What's In and What's Out
Clinging to tradition, the broadcast networks are slowly announcing their fall TV schedules. Here are a few of the highlights.
Remember all those death knells for the sitcom? It looks like ABC has decided rumors of the sitcom's death are highly exaggerated. It will offer a full two-hour block of new comedies on Wednesdays: Hank, The Middle, Modern Family, and Cougar Town. The new drama Eastwick (based The Witches of Eastwick) closes the evening at 9pm. The popular reality series Dancing With the Stars is getting a two-hour berth on Monday night and a "results show" on Tuesday.
Returning series include Castle, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Brothers and Sisters, Desperate Housewives, and Ugly Betty, which has been moved to Friday night. In the past, I might have speculated that meant the series was on its way out. While ABC has crafted a prime-time week that follows the rise and fall of traditional TV viewing, it is not ignoring the behavior of modern TV viewers, which depends on DVRs and online viewing much more than the commitment to a particular day and time.
As usual, Fox goes off script, creating a blend of traditional fall TV fare, along with a full slate of midseason rollouts. Probably the biggest surprise from Fox were decisions made with its sci-fi/paranormal series. The J.J. Abrams drama Fringe returns (Yay!); Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is canceled (Boo!), while Joss Whedon's Dollhouse returns (Cool! Er, come again?). Now, I'm a big ole Whedon fan. I've supported Dollhouse from the beginning, but even I was surprised to see it back on the Fox schedule. It hasn't been bringing in the numbers Fox hoped for, and while a few die-hard critics say it has just hit its stride, I think if given the choice, I would have kept The Sarah Connor Chronicles. But that choice would have ignored the trend toward leaning on the funny bone. Bad times beget frothier, more escapist fare. The Sarah Connor Chronicles is unrelentingly somber, what with all that save-the-human-race-from-the-soulless-robots-bent-on-taking-over-the-world business. Whedon can skew funny in the wink of an eye. Dollhouse stays in its Friday night slot. Fringe moves to Thursday night, led in by Bones, another under-the-radar series that gained traction in the last year.
Fox is only unveiling three new series this fall: Glee (a much-buzzed-about dramedy from the creator of Popular and Nip/Tuck, which had a sneak peek this week), Brothers, and The Cleveland Show. Coming midseason are Past Life, Human Target, and Sons of Tucson.
Next time: what's happening at CBS, NBC, and the CW.
What Else Is On?
"I'm a very special Holocaust survivor: I was in the camps with my wife and my girlfriend, and believe me, it wasn't easy," says Jack Polak, one-half of a pair of lovers whose unusual love story is told in Steal a Pencil for Me, the next feature documentary to air on Independent Lens.
Polak is unhappily married when he meets the love of his life, Ina. Although his wife Manja is unhappy too, their divorce is postponed when the couple find themselves deported with other Dutch Jews to the Westerbork concentration camp, where Jack, Manja, and Ina share the same barracks. To say that Jack and Ina's love story is complicated is an understatement. Manja was not happy with her husband pursuing another relationship right under her nose and demanded he stop spending time with Ina. He complied, but it precipitated the writing of love letters between Jack and Ina – tender, life-affirming, and ultimately life-saving. The letters not only document their love but how it endured in spite of the horrors they witnessed. But perhaps the greatest expression of love came from Manja herself in a gesture that reveals her deep humanity and perhaps not-quite-dead love for her future ex-husband.
Steal a Pencil for Me airs Tuesday, May 26 at 9pm on PBS.
E-mail Belinda Acosta at firstname.lastname@example.org.