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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
BACK TO YOU (FOX)
(Wednesdays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)
The network's description: "In the 90s, the local TV news scene in Pittsburgh was dominated by one team: CHUCK DARLING (Kelsey Grammer, "Frasier," "Cheers") and KELLY CARR (Patricia Heaton, "Everybody Loves Raymond"). They had that elusive quality all news teams need: chemistry ... at least on-screen. Off-screen, Chuck was a bit of a self-centered womanizer, Kelly a bit of an uptight know-it-all. So when Chuck got the call to move up to a larger market, no tears were shed. But after an embarrassing on-air tirade ended up on the Internet, Chuck found himself on the downswing career-wise. He even questioned whether his lifestyle of chasing women and living in hotels was as exciting as it used to be. So when he got the call to return to Pittsburgh, to reunite with Kelly and try to take the newscast back to No. 1, it was an offer he couldn't refuse. Back in Pittsburgh, Chuck has a new coworker in RYAN CHURCH (Josh Gad, "Mary and Joe"), the overstressed news director. There are also familiar faces like MARSH McGINLEY (Fred Willard, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Best in Show"), the affable, endlessly inappropriate sports anchor, and GARY CREZYZEWSKI, pronounced Kre-shoov-ski (Ty Burrell, "In Good Company," "Out of Practice"), the perennially put-upon field reporter who always seems to get left out in the snow. But, mostly, there's Kelly, now a single mom to 10-year-old GRACIE (Laura Marano, "Without a Trace"). There was magic between them once. Can they find it again?"
What did they leave out: Aimee Garcia and Paul Campbell were originally cast as Montana Diaz Herrera and Ryan Church, respectively. The pair were swapped out for Ayda Field and Josh Gad shortly before the pilot was filmed.
The plot in a nutshell: An amusing flashback introduces us to Pittsburgh's Channel 9 news team as they bid farewell to their lead anchor Chuck Darling (Kelsey Grammer, not surprisingly playing another egotistical windbag) who's off to greener pastures in Denver. 10 years later, Chuck has moved up to the vaunted L.A. market. But that all ends after he goes off on a profanity filled tirade during what he thought was a break - an event that becomes a YouTube sensation. Soon enough, he's back in Pittsburgh, where he's reunited with his former co-anchor Kelly Carr (Patricia Heaton). As you could wager, she's none too thrilled about returning to the second fiddle position. On the flip side, sports guy Marsh McGinley (Fred Willard) is thrilled to have his old buddy back as they used to troll for "Sesame Street on Ice" dancers together. ("That night was brought to you by the letter 'O,'" Chuck quips.) Also along for the ride are Josh Gad as Ryan Church, their sweaty, unproven news director; Ayda Field as Montana Diaz Herrera, the only-comfortable-when-men-hit-on-her/Latina-only-when-its-her-job weathergirl; and Ty Burrell as the unfortunately named Gary Crezyzewski, a hapless field reporter who's still waiting for his big shot. It's not long then before we learn the real source of Chuck and Kelly's friction - they spent a drunken New Year's Eve together, which may or may not have lead to him being the father of Kelly's 10-year-old daughter (Laura Marano). Regardless, Chuck is there to stay, whether he or she likes it or not.
What works: While not the home run you'd expect considering its pedigree - Grammer! Heaton! Levitan! Lloyd! Burrows! - "Back to You" is definitely on the cusp of becoming something great. Grammer is at his self-centered, blowhard best (watch for his new catchphrase - "how is that any better than what I said?") while Heaton shines as his high-strung foil. The supporting cast also proves to be up to snuff, with Fred Willard being a particular stand out ("I still throw up before every show," he confesses). The biggest draw however is that the actors - along with creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd - just look like they're having a lot of fun, making the timing - characters frequently walk into the action to deliver on-the-nose quips about what one of the others just said - note perfect. All of the above makes the show feel very slick and solid as well as - dare I say it - "old school."
What doesn't: That being said, the plot is a little creaky in parts - the food allergy-proves-paternity plot (see: "October Road") rears its ugly head again here - while a few of the characters feel a little too broad. Josh Gad's Ryan is a particular offender here, as he often feels like the love child of Chris Farley and Julia Sweeney's "Pat" character from "SNL." Overall, it's definitely a show where you feel like the four-camera format - for better or worse - is being given the old college try.
The bottom line: As previously noted, it's not the home run you'd expect considering its pedigree, but it is worth checking out.