ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
A new television season is under way. The networks have rolled out a few new dramas and sitcoms. NBC has rolled back some of that to make room for the prime time "Jay Leno." And at this time of year, we often turn to TV critic James Poniewozik of Time magazine in search of fertile oases in the cultural wasteland.
Welcome back to the program.
Mr. JAMES PONIEWOZIK (TV Critic, Time Magazine): Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: First, generally, does this promise to be a good, bad or mediocre season for the networks?
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: I think there should be good, bad and mediocre this season. There's a lot of interesting things going on in television this year, not least of which is a lot of experimenting, as we're seeing with "The Jay Leno Show," for instance, by networks who are just trying to figure out what their business is nowadays.
SIEGEL: Well, I'm going to ask you what's good, what's interesting, what's bad, and we'll start with one thing that I saw last night - I thought was pretty good, which is the debut of the series "The Good Wife," with Julianna Margulies.
(Soundbite of television program, "The Good Wife")
Mr. CHRIS NOTH (Actor): (As Peter Florrick) I know this has been hard on you, but you have to believe me, I'm innocent of the abuse-of-office charges.
Ms. JULIANNA MARGULIES (Actress): (As Alicia Florrick) You think I give a damn about that, Peter? They were playing a tape in Grace's computer lab of you sucking the toes of a hooker.
SIEGEL: James Poniewozik, what did you think of this one?
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: You know, I really, surprisingly, enjoyed the show. When I heard the premise of it, you know, it has this ripped-from-the-headlines idea behind it about a woman who is married to a politician - in this case, a state's attorney - who was in a sex and political scandal. It sounded like a very, sort of high-concept premise that might be interesting for a very short while and then turn sort of boring. But I think that to its credit, the show does not-the-obvious thing with the idea, which is that it really turned it into an interesting, well-developed character piece about who is the person behind this kind of familiar story. And it's potentially, really fascinating.
SIEGEL: Other programs that strike you as new and good?
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: One show I really love is a new comedy from ABC called "Modern Family." It's the oldest thing on television. You know, it's a family comedy about an extended family with three family units, but it's shot in sort of a mockumentary style.
(Soundbite of television program, "Modern Family")
Ms. JULIE BOWEN (Actress): (As Claire Dunphy) What's the secret to a successful marriage?
Mr. TY BURRELL (Actor): (As Phil Dunphy) I got this. Never go to bed hungry.
Ms. BOWEN: (As Claire Dunphy) Never go to bed hungry? The expression is angry.
Mr. BURRELL: (As Phil Dunphy) Yeah, when you say it like that.
Ms. BOWEN: (As Claire Dunphy) Phil is uncomplicated. He's loyal, energetic. He's always happy to see me when I come home, like a dog.
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: It's really dryly funny, well cast, offbeat without being weird. And like in "The Office," the camera in this sort of pseudo-mockumentary format almost becomes like another character, commenting on the action as it goes along. It's just - it's very inventive, very clever and really likeable. I highly recommend it.
SIEGEL: What is new that may not be good but at least is interesting?
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Well, I think that's almost the definition of "The Jay Leno Show," and it's really sort of a fascinating experiment in the business of television. Essentially, you know, among other things, NBC has put Jay Leno on five nights a week, not so much as a creative experiment but as a business move. It's just cheaper. NBC has decided to do five nights a week of basically a talk show. They call it a comedy-variety show, whatever, but it's cheaper to do that than five nights a week of dramas. So you sort of have NBC trying to redefine the whole idea of what a hit show is. Jay Leno could finish third every night and yet be a success because he's sort of like a restructuring plan for the auto industry. You know, he's bringing in the product cheaper.
SIEGEL: You mean, he works cheap - is what…
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Exactly.
SIEGEL: …the secret of entertainment always is, I guess.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: That's some of what is interesting and what is good about the new network TV season. What have you found that's just downright bad?
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Well, elsewhere on NBC, there's a terrible new hospital drama about nurses called "Mercy." We've - for some strange reason, I don't know if it's the zeitgeist about health-care reform, but we've seen a lot of new nurse and doctor dramas on the air this year, and "Mercy" is quite likely the worst of them. It's just a very cliched, trite, melodramatic show that kind of makes you wish that Jay Leno had a sixth hour.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: You think we might expect a "Mercy" killing early in the season?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: You should be a TV critic, Robert. I wish I had included that line in a review. Yes, "Mercy" killing.
SIEGEL: Well, thanks for talking with us, James.
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Oh sure, thanks a lot, Robert.
SIEGEL: James Poniewozik, a TV critic for Time magazine.
(Soundbite of music)
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