Television used to be so simple. The big networks (anybody remember when there were only three?) unveiled all their shiny new programs in September. Some would be hits. Most would fail. Then in January, they would trot out a mess of fill-in series to plug their open holes until summer, when reruns and "summer replacement" shows would fill the air.
At least, that's how things were done way back in the 20th century. Nowadays, it seems new series premiere or established shows return practically every other night on one of the gajillion broadcast and cable channels. You can barely tell the players apart with a program (guide). Cable strongholds like TNT and Bravo launch nearly as many original one-hour series as the traditional over-the-air networks, a ratio that will grow even closer next fall when NBC gives up its 10 p.m. prime-time block to Jay Leno's Tonight Show spinoff.
And March may be the cruelest month for tube viewers. Freed from the intensity of the February ratings sweeps, when national and local ad rates are calculated and big guns like the Super Bowl and the Grammy Awards are rolled out to hype audience numbers (it seems some 20th century TV traditions are maintained after all), the networks go crazy with their lineups. More than a dozen new or returning shows hit the screen this month. Recession? In Hollywood? What recession?
Here are just a few of the arrivals that have yet to dazzle or depress you in this madcap month of March:
In the Motherhood (premieres 8 p.m. tomorrow, March 26, ABC/Channel 7 in Detroit): Spawned by a successful webisode series, this kids-do-the-darnedest-things sitcom features a harried single mom (Curb Your Enthusiasm's Cheryl Hines) and her neighbors, the resident wacko (Megan Mullaly) and the perfect parent (Jessica St. Clair). And get this: The producers are encouraging you to submit embarrassing stories of your parenting miscues to use as material for the series! Talk about a show that writes itself.
Any Dream Will Do (premieres 8 p.m. March 29, BBC America): Think American Idol with decidedly more class, as host Graham Norton, a panel of judges including Andrew Lloyd Webber and UK viewers vote for the next West End musical theater star.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (premieres 8 p.m. March 29, HBO): Guess it was only a matter of time before mighty HBO, several of its signature series now departed, stooped to the level of a prime-time procedural crime drama. This one, based on the bestsellers by Alexander McCall Smith, stars Grammy-winning singer Jill Scott as head of the only female-owned gumshoe agency in Botswana. Because it's HBO, the show is filmed on location.
Cupid (premieres 10 p.m. March 31, ABC): All out of fresh ideas? Here's what you do: Dredge up a series that was canceled in 1998 after 15 episodes and give the creators a second chance to get it right in 2009. The original, a cult fave starring Entourage's Jeremy Piven, concerned a man who believed he was the mythological arrow-slinging lovemeister, sent to earth as punishment by the gods to connect couples without using his powers. Hey, now he can use online dating!
My Boys (returns 10:30 p.m. March 31, TBS): I've seen the first two new episodes of this should-be-funnier-than-it-is comedy about a Chicago sportswriter (Jordana Spiro) and her circle of ragamuffin guy pals. The third season's opening storyline, about an impending wedding that spawns an unexpected new relationship, falls flatter than a Bernie Madoff investment in the first episode, but picks up considerable bite and humor by the second week.
And I have to mention ...
Kings (8 p.m. Sundays, NBC/Channel 4 in Detroit): He doesn't get to cuss like he did in Deadwood, but Ian McShane is nonetheless commanding in this fanciful, fascinating drama essentially taking the Biblical story of King David into modern times. For better or worse, no one can say Kings isn't different.
Dissa and data: Now that they have successfully branded themselves as "Detroit's Urban TV Station," WADL/Channel 38 can forge ahead — by reaching back. Beginning Monday, the station is launching a 4-7 p.m. weekday block of such vintage sitcoms as The Brady Bunch, The Beverly Hillbillies, I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners. Hey, African-Americans need a good laugh too, and the programming strategy is working in Chicago for WGN Superstation. ... Is it just me, or have you wondered how the new FOX hit Lie to Me (8 p.m. Wednesdays, Channel 2) can get away with showing still photos of real people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and O.J. Simpson with freeze-frame facial expressions that clearly implicate they were lying to the public? Haven't the producers heard of a legal concept called "defamation of character"? ... Be afraid, be very afraid: FOX reportedly has a situation comedy in the works for fall called Two Dollar Beer, which is being described as "Friends in Detroit." Oh, I get it! This time, you won't see any white people in the city!Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org