Tuned In: 'Brothers & Sisters' is too busy; 'Housewives' back with laughs

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Scott Garfield, ABC
Calista Flockhart plays a conservative radio host returning home to her estranged family in ABC's "Brothers & Sisters."

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Despite one busted pilot and behind-the-scenes creative differences that resulted in the departure of a veteran showrunner (Marti Noxon), ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" (10 p.m. Sunday) is not a disaster. It's also not an immediate creative success.

A melodramatic (occasionally maudlin) drama about a family of adult siblings, the focus is primarily on two of the sisters, conservative radio host Kitty (Calista Flockhart, "Ally McBeal") and liberal mother/wife/career woman Sarah (Rachel Griffiths, "Six Feet Under").

After a multiyear absence, Kitty returns to the family homestead in Ojai, Calif., while on a job interview. She clashes with her more liberal mother (Sally Field) over her stance on the Iraq War, which appears to have emotionally damaged younger brother Justin (Dave Annable), whose life as a veteran is pretty aimless. Gay brother Kevin (Matthew Rhys) makes jokes about his sister's political views, which eventually tick her off.

"I am conservative, tough on crime, big on defense, America first, old-fashioned and in your face," Kitty says. "If you think this is funny, great, I'm glad to be of comic service. You just keep on laughing and watch the rest of the country pass you by."

That last sentence seems more like a speech a liberal would give a conservative, but no matter. Thus far Kitty's beliefs are not played as a joke. Though it's too early to draw conclusions about exactly what kind of conservative she is (producers say an Eisenhower Republican, but there's not much evidence in the premiere to tilt her in that direction or toward Ann Coulter), I do appreciate the attempt to create a complex conservative character who's not merely a punching bag for liberal characters on the show.

The biggest problem with the "Brothers & Sisters" pilot is that there's too much going on. Pilots often have that problem when introducing the cast and setting up stories, but this show has more dangling strings than usual: Is dad having an affair with a mystery woman (Patricia Wettig)? Did Uncle Saul (Ron Rifkin, "Alias") cook the books at the family company?

With the addition of another veteran show runner, Greg Berlanti ("Everwood," "Jack & Bobby"), "Brothers & Sisters" may find a way to streamline its storytelling and allow viewers to more easily sort out the huge cast of characters (there are at least 10 series regulars), or it may remain an unwieldy mess. Time will tell.

'Desperate Housewives'

ABC's promise of a funnier season three of "Desperate Housewives" (9 p.m. Sunday) is borne out in this weekend's premiere. After a flashback explaining some background on creepy, murderous Orson (Kyle MacLachlan), the show flashes forward six months from May's second-season finale.

Bree and Orson get engaged, Lynette (Felicity Huffman) is dealing with the news of husband Tom's illegitimate child, and Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) finds herself waiting on maid Xiao-Mei (Gwendoline Yeo), who is also the surrogate mother of Gabby's baby.

"You are meanest person I know," Xiao-Mei.

"I am the meanest person," Gabrielle corrects. "You've been in this country a year, modify your nouns, dammit!"

Between that and the outcome of Bree's comedic bedroom romp with Orson, "Housewives" appears to have gotten its humorous groove back.

Second thoughts (already)

How could I name "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" one of the best shows of the fall in Sunday's TV Week and then express disappointment about it in Monday's review?

Two reasons: 1) It's still a good show, just not as good as I'd hoped, and, 2) When I wrote about it in TV Week, I'd seen only the pilot. I saw another episode before tackling Monday's less reverential column.

That's always the danger with pilot episodes: Sometimes shows improve after the pilot, sometimes they get a lot worse. Sunday's TV Week includes a review of NBC's "Heroes," a pilot I enjoyed, but if I'd been able to see episodes two and three before writing that review, I would have been more enthusiastic. Subsequent episodes of both "Heroes," premiering at 9 p.m. Monday, and "Friday Night Lights," debuting at 8 p.m. Oct. 3, have pushed both shows to the top of my "best" list for fall 2006.

'Medium' back in 2007

We heard from several despondent "Medium" fans who didn't see the show listed among returning series in Sunday's TV Week. I inadvertently left it off the list (you try keeping track of 100 TV series), but as we reported in June, "Medium" returns on NBC at midseason, most likely in January.

"The Apprentice" will also be back at midseason.

Channel surfing

HBO has renewed "Entourage" for a fourth season of 12 episodes. Eight episodes remain in the third season, and they'll roll out in early 2007. ... "Saturday Night Live" returns for its 32nd season on Sept. 30 with host Dane Cook and musical guest The Killers. ... G4 is developing an animated "Spaceballs" series, based on the Mel Brooks movie, for fall 2007. ... Previously unscheduled, KDKA traffic reporter Jim Lokay's appearance on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" has been set: Monday and Tuesday at 1 p.m. on WPXI. ... Upcoming locals on CBS's "The Price Is Right" (11 a.m. weekdays, KDKA): Cynthia Friedl of Moon on Monday and John Swidzinski of Butler on Thursday.

Worst. Slogan. Ever.

WTAE has changed its news slogan from "Where the NEWS comes first" to "Where YOU come first," which is even more disingenuous. News never comes first on any station; ratings come first. But even news comes before the viewers on local stations. Based on the feedback I get, if Channel 4 executives truly care about what viewers think, well, let's just say their anchor lineup would look a little different.

Hall promoted at WTAE

After a rotating cast filled in after Shannon Perrine advanced to evening weekend anchor (following the departure of Shiba Russell for Boston), Channel 4 named reporter Janelle Hall the station's weekend morning anchors this week.

Hall, an Oil City native, joined WTAE two years ago as a reporter.

Osteen replaces Wuerl

With the departure of former Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Bishop Donald Wuerl, his "Teaching of Christ" series on KDKA-TV has come to an end. Beginning Sunday at 8 a.m., "Joel Osteen" will air in its place.

'Buffy' musical at CLO

The CLO Cabaret will go darkly retro Saturday night at 10 when it stages the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sing-along," a screening of the uncut "Buffy" musical episode.

Advance ticket buyers ($10) will get a goody bag with essentials for participation, "Rocky Horror Picture Show"-style, including mustard packets to wave when producer David Fury sings, "They got the mustard out!" Tickets at the door will cost $12. Details: 412-456-6666.

CLO Cabaret marketing and sales associate Aja Jones said the evening also will include prizes for best costume and the winner of a "Buffy" trivia contest.


This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about local TV weather coverage, The CW and "House of Payne." Read it online at www.post-gazette.com/tv.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.


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