winfrey 200 British pounds over who would be the first host to get NFL star Michael Vick for an interview.

Other than that, Morgan’s topics didn’t elicit much of anything new about the talk show giant, whose life is an open book anyway.

One could see why Winfrey agreed to take best friend Gayle King’s advice to do the interview.

The amiable Morgan’s first show was bound to get a big audience and that enabled Winfrey to promote her new cable network, OWN. Indeed, at times the interview seemed to be a promotion for OWN.

If it hadn’t been the first show, I probably wouldn’t have lasted 10 minutes.

Of course, all talk shows are marathons and not sprints, so Morgan deserves at least a second chance tonight when his guest is Howard Stern.

If Morgan refers to Stern as the King – as in the King of All Media – I’m out of there.

* I was somewhat amused to read a column in the op-ed section of The Buffalo News with the headline “FCC Needs to Return Airwaves to the People” that suggested the commission do something to stop the vitriol from right-wing radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others.

Anyone who isn’t a conservative and tunes into Limbaugh’s misleading outrageousness on WBEN-AM on a semi-regular basis would understand why writer Douglas Turner felt the need to call for the FCC to do something.

But I was amused because much of the harshest right wing vitriol really is on the Fox News, where Hannity also works (and on Monday carried another Sarah Palin interview). And the left wing vitriol is on MSNBC.

Fox News and MSNBC have little in common, except one huge thing. They are basic cable channels, which means they aren’t regulated by the FCC.

In other words, even if the FCC tried to do something that would soften radio content, it can’t do anything about the daily vitriol from both sides of the political spectrum on basic cable.

Advertisers really are the “regulators” of basic cable and to an extent radio. If they pulled away or boycotted Limbaugh’s negative act on WBEN and other stations across the country, then things might change marginally.

While we’re on the subject of boycotts, a local radio talk show host, offended by a Buffalo News editorial about right-wing hate speech and a political carton attacking Palin, recently advocated having upset readers cancel the paper.

I will agree the editorial was questionable and the cartoon was so offensive that it shouldn’t have run. In defense, the newspaper’s talented editorial page editor is on sick leave and his staff was very thin before he took leave so perhaps things can fall through the cracks more easily.  

The newspaper shouldn’t be above criticism and it has since published letters to the editor condemning the cartoon and editorial.

Having said that, it isn’t wise for any media outlet – especially one that lives off the outrageousness of its hosts– to advocate what amounts to a boycott of a competitor. In fact, it is reprehensible.

pergament@msn.com

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“Harry’s Law” Is Another NBC Loser

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Writer-producer David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal,” “L.A. Law”) should have a patent on legal series like tonight’s opener of NBC’s “Harry’s Law” (10 p.m., Channel 2).

Kelley’s absurdist series ask the viewer to wildly suspend disbelief as his defense lawyers bend the legal system and debate current event issues with prosecutors while judges sit by and let the sparks fly.

The biggest problem with Kelley’s latest, “Harry’s Law,” starring Kathy Bates (see above) is Kelley has done it before and so much better.

And his cynicism about the justice system and liberal point of view arrive at a time that the public might not want to listen to all his arguments about the benefits of ignoring the strict adherence to the law in pursuit of justice.

Bates stars as a bored Cincinnati patent lawyer, Harriet Korn, who gets fired and decides to switch law fields and defend poor clients in a rough neighborhood where businesses need “citizen” security protection.

Harriet, who also narrates portions of the series, isn’t exactly upbeat.

“Maybe there’s a better world out there,” she says. “One without people.”

Kelley has acknowledged the part was written for a man. The casting of Bates is a smart move since she is essentially playing a version of James Spader’s Alan Shore in “Boston Legal” and casting a woman in the part makes that slightly less obvious.

Harriet will use any tricks she can to defend her clients, including feigning ignorance of how the law operates, getting around judicial instructions to fight fair, and debating the prosecutor (Paul McCrane of “ER”) about legalizing drugs and the unfairness of the law in front of the jury.

It all worked when Alan Shore was bending the law and debating on “Boston Legal,” but Harriet’s arguments aren’t quite as effective and not nearly as entertaining.

Unlike “Legal,” Harry’s Law” doesn’t even attempt to be grounded in reality. Nate Corddry (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) plays a disillusioned corporate lawyer, Adam Branch, who joins Harriet’s firm after accidentally hitting her with his car. Brittany Snow (“American Dreams”) plays Harriet’s office manager, Jenna Backstrom, who runs a shoe store on the side. Ami Ameen plays one of Harriet’s first clients, who stays to help out at the office.

The opener tonight and next week’s episode revolve around cases dealing with minority clients who are charged with buying drugs, carrying illegal weapons and robbing people at gunpoint to get enough money to eat.

The second episode also includes the appearance of an over-the-top, big shot, egotistical lawyer who has more than a passing resemblance to William Shatner’s Denny Crane on “Boston Legal.”

Harriet’s clients – including a suicidal college kid and 87-year-old woman without enough money to eat — are guilty according to the law. So she plays to the sympathies of jurors and gets results that she even considers “preposterous” at one point. In the end, Kelley plays to the heartstrings of viewers.

The verdict? It is hard to be wildly excited about “Harry.”  The crime isn’t that is absurd, but that it isn’t terribly interesting or entertaining.

Rating: 1 and a half stars out of 4

* “Harry’s Law” was extensively promoted during NBC’s Sunday night coverage of the “Golden Globes,” which may have set an unofficial record for expletives deleted. I want to see the cable version.

Presenters Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Hanks were among those noting the “mean-spirited” vibe of host Ricky Gervais. Gervais went overboard in mocking presenters and celebrities, which would have been fine if he had been funnier. You also might have thought that the Brit would have been aware of the new American call for civility.

As far as the TV awards, the foreign press honored “Glee” but otherwise took a few detours from conventional critical wisdom. Notably, Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Jungle”) and Katey Segal (“Sons of Anarchy”) were surprise acting winners. Buscemi’s victory had to amuse Buffalo News critic Jeff Simon, who wrote that Buscemi was miscast.

Even more surprising than Buscemi’s win was the victory of “Boardwalk” over “Mad Men.”

Now that is as absurd as anything in Kelley’s “Harry Law.”   

I’m not a movie critic and loved “The Social Network,” which won as best dramatic picture. I have no beef with that choice, since the movie was extraordinarily well-written and performed and addressed a national phenomenon. But I would have voted for the much less-publicized “The King’s Speech” as the best movie of the year. The performances of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush were extraordinary and the film worked on dramatic, historical and comedic levels.

 pergament@msn.com

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TWC, Sinclair End the Drama

 

Time Warner Cable announced this evening that it has reached a national deal in principle with Sinclair Broadcasting that means local programming on Fox affiliate WUTV and WNYO will continue to be carried.

TWC said the deal, which came hours before a midnight deadline, is expected to be completed within seven days. It ends weeks of speculation that syndicated reruns of shows like “Seinfeld” and “Two and Half Men” wouldn’t be carried on TWC because of the despite.

 The Fox network had made a national deal last year with TWC that would meant that the cable company could have carried NFL playoff football, “Glee,” “American Idol” and all network programming even without a deal with Sinclair.

The deal in principle included 26 other Sinclair stations in TWC markets.

There was no initial word on what TWC agreed to give Sinclair in the deal or whether it will lead to another rate increase in 2012. Stay tuned.

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Here We Go Again: Kennedy Mini Controversy

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This is what I’m thinking:

* It was hard not to laugh at the statement from the owner of The History Channel about why the eight-part miniseries on “The Kennedys” isn’t going to air on the A&E network channel.

The A&E claim was that the eight-part series starring Greg Kinnear (John F. Kennedy), Katie Holmes (Jackie) and Barry Pepper (Robert F. Kennedy) wasn’t “the right fit” for The History Channel.

Hmm. You might think that they might have determined that before agreeing to co-produce a series that cost $30 million.

The speculation is that Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver used their Kennedy family influence to stop the Canadian co-production filmed in Toronto from airing in the States.

It will air in Canada this spring, but it is doubtful that Western New Yorkers will get to see it.

We would get to see it on cable if it were on CBC or CTV, which are carried by Time Warner Cable. But the plan is for it to run in Canada on History TV, which isn’t carried across the States.

This isn’t the first time a Kennedy project has been deemed controversial. In 1993, a sleazy USA Network film, “Marilyn and Bobby: Her Final Affair” that speculated about a rumored affair between Marilyn Monroe (see above) and Robert F. Kennedy, led to one of the most memorable contentious press conferences at a Television Critics Association meeting.

Critics questioned the historical accuracy of the docudrama. Of course, just about every biographical film takes some creative license.

Remember the furor that arose when CBS planned a 2003 miniseries on “The Reagans”? CBS pulled the project and it landed on a pay-cable channel. Showtime, that is owned by the same company that owns CBS.

Showtime reportedly has turned down “The Kennedys,” but it could still land on pay-cable in the States and ultimately land on DVD and streaming web sites. In other words, there is no way to censor it entirely.

* Former Buffalo Sabre Michael Peca impressed in his stint as an intermission, pregame and post-game  analyst during the Sabres’ 3-2 win over Carolina on Thursday night.

But don’t expect to see him again on MSG. According to the Sabres, Peca worked the game because regular Mike Robitaille was vacationing in Florida for the week.

Peca’s smoothness on air shouldn’t have been a surprise since he was always a go-to-guy in the dressing room and works regularly for TSN, the Canadian equivalent of ESPN.

* Remember Geoff Fox, the former co-host of “PM Magazine” here? He reportedly was not offered a contract renewal at the New Haven, Conn. TV station, WTNH, where he has been doing the weather since 1984. It is a tough TV world out there. Notably, the station is owned by LIN Broadcasting, which owns WIVB-Channel 4 in Buffalo.

* I wasn’t a fan of “Law & Order: Los Angeles” when it premiered so it is hard to question the producers’ decision to make cast changes. Skeet Ulrich, Regina Hall and Megan Boone reportedly are out and Alfred Molina has been turned into a detective from a lawyer when the show returns next month. Molina and Terrence Howard also will work weekly now instead of switching every other week. Ulrich’s biggest crime may have been in not drawing younger viewers. However, I can’t see more of Molina doing much better.

* Time Warner Cable reported this morning that it and Sinclair Broadcasting — owner of Fox affiliate WUTV, and WNYO — have agreed on a 24-hour extension to make a deal. The current extension agreement was set to expire at midnight tonight.

* Finally, a reader sent along a Boston Herald report that former Channel 7 morning anchor Bridget Blythe has landed at New England Cable News (NECN), where she will co-anchor the early morning news from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

pergament@msn.com

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Stewart Address is Presidential

Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Sh...
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I was at “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in New York City on Monday, prepared to ask the host of the fake news show a question in the few minutes he talks to the audience before a taping.

I wanted to ask if the satirical show was going to be different because it was his first broadcast since the tragic Arizona shootings.

But the tone of the earlier audience questions was so silly that I didn’t push to ask a serious one.

One woman asked Stewart how he lost his virginity, another asked if he believed in May-December romances.

I kid you not.

My immediate thought was that the audience for Stewart’s show might not be as smart and serious as I’ve always imagined.

Stewart answered them comically and with aplomb and then went to his desk and answered my unasked question when the show started.

He immediately said the Arizona shootings made it difficult for the show to offer its typical satirical spin on the news. Then he proceeded to give a speech that actually hit on some of the elements in President Obama’s poignant speech Wednesday night at the memorial service in Tucson.

I wasn’t working and therefore wasn’t taking notes but I have watched it over on the Internet.

Stewart’s overwhelming message was that he “had no (expletive heard at taping but deleted on air) idea if the toxic political rhetoric” could be blamed for the shootings.

He said it was wrong to overreact and blame the actions of a madman on the heated political climate or the flame-throwing talk show hosts when we don’t know what the shooter was thinking. Or if he was thinking.

“You cannot out-smart crazy,” said Stewart.

And, similar to what the President would say two nights later, Stewart said it would be comforting if we could draw a straight line from the political environment to the shootings because “we could convince ourselves” the horror could be stopped.

It wasn’t the only statement that Stewart made that was similar to what the President said Wednesday. Stewart said “it is important for us to watch our rhetoric.” And he added “wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t take this opportunity… to make sure the world we are (creating) now… isn’t better.”

Stewart also got applause when he said: “It would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV.”

To be honest, I didn’t watch much of the weekend coverage of the shootings for a couple of reasons.

First, I had out-of-town guests who were attending a memorial service for a relative and spent all my time with them.

Secondly, I felt like I could predict the coverage without seeing it.

Charges and countercharges would be made, there would be wild speculation about what motivated the shooter, new gun laws would be proposed and journalistic mistakes would be made in pursuit of being first.

In a way, not watching much of the coverage was a good thing because it allowed time to reflect on everything that I have since seen or read about the shootings and the coverage.

The biggest question is did the heated political climate and the rebel-rousing talk show pundits provoke the shootings?

I tend to agree with the President that that easy conclusion comes from our need to find order out of the chaos.

The climate might have had some impact on the shooter but there was no way to know what the deranged man was thinking when the speculation was being tossed around to fill time.

It just as easily might have had no impact.

Did Sarah Palin’s earlier targeting of the re-election race of one of the surviving victims, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, have anything to with the shootings?

Once again, who knows? Congressman seats have been targeted before without incident.

I’m no defender of Sarah Palin, but she seems to be the victim of unfortunate circumstances this time. After all, the taped footage of Rep. Giffords talking about Palin’s targeting of her seat is eerie.

Having said that, Palin’s decision Wednesday to last out at her media critics at a time that the President is leading the nation in healing, and to use a controversial term “blood libel” was — in a word Palin used — “reprehensible.”

Palin hasn’t learned that sometimes it is just better to go against your instincts and just shut up and reflect — and think — before you open your mouth.

Let’s just say it wouldn’t be shocking to see Palin’s comment being addressed on Jon Stewart’s show.

pergament@msn.com

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“Off the Map” Deserves Second Look

Zach Gilford
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When it comes to beautiful scenery, ABC’s new medical drama premiering tonight, “Off the Map,” is off-the charts.

From the first high dive into the water, the look of this series from the producer of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” is breathtaking.

It also might look familiar to fans of ABC’s “Lost,” since “Map” was filmed in the same Hawaiian area as the deserted island series.

In a sense this new series belongs on the same set as “Lost” because it deals with six lost souls trying to rediscover their medical mojo.

The cast of mostly 20something and 30 something doctors – which includes familiar faces Zach Gilford of “Friday Night Lights” (see above) and Jason George (recently Dr. Bailey’s love interest on “Grey’s Anatomy”) — isn’t too shabby looking, either.

The good-looking cast also includes less familiar faces in Caroline Dhavernas, Valerie Cruz, Rachel Lefevre and Mamie Gummer (the daughter of Meryl Streep).

The idea of sending young doctors to a pretty area out of the States isn’t terribly original. In 1992, Joshua Brand and John Falsey followed up “St. Elsewhere” with one-season wonder “Going to Extremes,” in which young doctors trained near exotic beaches.

Though the new series about young doctors working with backwards materials and prescription drugs in a small Third World jungle area in South America was created by Jenna Bans, executive producer Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s” and “Private Practice” is on board so there will be inevitable comparisons.

“Map” is full of potential romances and contains some ridiculous medical procedures that no doubt were partially inspired by real-life cases.

Still, you have to get past the silliness of watching one doctor save a man by going on a zip line and two doctors saving a life by substituting coconut juice for a blood transfusion (which I’m told has happened).

Rhimes recently told television critics in Los Angeles that Bans “put a scalpel in the hands of Indiana Jones” and those story lines exemplify that remark.

Of course, “Grey’s” is often loaded with ridiculous medical procedures, too. It is the human story lines and the emotions they create that make the show work.

And the young doctors in “Map” all have stories that led them to the clinic. They’ve lost loved one, lost their way from their family or been involved in losing patients.

Now they are getting a second chance to prove themselves worthy as doctors.

Initially, it isn’t easy. They misdiagnosis and misjudge patients, but the legendary head of the clinic, Ben Keeton (played by possible cover boy Martin Henderson) and his best friend Otis (George) don’t judge them too harshly initially.

I’m going to take the same tack with “Map” and forgive all the unintentionally comic moments and the emotional ones that fall flat.

The pilot often may be ridiculously off the mark but with scenery like this, it will be easy to give it a second chance before completely giving up on “Off the Map.”

Rating: 2 and half stars out of 4

pergament@buffnews.com   

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“Lights Out” Is Solid Contender

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 25: Actor Holt McCal...
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It isn’t quite a knockout but the new FX series premiering at 10 tonight, “Lights Out,” has enough emotional jabs at the heart to make many viewers want to go all 13 rounds in the first season.

It also has a strong cast of compelling characters that include Holt McCallany (“CSI: Miami,” see above) as the 40-year-old former heavyweight champ boxer, Patrick “Lights Out” Leary, who is considering a Rocky-like character.

Stacy Keach plays his father and trainer Robert “Pops” Leary, whose life is at the family gym in Bayonne, N.J. that is a financial money pit.

Catherine McCormack (“Braveheart) is the fighter’s long-suffering wife, Theresa, who viewers learn in a later episode met the future champ after a fight in Buffalo.

Pablo Schreiber also is aboard as Johnny Leary, the fighter’s brother whose investments and personal problems have practically forced “Lights” back in the ring.

Created by Justin Zackham and premiering a few weeks after the Mark Wahlberg-Christian Bale movie “The Fighter” has taken the nation by storm, “Lights Out” will suffer by comparison.

But other than the obvious story line about a brother putting obstacles in a fighter’s path,  there are few other comparisons.

“Lights Out” triumphs because of the power of McCallany’s performance as a family man and former champ who will risk personal destruction, humiliation and his values to keep his wife and children in the style they’ve grown accustomed to when he earned millions. 

With a great voice and a confident and intimidating demeanor, McCallany makes Lights an appealing and sympathetic character whether he has to perform like a circus clown in ads, call bingo numbers or threaten dentists who don’t pay their six-figure gambling bills. And he has a fighter’s face.

McCormack also gives a strong, sensitive performance as a wife and mother who ultimately is more concerned about her husband’s health than keeping the big house and fancy cars that came with the million dollar purses.

She convinced a badly-beaten Lights to retire five years ago when she couldn’t take watching his face and head pounded anymore.

Schreiber also is solid as the messed-up brother who Lights trusts much too much. And Keach is Keach, delivering his customary strong performance playing a proud father who lives and breathes boxing.

The actresses playing the Leary daughters — who range from spoiled and entitled to smart and concerned — also are in top form.

The series does well in lamenting on how far boxing has gone down in the public imagination at a time that mixed martial arts (MMA) is drawing big crowds. In one episode, Lights becomes a MMA fighter because he desperately needs the money.

If “Lights Out” opens itself for some critical shots, it is in all the clichéd storylines about the dark and unseemly sides of boxing promoters and the law.

I was more stopped by the questionable choice of having a daughter realize that Lights has taken so many hits over the years that he is a prime candidate for pugilistic dementia, while Lights’ wife is in the dark despite being medically trained.

But don’t let that stop you. The best compliment I can give “Lights” is that it has become a bonding experience for me and my 17-year-old son.

We’ve watched the first five episodes together at a time when it has becoming increasingly difficult to get him to watch any new shows. That’s why I give “Lights Out” better than a fighting chance to succeed.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

pergament@msn.com

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“The Cape” Doesn’t Open Well Here

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 04:  Actor James Frain...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Despite all those promos for NBC’s “The Cape” that ran during the network’s NFL playoff doubleheader Saturday, the show about the comic book superhero landed with a thud Sunday on WGRZ-TV.

The lame two-hour premiere of the heavily-publicized “The Cape” starring James Frain, Summer Glau and David Lyons (see above right) had a 5.0 rating on Channel 2, meaning it was watched in about 5 percent of area households.

New episodes of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” (11.0) and “Brothers & Sisters” (8.1) on Channel 7 dominated the superhero.

The good news is that the audience for “The Cape” beat a CBS rerun of “Criminal Minds” and received a consistent rating, hovering around a 5.0 for the two hours.

But things are expected to go downhill from here.

The sophomoric new Fox animated series “Bob’s Burgers” had a 6.7 rating on WUTV, thanks largely because of the powerhouse 10.4 lead-in it got from the ageless “The Simpsons.”

Of course, football was king locally over the weekend.

NBC’s two tight games Sunday – Seattle’s win over New Orleans (19.4) featuring Marshawn Lynch’s incredible run and the New York Jets win over Indianapolis (19.8) – had local ratings substantially up from the playoff games it carried in 2010. The Jets win on a last-second field goal was up about 35 percent from the 14.8 for last year’s game in the same time slot.

The only playoff game in the first weekend that was down from a year ago here was Baltimore’s whipping of Kansas City and it had a 21.8 rating (down from a 23.0) on Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate. Green Bay’s win over Philadelphia featuring University at Buffalo running back James Starks on local Fox affiliate Channel 29 had the weekend’s highest rating at 24.8, up from a 23.9 from a year ago.

* There were no surprises as ABC announced today that “Castle,” “Cougar Town,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Middle,” “Modern Family” and “Private Practice” will be back next season. The ratings for “Grey’s” and “Practice” are down, but they get strong DVR viewership.

* Finally, from the bet you might not have known department. “Damages,” the mystery-drama series that stars Glenn Close and was canceled by FX, was picked up by DirecTV for two seasons. The satellite provider previously saved another strong, low-rated series in “Friday Night Lights.”

pergament@msn.com

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