Predicting how well new TV programs will fare is generally a fool's errand, but CBS's "Shark" (10 tonight) has the most potential to draw new viewers. Or maybe I'm just a fool.Monty Briton/CBS
James Woods suits up as a lawyer in CBS's "The Shark," premiering tonight at 10.
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When: 10 tonight on CBS
When: 10 tonight on ABC
Either way, this drama has all the ingredients that have made other CBS shows popular in recent years: A charismatic star turn by James Woods, who plays the title character, a lawyer with enough bite not to be boring but with enough of a soul buried deep beneath his hardened shell to not turn off CBS's mainstream audience.
Woods' Sebastian "Shark" Stark, a celebrity defense attorney, acts like a jerk, but a lovable one. After one of his clients beats an attempted murder rap and then kills a woman six days later, Stark has a crisis of conscience, putting his career on hold and moping around his home until he's begrudgingly enlisted by the Los Angeles mayor to join the roster of prosecutors working for the district attorney.
"Shark," created by Ian Biederman, who wrote tonight's premiere, is clearly a "House" imitator, but a pretty crisp copy. From the cynical, callous main character to the supporting cast of young whippersnappers, "Shark" was built from the ground up using the "House" DNA (just as Fox's "Justice" was, too).
Stark's team of young prosecutors out of an old Benetton ad are ill-defined in the first episode, save for Madeleine (Sarah Carter), who proves to be right as often as she is irritating.
Stark schools them in his three rules for court: "Trial is war, second place is death. Truth is relative; pick one that works. In a jury trial, only 12 opinions matter."
Stark's first prosecution case centers on a young singer who alleges self-defense in the death of a one-night-stand. After charging his staff with destroying her on the stand ("I wanna see Jennifer Dennison's entrails hanging from that chandelier"), Stark has a change of heart after his teenage daughter -- the show's designated softening agent; albeit a teen with a "Dawson's Creek"-like keen understanding of psychology -- questions whether he's really changed or just changed sides.
The legal case takes a "Perry Mason"-esque turn and Stark manages to have it all: A convincing argument for the jury that doesn't diminish him in his daughter's eyes.
"Shark" would feel so much more like a "House" knock off if not for the presence of Woods, another movie star who shows just how much impact he can have on TV. His Stark is a made-for-TV character, and Woods clearly loves sharpening his teeth for the biting dialogue in tonight's episode, which was directed with verve by Spike Lee.
"Shark" may ultimately be tamer than the title suggests, and Biederman would be wise not to soften the main character too much, regardless of his marching orders from CBS executives who know the network's winning dramatic formula. But with an actor as aggressive as Woods in the lead role, this is one series that seems as if it will swim to a ratings win.
Perhaps in any other fall TV season, ABC's "Six Degrees" (10 tonight) would be a standout, high-concept, large cast, serialized drama. This fall, it's merely one of many one-hour prime-time programs that fit that description, and it pales in comparison to many of the other like-minded series.
In this soap, a group of disparate strangers in New York City find their paths crossing in many unexpected ways (although it doesn't take long for the unexpected to become routine and maybe even predictable).
Public defender Carlos (Jay Hernandez) has an eye for his client, Mae (Erika Christensen), who's on the run and gets a job with Laura (Hope Davis), who's mourning the death of her reporter husband and befriends Whitney (Bridget Moynahan), who thinks her boyfriend may be cheating on her, which is confirmed by limo driver Damian (Dorian Missick), who sees the cad at a bar while having drinks with his new buddy, Carlos.
Got all that?
"Six Degrees" rewards viewers who pay attention (fans of the public radio show "This American Life" may recognize the voice of frequent contributor Sarah Vowell, who plays Carlos' office mate), but you can't wander in and out and still understand what's going on.
Taken on its own, "Six Degrees" isn't bad. The concept is unique, the performances solid or better (Davis is especially compelling as the grieving widow), but when so many similar shows are competing for attention from viewers who are only willing to commit so much time to watching ongoing TV series, "Six Degrees" just isn't good enough.