Flipping Channels: Kiefer's Touch Shifts Speed, Smash Avoids the Hook

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Kiefer Sutherland attained television stardom with 24, then encountered the familiar problem actors face when they become heavily identified with a character and program: How do you get audiences to forget Jack Bauer whenever his next project comes along?

Last season Fox attempted to recast Sutherland as a regular Joe dealing with a special child. Touch featured him as widower and single father Martin Bohm, whose greatest challenge was trying to communicate with his 12-year-old son Jake (David Mazouz). Though unable (or unwilling) to speak, Jake had a very special gift: the ability to decipher and connect numerical patterns that connected every life on the planet. Martin took the clues Jake provided, then tried to help those people whose lives were affected by his discoveries.

But that blend of family drama, mathematical mystery and suspense didn't translate into the numbers Fox wanted. So when Touch's second season begins Friday at 7 p.m. (WZTV-17) with a two-hour edition, the show's focus and format will be quite different.

Martin and Jake now live in Los Angeles rather than New York. They get involved with a mother who's searching for her missing teenage daughter. They also find themselves on the run from a religious zealot obsessed with finding and eliminating everyone with gifts similar to Jake's.

Maria Bello, Lukas Haas, Said Taghmaouri and Saxon Sharbino have joined the cast of the new Touch, whose producers hope the new scenario boosts its American audience. The show has been a hit overseas (part of the reason Fox was reluctant to cancel it), and is the first U.S. series to enjoy immediate success in more than 100 countries. Only time will tell whether turning Touch into a 21st century family version of The Fugitive will propel it to new heights.

Monday Mornings debuts Monday night
Medical shows historically have taken one of two directions. One spotlights the larger-than-life hero, whether a dashing romantic type (Richard Chamberlain in Dr. Kildare, Vince Edwards in Ben Casey, Chad Everett on Medical Center — you could even argue Hugh Laurie's House belongs in this company) or folksy, warm and sympathetic healer (Robert Young's Marcus Welby, M.D.). The other is the ensemble soap opera inside a hospital (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice — even to some extent ER, though it had its fair share of heroic characters and subplots as well).

Exceptions to the rule include St. Elsewhere and M.A.S.H., which bent these formulas to their own topical or satirical ends. But it's safe to say there's not been a regular medical TV show quite like Monday Mornings, which premieres 9 p.m. Monday on TNT.

The show is based on the novel of the same name by noted doctor and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta. The book spotlighted several things the medical establishment would rather the public not know exists, particularly the regular morbidity and mortality conferences. These meetings are where surgeons get together to explain what happened with recent cases, and in many instances what mistakes were made and who's responsible.

Monday Mornings follows the lives of five surgeons at Chelsea General as they deal with problems and issues. Every situation depicted in the show is based on something taken directly from Gupta's experiences as a still practicing neurosurgeon.

The program's the latest production from David E. Kelley (The Practice, Picket Fences), and the cast includes some big names like Alfred Molina and Ving Rhames. Key questions include the percentage of exposition to character drama, and just how detailed the presentation of those meetings will be.

Smash, Grammys face the music
For those so inclined, Smash, the proverbial behind-the-scenes musical production, returns to NBC (WSMV-Channel 4) 8 p.m. Tuesday. The producers and writers are hoping that the two-hour opening special can reinvigorate a program that had tons of hype, but barely made it to the finish line last season and was on the cancellation bubble quite a while. The juiciest read in TV coverage last week was Kate Aurthur's BuzzFeed exposé of the show's backstage troubles, many of which the piece traced back to now-axed show runner and Broadway playwright Theresa Rebeck. It's a fascinating step-by-step account of a promising show plowing off the rails — and ironically, it may have actually raised excitement for Smash's premiere.

• Plenty of Nashville intrigue surrounds the annual Grammy telecast on Sunday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. (WTVF-Channel 5). The Black Keys, Jack White and Taylor Swift are among the Music City performers vying for major awards at a program that in recent years has been alternately praised for getting higher ratings and criticized for abandoning its past imperative of showcasing the full spectrum of American music. Most likely, Sunday's show will be heavy on topical/pop performance and quite light on overview and history.

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