The Call of Fall
Who says we’ve peaked on multi-platforms? The fall season beckons us back to the screen to savor the new-series harvest. This year the broadcast bounty includes reboots, returns and reinventions.
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John P. Fleenor/Fox/Universal Television
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ABC/Image Group LA
Maarten De Boer/NBCUniversal
Mother Knows Best
Long before Twitter wars and cries of "fake news" became everyday events in Washington, Vice-President Dan Quayle publicly blasted fiery, fearless news anchor Murphy Brown for "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice'" — even though Murphy was a fictional character played by five-time Emmy winner Candice Bergen on CBS's class-act comedy Murphy Brown (1988–98).
That was 1992. Twenty-six years later, series creator Diane English — who once referred to Murphy as "Mike Wallace in a skirt" — has rounded up the original cast for a 21st-century reboot (sans Robert Pastorelli, who died in 2004). Charles Kimbrough will guest-star. Tyne Daly joins the cast as Phyllis, the sister of local barkeep Phil, who has taken over Phil's in the wake of actor Pat Corley's 2006 death.
Murphy's kid, Avery Brown, is all grown up and following in his trailblazing mom's journalistic footsteps. He's also morphed from a child (last played by Haley Joel Osment in the series' final season) into Jake McDorman, the strapping actor who starred in CBS's short-lived drama Limitless (2015–16).
In her day, Bergen got to deliver such pithy invectives as "Men are like Dove Bars — one is great, two make you throw up." Welcome back, Murph!
It started with Hawaii Five-0 in 2010. That's when writer-producer Peter M. Lenkov (24, CSI: NY) caught the TV-reboot bug. He resurrected the CBS series (1968–80), with Alex O'Loughlin stepping into the Jack Lord role. It did so well (it's now in its ninth season) that, in 2016, he rebooted MacGyver (1985–92) for CBS with Lucas Till in the Richard Dean Anderson role.
Now, Lenkov puts his spin on another Honolulu-based procedural, Magnum, P.I. (1980–88), starring a goateed Jay Hernandez — who has mighty big flip-flops to fill. Especially since Lenkov's two previous reboots continue as lead-ins to Blue Bloods, which just happens to star the mustached man who first put the Thomas in Magnum, Tom Selleck.
Take Two… or Three
Murphy and Magnum aren't the only remakes this season. In the wake of recent returns by S.W.A.T. (CBS) and Will & Grace (NBC), there's also a new-millennial reimagining of Charmed (CW), along with what is perhaps TV's first spinoff of a reboot, The Conners (ABC), featuring John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert and the cast of last season's short-lived Roseanne revival (sans Roseanne herself, who was fired).
Other reworkings in the works: Cagney & Lacey, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Perry Mason, The Greatest American Hero, Roswell, Miami Vice, The Munsters, The Facts of Life, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Party of Five, Frasier, Designing Women and ALF.
Keep the Change
Not every aging series slips quietly into cancellation. In May, Fox snapped up Last Man Standing for a seventh season this fall after ABC canceled the Tim Allen sitcom. And NBC rescued Brooklyn Nine-Nine when Fox dropped it after five seasons. (It will appear midseason.)
But network-hopping is hardly new. Back in 1955, Father Knows Best was canceled after one year on CBS; NBC picked it up for three seasons, then canceled it; then CBS took it back for two more seasons. Bachelor Father premiered on CBS in 1957, then moved to NBC in its third season and ABC in its fifth — making it the only primetime series ever to run in consecutive seasons on all three original networks.
The Bionic Woman started on ABC in 1976, then switched to NBC for its third season. Taxi famously moved to NBC (1982–83) after four years on ABC, while Scrubs did the reverse — moving to ABC (2009–10) when NBC, uh, scrubbed it after seven seasons (2001–08).
Don't count on Alec Baldwin to run for public office anytime soon; there's just no way the man would have time.
This year alone, he's appeared in four films (including Mission: Impossible — Fallout); starred in a TV-movie version of Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men and costarred in a Hulu limited series, The Looming Tower; hosted and executive-produced NBC's primetime reboot of The Match Game; wooed Megan Mullally on two episodes of Will & Grace; played John DeLorean in one documentary and voiced Teddy Roosevelt in another; and mimicked Donald Trump on a dozen episodes of Saturday Night Live.
Then there's his radio show and podcast, Here's the Thing with Alec Baldwin — which has now spawned The Alec Baldwin Show, a new weekly ABC talk show that sneak-peeked as a post-Oscars special in February. Chatting up Jerry Seinfeld and Kate McKinnon, Baldwin drew more than 3.6 million viewers — not bad, considering it was announced only days before it aired.
Having proved himself to be a smart, cinema-savvy host of The Essentials on TCM, which he wrapped in January, Baldwin is sure to be a master schmoozer in primetime. Meanwhile, he's also marked some milestones on the home front this year: Baldwin celebrated his 60th birthday and welcomed his fourth child with wife Hilaria.
You know him as a member of the British boy band One Direction.
But now Harry Styles turns executive producer of CBS's new sitcom Happy Together, starring Damon Wayans Jr., Amber Stevens West and Felix Mallard (who plays a character based on Styles).
Call it the Odd Triangle: just when young couple Jake and Claire (Wayans and West) start to feel like their life has become prematurely dull, millennial pop heartthrob Cooper James (Mallard), an accounting client of Jake's, moves in to hide out from the media.
In reality, Styles spent nearly two years between houses, crashing in the Hampstead Heath attic of Ben Winston (producer of several One Direction documentaries, now coexecutive producer of The Late Late Show with James Corden, as well as this sitcom) and his wife, who are 12 years his senior.
He credits their quiet suburban lifestyle with keeping him sane. Today, the Winstons have a daughter, Ruby — whose godfather is… Harry Styles.
In Beverly Hills, 90210 (and its successor, 90210), they called it West Beverly High School. In Clueless, it was Bronson Alcott High School. Now, in The CW's new drama series All American — based on the life of NFL linebacker Spencer Paysinger, who traveled daily from South L.A. to attend Beverly Hills High School — it's called, simply, Beverly High.
But, once again, the school looks nothing like the real Home of the Normans. (In All American, it's the Home of the Lions.) Single Parents' Leighton Meester and Happy Together's Amber Stevens West would know — they're both BHHS alums.
When she starred as teen temptress Blair Waldorf in The CW's naughtiest series ever, Gossip Girl (2007–12), Leighton Meester dyed her natural blonde hair a sultry dark mahogany. She made all the lists of swoon-worthy women and ranked first on FHM's Hottest Fall TV Star list in 2008.
Now she's married to actor Adam Brody and mom to a three-year-old. In ABC's new sitcom (and Modern Family mate) Single Parents, her dark locks are lighter and so is her attitude. As Angie, the single mom next door, she's the surprise of the show. Like Elaine on Seinfeld, she holds her own with established funnymen Taran Killam and Brad Garrett.
And though she may no longer be playing the queen bee, she hasn't lost her sting. As she tells one schoolteacher, "You're a little mean…. I like it." Or, as she bluntly informs Killam, the geeky newbie in their unofficial support group: "We're single parents. We don't volunteer. We just try to survive until a time in the day when it's appropriate to open wine."
The Rel World
He comes from the rapid-fire world of stand-up and sketch comedy, but you probably know him from last year's satirical horror film Get Out. As TSA officer and loyal best friend Rod Williams, he was a welcome dose of real-world hilarity that went far beyond mere comic relief.
Which is why Chicago- bred Milton "Lil Rel" Howery won the 2017 MTV Movie & TV Award for Best Comedic Performance for that film.
In this year's Tag and Uncle Drew, as well as his regular roles as Jerrod Carmichael's brother Bobby in NBC's The Carmichael Show (2015–17) and Issa Rae's coworker on HBO's Insecure, he proved an able utility player in any ensemble.
Now he makes the leap to the top of the call sheet in his own series, Rel. He stars in the Fox sitcom as a self-made man who finds himself at a crossroads after his wife cheats on him with his barber. Trying to rebuild his life isn't easy, especially with his brother (Jordan L. Jones) and grouchy dad (Sinbad) always busting his chops.
Based loosely on Howery's own life as a divorced dad with two young kids, Rel proves one more time that he's more than just a funny guy — he's somebody to root for.
With his scruffy good looks, nice-guy demeanor and relentless charm (as displayed on any number of Today show guest-host gigs), Ryan Eggold has been a leading man waiting to happen for years. First, there was his pretty-boy English teacher role on The CW's 90210 (2008–11).
Then came five seasons as damaged double agent Tom Keen on NBC's The Blacklist — and its short-lived 2017 spinoff, The Blacklist: Redemption.
Eggold also added to his résumé with the 2015 History miniseries Sons of Liberty (and, more recently, with an arresting performance as a racist organizer in Spike Lee's powerful film, BlacKkKlansman).
Now, with the NBC hospital drama New Amsterdam, Eggold has his McDreamy moment, anchoring a large ensemble and taking center stage with a crafty mix of smarts and swagger — as if his years working with the mercurial James Spader (in Blacklist) rubbed off.
Playing Dr. Max Goodwin, an unorthodox, newly hired medical director who's determined to remind his jaded staffers why they became doctors, Eggold is a persuasive crusader trying to revive the venerable institution that hired him (reportedly based on New York's Bellevue Hospital).
Goodwin also hopes to reconcile with his estranged wife (who happens to be pregnant) while facing health issues of his own. Through it all, Eggold displays new maturity and flashes of gravitas, playing the good doctor with style and relish.
Keep the Faith
God moves in mysterious ways — especially on TV. Over the decades, we've seen a flying nun, heavenly angels, fallen angels, avenging angels, crime-solving clergy (priests, nun, rabbi), a teen girl who talks to the Almighty and, most recently, a slacker tasked with saving the world. These include last season's Kevin (Probably) Saves the World and Living Biblically; plus past shows such as Joan of Arcadia, Highway to Heaven, Touched by an Angel, Saving Grace and even Lucifer. This season, the Creator has discovered social media. In the CBS dramedy God Friended Me, devout atheist Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall of last season's The Mayor) receives Facebook messages that make him a divine messenger who affects the lives of others. Adding a conflicting layer of faith, Joe Morton plays Miles's father — who is a reverend.
Times have changed in the 28 years since it was acceptable for a white guy like Hank Azaria — a New Yorker whose family hails from the Spanish-Jewish community of Thessaloniki, Greece —to be cast as the voice of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Bengali convenience-store owner on The Simpsons (though the role has earned the actor three Emmys).
Since then, Indian actors have become increasingly common in primetime: Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation, Master of None), Kal Penn (House, Designated Survivor), Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory), Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife), Hannah Simone (New Girl), Sunkrish Bala (Castle), Suraj Sharma (God Friended Me) and Nik Dodani (the Murphy Brown reboot) are just a few.
Along the way, there have also been marquee names like Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project) and Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra (Quantico). However, this could be a watershed season: actress-writer Aseem Batra has adapted a book by Orli Auslander (I Feel Bad: All Day. Every Day. About Everything.) into an NBC sitcom called I Feel Bad.
Auslander is British — and Jewish. But Wisconsin-born actress Sarayu Blue, who grew up in a Telugu-speaking Brahmin family, plays Emet, an insecure wife and mom who works at a video-game startup and has interfering Indian parents (her mom is played by veteran Madhur Jaffrey).
The series keeps its comic themes universal, reminding us that you don't have to be Jewish — or Indian — to grapple with guilt, anxiety or self-doubt.
It all started with Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid's lovestruck romantic hero, a vampire, on the daytime soap Dark Shadows (1966–71). By the show's finale, the vampire had become a legit TV archetype that hasn't lost its bite.
Not even after eight seasons of the CW's The Vampire Diaries; five seasons of its spinoff, The Originals; seven seasons of HBO's True Blood; seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and five seasons of its spinoff, Angel.
Not to mention the bloodsuckers of Midnight, Texas (NBC), Being Human (Syfy), Van Helsing (Syfy), The Strain (FX), Hemlock Grove (Netflix), Dracula (NBC), Shadowhunters (Freeform), From Dusk Till Dawn (Netflix) and Preacher (AMC), among others.
Now, The CW is launching Legacies, a spinoff of The Originals — while The Passage (Fox) waits in the wings for a midseason debut (and Netflix has ordered V-Wars, starring V-Diaries' Ian Somerhalder, though he plays a doctor this time).
The most compelling part of the CW's new drama All American is not the sparks that fly when a South L.A. high-school football star is recruited to play ball among the privileged elite of Beverly High. It's the intimate, atypical friendship between main character Spencer James (played by British newcomer Daniel Ezra) and his best friend and close confidante from the hood, Tiana "Coop" Cooper, played by rapper Bre-Z.
The crossover star is an outside-the-box choice who brings raw energy and purity to the show, much as she did on Fox's music-industry drama Empire, where the Philadelphia native played Brooklyn-born Freda Gatz for two seasons (2015–17).
Described in her hometown newspaper, The Inquirer, as a "brash, butch battle rapper… with a deep, raspy, androgynous voice," Bre-Z — whose real name is Calesha Murray — plays Coop with quiet confidence and conviction. She is the unofficial conscience of the show.
In her hands, Coop is not merely street smart; she is downright wise, tough and fearless — a righteous outsider who understands Spencer's fish-out-of-water status and doesn't judge. And the fact that he is close with someone who is so herself, unafraid to be different, makes us think that much more of him.
Queen of Cool
The titular troublemakers in The Cool Kids, Fox's new comedy about a bunch of boomers who rule the roost in their retirement community, Shady Meadows, are a rather cliquish crew — but then one of them dies and leaves an available place at their table. The bad news (for them): a pushy new resident named Margaret commandeers the open seat.
The good news (for us): she's played by Vicki Lawrence. Yes, that Vicki Lawrence, from The Carol Burnett Show. It might be daunting for some performers to join a cast of comedy all-stars such as David Alan Grier, Martin Mull and Leslie Jordan. Not for Lawrence, who famously cut her comedy teeth on the Burnett show (1967–78) as an 18-year-old novice.
Learning on the job, she won a 1976 Emmy for Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music. After 11 years on the show, she graduated with honors from what she has called the "Harvard School of Comedy."
Back in the day, she'd don an old-lady dress, curly gray wig and nasty attitude to play Thelma "Mama" Crowley Harper opposite Burnett's Eunice character. She later reprised the character in a spinoff, Mama's Family (1983–90).
Playing Margaret brings Lawrence back to where she belongs. But no need for grandma wigs or pearls. Now that Lawrence is old enough to play a cranky senior citizen, she doesn't rely on props and sketch-comedy shtick. She's traded in the flowery housedresses and gray hair for leopard-print sweaters and a layered copper bob.
And she leaves Mama in the rear-view mirror as she shows the guys how it's done.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9. 2018