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Scripted Programs Face Off With Reality TV


From TV news to entertainment. This fall season may be a big showdown between scripted programs and cheaper-to-make variety and talk shows. In recent years, several critically acclaimed sitcoms and TV series got poor ratings and were cancelled. For the sake of their jobs, the writers are hoping viewers like what's in store this year. To give us a sneak peak, we're joined by Eric Deggans. He's media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. Welcome to the program.

ERIC DEGGANS: Thanks very much.

LUDDEN: So is it really sink or swim this season for these actors and writers?

DEGGANS: That's my own theory. Not necessarily for all actors and writers, but we're coming off a season where some of the shows that were praised the most by critics, particularly ABC's "Pushing Daisies," got cancelled because it couldn't draw enough viewers to stay afloat. And Jay Leno is presenting a variety show at 10 o'clock across every night in the week. And it's cheaper, and if it works it may inspire other networks to follow suit. So I think people who produce scripted programming are looking at this season and wondering what's going to happen and hoping that they can hold on to their jobs.

LUDDEN: Well, we've got a couple clips from two pilots that you like. The first is called "Flash Forward." Let's give a listen.


Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as character) The whole world's on pins and needles people. Air traffic's been grounded, people scared to leave their homes, walk across the street now we got marshal law across half this country.


P: Priority number one, finding out what caused this. Priority number two is figuring whether or not it'll happen again. You got it?

LUDDEN: Okay, clearly some major crisis there. What's causing all that mayhem?


DEGGANS: Well this is tough to explain but basically everyone in the world blacks out for two minutes and 17 seconds, I do believe.


DEGGANS: And when they come to, they realize that they have had a vision of what their life will be like six months in the future.

LUDDEN: Uh-huh.

DEGGANS: Now as you can imagine, some people, if you're in a car, if you're in a train, if you're in an airplane, if you're getting operated on or something like that, they don't survive this event, they die. So in the midst of this gigantic tragedy, people are trying to come to terms with the glimpse of their future life that they've seen.

LUDDEN: It sounds very stressful to watch.


LUDDEN: I mean I can't imagine this lends itself to the nice pat happy ending every week.

DEGGANS: No. This is going to be a "Lost" kind of a style show where the central question is, you know, why did this happen, how did it happen, and can people change their futures. And it's a storyline that will keep you on the edge of your seat if you like this kind of thing for quite a while.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, another program slightly, more mundane setting here.


LUDDEN: It's called "Modern Family" and we've got a clip.

Unidentified Child (Actor): (as character) Dad. Luke just shot me.

NOLAN GOULD: (as Luke) They're only plastic BB's.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as character) Buddy, un-cool.

T: (as character) That's it? That's - no, no, no, no. The agreement was that if he shoots someone you shoot him.

Man #2 (Actor): (as character) We were serious about that?

Unidentified Woman: (as character) Yes we were and now you have to follow through.

Man #2 (Actor): (as character) He's got a birthday party.

Child (Actor): (as character) What's more important here, dad?

Woman: (as character) You can shoot him afterwards. He'll be home at two.

LUDDEN: (as character) I can't shoot him at two. I'm showing a house at two.

Child (Actor): (as character) What about three?


LUDDEN: Okay. Daddy, get out your gun.


LUDDEN: What's the premise of this show?

DEGGANS: This is sort of a comedy about three groups of people who are kind of in an extended family. A gay couple, a sort of permissive couple with kids, and also an older man who's married a younger woman and she has a kid, so...

LUDDEN: Yeah, this sounds like reality show meets sitcom.


DEGGANS: It really does. Ed O'Neill, who people will remember as Al Bundy from "Married With Children," is the older guy and he's just, he's really funny in this. Everybody is really funny in this. It is a little sophisticated. The humor is complex and I don't know if people will respond to it.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, staying with comedy, this is an area where we see more people of color. We've got shows with Eddie Griffin, George Lopez, and now a new show with Wanda Sykes. So do you see more black and Latino viewers coming to late-night TV?

DEGGANS: It seems as if some of the cable channels and Fox have decided to counterprogram against all the white guys who are on the networks and late- night with hosts who are people of color. And the sense is, you know, maybe when everybody's zigging you should zag. What's interesting about Fox, for example, is that they have two other shows coming this fall that feature all black casts, although one of them is animated.


DEGGANS: And in a weird way it harkens back to Fox's roots. You know, they started out with shows that were focused on black casts and black audiences as a way to get quick viewers from the networks and now they have two other...

LUDDEN: Counterprogramming.

DEGGANS: ...shows that are going to do that - one called "Brothers Live Action Comedy," and one called "The Cleveland Show," that's a spinoff from "Family Guy."

LUDDEN: Well you've shared with us a few shows that you like in the new schedule. Is there anything you've seen that promises to be just awful?


DEGGANS: This is network television. They always have something like that. I do have to say that I can't think of a show that was just completely awful. I mean "Brothers," the show that I mentioned on Fox, you know, I really wanted to like it. I want to see more diversity in network programming, but it is a typical multi-camera sitcom and a lot of the punch lines really fell flat. I didn't really like it. And I also have to say I didn't really like "The Cleveland Show," the animated spinoff of "Family Guy"...


DEGGANS: ...because I've never really gotten why "Family Guy" is so popular and I didn't really like this show either.

LUDDEN: All right. Eric Deggans is a television and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. He joined us from St. Petersburg. Thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.