Now that the dust has settled a bit on all the 2006 mid-season changes that will be kicking in as soon as the holidays are over, here's my night-by-night scorecard of the imminent battles we'll be covering a month or so from now.
The big news is the return of 24 on Fox, with a four-hour blast January 15-16, followed by all-new episodes through the rest of the season. For the first two months, Skating with Celebrities (a rip-off of Dancing with the Stars) will be 24's lead-in. But come mid-March, Prison Break will return. What a one-two punch that promises to be!
CBS will coast along by capping off its popular comedies with
With Prison Break on hiatus and 24 still a month away, those who like to watch TV on the edge of their seats can fill the void with Showtime's 10-hour Sleeper Cell (premiering Sunday, Dec. 4 at 10 pm/ET). This engrossing and unnerving nail-biter is a rare treat: a thriller with a brain and a soul.
Airing in a concentrated pattern over two weeks (through Dec. 18) for maximum impact, Sleeper Cell plunges us into a dark underworld of corruption and religious zealotry.
"This isn't just a war on terror. It's a war within Islam," says undercover FBI agent Darwyn (the charismatic Michael Ealy), who has infiltrated a small band of sociopathic Muslim extremists living behind a facade of normalcy in Los Angeles. Darwyn is a devout Muslim whose own faith is tested by the actions he must perform in order not to blow his cover as an ex-con.
Question: Any scoop on the upcoming season of The Shield? Anything on how much impact Forest Whitaker will have on it? Also, how great is it that it will be 21 episodes? That's almost like a whole other season of 24, unless they do what USA does with Monk. Will this season be split up or will it run for 21 straight weeks?
Answer: The Shield will almost certainly split this next (possibly its last) extended season into two parts. Nothing's set yet, beyond the fact that the season will premiere in January. As for the buzz, those who've seen early rushes say Forest Whitaker is terrific as the new Internal Affairs snoop, as he sets about taking down Vic and the Strike Team. (Of course, I wouldn't expect to hear anything negative from the buzzmeisters at FX, but they were certainly right about Anthony Anderson last season.) Can't wait ...
Ready for NuCassie?
As previously reported by TVGuide.com, Guiding Light is recasting Cassie Winslow, Reva's ex-stripper sister who married into Caribbean royalty. The role was abruptly vacated when Laura Wright jumped ship to play General Hospital's new Carly. As a result, Nicole Forester will make her daytime debut as NuCassie on Nov. 4. Who the heck is she? Well, Forester has previously guest-starred on prime-time shows like Two and a Half Men, Monk, Will & Grace and Beverly Hills, 90210. She also costarred with Michael Madsen and Michelle Stafford (Phyllis, The Young and the Restless) in the 2003 straight-to-DVD fright-flick Vampires Anonymous. Keep reading for another juicy nugget of Cassie-related casting news....
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
For both of you who skipped reading Damian J. Holbrook's deliciously snarky blow-by-blow of Sunday night's Emmycast, those wiseguys from The Sopranos, MIA this year, contracted out a hired gun named Inspector Clouseau to get the job done for HBO. Fueled by nine wins for The Life and Death of Peter Sellers — including a gold lady for star Geoffrey Rush — HBO amassed 27 Emmys overall, the same tally as the top two broadcast networks, ABC (with 16) and CBS (11), combined. Monk's Tony Shalhoub and Medium's Patricia Arquette were the night's "not so expected" wins and Felicity Huffman beat out Housewives favorites Teri Hatcher and Marcia Cross. Boston Legal's James Spader (a repeat winner) and William Shatner packed a one-two punch, and everybody showed Raymond
Question: With college football and new TV shows looming on the horizon I am positively giddy, but I am curious. In one of your comments on a show, you said it was diverting but hardly essential entertainment. What to you is essential entertainment? Isn't it in the eye of the beholder?
Answer: You should know better than to ask a critic such a leading question. But to your point: I believe I was responding to a question about Monk, and much as I enjoy that show when I watch, the reason I don't consider it "essential" is that, with rare exceptions, I don't really feel I've missed very much if I miss an episode. The "essential" shows for me are those I make a point to watch as they air, or record and watch as soon as possible, and fret if my machines (or I) screw up and then make a great effort to get my hands on a tape. And yes, making this sort of distinction is very much in the eye of the beholder — there are several million Monk fans who wouldn't dream of missing an episode — but I
Question: Wow, it seems like yesterday that I enjoyed the season premiere of Monk, and now here's the season finale. I know I have to wait until the beginning of 2006 for new Monk episodes, but I would like to know how you think this season is progressing. I still miss Bitty Schram (Sharona), but I feel that Traylor Howard (Natalie) is doing a great job.
Answer: I'm not a constant watcher of the show anymore, but I watched some of the highlights of the summer season — the John Turturro episode, the one where Monk thought his dead wife had returned — and still find it diverting but hardly essential entertainment, boosted by a great lead performance and character but hindered by routine plotting. I still miss Bitty Schram, too, and think the new sidekick is doing as well as possible under the diminished circumstances. The change certainly hasn't ruined the show, which was always uneven but still has its modest pleasures ...
Question: As much as I absolutely love Desperate Housewives, Gilmore Girls and Monk, I can't help but think that they are not comedies. These shows are a new breed and, if I can go so far as to say this, more sophisticated than traditional comedy and drama series. They mix laugh-out-loud humor and heartbreaking drama, and don't focus too much on either genre. My question, though, is that while the Emmys are too long, they need to recognize these gems as dramedy series and avoid mixing them with true dramas (24, Lost) or true comedy (Everybody Loves Raymond, Arrested Development). Why can't they make room, and do you agree?
Answer: Sorry, but the last thing the Emmys needs is yet another division or subcategory to confuse matters. The biggest problem is that shows that refuse to let themselves be pigeonholed or labeled as comedy, drama, whatever, run the risk of falling through the cracks of the nomination process (again, Gilmore Girls is the most frustrating example, but that's mor ...
The usual suspects — CSI: This, Law & Order: That — kicked butt in the ratings last week, so let's look at some more noteworthy Nielsens: So You Think You Can Dance came in third with an audience of 10.3 million; Kyra Sedgwick's The Closer beat Monk and remains the most-watched scripted cable series; HBO's Entourage is up in viewership (to 2.1 million), and yet, Lisa Kudrow's The Comeback still can't break a million. If you guys would just give the show a try, you'd know how tragic it is that you keep saying, "Memo to self: I don't need to see that!"
When Traylor Howard replaced Bitty Schram on Monk, fans had fits. "We knew devotees would be [upset]," says USA Network executive vice president Jeff Wachtel. "But we also knew Traylor could win them over."
Half a season later, that hasn't happened. "I hate her!" one wrote on Monk
's message board. "She brings nothing to the show," ranted another. But ratings remain the same for Monk
's Schramless episodes (about 3.4 million viewers), so it looks like Howard's here to stay.
Producers tapped her to play Monk's new girl Friday because she and star Tony Shalhoub clicked during her audition. That chemistry may build next season as writers toy with the idea of a Monk-Natalie romance. Until then, Howard will keep fighting to win fans. "I know some people are still resistant," she concedes. "People don't like change. God knows, I hate it! I think it is sweet [that they