Series about to crank up seasonal fight for viewers

by Rick Kushman

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

18 September 2007

Back to You - Fox - 8 p.m. 

We’ve got the first hyper-competitive night of the TV fall season on Wednesday, and a couple returns of note in the coming days, though the season doesn’t officially begin until next week and don’t get me started on that.

In any case, here’s a reminder that CBS’ “Survivor: China” kicks off Thursday (at 8 p.m.). Now, let’s get to the four new shows premiering Wednesday.

The first is the controversial reality show, “Kid Nation” (at 8 p.m. on CBS), which, in case you’ve missed the screaming, promises to take 40 kids, ages 8 to 15, and have them create their own society - no grownups allowed - as they repair a New Mexico ghost town.

Besides the standard “Lord of the Flies” jokes, there have been other uncomfortable complaints. On one front, there’s a charge that CBS has been misleading us, because the kids weren’t really alone, and because the ghost town is actually a privately owned, semi-rebuilt ranch used as a movie set.

On the other hand, some people complained the kids were over-worked or endangered and that CBS violated, at least in spirit, some child labor laws by putting the kids through long days of shooting and doing chores.

We do know that no kids were grievously injured, and we can bet some people are saying it’s about time that that generation did a little work, but as for the rest, who knows what’s true and how much it will matter?

CBS didn’t send anything to critics to preview, probably because, after saying this summer that a little controversy never hurts, CBS decided too much controversy doesn’t help.

Besides, reviews of “Kid Nation” are a no-win game right now for CBS. If it looks like the kids really did suffer, that’s clearly over the acceptable-reality-show-behavior line. And if critics write that the kids are all safe and happy, CBS would lose the edgy feeling surrounding the show.

So, if anyone is interested, we’ll have to find out together if the show is any good, which is going to be the only thing that really resonates in and out of Hollywood.


Fox has a surprisingly old-school, and enjoyable, comedy in “Back to You” (at 8 p.m.), starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as a reconstituted local TV anchor team with a few old issues to work through.

Grammer plays a guy with, shall we say, a healthy ego, returning to a smaller station after flubbing a bigger job. Heaton was his former longtime on-air partner, and now that he’s back, their chemistry is even more complicated.

There is nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but there’s a lot to like, starting with the comic timing and sparkle of these two comedy pros.

The writing has its moments, but even when it leans toward corny, Heaton and, particularly, Grammer, make it work. So does co-star Fred Willard, another reliable comic treasure.

“Back to You” is a breezy, happy 30 minutes, and it’s proof the sitcom isn’t dead if you put it in the right hands.


Gordon Ramsey, the raving madman of a chef, is back (at 9 p.m.) in what turns out to be an engaging, if raucous, new series from Fox called “Kitchen Nightmares.”

In this one, Ramsey - who, remember, does not take failure well - adopts inept restaurants in Supernanny-like interventions, and he fixes everything from the cooking and kitchen set-up to the management. Mostly, it’s the management.

What makes this fun, and often funny, is that Ramsey’s pushy, sometimes profane approach, feels nearly understated and heroic up against the egos and bullies he runs into. As for the merely inept, he’s almost polite with them.

In Wednesday’s episode, Ramsey tries to save a family-run Italian restaurant in Babylon, N.Y., that’s being ground down by one co-owning brother, described by others as a cross between a godfather wannabe and a 250-pound spoiled baby.

The guy is the manager on paper, but he mostly just hangs out, orders drinks from the bar, berates the help, and grates on the nerves of family, employees and customers.

Ramsey looks positively genteel next to him, and in dealing with the guy, takes on a kind of dumbfounded tone that is - and you don’t hear this word often with Gordon Ramsey - endearing.

This is all, of course, pure fantasy in the way of reality TV. The changes come too quickly as people suddenly listen and adapt, and customers appear instantly and almost by magic. Still, for Ramsey fans and for foodies, it’s zippy and satisfying light fare.


Finally, CW has “Gossip Girl” (at 9 p.m.), a young-targeted soap about very rich teens in a private Manhattan high school. It’s from Josh Schwartz, the talented creator of “The OC” and is based on a popular series of novels.

But this series is way too mean, and the characters are way too Paris Hilton to care about. CW is betting the show will connect because of that rich-and-trashy sensibility, and because it uses a blog as a voiceover - think Carrie Bradshaw’s voiceover newspaper column in “Sex and the City,” updated and younged down for 2007.

Lots of soaps about rich-and-trashy people work out to be decent, or at least popular, television. “Beverly Hills 90210 and Schwartz’s “The OC” are two recent examples. But until this grows more of a sense of humor, and, more importantly, some kind of a soul, “Gossip Girl” qualifies only as cynical.

//Mixed media