For all the new formats and hybrids out there, there is still a place on the schedule for broadcasters to cut B.S. gimmicks and deliver straight-no-chaser drama. And that is why, as I say in my video review above, ABC’s Kiefer Sutherland-starring Designated Survivor and CBS’ Michael Weatherly-starring Bull provide welcome relief in this era of Peak TV.
With the return of high recognition value leads, the September 20-debuting Bull and the September 21 bow of Sutherland’s White House series fly a flag that says the boys are back in town — a good place for both of them to be.
After ending his decade-plus run on NCIS in May, Weatherly moves into the 9 PM slot behind his old home with the high-octane, high-performance and high-tech jury-consultant procedural based on the pre-TV career of Dr. Phil McGraw. As the intense but a bit frayed Dr. Jason Bull, Weatherly wears his new role easily as he leads a diverse and skilled team through exonerating their clients – sometimes in ways no one expects.
Along with all the talent in Bull — and that’s considerable from Weatherly to the supporting cast to the Shonda Rhimes-ish setups and production values — the McGraw-EP’d series reveals the confidence CBS place in savvy scheduling as the new series is bookended by blockbuster NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans on Tuesday nights. It means Bull will have to try hard to not be a hit.
Despite the return of Sutherland to full-time Big 4 TV for the first time since 2014’s 24: Live Another Day, a strong marketing campaign and a Comic-Con preview this summer, Designated Survivor may have a harder time finding ratings success than the smoother-edged Bull, though it will surely jack right into this year’s unprecedented political climate. Which means, at least from what I’ve seen, Designated Survivor could become — like The West Wing in the previous decade — an arena of national discussion not to mention a narrative full of possibilities in the weeks leading to this year’s real-life election and beyond.
With Sutherland playing an about-to-be fired bespectacled Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who becomes Commander-in-Chief when the pillars of government are wiped out in an attack on the Capitol, Designated Survivor raises questions of what if we really could start all over again, and is America its fears or its ideals? To that dramatic end, the perfectly cast Emmy winner’s Tom Kirkman is strapped with 9/11-themed imagery, conniving palace intrigue and questions surrounding his own fitness for office – the latter being something one doubts either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would even consider.
The DS pilot reveals Sutherland has the backing of a more than solid supporting cast in the David Guggenheim-created show. Natasha McElhone stars as his attorney wife and the nation’s new First Lady, former real-life White House staffer Kal Penn is a White House speechwriter, and Maggie Q portrays one of the lead FBI agents investigating the attack that murdered most of the U.S. government. Not to give anything away, but while Sutherland’s Kirkman is no Jack Bauer, there is steel and smarts there waiting to be unsheathed.
Simply put: What there also is withBull and Designated Survivor is eminently watchable network TV that reminds you exactly how good the game can be in the big leagues.
For more, click on my video review of both shows and set your own viewing schedules for next week.
This review originally posted on September 15.