'Grimm' debut artfully twists fairy tales into crime mysteries

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ABC's "Once Upon a Time" opened strong Sunday night in the Nielsen ratings but the real test will come this weekend when the show's second episode airs. Ratings for episode two will suggest whether there's ongoing interest in "Once Upon a Time" or just curiosity about the semi-confusing first installment.

Viewers who want a more straight-forward drama with a fairy tale overlay might prefer NBC's "Grimm" (9 tonight, WPXI), which seems less interested in character development and more concerned with procedural, case-of-the-week police investigations.

Set and filmed in Portland, Ore., with a damp, woodsy look to prove it, "Grimm" follows homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) as he and partner Hank (Russell Hornsby, "Lincoln Heights") investigate the murder of a college student last seen jogging on a forest trail while wearing a red hoodie (think: Little Red Riding Hood).

Around the same time, Nick starts seeing some humans shift into creatures as he passes them on the street. Then his ailing aunt shows up to tell him fairy tales are based in reality and he's the latest in a long line of creature hunters called Grimms.

Why Nick just started seeing beyond peoples' facades to their inner demons is unclear but it appears this development might screw up his future plans with the woman he wants to marry, Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch, "quarterlife").

"The misfortune of our family is already passing to you," Nick's aunt tells him, adding that Juliette isn't safe and he needs to dump her. His aunt, full of cheerful news, also tells Nick his parents didn't really die in a car crash.

The first half of the "Grimm" premiere is atmospheric and dark, visually and tonally. Then Nick meets Monroe, a reformed Blutbad (Silas Weir Mitchell, "Prison Break"), which is a creature "vulgarized as 'the Big Bad Wolf' by your people," Monroe explains.

This new character gives "Grimm" a lighter tone that's inconsistent with the show's first 25 minutes. NBC declined a request to make future "Grimm" episodes available for review. So, it's impossible to say whether the show intends to be scarier or more jokey moving forward.

In addition to the show's case of the week, each based on a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, the closing moments of the premiere reveal that the show has a continuing arc involving forces out to stop Nick's work as a Grimm.

Compared to so many other crime procedurals, "Grimm" offers a twist on the usual. It remains to be seen whether that twist will be superficial or substantive.

'Simpsons' Halloween

Even for viewers who may not tune into Fox's "The Simpsons" on a weekly basis anymore, the show's annual Halloween episodes continue to intrigue. Some years are better than others although on average two of the three short stories in each year's episode turn out pretty well.

That's the case for "Treehouse of Horror XXII" (8 p.m. Sunday, WPGH), which begins with promise, including spoofs of "127 Hours" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." The latter gives way to a Spider-Man sketch that includes one particularly funny sight gag at the expense of the injury-prone Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

The middle story, "Dial D for Diddly," features Ned Flanders as a "Dexter"-like serial killer manipulated by Homer. The final sketch, which puts Bart in "Avatar," is the least funny and successful of this year's entries.

NBC's latest newsmag

Once upon a time, TV critics, myself included no doubt, fretted about the incursion of newmagazines in prime time taking up real estate that once belonged to scripted shows. That was back in the 1990s. More recently, the concern has been about an oversaturation of unscripted, reality shows.

NBC will try to breathe new life into the newsmag genre next week with the premiere of "Rock Center With Brian Williams" (10 p.m. Monday, WPXI). The broadcast has lined up an impressive array of correspondents, including former CBS mainstay Harry Smith and former "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel.

In a teleconference this week with reporters, Mr. Williams and NBC News executives said the new show would differ from NBC's "Dateline," which has evolved into a single-topic program that's often focused on crime. "Rock Center" will be multi-topic each week but NBC executives would not swear off the possibility of a crime-related story, say, an interview with Casey Anthony or Amanda Knox.

"I don't want to rule any stories out except stories about which there's nothing smart to say," said NBC News president Steve Capus. "If there's nothing smart to say then we can walk past it. But if there's a smart way of doing any story we'll be interested in doing it."

"Rock Center," which will air live, will feature two or three lengthier, magazine-style reports each week, according to executive producer Rome Hartman.

"One of those stories is likely to be more topical, possibly slightly shorter, probably will have been launched since the last time we were on the air," he said. "Rather than a format that's sort of three 12-minute pieces and a cloud of dust what we want to do is mix: To have stories be the length that they deserve to be rather than because there's some preordained time slot that they have to fit into. We want to have a flexible format."

Read more about "Rock Center" Monday in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.

'AMW' back on Fox

Back in May we reported that Fox canceled "America's Most Wanted" as a weekly series due to rising production costs but planned to bring the show back as a quarterly special.

Since then, Lifetime picked up "AMW" as a weekly series, although a premiere date has not been announced for those new episodes. In the meantime, Fox plans to go forward with its quarterly specials beginning this weekend.

"America's Most Wanted: 50 Fugitives 50 States Special Edition" airs 8-10 p.m. Saturday on Fox with a roundup of fugitives from across the country.

This week in kept/canceled

This comes as no surprise given its strong ratings: AMC has renewed "The Walking Dead" for a third season. Same goes for Showtime ordering a second season of "Homeland."

More surprising, given its terribleness, Comedy Central renewed "Workaholics" for a third season.

A&E has renewed "Beyond Scared Straight" for a third season. CBS ordered a full first season of freshman dramas "Person of Interest" and "Unforgettable."

MTV canceled "The Buried Life."

Channel surfing

FX has acquired the in-development Charlie Sheen sitcom "Anger Management," based on the 2003 movie of the same name. The show's 10-episode first season will air next summer. ... Starz has greenlit an eight-episode adventure series, "DaVinci's Demons," from David S. Goyer, writer of "Batman Begins" and the shot-in-Pittsburgh "The Dark Knight Rises." This historical fantasy, a co-production with BBC Worldwide Productions, begins filming early next year for a 2013 airing and tells the "untold" story of DaVinci at age 25 in Renaissance Florence. ... New episodes of "Covert Affairs" (10 p.m. Tuesday) and "Burn Notice" (10 p.m. Thursday) begin airing next week. ... GSN has bought reruns of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" and will air them Sunday at 7 p.m. starting Nov. 6. ... NBC brings back "Fear Factor" with new episodes debuting Dec. 12. ... A carriage dispute between Fox and DirecTV may knock 27 Fox-owned cable channels, including FX and National Geographic Channel (but not Fox News Channel), off DirecTV on Nov. 1. ... Actress Aisha Tyler ("Archer"), a previous guest host on CBS's "The Talk," has joined the daytime show as a co-host. ... Ratings for the premiere of "Boss" on Starz were a mixed bag: The show drew 659,000 viewers in its premiere hour and a cumulative 1.05 million viewers over several premiere night airings, which is on par with the premiere of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" in January 2010 but below the debut of Starz's "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" this year. ... Mt. Lebanon's Ellese Myer, who organized a breast cancer awareness "pink out" as a high school senior, will be featured this weekend on "Everyday Health" (12 p.m. Sunday, WTAE). ... Verizon has added E! HD as Channel 696.

Tuned in online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "First 48: Missing Persons," "Merlin" and shows on iTunes. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on BBC America's "Whitechapel," Link TV's "Borgen" and A&E's "Monster In-Laws." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Once Upon a Time," "Project Runway" and movies on demand. Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.


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