The assumption, in TV Critic Land, is that if a series goes through several permutations prior to its premiere, it's doomed. Rewrites and cast changes leading to costly reshoots are said to be the proverbial blood in the water. But I'm not sure that's a fair or logical assumption. Take these cases in point: Brothers & Sisters (ABC) originally starred Betty Buckley as the Walker family matriarch. Sally Field was recast late in the game and ended up walking away with an Emmy this year. On 30 Rock (NBC), Rachel Dratch was originally cast in the role of Jenna now held by Jane Krakowski. The casting change put an entirely different slant on the role, and though I'm a fan of the Dratch rendition (I saw an early screener), I begrudgingly became a Krakowski fan. She's not better, just different. 30 Rock walked away with an Emmy for best comedy this year.
My guess is that TV execs and everyone else involved would prefer not to redo anything. But with the market so saturated with content and eyes ready and willing to turn elsewhere if the content is not just right, it makes sense to go back to the drawing board and make things right instead of just jettisoning a project outright. That's what happened with two new series that just arrived on the scene: Moonlight (CBS) and Life Is Wild (CW). The former was entirely recast (save for the lead, Alex O'Loughlin, formerly of The Shield). Screeners were not sent out till after the fall season began. I've watched two versions of the Life Is Wild pilot, which not only had major cast changes but was recut, as well. From what I can see, it was well worth the effort. And both have a certain appeal that should make you forget their labored path to the small screen.
Moonlight is a vampire story. This one is Mick St. John, a private detective who keeps his appetite for blood managed like a diabetic: He takes his shot first thing in the morning and avoids the urge to snack. There have been plenty of other vampires on TV and even a couple of vampire private detectives (Angel, Forever Knight), but Moonlight distinguishes itself by relieving its lead of the existential anxieties of his predecessors. He has a lot of time to kill, and he can't stand predators (which predominate among his brethren). Fortunately for him, there are plenty of human bloodsuckers, also doing nasty things to good people. And with his supernatural strength and abilities, he's just the guy to set the scales back to center. Moonlight is not my favorite vampire series, but with the addition of Jason Dohring (Veronica Mars), I have a feeling it might grow on me.
In Life Is Wild, a blended U.S. family moves from the urban jungle of Manhattan to the wilds of South Africa. The dad is a vet with two kids who married a woman with two kids. They love each other. The kids snipe at one another and detest leaving civilization. But after the first, not-too-cuddly episode (cue orphaned lion cub), it's clear the family will make do, make family, and maybe even learn something about the world. This is what sets this series apart. Since the series is filmed in the South African bush, there are plenty of opportunities for the audience to learn about the culture. If Life Is Wild can let its main characters step aside from time to time, stop whining about the heat and the lack of cell-phone reception, that might just happen. There are glimmers of it already.
Moonlight airs Fridays at 8pm on CBS. Life Is Wild airs Sundays at 7pm on the CW.
What Else Is On?
Samantha Who? premieres Monday, Oct. 15, 8:30pm on ABC. Christina Applegate stars as a woman who awakes from a coma with amnesia and discovers she was a very nasty person. A strong supporting cast (Jean Smart, Melissa McCarthy, Barry Watson, Jennifer Esposito) makes this daffy comedy fun to watch.
The Boondocks returns for its second season Monday, Oct. 8, at 10:30pm on the Cartoon Network.
Women's Murder Club premieres Friday, Oct. 12, at 8pm on ABC. Based on the serialized James Patterson novels. Angie Harmon (Law & Order) stars.
As always, stay tuned.