By Alan Pergament
Under the leadership of president and chief executive officer Les Moonves, CBS has been the smartest network by far in recent years.
It has the best sense of what viewers expect from network TV and it has the good sense not to introduce too many shows in the fall that can get lost in the shuffle.
The network, which is carried by affiliate Channel 4, is especially popular in Western New York because many of its shows appeal to the area's older demographics and viewers here watch broadcast networks at a higher rate than they do in many markets.
Channel 4 usually has the great majority of Top 25 shows here, led by CBS' megahits "The Big Bang Theory" and "NCIS."
Going into this season, CBS is premiering the fewest new series and still has two of the most talked about – the drama "Hostages" and the Robin Williams comedy "The Crazy Ones."
Here's a brief summary of all of CBS' new shows and the chances of success.
"Mom," 9:30 p.m. Monday: Creator Chuck Lorre’s resume includes current CBS hits "Big Bang," "Two and a Half Men" and "Mike & Molly" and past successes "Grace Under Fire," "Cybill," "Roseanne" and "Dharma & Greg" so every critic knows he doesn't fail too often. But if he ever does, this would be it.
Anna Faris of "Scary Movie" fame plays the daughter of a verbally-abuse, sexually-active, somewhat scary mother played by Allison Janney ("West Wing"), who has destroyed her confidence and self-esteem. The dreams of Faris' character to become a psychologist died young when she became pregnant and she doesn't want her daughter to repeat her life. She also has a younger son.
Though not quite as bad as Fox’s "Dads," "Mom" has a similar theme of children carrying around parental baggage and trying to find ways to accept them. It is nothing more than acceptable and far from exceptional. But I was wrong about the pilot of "Big Bang" so I’m probably wrong here, too. And it undoubtedly will improve since multi-talented Buffalo native Nick Bakay is a writer on the series. 2 stars
"Hostages," 10 p.m Monday: Australian actress Toni Collette (Showtime’s "United States of Tara")stars as an accomplished doctor who is about to perform routine surgery on the President of the United States (played by James Naughton). If that isn't enough pressure, her supposedly perfect family is kidnapped by a special agent for the FBI played by Dylan McDermott ("The Practice") and he is telling her that she has to kill the Prez for her family to stay alive.
"Don't think of it as killing the President, think of it as saving your family," the FBI agent tells the doctor.
The pilot doesn't really explain the motivation of McDermott's character, who has a young daughter, and a wife in a coma. Viewers will quickly discover that the doctor's husband (played by Tate Donovan, who seems to star in a new series every year) and problem children have secrets that don’t exactly make it easy to root for them to be saved.
The pilot is suspenseful but it cops out at the end as one fully expects it to do since CBS wants to keep viewers hostage for 15 episodes ending in January. Unfortunately, it is going head-to-head with NBC's best series, "The Blacklist," starring James Spader.
This Jerry Bruckheimer production is more preposterous than his summer movie flop "The Lone Ranger" and would have worked much better as a movie. Still, I'll be back for a second episode to see how it can possibly continue. 3 stars out of 4
“Intelligence,” midseason after “Hostages” ends: A slimmed-down Josh Holloway ("Lost") and Marg Helgenberger ("CSI") star. Holloway is a reckless, insubordinate, advanced, intelligence agent with a computer chip planted in his brain and an app for speaking Mandarin. He is capable of doing cyberendering. Whatever that means. It makes this show visually cool. It is fast-paced, suspenseful and has an attitude that is bound to appeal to the young viewers who play video games. Unfortunately, not many of them watch CBS. 2 and a half stars
"The Crazy Ones," 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26: Williams runs an advertising agency with his daughter, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar ("Buffy: The Vampire Slayer"), that needs to reinvent itself as much as Williams and creator David E. Kelley ("L.A. Law," "Picket Fences," "Boston Legal") do late in their careers. The cast includes an assistant who is on board to be a laugh track. She laughs at everything Williams says. James Wolk, who played a mysterious character on last season’s "Mad Men," also co-stars.
The pilot revolves around the characters played by Williams and Wolk trying to convince singer Kelly Clarkson to become the voice of an ad for a product she is totally wrong for. At times, the pilot seems more like an advertisement for McDonald’s than a comedy.
The script is loaded with name dropping but the relationship with Williams and Gellar is sweet. It is a cute show, but I doubt anyone is going to think it as funny as the laughing assistant on the show does. 2 and a half stars
"We Are Men," 8:30 Monday, Sept. 30: Four men live in the same condo complex in various states of despair and happiness after being divorced. The cast includes Tony Shalhoub ("Monk"), Jerry O’Connell ("Sliders"), Kal Penn (“House”) and relatively unknown Chris Smith. The pilot steals one of the plots of "The Graduate" and the rest of it is just about as original.
Think of every single cliché about divorce – the inability to accept it, the fear you may be alone for life, the joy of freedom, older men falling into the arms of much younger women – and you have this series. Shows like this have been tried before and have a higher failure rate than marriage. I can't see this routine and predictable show beating the odds, either. 1 and a half stars
"The Millers," 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3: Will someone please tell me who thinks Will Arnett is funny enough to headline his own show? After failures on Fox and NBC, he gets another shot from CBS as a feature TV reporter who is getting a divorce. Think of "Everybody Loves Raymond" if Ray was divorced and his long-married parents were crude and ready to call it quits.
The cast includes Beau Bridges and Margot Martindale ("Justified") as parents who yell a lot and complain openly about their sex lives, and J.B. Smoove (Leon on "Curb Your Enthusiasm") as the best friend of Arnett's character.
The pilot is crass, loud and painfully unfunny and makes you wonder what Martindale was thinking when she agreed to do a show that thinks jokes about passing gas are funny. However, I think it can be saved with some better writing and the elimination of the cheap jokes already shown in promos that tell you all you need to know. 2 stars
taggedDrama | New Shows | Sitcoms | Television