Friday, 27 May 2022

Fading fortunes of the once-great NBC TV empire

The feathers have been fading for some time now on the peacock symbol of the NBC television network. Proof of this sad state of affairs is found in the TV ratings, which are even below par for the prime Thursday night lineup of well-regarded comedies.


More proof is to be had in a pop quiz. Quick, try to name just one new show from last winter’s midseason schedule. Without looking back at my notes, I would have been hard pressed to recall “Raines” or “The Black Donnellys,” two crime dramas that obviously fizzled.


The summer did not begin auspiciously for the network when the departure of top executive Kevin Reilly became a subject of speculation within the industry and a topic of conversation during a recent TV critics press tour.


I don’t want to dwell on how NBC executives described Reilly’s exit as a matter of him realizing that “there was just no role for him (Reilly) at the company and decided to move on.” This assertion by new co-chairman of NBC Entertainment Ben Silverman elicited laughter, the kind you hear when these corporate types try to explain someone’s involuntary exodus as a desire to spend quality time with the family or to explore new opportunities.


A sure sign that the bank of creative ideas is running low on funds is the new one-hour drama “Bionic Woman.” To be sure, Lindsay Wagner was wonderful as the reconstructed tennis player Jaime Sommers, but then she played the indestructible heroine 30 years ago. Revived to the modern era, British thespian Michelle Ryan portrays Sommers as a struggling bartender and surrogate mom to her teenage sister in San Francisco. She didn’t think life could get much harder, until a devastating car accident leaves her at death’s door.


Jaime’s only hope for survival is top-secret technology that comes at a hefty price. Shouldering a big debt and coping with a new existence, Jaime must figure out how to use her extraordinary abilities for good, and hence there are sacrifices she must make to become the Bionic Woman.


Willing to court some controversy, and perhaps to draw notice to this show, NBC has hired Isaiah Washington to guest star in an arc of five episodes, where his character is a mysterious person instructing Jaime on how to handle her bionic powers. Washington caused a stir with an anti-gay slur during the Golden Globes, which brought enough negative publicity that ABC did not invite him back for the new season of “Grey’s Anatomy.”


Another San Francisco story is the romantic mystery-drama “Journeyman,” where newspaper reporter and family man Dan Vasser (Kevin McKidd) inexplicably begins to travel through time and change the course of people’s lives. Along the way, he must also deal with the difficulties and stress at work and home brought on by his sudden disappearances.


However, his freewheeling travels through the years reunite him with his long-lost fiancée Livia (Moon Bloodgood), which in itself complicates his blissful, present-day life with his vivacious wife Katie (Gretchen Egolf) and adorable son Zach (Charles Henry Wyson). As if there aren’t enough tricky situations, Dan’s cop brother Jack (Reed Diamond) once dated Katie.


Speaking of obstacles, “Life,” a new one-hour drama about a detective who is given a second chance, is full of complications. Complex and offbeat Detective Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) returns to the police force after years in prison, thanks to a close friend and attorney, after serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. There’s no mention of whether he sues his previous lawyers for malpractice.


But he’s out of the joint and teamed up with the proverbially skeptical and demanding partner (Sarah Shahi, a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader). For some extra toughness and a reminder of the past, Adam Arkin has a starring role as Charlie’s former cellmate Ted Early.


Though it won’t be on the Thursday night comedy lineup, “Chuck” is a one-hour, action-comedy series about a computer geek who is catapulted into a new career as the government’s most vital secret agent.


When Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) opens an email subliminally encoded with government secrets, he unwittingly downloads an entire server of sensitive data into his brain. Now, the fate of the world rests in the unlikely hands of a guy who works at a Buy More Electronics store. Instead of fighting computer viruses, he must now confront assassins and international terrorists.


With the government’s most precious secrets in Chuck’s head, Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin) of the National Security Agency assumes the responsibility of protecting him. Chuck’s partner is the CIA’s top agent (and his first date in years), Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strzechowski). They’ll try to keep him safe by trading in his pocket protector for a bulletproof vest. Also starring are Joshua Gomez as Morgan, Chuck’s best friend, and Sarah Lancaster as Chuck’s ever-supportive sister, Ellie.


It can’t be said often enough that NBC’s best night is the Thursday lineup of comedies, from “My Name is Earl” to “The Office.” To revive the franchise with a spark of energy, Jerry Seinfeld has been recruited to come back for one week on the Thursday schedule where he had such great success. In a tailor-made role, Seinfeld will appear as himself on the premiere episode of “30 Rock,” where viewers can tune in to see how he shakes things up with abrasive network executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin).


Speaking to a gathering of TV critics recently, NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman announced that the network has a deal with supernatural artist Criss Angel and famed mentalist Uri Geller to create a reality series for a live competition search for the next guy who can bend spoons with his mind. Silverman said the network is “looking for the next great mind-blower.”


Just a thought, but NBC should channel their mystical powers to come up with a few hit shows.


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


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