The fall TV preview

Mike and Molly

Mike and Molly

BILL HARRIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:02 PM ET

Friends ruined TV.

Just to be clear, Mark Roberts, the creator and co-executive producer (along with Chuck Lorre) of the new heavyweight sitcom Mike and Molly, admired Friends, which aired from 1994 to 2004.

But Roberts is not a fan of the influence Friends had on TV comedy.

"In a way, Friends was one of the greatest comedies ever, but I think it ruined multi-camera (sitcoms), because everyone thought it had to be (six) beautiful people who were really funny," Roberts said. "And they were lucky, they found (six) really funny, beautiful people. But everybody's been trying to repeat that.

"That's why a lot of sitcoms have failed, a lot of shows that really are just attractive people being glib, which is not comedy. What ends up happening is you have shows where the characters have no real struggle, they have no real problems."

But the characters on Friends had no real problems, either.

"That's why everybody on Friends had to sleep with everybody, because there were no real struggles in their lives," Roberts said. "So they had to just create the struggles within them. And I'm a big fan of that show.

"But since Friends, comedies have taken the struggle out of people's lives. And once you take the tragedy out of people, there is nowhere for comedy to exist.

"Television became very unrealistic in a way."

Well, if Roberts is keen on making TV more realistic, at least physically, then he certainly is going straight for belly-laughs with Mike and Molly. It debuts Monday, Sept. 20 on CBS and A.

Mike and Molly is a romantic comedy set in Chicago about a police officer and a teacher -- played by Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy -- who hook up at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.

In a 2010 fall TV season adorned with so many new lawyer dramas that they all blend together, as well as a few more cookie-cutter ensemble comedies to drive Roberts insane, at least something like Mike and Molly stands out as different.

"A lot of television is test-marketing and previews, and you guys (TV critics) know all the stuff television shows have to go through to get on the air," Roberts said. "This pilot sort of slid by. It got through in an industry that is very much about attractive people being funny.

"I mean, look at some of the other shows. They've literally put some beautiful people in the leads of some pilots that have absolutely no comedic skills whatsoever, simply because they're good-looking people."

Lorre, of course, also is the mastermind behind The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, so Mike and Molly has a pedigree of success, obviously.

"Truthfully, Chuck Lorre is the only guy keeping flawed people on television and then finding the humour and the humanity in them, you know what I mean?" Roberts said of his Mike and Molly partner.

Going back to Roberts' eyebrow-raising "Friends ruined TV" theory, it's interesting to note that in the early 1990s, one of the most popular sitcoms on TV was Roseanne. Not coincidentally, Lorre worked on that show, too.

"And back in that time, (the weight of stars Roseanne Barr and John Goodman) didn't have to be the focus," Roberts protested. "The lead of every story wasn't, 'What's it like to be a fat woman on a TV show?' "

OK, on behalf of the media, we're going to have to take slight issue with that.

The lead characters in Mike and Molly meet at Overeaters Anonymous. And there are multiple weight jokes in the pilot.

So rather than just the bad old media getting it wrong again, the creators of Mike and Molly clearly aren't treating the main characters' weight as incidental. This show must be trying to say something about fatness or self-image or self-respect, right?

"Any standup who gets on stage, any person who does anything in comedy, knows the most important thing is, the audience needs to care about your characters," said Roberts, defending the plot setup. "And I think by seeing people who are struggling with something that's real and universal, it gives you an entry into their emotions and into their lives.

"It makes you love them, because they're trying to make themselves better. I think they're adorable. And they're falling in love. The O.A. meeting, to me, says that these are people who are aware they have a problem.

"I think, unfortunately, the landscape of television has become that, you have to explain why you're putting normal people back on TV."

Whether normal people want to see normal people back on TV is an open question.

There's a theory that suggests if viewers wanted to watch people like themselves, they'd simply turn off the TV and get depressed gazing at their own friends and families and neighbours.

But on the other hand, do comedies have to be pure escapism? They weren't always that way.

"I think people got into a mind-set where comedies needed to just cheer people up and take them to a place where everybody is happy," Roberts said.

Damn you, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Monica and Joey.

If the creators of Mike and Molly have anything to say about it, the chubby will rise again.

Shatner's '$#*!' won't stick

It's tempting to roll your eyes upon hearing that the new William Shatner sitcom $#*! My Dad Says already has ruffled feathers among prudes in the United States, merely by virtue of its title.

But before we Canadians get too smug, remember the controversy a few years back surrounding the movie Young People F***ing?

As with $#*! My Dad Says now, few of the people who complained about Young People F***ing actually had seen the flick. When we finally saw it, we couldn't help thinking, "Man, that title sure oversold it!"

That also is the case with $#*! My Dad Says, which debuts Thursday, Sept. 23 on CBS and CTV.

$#*! My Dad Says originated as an Internet feed from a dude who merely repeated the odd stuff his father would say. That phenomenon became a best-selling book, leading to a TV show, which certainly is a 21st-century path to success.

But there is something self-defeating in putting $#*! My Dad Says on network TV.

The truth is, Shatner's character can't really push the boundaries of offensive or insensitive, because of all the rules and regulations and restrictions. This would have worked better as a cable show, where the dad really could say $#*!, you know?

The series probably will get a big curiosity tune-in early on, because it's William Shatner. Maybe that's enough to hold people for a while.

But eventually, unless this sitcom gets funnier, the $#*! will hit the fan.

Sitcoms as a whole received a shot in the arm over the past couple of seasons with the continued success of The Big Bang Theory and the rookie success of Modern Family.

It's hard to believe The Big Bang Theory already is heading into its fourth season, but we've detected a few cracks.

Sheldon (played by Emmy Award-winner Jim Parsons) has become too much of a "bad friend", so hopefully the insertion of a romantic interest for him will round those edges a bit.

The challenge for Modern Family, of course, will be to avoid a sophomore slump.

Glee -- a comedy/drama/musical hybrid -- already went through a makeshift sophomore slump late in its protracted first season. Hopefully, creator Ryan Murphy spent the summer separating what worked and what didn't.

Finally, if this really is to be Steve Carell's last season on The Office, let's hope for a creative bounce-back for one of the best sitcoms in history.

Rizwan says 'relax'

Besides $#*! My Dad Says, the other easy target on the TV-comedy front this fall is Outsourced, which debuts Thursday, Sept. 23 on NBC and Global.

But cast member Rizwan Manji -- who was born in Toronto, raised in Calgary, and attended the University of Alberta for a year before departing for acting school in the United States -- says everyone should chill out and focus on the funny.

"I have relatives in Vancouver, Calgary and a ton in Toronto, and those who have seen the pilot have not just been okay with it, they think it's hilarious and surprisingly accurate," Manji said.

Outsourced is set at an American-owned telephone call centre in India.

"The comedy comes from the culture clash, not from stereotypes," Manji said.

"I think (frustration with distant call centres) is very relatable to all audiences. I'm Canadian but I'm of Indian origin, and I've gone through it, too."

COMEDY FALL TV DEBUT DATES

(Dates always subject to change by the networks)

Sept. 19: Call Me Fitz (HBO Canada).

Sept. 20: Mike and Molly (CBS, A); Chuck (NBC); How I Met Your Mother (CBS, Citytv); Rules of Engagement (CBS, Citytv); Two and a Half Men (CBS, A).

Sept. 21: This Hour Has 22 Minutes (CBC); Rick Mercer Report (CBC); Glee (Fox, Global); Raising Hope (Fox); Running Wilde (Fox).

Sept. 22: The Middle (ABC); Better Together (ABC); Modern Family (ABC, Citytv); Cougar Town (ABC, Citytv).

Sept. 23: Community (NBC, Citytv); 30 Rock (NBC, Citytv); The Office (NBC, Global); Outsourced (NBC, Global); The Big Bang Theory (CBS, CTV); $#*! My Dad Says (CBS, CTV).

Sept. 24: The Good Guys (Fox); The Ron James Show (CBC).

Sept. 26: The Simpsons (Fox, Global); The Cleveland Show (Fox, Global); Family Guy (Fox, Global); Eastbound and Down (HBO Canada); Bored to Death (HBO Canada); America's Funniest Home Videos (ABC).

Oct. 3: American Dad (Fox, Global).

Oct. 4: Men With Brooms (CBC).

Oct. 25: Drop Dead Diva (Showcase).

Nov. 8: Conan (CTV).

- Bill Harris, QMI Agency

'Boardwalk Empire' a top drama

TV critics tend to see so many lawyer-and-cop shows -- especially this fall, for the love of God -- that the understandable tendency is to praise anything that looks different.

But occasionally a show comes along that is both different and special. And that brings us to Boardwalk Empire, which debuts Sunday, Sept. 19 on HBO Canada.

Boardwalk Empire stars the always intriguing Steve Buscemi and is set in Atlantic City, N.J., in the crime-infested prohibition era of the 1920s. Both visually and narratively, it's a time period that has not been mined mercilessly by film and TV, so viewers can be hooked by both the scenery and the story.

The pilot episode was directed by co-executive producer Martin Scorsese, who isn't a bad guy to have in your corner.

On the broadcast-network side of things, Lone Star and the re-imagined Hawaii Five-O have garnered significant attention and varied degrees of praise.

We were quite intrigued by the pilot episode of Lone Star, which features James Wolk as a career white-collar con man who has started to develop a conscience. Also starring Jon Voight, Lone Star has a similar feel to the 1980s mega-hit Dallas, although the setup for the story is more extreme and therefore may be difficult to maintain.

The new Hawaii Five-O? You know, we don't really get it. We didn't really get the original, either. But this new version seems to be closer in spirit to 24 than anything else.

At one point fairly soon you have to think there's going to be a pretty bit turnover in TV drama. Many of the veteran shows -- Grey's Anatomy, CSI, House, Criminal Minds, Desperate Housewives, etc. -- still are formidable in the ratings, but definitely are long in the tooth.

The Good Wife seemed to crack the code as a hit rookie drama last season, but we're betting Julianna Margulies still can't quite believe she lost the Emmy to The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick.

Two returning shows we're impatient to see are The Tudors and Dexter.

This is the final season for The Tudors, a smart and lush period piece starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII. Meanwhile, Michael C. Hall's Dexter Morgan sure has some squirming to do as the new season begins.

Notably, there are definite similarities in the ways Henry VIII and Dexter Morgan handle problems. Different eras, same solutions.

The new Lost?

The TV ads have been pretty clear about what The Event ISN'T.

So what the heck IS it?

Well, it clearly wants to be the new Lost. FlashForward wanted to be the new Lost, too, and we all know how that turned out.

Anyway, The Event -- which debuts Monday, Sept. 20 on NBC and Citytv -- stars Jason Ritter as a frantic man searching for his vanished fiancée. While doing that, Ritter's character stumbles upon the biggest cover-up in U.S. history.

"There's one of me storming a cockpit with a gun and then me asking for my father-in-law's blessing," said Ritter, referring to various scenes in the first episode. "If you jump around (in time), you can do anything."

Of course, viewers have to follow it, too.

Initially The Event lives up to its name. But unlike FlashForward, by the third week it still needs to be more eventful than frustrating.

DRAMA FALL TV DEBUT DATES

(Dates always subject to change by the networks)

Sept. 12: Lost Girl (Showcase); 90210 (Global).

Sept. 13: Gossip Girl (CW, MuchMusic).

Sept. 14: Parenthood (NBC, Citytv); One Tree Hill (CW); Life Unexpected (CW).

Sept. 15: Outlaw (NBC).

Sept. 19: Boardwalk Empire (HBO Canada); Law and Order: SVU (CTV).

Sept. 20: Castle (ABC, CTV); House (Fox, Global); Lone Star (Fox, Global); The Event (NBC, Citytv); Hawaii Five-0 (CBS, Global); Chase (NBC, Citytv).

Sept. 21: Being Erica (CBC); Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC); NCIS (CBS); NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS, Global).

Sept. 22: The Tudors (CBC); Undercovers (NBC, Citytv); Criminal Minds (CBS, CTV); The Defenders (CBS, CTV); The Whole Truth (ABC, Citytv).

Sept. 23: CSI (CBS, CTV); The Mentalist (CBS, CTV); My Generation (ABC); Grey's Anatomy (ABC, CTV); Private Practice (ABC, A); Bones (Fox, Global); Fringe (Fox, Citytv); Law and Order: UK (Citytv).

Sept. 24: Body of Proof (ABC); Blue Bloods (CBS, CTV); CSI: New York (CBS, CTV); Medium (CBS, A); Smallville (CW); Supernatural (CW).

Sept. 26: Dexter (The Movie Network, Movie Central); Brothers and Sisters (ABC, Global); Desperate Housewives (ABC, CTV); Heartland (CBC).

Sept. 28: The Good Wife (CBS, Global); No Ordinary Family (ABC, CTV).

Sept. 29: Law and Order: Los Angeles (NBC, CTV).

Oct. 1: Human Target (Fox, CTV).

Oct. 3: CSI: Miami (CBS, CTV); Wallander II: Faceless Killers (PBS).

Oct. 25: In Treatment (HBO Canada); Durham County (HBO Canada).

Oct. 31: The Walking Dead (AMC).

Nov. 10: Lie to Me (Fox, Global).

TV goes back to reality

For many people, fall means it's time to get back to reality.

For myself, it means getting back to watching impossibly thin models compete for a contract, hungry Americans forego shaving for a shot at $1 million and former hockey stars make like stumbling fawns in figure skates.

But I guess you can call that reality, too.

Here's a look at the hottest reality TV competitions hitting the air this month.

America's Next Top Model

(Wednesdays on CW, A)

Trust Tyra Banks to stir up controversy before Top Model's new season even goes to air. A few weeks ago, a trailer promoting the CW staple's 15th cycle displayed a shocking image of 19-year-old contestant Ann's incredibly small waist -- with judge J. Alexander easily fitting both hands around it. While The Tyra insisted she "didn't see this clip before it was released to the public," she still allowed Ann's scary-skinny torso to compete on the catwalk for this season's prize -- which includes a fashion spread in Vogue Italia. Hint: Said magazine is also based in this cycle's overseas destination ...

Survivor: Nicaragua

(Sept. 15 on Global, CBS)

Remember when Survivor used to air on Wednesdays? Me neither, but apparently its first season in Borneo was the only one other than the upcoming Nicaragua to do so, rather than the Thursday timeslot we're used to. Either way, it's the same old game. Make that old vs. young, since the two tribes in this 21st season will be divided into those 30 and under, and those over 40. While the young 'uns are a bunch of scrawny students, the middle-aged crew includes brawny fire captain Tyrone and former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson. And I have a hunch that, like Survivor itself, these guys will never die.

The Apprentice

(Sept. 16 on Global, NBC)

Unlike the contestants on the last three seasons of The Celebrity Apprentice, those on the upcoming season of The Apprentice will likely still have careers AFTER the show. At least that's the hope for the returning season of Donald Trump's original series -- Season 10 for Apprentice in total. And as before, it will air on Thursdays, and will include the usual boardroom banter and might just have viewers hooked on the catchphrase "You're fired!" all over again.

Dancing With the Stars

(Sept. 20 on CTV, ABC)

Yawn alert. Those looking for colourful characters such as Kate Gosselin and Pamela Anderson's twins on this season of DWTS will be highly disappointed. The celebrity cast for the danceoff's 11th go-round? Michael Bolton, Bristol Palin, Audrina Patridge, Margaret Cho, Jennifer Grey, Rick Fox, Florence Henderson, Brandy Norwood, Kyle Massey, Mike (The Situation) Sorrentino, Kurt Warner and David Hasselhoff. That leaves little for viewers to look forward to -- unless you're thrilled at the possibility of re-created Dirty Dancing scenes or Snooki in the studio audience.

The Biggest Loser

(Sept. 21 on City, NBC)

I don't know what the contestants of this miraculous weight-loss series shed more of -- pounds or tears. Either way, it'll be hard not to join in when 21 hopefuls, including a mother of five and one of Beyonce's backup singers, compete for $250,000 and their health.

Hell's Kitchen

(Sept. 22 on City, Fox)

Gordon @#$%ing Ramsay expects both quality and quantity from everything his aspiring chefs serve -- not either or. But maybe someone should remind Ramsay that too much of a mediocre thing (i.e. yet another season of sweaty cooks getting yelled at) ain't so delectable any more. Yes, a milestone 100th episode is reason to celebrate during Season 8 (arriving just a month after Season 7 wrapped). But couldn't it wait until January?

The Amazing Race 17

(Sept. 26 on CTV, CBS)

In its neverending quest for quirky couples, The Amazing Race seems to have succeeded this season with a pair of Ivy League a cappella singers, home shopping hosts and a birth mother and daughter who have recently reunited after an adoption 20 years ago. And in its equally neverending quest to conquer new ground, TAR has lined up first-time visits to Bangladesh, Ghana and the Arctic Circle.

Bon voyage!

Battle of the Blades

(Sept. 26 on CBC)

Retired hockey players hitting the ice (sometimes literally) with figure-skating beauties on Season 2 of this CBC original will be Theo Fleury, Valeri Bure, Georges Laraque, PJ Stock, Todd Warriner, Patrice Brisebois, Russ Courtnall and Kelly Chase.

It's not an all-star lineup, but if the first season proved anything, it's that watching tough guys twirl for a good cause is entertaining and enlightening.

REALITY FALL TV DEBUT DATES

(Dates always subject to change by the networks)

Sept. 15: Survivor (CBS, Global).

Sept. 16: The Apprentice (NBC, Global).

Sept. 20: Dancing with the Stars (ABC, CTV).

Sept. 21: The Biggest Loser (NBC, Citytv).

Sept. 22: Hell's Kitchen (Fox); Dragons' Den (CBC).

Sept. 24: School Pride (NBC).

Sept. 26: The Amazing Race (CBS, CTV); Undercover Boss (CBS, CTV); Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC, Citytv); Battle of the Blades (CBC); All For One with Debbie Travis (CBC).

Oct. 1: Teach: Tony Danza (A&E).

- Lindsay ward, QMI Agency


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