Tuned In: Retooling "Human Target"

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Re-tooling prime-time series is not unusual. Network executives often try to "fix" programs in an effort to draw more viewers. Retooling usually doesn't work but, then again, 80 percent of TV shows get canceled in less than a year anyway.

Of course, major changes to a series can also alienate current fans rather than drawing new viewers as network executives intend, but changes to Fox's "Human Target" (8 p.m. Wednesday, WPGH) are fairly minor. No characters have been scrapped but a few have been added.

Wednesday's season premiere picks up where the cliffhanger finale left off, with personal protection expert Chance (Mark Valley) looking for partner Winston (Chi McBride), who was kidnapped. The cliffhanger gets unraveled in about five minutes so producers can get on with their plans to remake the series.

"Human Target" always had a small cast and no female stars. Network and studio execs obviously felt the series needed an estrogen injection, probably an effort to make the show more accessible to women. Enter Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma, "Luther," "Rome"), a widowed billionaire who hires Chance, Winston and Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley) to protect her.

By the end of Wednesday's episode, she volunteers to become the guys' benefactor, giving them access to her bank account, private plane, etc. She promises to be an absentee owner but in next week's episode she's already insisting on understanding how the guys' do their jobs by following them on their protection missions. (In the spirit of the show's changes, Ilsa also remodels the guys' loft office.)

A less bureaucratic female addition is a young thief, Ames (Janet Montgomery), who Winston knows from his time as a cop.

The second season premiere is a stronger hour than the show's pilot that aired in January with more character definition and lighter moments.

"Sorry, Mrs. Pucci," Winston says after a particularly messy escape. "Normally we're a lot more professional than this."

"No we're not," Chance retorts.

But this week's episode suffers from missteps: The villain's relationship to the client Chance protects is a parallel to the villain in the pilot, which feels redundant. Also, when producers cast actor Rick Hoffman as a guest star, it's not a leap for viewers to guess he'll turn out to be a bad guy.

Next week's episode deals with Chance protecting the widow of a man he killed in his former life as an assassin, a morally complex story that gets watered down through the hour. The Dec. 1 episode focuses on Ames.

In August at the Television Critics Association press tour, new executive producer Matt Miller ("Chuck," "Las Vegas") promised a more character-based show.

"The idea is taking the same show people loved and just giving it a little bit of a facelift, a little bit of pop," Mr. Miller said. "Last season there were phenomenal action sequences on a train, on a plane. We're still going to hopefully have that but the idea would be to bring a little more character to the show. So that while the guy is dangling from the plane or on a train you'll know a little more of what's at stake for him or any of the other characters on the show."

Mr. Miller said the goal is to get viewers more emotionally involved in the stories. And the addition of Ames offers an opportunity to show a more raw character who can grow and mature over time.

"Ames is basically a younger version of a Chance or a Guerrero," Miller said. "We're watching her just start to become good as opposed to these guys who are well ingrained in that."

Fans of the first-season "Human Target" will have to watch for themselves and decide whether this extreme makeover (network edition) marks an improvement for the series. For Fox, the proof will be in the ratings.

Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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