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'Battle Creek' An Attempt To Break CBS's Formulaic Lineup
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'Battle Creek' An Attempt To Break CBS's Formulaic Lineup

Television

'Battle Creek' An Attempt To Break CBS's Formulaic Lineup

'Battle Creek' An Attempt To Break CBS's Formulaic Lineup
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On Sunday, CBS debuts Battle Creek, a new police drama set in small town Michigan that was dreamt up by the creator of Breaking Bad and executive produced by the creator of House.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

On Sunday, CBS debuts "Battle Creek." It's a police drama set in a small town in Michigan. The show was dreamt up by the creator of "Breaking Bad." The executive producer created the show "House." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's one of three new shows starting Sunday night which bring cable innovation to broadcast television.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Battle Creek police detective Russ Agnew has a problem - a listening device he wants to put on his snitch, Teddy, isn't working.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATTLE CREEK")

DEAN WINTERS: (As Detective Russ Agnew) What's wrong with the wire? Why isn't the red light coming on?

DUSTIN YBARRA: (As Teddy The Snitch) Who sells your equipment, Goodwill?

DEGGANS: It gets worse. When a fight breaks out and Detective Agnew tries to use a Taser, this happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATTLE CREEK")

WINTERS: (As Detective Russ Agnew) Oh, geez, battery low?

DEGGANS: So the Battle Creek Police Department gets help from FBI Agent Milt Chamberlain - yeah, like the basketball player - who's a goody two-shoes with the latest forensic technology and a talent for sucking up to people.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATTLE CREEK")

JOSH DUHAMEL: (As Agent Milt Chamberlain) I love it here, are you kidding me? I grew up in a small town, so this is just like coming home.

WINTERS: (As Detective Russ Agnew) You grew up in Michigan?

DUHAMEL: (As Agent Milt Chamberlain) Monaco actually, but, you know, same deal.

DEGGANS: Of course the FBI agent clashes with the scruffy, street-smart Detective Agnew, even after Chamberlain tries to explain his good-guy approach.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATTLE CREEK")

DUHAMEL: (As Agent Milt Chamberlain) In my experience, when you trust people, they trust you.

WINTERS: (As Detective Russ Agnew) Have you actually met people?

DEGGANS: What's most interesting here - this isn't your typical CBS cop series, which is usually a spinoff of an already successful show with predicable crimes that gets wrapped up in an hour. CBS bought the pilot script for "Battle Creek" a dozen years ago and never made it. It was written by this guy named Vince Gilligan, who went on to create another show you might recognize.

(SOUNDBITE OF "BREAKING BAD" THEME SONG)

DEGGANS: After "Breaking Bad" inspired a nation of binge-watchers, CBS dusted off Gilligan's script for "Battle Creek" and handed it to David Shore, the creator of "House." Battle Creek is an entertaining, riley, funny show where cops smoke weed and can't afford ponchos for rainy crime scenes. Plus, there's an ongoing question - why is an agent as seemingly impressive as Chamberlain really stuck in Battle Creek? This is all a bit more complex than what the network usually offers in a police drama.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATTLE CREEK")

DUHAMEL: (As Agent Milt Chamberlain) He decapitated her, Alex.

SUSIE ABROMEIT: (As Alexandra Rosario) The guy's a monster who doesn't know his own strength.

DUHAMEL: (As Agent Milt Chamberlain) Well, he's about to know ours.

DEGGANS: "CSI Miami" was a good example of how CBS handled a successful cop franchises. They found a great idea and cloned it as many times as possible, like "NCIS's" widely watched spinoffs, "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "NCIS: New Orleans." But "Battle Creek" is a sign that the network of the conventional police drama is trying something new. And there's two other network TV shows - also starting Sunday - that shatter old conventions. On Fox, Will Forte stars in the opposite of a formulaic family sitcom, playing the last survivor of a plague that killed everyone else in a comedy called "The Last Man On Earth."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LAST MAN ON EARTH")

WILL FORTE: (As Phil Miller) So I just got back from traveling around the country looking for anyone. It's not all bad.

DEGGANS: And ABC's "Secrets & Lies" overturns the typical network cop format by focusing on one crime. Juliette Lewis is the cop solving the murder of a child. Ryan Phillippe is the guy who found the body.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SECRETS & LIES")

RYAN PHILLIPPE: (As Ben Crawford) A little boy who never did anything to anyone, a little boy that we loved is dead, and I'm a suspect in his murder.

DEGGANS: These series look like cable shows with morally ambiguous characters and unorthodox settings. It's a gamble for the networks but great news for viewers, who may finally see broadcasters break up their tired program formulas for good. I'm Eric Deggans.

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