Tuned In: CBS gives 'Good Wife' new lead-in

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — CBS will pair its returning prestige project, “The Good Wife,” with a newcomer that tries to give off a similar polish. Tea Leoni stars in “Madam Secretary” (8 p.m. Sunday starting Sept. 21) as a CIA analyst tapped to become the new U.S. secretary of state.

Barbara Hall, executive producer of “Joan of Arcadia” and “Judging Amy,” is the showrunner behind “Madam Secretary,” which follows Ms. Leoni’s character on the job and in her home life with two children and a religious studies professor husband (Tim Daly, “Wings”).

“I wanted [her to have] a recognizable and active home life,” Ms. Hall said. “One of the things that’s challenging in trying to show a strong woman in a position of leadership is showing them going back and forth between those worlds.”

In addition to following the title character on the job handling global politics, the series also will track the politics of the State Department.

“Interoffice politics are the same whether it’s the State Department or working at a corporation or a school,” Ms. Hall said. “Interoffice politics are recognizable, and people would see those issues happening in the State Department and feel comfortable in that environment.”

Ms. Hall said her experience as a writer on Showtime’s “Homeland” led her to add a conspiracy element to “Madam Secretary” involving the circumstances surrounding the death of the previous Secretary of State.

“I thought it would be an extra conflict or challenge to step into a place with something untoward,” she said. “It’s an extra tentacle that may affect her for a long time. It’s hard enough for her to step into this job, but she’s got to unravel some seeds that were planted.”

CBS rethinks late night

CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler said the network is exploring all options for replacing Craig Ferguson when he leaves “The Late Late Show” at the end of the year.

“We‘‍re trying to look at the entire landscape and we're also looking at it in terms of formats," Ms. Tassler said. ”There is a knee-jerk reaction to do a more traditional, behind-the-desk interview format, but who knows. This is an opportunity to look at all different kinds of hosts, not only from the comic world but maybe there's the political world. We're just keeping an open mind.“

So it might not even be a talk show?

"It might not, but it also might be," Ms. Tassler said.

‘Facts of Life’ reunion

"Facts of Life" stars Lisa Whelchel (aka Blair) and Kim Fields (aka Tootie) reunite on screen for the first time since 2001's "Facts of Life Reunion" TV movie in Hallmark Channel's "For Better or Worse" (9 p.m. Saturday), based on a novel of the same name by Diann Hunt.

The film, about a wedding planner (Ms. Whelchel) who falls in love with a divorce attorney (Antonio Cupo), was directed by Ambridge native Marita Grabiak, who also has directed episodic TV, including "Lost," "Everwood" and "Battlestar Galactica."

And it turns out Ms. Fields is a Steelers fan.

At a Hallmark Channel party earlier this month, Ms. Fields, who is not from Pittsburgh, said she likes the Steelers and especially coach Mike Tomlin.

"I thought when head coach Mike Tomlin was running on the sidelines and all that kind of thing, that was cool," she said.

Ms. Fields said with "For Better or For Worse" she was eager to get into business with Hallmark.

"That was a big draw for me because we had already started dialoguing with them about other projects and seeing what synergy existed between my brand and theirs," Ms. Fields said.

She said working with Ms. Whelchel offers a comfortable sense of timing but otherwise it's different from when they worked together on "Facts of Life."

"The characters are different and you are different," Ms. Fields said. "She's grown with grown children and I'm grown with much younger children. ... Having the history comes into play more so for off-camera, knowing you're not gonna end up on set with a nut, a fool every doggone day."

Immortality lives in ‘Forever’

ABC’‍s "Forever" probably benefits from the fact that few viewers will remember Fox‘‍s 2008 drama "New Amsterdam." Both shows are about immortal guys who don't want to be immortal anymore.

In "Forever" (previews 10 p.m. Sept. 22), Ioan Gruffudd ("Horatio Hornblower") stars as a New York medical examiner who dies and then comes back to life in a body of water.

Executive producer Matt Miller ("Human Target") said he came up with the idea of the series when his 5-year-old son asked, "Daddy, will you die someday?"

Mr. Miller's initial response was, “I'll never die,” but then he thought he shouldn't lie so he said, "I will die someday but it won't be a for a very long time and by then you will probably want me to be dead," at which point his son burst into tears, his wife rushed in to take over and Mr. Miller was banished.

"I got to thinking about it and what if a character couldn't die... and the curse of immortality, the affliction," Mr. Miller said, particularly the notion of outliving his son.

As for similarities to "New Amsterdam," Mr. Miller was unaware of it until he read comments online on stories about ABC picking up "Forever."

"I had not seen the show. I understand in hindsight it was on Fox and Fox had made an offer on this show so they didn't see it as being too similar and they were obviously very familiar with it," Mr. Miller said.

Race and ‘Black-ish’

Despite the title "Black-ish" (9:30 p.m. Sept. 24), the new fall ABC sitcom is not about race according to its producers.

Title confusion is not new at ABC. Last year at this time ABC executives were asked about the wisdom of naming a show "Trophy Wife" and if that title might be limiting. "Trophy Wife" has since been canceled.

Anthony Anderson stars in “Black-ish” as a father who gets outraged when he learns his work promotion comes with a string attached: He's getting promoted to a newly created "urban" division and at the same time he sees his children are less interested in African-American culture than he is.

"This is a show about culture and ultimately about a family," said series creator Kenya Barris. "It's a show about what it's like to raise a family during a different time.

"The show has so much less to do with race than culture," Mr. Barris said. "We feel like we are living in a post-Obama society where race and culture are talked about less than ever before."

Executive producer Larry Wilmore was quick to point out, "He's been called the first black president, but he's mixed, so he's really the first black-ish president."

Actor Laurence Fishburne has a recurring role as Mr. Anderson's father – Mr. Fishburne will also recur on NBC's "Hannibal," which is somewhat surprising because his character looked likely to be dead (Jack Crawford lives or is seen in flashbacks? Discuss!) -- and Tracee Ellis Ross ("Girlfriends") plays Mr. Anderson's wife, who is half-black and half-white.

"It's really fun for me to play a mixed woman on television," she said, noting that's her personal background as well but she's always played black in past roles. "I am actually out as a mixed woman."

Channel surfing

TV Land airs an animated episode of sitcom “Hot in Cleveland” at 10 p.m. July 30. … Lifetime renewed “Little Women: LA” (10 p.m. Tuesday) for a second season. … Carnegie Mellon University grad Cote de Pablo (“NCIS”) will star in “The Dovekeepers,” a four-hour CBS miniseries for 2015 based on an historical novel about four women whose lives intersect during the siege of Masada. … “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston will reprise his Tony-winning role as President Lyndon Johnson in an HBO adaptation of the stage play “All the Way,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. …“Entertainment Tonight” co-host Rob Marciano is leaving the showbiz show for a return to weather coverage, according to TheWrap.com. He likely will take over weekend weather duties on "Good Morning America," a position that has been vacant since Ginger Zee was elevated to the weekday program last year. ... Debra Ann Woll (“True Blood”) will play the love interest of the title character in Netflix’s Marvel comics adaptation “Daredevil.”

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about “The Newsroom,” “Ripper Street,” Emmy nominations and “The Glades.” This week's Tuned In Journal includes coverage from the TV critics press tour. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about upcoming cable series. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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