Tuned In: Variety show format makes a comeback

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Variety shows received a quasi-resurrection with the advent of talent-based reality competitions like “American Idol,” but these weren’t quite the same as the old “Carol Burnett Show” or “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

A few attempts have been made to revive the variety show – most recently “Osbournes Reloaded” in 2009 – but none have stuck. NBC is trying again with “The Maya Rudolph Show,” which for now is a one-time special airing at 10 p.m. Monday.

The former “Saturday Night Live” star headlines a cast of guest stars that includes Andy Samberg (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”), Fred Armisen (“Portlandia”), Chris Parnell (“Archer”), Craig Robinson (“The Office”) and Sean Hayes (“Sean Saves the World”).

NBC did not make “The Maya Rudolph Show” available for review, but in a recent conference call with reporters, Ms. Rudolph said she has long wanted to attempt a variety show comeback.

“Nine times out 10 some of my ideas tend to be deep-rooted in the ’70s or somewhere that has nothing to do with what's going on now,” she said. “Variety is what I was raised on. So it's something that's very precious to me, and and it's a language that I understand very well.”

She said variety shows still exist on TV, they’re just airing in late night, citing “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” in particular.

“All the guests that come on the show, I think you see them doing things that are out of their norm, out of their comfort zone, which is kind of the classic thing that we all got a chance to see,” she said. “The reception that Jimmy's had with what he's been doing has really started this awareness of, ‘Hey, this feels good to audiences.’ And I think people are starting to pick up on that.”

Ms. Rudolph said she watches old “Carol Burnett Show” episodes with her children, but the real inspiration for her special was “The Muppet Show.”

“What was always nice about ‘The Muppet Show’ was when guests came on they entered the world of the Muppets and you just felt like anything could happen. But you could tell that they were having fun,” she said. “And I sort of have this mandate, this edict with the writers, I just kept saying, ‘Muppet Show, Muppet Show’ and that feeling of joy and that feeling of having fun, of when you get to sing a song with someone or go into a sketch with someone that it should be that playful quality.”

The CW’s fall lineup

Although its ratings generally remain minuscule compared to rival broadcasters, The CW has benefited from lowered ratings expectations across all networks. And with its younger audience, The CW benefits from the upside of social media.

“This was our most-watched season in three years,” said CW president Mark Pedowitz in a call with reporters Thursday morning. “We’re up in total viewers, up in adults 18-49 and steady in adults 18-34.”

For the first time in years, The CW has a half-hour comedy on its fall schedule, the returning “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” which could be used as a platform to add an additional comedy if either of The CW’s two upcoming summer comedies take off with viewers.

The CW did not pick up a “Supernatural” spinoff that was developed, but Mr. Pedowitz said the network may work with producers to develop another spinoff – concept unknown – for fall 2015.

To avoid the clutter of a thousand other series premieres in September, The CW will again wait to premiere its fall lineup until October.

The CW canceled first-year series “Star-Crossed” and “The Tomorrow People” and established series “The Carrie Diaries” and “Nikita.”

Interestingly, “The Tomorrow People” had better household and age 18-49 demo ratings than “Beauty and the Beast,” which was renewed for midseason.

“We’ve always said we’re a different type of broadcaster, and across the board there are situations where shows have great upside potential for our audience,” Mr. Pedowitz said. “’Beauty and the Beast’ is a fan favorite and has a great business model that works well in the international marketplace and social media marketplace. … Primarily ‘The Tomorrow People’ just didn’t have the same level of social engagement or digital upside that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ does get.”

Here's The CW's fall schedule, with new series in bold:


8 p.m.: “The Originals.”

9 p.m.: “Jane the Virgin”: A religious Latina woman gets accidentally artificially inseminated. Really. The CW is calling “Jane” a comedy, and it’s based on a Venezuelan telenovela.


8 p.m.: “The Flash”: A spinoff from “Arrow” based on the DC Comics superhero, Grant Gustin (“Glee”) stars as scientist Barry Allen, who gets the power of super-speed after a freak accident.

9 p.m.: “Supernatural.”


8 p.m.: “Arrow.”

9 p.m.: “The 100.”


8 p.m.: “The Vampire Diaries.”

9 p.m.: “Reign.”


8 p.m.: “Whose Line Is It Anyway.”

8:30 p.m.: “Whose Line Is It Anyway” (encore episode).

9 p.m.: “America’s Next Top Model.”

Midseason on The CW

Returning series “Hart of Dixie” and “Beauty and the Beast” will wait on the bench until midseason – although Mr. Pedowitz refused to say how many episodes he has ordered of each – when they’ll be joined by two new dramas:

“iZombie”: “Veronica Mars” vets Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero developed this adaptation of another comic book about a medical school student who becomes a zombie and gets a job in the coroner’s office for access to brains, which she consumes and inherits the corpse’s memories, allowing her to help the police figure out who killed the deceased.

“The Messengers”: When a mysterious object crashes to Earth, a group of strangers are stunned and then reawaken with new powers and learn they may be the only hope for preventing the rapture … or they may be the cause of it.

Channel surfing

Cable’s OWN will produce a docuseries about Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL player, who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. … This week TBS extended “Conan” through 2018 and TNT executives announced plans to go after the 18-49 demo rather than 25-54, which is probably not good news for the future of “Dallas,” which skews older. … NBC’s next live musical was announced as “Peter Pan,” and this week the network announced the one that will follow that: A live version of “The Music Man.” … PBS’s “Masterpiece” will reboot 1970s hit “Poldark” with Aidan Turner (“Being Human”) cast as dashing squire Ross Poldark with original series star Robin Ellis returning to play a minister. … Nickelodeon ordered a second season of animated series “Breadwinners” and Disney XD ordered a fourth season of live-action comedy “Lab Rats.” … FX canceled “Chozen” after one season and FXX dropped “Legit” after two seasons. … The highlight/lowlight of Animal Planet’s “Monster Week,” beginning Sunday, may well be the Shannen Doherty-starring movie “Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys” (9 p.m. May 25), from the producers of “Sharknado.” … Sundance TV’s “The Writers’ Room” shifts to 11 p.m. Monday next week with an episode featuring the writers of “The Good Wife.” … Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand will offer current and previous seasons of series that air on TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, CNN and TruTV. … WPXI will pre-empt its regular programming from 7-8 p.m. Saturday for the local special “Severe Weather Team 11: Ahead of the Storms,” hosted by David Johnson, Lisa Sylvester and Stephen Cropper. The special repeats at 9 p.m. Saturday on PCNC.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about “Revolution,” Tim Gunn and RetroTV. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts of all the network upfront announcements. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about “Penny Dreadful,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and networks’ new fall schedules. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

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