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CBS finds comfort level with new dramas on fall schedule

The pendulum often swings wildly in the world of network television programming, and even the most stable and profitable networks are susceptible to a changing landscape of shifting tastes in the popular culture.

Case in point: The CBS network, which has thrived for years with police procedurals and shows skewering to an older demographic, rolled the dice last year and pursued a different direction, namely launching four comedies and only one drama.

The CBS 2014 fall season is fast approaching, and the ratio of new comedies to dramas has been completely flipped. We’re going back to the good old days.

The one anomaly is that last year’s only new drama, “Hostages,” couldn’t pay the ransom and got canceled.

Two of last year’s four comedies remain on the schedule, “Mom” and “The Millers,” and I am not sure why.

The other two series were dropped, the egregiously bad “We Are Men,” and most famously “The Crazy Ones,” starring Robin Williams, the cancellation of which occurred before his tragic suicide.

The other big news this year about the CBS network is that Nina Tassler, longtime president of CBS Entertainment, got a big promotion to Chairman of CBS Entertainment.

A fixture on the TV critics press tour, Tassler announced that “CBS is also coming off another season as America’s most-watched network, the 11th time in 12 years.” That’s an almost typical yearly refrain.

A few critics challenged Tassler about the network’s lack of diversity, as compared to ABC, for example, which has several new series with mostly minority casts.

The charge was leveled that there’s not a single show on the fall schedule where a non-white person is the star of the show.

Tassler pointed that network programming is a year-round event, and if one were to look at the overall picture it would be evident that one of the biggest stars just happened to fit the diversity mold, namely Halle Berry in the summer science-fiction series “Extant.”

The diversity question offered Tassler an opportunity to plug the one new comedy. “The McCarthys,” though it is about a close-knit, sports-crazed Boston family that is pure vanilla, one of the lead characters in the family is openly gay.

Interestingly, Tyler Ritter, the son of the late comedian John Ritter, plays the part of Ronny McCarthy, the one member of the family disinterested in sports but recruited by his reluctant father (Jack McGee), a gruff high school basketball coach, to become his assistant.

A recognizable figure from many TV shows, Laurie Metcalf plays the part of Ronny’s mom, who claims Ronny is her favorite child, probably because he’s the only who is willing to watch “The Good Wife” with her rather than a sporting event.

If it’s not yet clear, Ronny is the gay family member. This does not upset his mother; she’s only distraught that Ronny wants to leave Boston and his family to take a teaching job in faraway Rhode Island. An abrupt change in career plans should lead to comic relief.

The “NCIS” franchise hardly needs a boost. It is claimed to be the most popular drama on television, drawing a viewership near 20 million. “NCIS: New Orleans” looks promising as a spin-off, and not just because Mark Harmon will be on hand in the beginning for the effective crossover effect.

Drawing Scott Bakula back into primetime as the head of the New Orleans office, “NCIS: New Orleans” looks to succeed on its own merits, regardless of pedigree.

For one thing, the pilot episode was thrilling, with the added bonus of authentic location shots straight out of the Big Easy, a visually compelling metropolis.

“Madam Secretary” is pure fictional drama, but it is sure to invite comparisons to a famous female secretary of state, and I am not talking about Madeleine Albright, whose memoirs have the same title as the CBS show.

Far too attractive for a high government post, Tea Leoni stars as Elizabeth McCord, a college professor and brilliant former CIA analyst tapped for the top diplomatic post.

The shrewd and determined McCord returns to public life at the request of the president, following the suspicious death of her predecessor at the State Department. The president values her deep knowledge of the Middle East and her ability to think outside the box.   

McCord may have to handle intrigue, debate third world problems and finesse foreign dignitaries at work, but that’s just a warm-up to going home at the end of the day to a supportive husband (Tim Daly) and two independently-minded bright children.

CBS Chairman Tassler could have pointed to Maggie Q as a prime example of minority representation in a starring role.

In “Stalker,” Maggie Q stars as Lt. Beth Davis, a strong, focused expert in the field of investigating stalking incidents for the Threat Assessment Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department.

A recent transfer from the same type of unit in the NYPD’s homicide division, Dylan McDermott’s Detective Jack Larsen has a history of questionable behavior that has landed him in trouble before.

Larsen has a few personal issues involving his ex-wife that cause him to be a borderline suspect for stalking. Besides, he’s got problems with his new boss, Lt. Davis.

That “Stalker” is created by Kevin Williamson, the talent behind “The Following,” should be a clue that this could be an eerie and disturbing drama. Let’s just say that the opening scene of this series is definitely frightening and unsettling, which is likely the effect the creator had in mind.

If the cast of “The Big Bang Theory” just happened to tune into an episode of a new CBS series, that show would have to be “Scorpion,” a high-octane drama that is apparently inspired by a true story of eccentric high-tech genius Walter O’Brien.

O’Brien (Elyes Gabel) and his team of brilliant misfits form the last line of defense against high-tech threats of the modern age.

As Homeland Security’s new think tank, O’Brien’s “Scorpion” team is a collection of socially awkward oddballs who are not comfortable with the outside world.

The nerdy masterminds in “Scorpion” get the perfect job, a place where they can apply their exceptional brainpower to solve the nation’s crises.

This series celebrates nerd power in a way that could make Sheldon and the gang to have a look that is positively retrograde.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

 

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