Tuned In: Original shows help ABC Family improve

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Pasadena, Calif. -- ABC Family is a network in flux, but it's making changes for the better. After a past that included other owners (Fox, Pat Robertson) and other monikers (Fox Family, The Family Channel), ABC Family is finally maturing.

Jack Rowan/ABC Family
ABC Family Channel's "The Fallen" stars Paul Wesley and Gabriel the dog. It tells the tale of Aaron, who on his 18th birthday realizes that he may have a destiny greater than he imagined. It premieres at 8 p.m. July 23.
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Rob Owen's Tuned In Journal

After years of relying on trite, overly saccharine original cable movies, ABC Family has rolled out original series in recent months, giving these programs a greater promotional push than the tired TV movies.

In the next month, ABC Family will debut a series and the first part of a movie trilogy that continue to improve the network's image. Already, "Kyle XY" has proved ABC Family's ability to put on an entertaining, worthwhile show with appeal to the network's target audience of "adult millennials," viewers ages 18 to 34.

Next, ABC Family premieres "Fallen" at 8 p.m. July 23. Based on the book series by author Tom Sniegoski, this month's "Fallen" is the first of three TV movies in the series, which follows 18-year-old Aaron Corbett (Paul Wesley) as he discovers he's half human, and half fallen angel.

The theology in the movie is not clear -- executive producer Pete Donaldson said the goal was to make the story "more secular," so there's no explanation of where God stands on the battle between the angels -- but the story is intriguing and the scenes of winged angels battling with swords of fire are eye-opening.

ABC Family's plan to air the first movie now and two more next year seems a little odd, but network president Paul Lee said it was a strategy born after the network liked what it saw in the first film.

"Now that we're starting to use our content and put it on all sorts of different platforms, this was an opportunity for us to make it live on a network, live on our dot-com, live on iTunes, and live over a couple years," Lee said. "We wanted to come back and build more out of it. We think next summer is a great time to do that."

ABC Family's better bet, "Three Moons Over Milford," premieres in a more conventional format, rolling out eight weekly episodes beginning at 8 p.m. Aug. 6. A quirky, comedic drama that's a far superior inheritor to the "Northern Exposure" small-town-quirk crown than Sci Fi Channel's upcoming "Eureka," "Three Moons" is a real treat.

After an asteroid shatters the moon into three pieces sending, them into an unstable Earth orbit, residents in a Vermont town begin to live differently, knowing that a chunk of the moon could soon plummet to the ground, destroying all human life.

The Davis family is at the center of "Three Moons." Dad abandons the family in the pilot, leaving Mom (Elizabeth McGovern) to parent their teenage children. Daughter Lydia (Teresa Celentano) takes up Wicca and son Alex (Sam Murphy) begins a relationship with an older woman.

Many series since "Northern Exposure" have tried to create towns populated by unusual but believable characters, but few succeed as well as "Three Moons," which introduces characters who charm, intrigue and create drama. Former "Saturday Night Live" star Nora Dunn plays the town's ambitious real estate agent who won't let possible human extinction ruin her sales prospects.

Director James Frawley, who also directed the pilots for "Ally McBeal," "Ed" and "Related," credited superior casting with the show's success in building an authentic small town.

"You can take a character that on the page seems to be edgy or could be cliche or is deep and interesting and committed, and suddenly it comes to life and surprises you," Frawley said.

But the show's focus remains on the theme of how people react when faced with their possible death in the near future.

"We're trying to really focus it on the humanity of the people and what makes their eccentric behavior justified," said executive producer Howard Chesley.

McGovern said it's a theme that should resonate with viewers in a post-9/11 world.

"On a certain level, it's something we live with every day today," she said. "[These characters] have this thing hanging over them, but it's really about looking at what makes people tick."

Chesley, who pitched the series with executive producer John Boorstin as " 'Picket Fences' at the end of the world," noted that the impending end of the world heightens the emotions and relevance of what people experience in everyday life.

Mark your calendar for "Three Moons"; it's a one-hour drama worth your time if you watched "Picket Fences" or "Northern Exposure."

Rather resurfaces

Dan Rather has signed on to host "Dan Rather Reports" for cable network HDNet, beginning in October. The channel is not available to Comcast subscribers in Pittsburgh, which should be cause for embarrassment for Comcast, especially because the channel was co-founded by Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban.

The one-hour "Dan Rather Reports" will feature field reports, interviews and investigations.

"We're thrilled that Dan is now part of HDNet," Cuban said in a statement. "Now that he is finally released from the ratings driven and limited depth confines of broadcast television, I am excited about the impact Dan can have on the future of news."

Rather, whose contract with CBS News was not renewed this year after he stepped down from the "CBS Evening News" anchor desk last year after a 2004 "60 Minutes Wednesday" report on President Bush's service in the National Guard was not properly sourced.

"Hard news needs backers who won't back down. Mark Cuban is such a leader," Rather said in a statement. "As a team player I intend to give Mark and HDNet all of the hard work, loyalty and fearless, high quality reporting possible."

Channel surfing

Sally Field has joined the cast of ABC's fall show "Brothers & Sisters," playing mother to Calista Flockhart and Rachel Griffiths. ... The premiere of USA Network's "Psych" drew a very healthy 6.1 million viewers, making it a cable hit. ... Fox will unload some of its fall baseball coverage as part of a new deal with Major League Baseball that puts some games on Turner networks, allowing Fox to have fewer interruptions as it rolls out its fall schedule of prime-time entertainment. ... They're still not talking, but Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie will have to film another season of "The Simple Life" for E! According to Daily Variety, the network has ordered a fifth season to air in 2007.

Peter Tangen/ABC Family
Samantha Quan, left, Elizabeth McGovern and Sam Murphy star in the ABC Family series "Three Moons Over Milford."
Click photo for larger image.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com .


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