by Ron Wynn
For several years American Idol was the show that rode in every winter to save the day for Fox. It would immediately land in the Top 10, often debuting at No. 1, and dominate its time slot so thoroughly it could singlehandedly elevate the entire primetime lineup (especially among the 18- 49 demographic).
But those days are over. While still a formidable show, last season American Idol declined between 20 and 30 percent, depending on whose figures you believe. The program that did give Fox a boost was the limited series The Following. It featured the quest of Kevin Bacon's anguished sleuth Ryan Hardy to capture the erudite, terrifying serial killer Joe Carroll, a 21st century Jim Jones figure played by James Purefoy in a super performance.
When The Following returns for a special Sunday-night showing Jan. 19 (WZTV-17, approximately 8 p.m., or whenever the NFC title game ends) the tale doesn't exactly resolve last season's shocking ending that saw both Hardy and Claire Matthews (Natalie Zeal) stabbed by a wacko Carroll disciple.
Instead, it's a year later, and Carroll's supposedly dead, blown to bits in a lighthouse explosion. Hardy's recovery includes spending time with both his niece Max (Jessica Stroup), an NYPD officer, and former victim Lily (Connie Nielsen).
Unfortunately, this peace isn't going to last, largely because Carroll isn't dead. Plus there's a group of scary, mask-wearing nut jobs who have just brutally attacked a group of people on the subway. They claim to be Carroll devotees, but Hardy isn't sure about that.
Once more, the story unfolds over 15 weeks, with no repeats, in its 8 p.m. Monday time slot. Executive producer Marcos Siega told TV Guide the second season will display a less frenzied, happier Hardy, at least for a time.
But don't expect any less bloodshed or horror. The Following will continue to push network TV boundaries for depictions of violence, while offering a healthy weekly dose of shock and surprise.
Rake is no House
Peter Duncan, creator of the Fox legal saga Rake that debuts 8 p.m. Jan. 23 (WZTV-Channel 17), knows how assumptions get formed in the TV universe. He has no doubt seen the barrage of promos featuring star Greg Kinnear that have aired constantly during NFL games, and recognizes the impression they've created.
He told Entertainment Weekly that anyone who says his show looks and sounds like a courtroom version of House has missed the boat. "That's oversimplifying," Duncan said. "It's more nuanced than that. The procedural element is not that important. This is a character piece about the lives he impacts."
We'll see as the show unfolds. But it's hard not to notice a similiarity, especially since the program's focus is a brilliant but self-destructive attorney who is also an addictive gambler. In addition, Rake prefers bizarre clients like serial killers and cannibals. One thing's clear: this isn't Perry Mason or Matlock.
Live from New York, it's Sasheer Zamata
By the time she appears Jan. 18 on Saturday Night Live (WSMV-Channel 4, 10:30 p.m.) perhaps everyone on NPR, PBS and all other outlets will be able to pronounce Sasheer Zamata's name. Zamata is the show's first black female cast member since Maya Rudolph departed in 2007.
CNN anchor Don Lemon triggered a predictable online melee with this comment last week on The Tom Joyner Show: "It probably won't be easy for Zamata — who, in the glaring spotlight that's about to be trained on her, is going to have to be a whole lot funnier than she is black."
The impolitic nature of that statement notwithstanding, Lemon's correct to this degree: Considering the furor generated by months of sniping between SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels and various black websites and commentators over the show's lack of an African-American female — a void ironically underscored by Kerry Washington's revelatory hosting effort earlier this season — Zamata will definitely be in the limelight more than usual for a new cast member.
Indeed, all the publicity she's gotten reduced what should have been a bigger story to a sidebar. The show also hired two black female comics as writers, and they start today. Their presence should help in terms of structuring material to best showcase Zamata's voice — even if their hiring started another predictable debate regarding whether it's always necessary to have blacks penning dialogue and crafting sketches involving other blacks.
As someone who's not the biggest fan of SNL, it would seem to me the more perspectives, experiences and voices on hand, the better. But I also believe it is possible for talented people to write effectively for other talented people, regardless of background. Bottom line, let's see how Zamata fares over the next weeks and months.