Cliffhangers, Suspense Fill Fall TV Schedules

Get ready for suspense and weekly cliffhangers — Andrew Wallenstein of The Hollywood Reporter has a preview of the fall television season, which is full of serial dramas like Lost and 24 that will hopefully compel viewers to come back week after week.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick. It's fall. The leaves are changing. So are the television shows. The networks roll our their new season premieres around this time, all fighting for audience numbers and advertising dollars and attention. And here is some from TV critic Andrew Wallenstein, here to help us with the new season. Andy, welcome back. And buzz. You're hearing buzz, and you're tired of buzz already.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Let me tell you something, Alex. I've been covering this business for - I'm not going to specify the number of years, but enough that I feel safe concluding that the term buzz is completely meaningless. It's an indication of how good your publicist is, or in some cases certain shows attract buzz because they just have a very out-there concept. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're very good. So I would say after reviewing this field of pilots, the quality of a show and the amount of buzz that it has are not on the same page.

CHADWICK: Don't pay attention to buzz, dear listeners, pay attention to Andy. What is it people should be looking for this year?

WALLENSTEIN: On the comedy side, CBS has a ensemble sitcom called The Class. This is about six students who were in third grade together who reconvened for a reunion 20 years later. And if you miss Friends - and I know you're out there - this is a great show. It's got a lot of young, fresh faces; very tart, funny humor. And frankly, the premise really has nothing to do with the promise of the show. It's just young, sexy people being funny.

CHADWICK: Okay, what else?

WALLENSTEIN: On the drama side, ABC has a show called The Nine. It's going to be on after Lost. Very interesting premise. It's about the aftermath of a bank-robbery hostage crisis. And something goes on in that bank and we don't exactly what - although there's these little flashbacks that tantalize you - that brings these nine individuals together. I think this show has a lot of promise.

And I also want to highlight on NBC a show called Kidnapped. Very simple premise here. It's basically watching a team of people who attempt to recover a kidnapped kid, but this is a great cast: Delroy Lindo, Dana Delany, Jeremy Sisto.

CHADWICK: Let's listen, here it is.

(Soundbite of TV series, Kidnapped)

Mr. JEREMY SISTO (Actor): (As Knapp) All I care about is retrieval. Everything else is a distraction. My fee is non-negotiable, payable upon the safe return of the kidnapped victim intact.

Ms. DANA DELANY (Actress): (As Ellie Cain) What does that mean, intact?

Mr. TIMOTHY HUTTON (Actor): (As Conrad Cain) It means we don't pay him if Leopold's dead.

Mr. SISTO: (As Knapp) From nothing comes nothing.

Ms. DELANY: (As Ellie) You're not very good with people, are you, Mr. Knapp?

Mr. SISTO: (As Knapp) No, but I'm good at finding them.

CHADWICK: This is another one of these serial shows. So it doesn't end tonight or tomorrow night; it goes on and on.

WALLENSTEIN: Exactly. This is the trend du jour for the new fall season. Instead of these shows like Law and Order that wrap up at the end of the episode, the storyline, this one will play out all season and beyond. And you know, I think we're seeing all these because think of all the shows that have been hits in recent years: Lost, 24, Prison Break. They've all been on this model. I'm a little skeptical if you could have 10 of these on the air at once, because it takes a lot to commit to a show episode after episode, and maybe we're asking too much.

CHADWICK: You're giving up your entire social life to do nothing but stay home and watch TV.

WALLENSTEIN: That's already my job though.

CHADWICK: Okay, so who are you going to be watching there? You mention these fresh young stars, but typically I think TV likes to call on some people who have worked before.

WALLENSTEIN: Yes, and there's no shortage of them this season. Brad Garrett, you remember him from Everybody Loves Raymond; Calista Flockhart from Ally McBeal; Ted Danson from Cheers and 19 other shows. This trend drives me a little nuts. This to me shows that the networks are playing a little lazy, a little conservative. When you take these easily promotable names and put them out there, you're asking them to sort of have lightning strike twice and get that magic going again. And this is forcing the magic, and it rarely works.

CHADWICK: Okay, one last thing. It's a little more than a week now since Katie Couric debuted on CBS. Overall, what's the reaction at this point, and how is she doing in the numbers?

WALLENSTEIN: Well, if you were to ask CBS, they'd say they won the week at 6:30 for the first time since - I don't know - the 21st century. The reality, when you take a closer look at the numbers, is maybe a little more sobering. I mean, her ratings dropped about 45 percent from Tuesday, the day she premiered, to Friday. Now, that is a big drop, but at the same time it's not alarming. She was obviously going to start very big, given the level of hype.

The true test of Katie Couric will be over the next few weeks. The attention goes away, the hype goes away, and she's going to be there on her own merits. She'll really be proving herself if, you know, we're in November and she's still winning, and I've got to say I doubt it.

CHADWICK: Andrew Wallenstein, editor at the Hollywood Reporter, regular television critic here at DAY TO DAY. Andy, thanks.

WALLENSTEIN: Thank you.

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