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Archive for Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Can ‘Back’ capture magic of ‘Frasier’?

September 19, 2007

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"Back to You" (7 p.m., Fox) stars Kelsey Grammer ("Frasier") and Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond") as veteran news anchors Chuck Darling and Kelly Carr, reunited at a Pittsburgh station after Chuck's disastrous gaffe got him fired from more prestigious gig in Los Angeles.

Grammer returns to "Frasier" form as the pompous, self-involved and emotionally obtuse anchor. And Heaton's Kelly holds her own as a feisty professional who won't let Chuck flaunt his past successes and make her feel like a failure for staying behind in Pittsburgh.

The two stars share a snappy chemistry, good timing and several scenes of crackle and pop. Unfortunately, "Back to You" is shot through with a torrent of bawdy one-liners and obvious sex gags (including a trampy Latina stereotype) that give the show a desperate, insecure feel.

The pilot ends with a development best not revealed here. But I can divulge that it's pretty obvious and hardly original. Grammer and Heaton and their many fans deserve better.

¢ The teenage melodrama seems to be on life support. The audience for "The O.C." evaporated. Critical favorite "Veronica Mars" never found many viewers. "Hidden Palms" remains one of the lowest-rated shows of the past season. Can "Gossip Girl" (8 p.m., CW) escape their fate?

Adapted from a series of popular novels by "O.C." writer/creator Josh Schwartz, "Gossip" is shot entirely on location in the fanciest ZIP code of a fantasy Manhattan.

The "Girl" in the title appears only in voiceover (Kristen Bell, "Veronica Mars"). She's a cyber-snoop who seems to see all and tell all, or rather text all to an eager audience of teenage readers. Her latest scoop involves once-popular prep-school student Serena (Blake Lively) whose sudden disappearance and equally mysterious return sends Blackberries beeping and tongues wagging.

When it began, "O.C." viewers could relate to a small circle of sympathetic characters. "Gossip Girl" kicks off crowded and complicated. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to know who the characters are before people start tattling on them, or before two of them jump into bed.

Most of the pilot transpires before we find anybody to root for. Nearly everybody seems determined to become one of the cruel fashion drones on "Ugly Betty." Maybe that's the problem with "Gossip." There's too much Ugly and not enough Betty.

Also premiering tonight:

¢ The reality series "Kid Nation" (7 p.m., CBS) follows a group of 40 children, ages 8 to 15, as they try to create a new society without adult supervision.

¢ Adapted from a British series, "Kitchen Nightmares" (8 p.m., Fox) follows "Hell's Kitchen" host Gordon Ramsay as he tries to rescue real restaurants from failure. A high-testosterone diet rich in obscenity.

Tonight's other highlights

¢ Tyra Banks hosts the season premiere of "America's Next Top Model" (7 p.m., CW) aboard a cruise ship.

¢ Lisa Ling investigates the traffic in body parts on "Explorer" (7 p.m., National Geographic).

¢ "Seeing in the Dark" (7 p.m., PBS) celebrates the growing popularity of amateur astronomy.

¢ Grating personalities loom large on the second-season premiere of "'Til Death" (7:30 p.m., Fox).

¢ The top 10 emerge on "Last Comic Standing" (8 p.m., NBC).

¢ A one-hour special introduces the "Grey's Anatomy" (8 p.m., ABC) spin-off "Private Practice."

¢ The "American Masters" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presentation "Rivera in America" profiles controversial Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

¢ A big dealer wants his seized stash back on "CSI: NY" (9 p.m., CBS).

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