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Midseason TV: What To Watch And What To Skip


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. So maybe the weather has kept you inside more than usual, or you're looking for a few new guilty pleasure to add to your DVR. We've got you covered. NPR television critic Eric Deggans is with us in our Washington, D.C., studios to talk about some of the midseason television debuts. And we'll even talk about a few shows that don't begin with "Scan-" and end with "-dal." Eric, welcome back.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So first of all, midseason TV, what does this allow the networks to do?

DEGGANS: Well, there's a few things going on. Number one, you get the sense that shows that debut at this time take a little more time. They're a little more complex. They want them to debut outside of the crush of stuff that arrives in the fall. And also, you have some shows that have very limited runs. So you have a show like "The Following," on Fox, that's only about 13-15 episodes, so they'll start it in January and run it all the way through to the end.

And there's also a sense that the industry can catch his breath a little bit. They've had some cancellations. We've seen some shows not work out. So they have some shows in the hopper they can throw in to see if people will be interested in them at this time.

MARTIN: Well, let's just talk about a couple of them. We don't have time to talk about all of them. Let's talk about a familiar face who's making his way back to cable. Comedian George Lopez is debuting a show on FX called "Saint George." Let me just play a short clip from one of the trailers, and then you can tell us a little bit more about it.


GEORGE LOPEZ: (As George) "Saint George" is the first comedy about a teacher - me - giving back.

OLGA MEREDIZ: (As Alma) What about "Welcome Back, Kotter"?

LOPEZ: (As George) OK, mom. A Mexican-American teacher giving back.

DAVID ZAYAS: (As Junior) "Stand and Deliver."

LOPEZ: (As George) That wasn't a comedy.

MEREDIZ: (As Alma) I laughed.

ZAYAS: (As Junior) I laughed.

MARTIN: So are we going to laugh when we watch this?

DEGGANS: Boy, I wanted to like this show so much more than I actually did. But it's interesting to see a channel like FX that is generally very focused on young white male viewers to try something that has an older Latino in the starring role. You know, if you've seen "The George Lopez Show," the sitcom that he did on ABC, it has some of the same rhythms. But the casting is very different. And there's two other great actors, David Zayas and Danny Trejo, who join him. And it's just wonderful to see those three guys together on screen together.

MARTIN: You know, speaking of casting, we noticed that one of the other characters, Lopez's ex-wife, is white. And is there something about that dynamic that they use to create a story around or something about that casting that they're going to utilize?

DEGGANS: Yeah, I think so. A major part of this storyline in the first episode that I watched is the character coping with his divorce and the fact that he still has to have a relationship with his ex and he's got a son who frankly looks nothing like him. And so it's interesting to have these two white characters kind of brought into the story. And I'm hoping they're going to use that to get into all of these situations involving blended families that a lot of people are going through today.

MARTIN: Well, you know, you were talking about this. We've talked about this before, the fact that integrated programs tend to be dramas because they take place at work. And comedies tend to be a little less integrated because they take place at home. And so it'll be interesting to see, you know, how that plays out, you know, or not.

DEGGANS: Well, what's also interesting is that often in comedies, it's a white world and there's one character of color who's dating somebody or married to somebody. And here, it's the reverse. It's a very Hispanic, Latino world, and there's two characters that are there because they have a relationship with George Lopez's character.

MARTIN: So let's talk about a reboot of a series that many people may remember, "Cosmos." In 1980, astronomer Carl Sagan launched this popular PBS series that basically explained the universe in a way that made sense for a mass audience. And now Neil deGrasse Tyson, who's an astrophysicist, is helming a revised - or a new version of the series. And he recently spoke with Fresh Air's Dave Davies about the original "Cosmos" and how Carl Sagan made it so appealing.


NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: His style was very conversational and fireside-chatty. And there he was on the screen, but he was really with you in the living room. And I said myself, if I'm ever in a position to communicate with the public on such a scale, that I would want to do it in that way.

MARTIN: Well, you know, he's got his own following, you know, Neil deGrasse Tyson does. Tell me about the series.

DEGGANS: What they do is they use the magic of modern technology to kind of put him inside these situations more. So we see him at the birth of the entire universe. They re-create the big bang. We see him at different points in the Earth's development, showing us how everything evolved. And it's all very visual. And so that's all really amazing and wonderful. And on top of that, this show is going to debut on a bunch of different channels at once.

It's not just going to debut on Fox. It's going to be on many different subsidiary Fox channels and many different National Geographic channels all at once. So there's also a sense that they're making a bit more of an event of this, and they're really trying to get average people and kids interested in science again by figuring out a new way to bring it to them the same way the same way that Carl Sagan did on his original show.

MARTIN: You know, one think I could not help but notice is that another famous name is attached to this, the creator of "Family Guy," Seth MacFarlane. I mean, a lot of people kind of think of him as the architect of lowest-common-denominator comedy. What gives with that?

DEGGANS: Well, one thing about Seth MacFarlane is that he's a huge TV nerd. If you watch any of his animated shows, you can tell he has a deep knowledge of old television. And so I just think he was a fan of the original "Cosmos," and Seth MacFarlane has been so successful at Fox that they want to be in the Seth MacFarlane business. So if he wants to do a reboot of "Cosmos" and you can get Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is arguably the best-known expert in this field who's involved in pop culture and television, that seems like a great combination. And certainly the first episode, I think, reflects that.

MARTIN: And finally, before we let you go, in a minute we're going to speak with Jason Mott. The television adaptation of his book "The Returned" is appearing on ABC. Have you seen it? How do you - what do you think?

DEGGANS: I've seen it. I've seen the first three episodes. I like it. It's called "Resurrection." And I hate to say this 'cause I also know Jason. I've talked to him. I might like it even a little bit more than the book. They've done a really good job, I think, of slowing down the story and telling this really emotional piece about, you know, what happens - what really happens if somebody who's been dead and you have kind of gotten over them - what if they come back in your life, and you have to cope with the fact that this person that you knew 10 years ago, 20 years ago, suddenly comes back and expects everything to be the way was, and you're not in that place?

MARTIN: Eric Deggans is NPR's TV critic. He was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Eric, thank you.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.