CBS MOVES AHEAD ON FALL SCHEDULE IN SHADOW OF CONTROVERSY
A TV Review by Tim Riley
They say that timing is everything and that could not be truer than in today’s world of social media and a 24-hour news cycle. For the CBS television network, that means the dark cloud hovering over CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves comes at an interesting time. What will be the fallout of serious public allegations of sexual misconduct, yet again against another high-profile entertainment figure, is yet to be known. But the shadow of controversy hangs in the air. To the credit of CBS, the network moved ahead with an executive session with Kelly Kahl, president of CBS Entertainment, during the summer press tour which offered the nation’s TV critics a chance to ask pointed questions.
I’d say the press queries came off rather tame, as compared to the cage match often seen between CNN’s Jim Acosta and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders during a usual press briefing. When asked if Moonves would apologize to the women in the New Yorker article, Kahl’s response hit the fallback position of saying “I can’t speak to that. As we’ve said, there’s an investigation underway. There’s nothing I can add to that.”
Whether Moonves is running the ship next month or next year, CBS will defer to the legalities of ongoing probes and move ahead on promoting its Fall schedule, which is balanced between comedies and drama. The edge may go to the network’s love of police procedurals and the impressive fact that it lured prolific producer Dick Wolf (“Law & Order” franchise) away from NBC for the new series “FBI,” focused on New York agents in the field.
That Wolf landed his new show on the Eye network after deep ties to a rival network prompted many questions, and the producer deftly punted to saying his honest answer was that there “was no more beachfront real estate at NBC.” What’s more interesting about the “FBI” is that Wolf revealed that he idolized his uncle who was an FBI agent in the ‘50s and ‘60s, finding him to be a great role model along with other agents he had met during that time.
Aside from Sela Ward, who appears not to be in the first episode, the cast of the “FBI” fits a diversity model of different ethnic backgrounds that reflect the metropolis where it is based. The cast may not be household names. The leading role is with Missy Peregrym, as Special Agent Maggie Bell, who may be best-known for her role as Officer Andy McNally in the ABC series “Rookie Blue.” The special FBI agent at the nerve center of the office during tense situations is the familiar face of Jeremy Sisto as Agent Jubal Valentine. He acts as the master motivator as everyone works under intense pressure.
A more laid-back approach to a crime drama is the remake of “Magnum P.I.” where Thomas Magnum, a former Navy SEAL who becomes a private investigator, is still a diehard Detroit Tigers fan living at a luxurious Hawaiian estate. Jay Hernandez, the new Magnum may not look like Tom Selleck, but he operates in similar fashion in dealing with the estate’s majordomo Higgins, who now happens to be a female disavowed MI6 agent (Perdita Weeks) keeping Magnum in line with the help of her two Dobermans. The last of the new dramas takes a new tack on a religious theme. Tapping into social media, “God Friended Me” turns the life of an outspoken atheist upside down when he receives a friend request from God.
Miles (Brandon Micheal Hall), at odds with his preacher father (Joe Morton) about the rejection of faith, hosts a podcast where he’s free to speak his mind, but changes happen after being poked by the mysterious request to get involved outside his comfort zone. Signs point him in the direction of helping Cara (Violett Beane), an online journalist suffering from writer’s block. Together, they find themselves investigating God’s friend suggestions and inadvertently helping others in need.
The new dramas are balanced by a similar number of comedies, though one of them is another reboot of a vintage series. Unlike new major characters on “Magnum P.I.,” the revival of “Murphy Brown” brings back many of the original stars. Once again, Candice Bergen is in the titular role of a newscaster in a fictional show that, in the words of producer Diane English, has “always been a political show with something to say,” now focusing on a platform through the prism of the press.
Faith Ford returns as lifestyle reporter Corky Sherwood, Joe Regalbuto remains to investigate journalist Frank Fontana, and Grant Shaud is the former wunderkind news producer Miles Silverberg. The other two comedies appear to be rather generic. “The Neighborhood” stars Cedric the Entertainer not exactly putting out the welcome wagon when a friendly Midwest family moves next door. Meanwhile, “Happy Together,” as the title implies might be a stretch for a happily married couple (Damon Wayans, Jr. and Amber Stevens West) when the husband’s music superstar client (Felix Mallard) seeks refuge from paparazzi by moving into their home.