First-place Fox adding just two new shows to its fall schedule

Glenn Garvin
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Not needing much new programming after beating the other networks senseless in the Nielsen ratings this season, and not having much to choose from anyway after a writers' strike laid waste to production development, Fox is adding just two shows to its fall schedule, the company's executives said Thursday.

"The strike really did cause major devlopoment issues," conceded Kevin Reilly, Fox's chief programmer, in a teleconference with TV writers. "But we don't need a lot (of new shows). The good news is, we got what we needed."

That includes one of the most highly anticipated dramas of the fall season: "Fringe," a sci-fi thriller from J.J. Abrams, who produces ABC's megahit "Lost." "Fringe" follows two FBI agents and a possibly mad scientist as they investigate an airliner that landed in Boston with nothing but grisly corpses aboard.

"We're going to have a huge (promotional) campaign for it," said Reilly, adding that "Fringe" will be paired on Monday nights with the medical drama "House," television's top-rated scripted program, to create what Fox executives expect to be a Nielsen juggernaut: "That's going to be one hell of a night of television."

The unveiling of Fox's schedule capped a week of ceremonies in New York known as the upfronts, in which the broadcast networks present their new shows to advertisers. For Fox, it was also a victory party for the most successful season in the network's 22-year history. Not only did it finish No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings, it won the key 18-to-49 age demographic by a whopping 40 percent, the biggest margin in history.

With no gaping holes in its schedule - and plenty of NFL football and Major League Baseball to fill airtime during the autumn - the network only bought one other new show for the fall. Tentatively titled "Do Not Disturb," it's an upstairs/downstairs sitcom set at a chic celebrity hotel in New York, starring Jerry O'Connell ("Crossing Jordan") and Niecy Nash ("Reno 911!")

But when its sports programming disappears in January, Fox plans to debut four other series, including a second potential sci-fi powerhouse: "Dollhouse," from Joss Whedon, the creator of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." It stars "Buffy" alumna Eliza Dushku as member of a clandestine group of secret agents whose memory and personalities have been wiped clean so they can be hired to be anyone or do anything.

Another midseason show much buzzed about in Hollywood is "Sit Down, Shut Up," an animated series about the crazed and tyrannical faculty of a high school in a scruffy little fishing town. It was created by Mitch Hurwitz, whose subversive Fox sitcom "Arrested Development" was much loved by critics if not viewers.

A network lineup with shows from Abrams, Whedon and Hurwitz - all of whom have fanatic followings - is the television equivalent of shock and awe, Fox executives said, and viewers should fasten their seatbelts. "These are guys that don't do standard issue entertainment," Reilly said. "They're genetically incapable of doing that ... These are not going to be stock shows."

The other two Fox midseason offerings are "Secret Millionaire," a reality show with real-life plutocrats living undercover among the lumpenproletariat, and "The Cleveland Show," a cartoon comedy from the creators of "Family Guy" about a high-school couple hooking up years later in the wake of broken marriages and bratty children.

Fox canceled all four of the scripted series it debuted this spring in the wake of the writers' strike: "Canterbury's Law," "New Amsterdam," "The Return of Jezebel James" and "Unhitched." The network also dumped its most-promoted new series from last fall, "Back To You," with Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as feuding news anchors, even though its ratings were decent.

"With that kind of top-profile talent and a major marketing launch of the show this year - in proximity to `American Idol' in the second half of the season - the expectations were higher were higher," Reilly said. "The show really did not seem to be striking a chord."

Also canceled were "K-Ville," "Nashville" and "The Next Great American Band," all banished from the airwaves last fall.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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