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Despite A-list stars, the list of strong NBC series isn't very long

By Alan Pergament

It seems like NBC hasn’t had a good season since the last time the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs.

But due to the success of "The Voice," and last year's hits “Revolution” and “Chicago Fire,” things are looking up for the Peacock network for a change.

Now it seems to be borrowing from CBS' playbook -- hiring veteran TV stars to front their new freshman series.

Let’s take a quick look at the new series: 

“The Blacklist,” 10 p.m. Sept. 23: James Spader of "Boston Legal" stars as Raymond “Red” Reddington in one of the season’s best new drama pilots. Red is one of the FBI's Most Wanted after a career as a government agent. He voluntarily surrenders and it’s unclear whose side he really is on as he supposedly plans to help catch a terrorist who was presumed to be dead. The hitch is that Red will only speak to a rookie FBI profiler, Liz Keen (Megan Boone).

The pilot skillfully uses all of Spader’s talents to play a creepy, manipulative guy who is two or three steps ahead of anyone else. However, I admit I saw one of the big plot twists the minute one character was introduced.

It has been likened to "Silence of the Lambs" and NBC's lowly-rated "Hannibal." The difference between "Blacklist" and "Hannibal" is that Spader makes this series more commercial and likely to succeed. However, it is competing with CBS’ “Hostages" head-to-head. Rating: 3 and a half stars out of 4

"The Michael J. Fox Show," 9 p.m.and 9:30 p.m., Sept. 26: Who doesn't love Fox, who became an NBC star in the early 1980s in "Family Ties" despite the fact that the network president at the time doubted his face would ever make it on lunch boxes? (Remember them?).

This time, Fox is essentially playing a version of himself in a family series that directly deals with his Parkinson's disease. His real-life wife, Tracy Pollan, appears in the second episode. The show within the show in the pilot has Fox starring as Mike Henry, who leaves his job as a house husband to return to TV as an NBC anchor to the joy of his former workers and family members. Everybody loves him. His boss (Wendell Pierce) thinks he is guaranteed ratings. He has one fear: "I don’t want a pity job."

There are references to David Hasselhoff and Adam Levine and an analogy to "Grapes of Wrath" by his daughter, who is one of the family members happy he is going back to work. Matt Lauer also shows up in a cameo. I wish I could say I love Fox's show. But the pity is as likable as it is, it just isn’t very funny.  However, the premiere has guaranteed ratings. 2 stars

“Ironside," 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct.2: Blair Underwood of "L.A. Law" fame returns to play the character that Raymond Burr made famous when I was just out of high school. In other words, the audience under age 50 that NBC is seeking doesn’t care about any comparisons to the original that premiered in 1967. One obvious difference is that Detective Robert Ironside is now African-American, a bit of casting that would have been unusual in the 1960s.

In the pilot, his former partner is wracked with guilt over the shooting that shattered Ironside's spine. Ironside doesn’t have time for remorse – he just wants to solve crimes in New York City with intuitive skills that make you think he really is Columbo. He also has time to coach hockey. The opening script wants viewer to care more about Ironside than they do about how he solves crimes. As much as I like Underwood, the plot is all rather routine and most of this series wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 1960s. Rating: 2 stars

"Welcome to the Family," 8:30 p.m. Oct.3: Mike O'Malley of "Glee" and the Time Warner Cable ads star as Dan Yoder, who thinks he and his wife Caroline (Mary McCormack) are about to become free again as their daughter Molly is about to go to college. But then stuff happens. Cliched stuff, involving Molly’s boyfriend Junior Hernandez (Joseph Haro), who has made his parents (played by Ricardo Chavira and Justina Machado) very proud by being accepted to Stanford.

There isn't one plausible moment in the pilot of a series that seems to be seeking the Hispanic audience and is about as much fun as a forced marriage. 2 stars 

"Sean Saves the World," 9 p.m. Oct 3:  Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace") is a single parent with some explaining to do to his teenage-daughter Ellie. He is gay but was married to her mother. The marriage didn't work. His mother, played by Linda Lavin, is heavy on sarcasm and short on warmth. I made it through about 10 minutes before the extremely loud laugh track helped me decide this comedy wasn’t worth saving.  1 and a half stars

And then there are these midseason series:

“About a Boy”: David Walton plays a single, unemployed songwriter who pretends to be the father of an 11-year-old boy who lives next door with his single mother (Minnie Driver) so he can attract women. Based on the novel by Nick Hornsby, the pilot isn’t much but since writer-producer Jason Katims of "Parenthood" and "Friday Night Lights" is involved I’ll give this potentially sweet comedy time to grow. 2 stars 

"Believe": Delroy Lindo plays a guy who appears to be a priest (you can't believe anything) in this series from J.J. Abrams about a young girl who is being hunted by bad guys because she has powerful gifts. She has an ex-prisoner (played by Jake McLaughlin) on her side. The pilot , which includes a line about a couple of guys going to Buffalo to hide out, has a couple of twists and the usual intrigue that is in Abrams’ shows. It made me a believer, even if the plot seems to be recycled from some other old shows. Rating: 3 stars

"Crisis":  Gillian Anderson (“X-Files”) plays a high-powered, divorced businesswoman and Dermot Mulroney is a former FBI agent with a secret who talks to himself in this pilot about a kidnapping of children of wealthy, powerful people. It has tension, a few decent plot twists and a weak ending that hopefully will be improved by the time it airs. 3 stars

"The Night Shift": It is basically a recycled version of "E.R" with a few tweaks. The George Clooney character is a bad boy who breaks the hospital rules to save people. He has returned from a tour in Afghanistan and drinks and gambles too much. But he is really good at this job. He gets support from a Julianna Margulies character. There also is a hospital administrator worried about costs. There are strange diseases and incidents that show up time to time at any emergency room.  And some warm, fuzzy moments. I’d rather go to an ER than watch another episode but this stuff does sell. 2 stars 



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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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