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Leno gets NBC's fall season off to a shaky start

If any community needed a big laugh or two from Jay Leno after the Buffalo Bills lost another Monday Night Football heartbreaker, it was Western New York.

Unfortunately, the premiere of Leno's endlessly promoted new 10 p.m. nightly show was about as big a mess as co-anchor John Beard's debut on Channel 2's "Daybreak" Monday.

Leno's monologue was routine, his chat with Jerry Seinfeld wasn't much better and his sit-down interview with beleaguered Kanye West was awkward.

Fortunately, things improved Tuesday when Leno premiered a new "10 on 10" segment by asking Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz 10 occasionally provocative questions. It helped that they played along, though Cruise appeared stumped when he was asked if he was better at flying or sex.

It looks like Leno's show is going to be a nightly hit or miss affair. As expected because CBS and ABC haven't begun original episodes of their 10 p.m. scripted series, the ratings have been strong nationally and locally.

For that matter, Beard's first two days on "Daybreak" have given Channel 2 big ratings wins despite the negative reaction to Beard that local viewers have written on one of my blogs. In both cases, the morning and 10 p.m. races really are marathons and not sprints.

NBC is betting heavily in the fall on Leno, whose program takes up one-third of its weeknight hours. That means it has fewer slots to try new shows and they all have to air before 10 p.m. Here's a quick look at the three new fall shows and one midseason show.

* "Trauma," 9 p.m. Mondays: Paramedics and doctors try to save lives in San Francisco after big and small disasters.

You'll Like It If: You like explosions and seeing people saved by heroes with flaws, demons and survivor's guilt. The pilot also has an important message about the dangers of text messaging and driving too fast.

You'll Hate It If: You're looking for something original and turn away from obligatory scenes that are supposed to be emotional but fail to be. And you have trouble controlling your laughter when a pretty female tells an adventurous driver trying to relive the movie "Bullitt" that "I got news for you buddy. You aren't Steve McQueen."

Outlook: The loud promos tell the whole story. Other than a character named "Naughty Nancy" (played by Anastasia Griffith), the fast-moving pilot isn't much to talk about. I got news for the writers -- the message about flawed medical heroes was done much better by "ER" and "Third Watch."

Rating: 2 stars (out of 4)

* "Mercy," 8 p.m. Wednesday: Taylor Schilling is Veronica Callahan, the latest TV nurse who knows more than the incompetent young resident doctors she assists at New York's Mercy Hospital and still gets no respect from her bosses or patients. An Iraq War veteran, Veronica is torn between two lovers. She is in a lousy marriage, has a lousy attitude, lousy genes (her parents are alcoholics) and can be honest to a fault. She gets support from a beautiful nurse, Sonia Jimenez (Jaime Lee Kirchner), who is looking for love with a wonderful guy, and naive newcomer Chloe Payne (Michelle Trachterberg).

You'll Like It If: Schilling, a relative TV newcomer, is the main attraction. She projects a strong, tough attitude at the same time she makes Veronica sympathetic.

You'll Hate If: You're already tired of series about nurses with flawed personal lives who are smarter than doctors after watching "HawthoRNe" on TNT and "Nurse Jackie" on Showtime.

Outlook: NBC's most commercial new show, the pilot has beauty, heart, romance, tough love and enough plot complications to overcome its cliches and have a reasonably long hospital stay.

Rating:: 2 1/2 stars

* "Community," 9:30 tonight: A disgraced, ethically challenged lawyer (Joel McHale of "Talk Soup") heads to Greendale Community College to become a student who starts a Spanish study group composed of misfits who think they are in a version of the movie "The Breakfast Club."

You'll Like It If: You find McHale's cynical liar appealing and don't mind insulting viewers who became successful after attending community colleges.

You'll Hate It If: You learned a long time ago that self-deprecating humor, insult humor and sarcasm don't tickle your funny bone.

Outlook: McHale does well -- especially in a long inspirational speech aimed at impressing a pretty student (played by Gillian Jacobs). Chevy Chase is wasted in the pilot but more involved in the second episode. The often silly jokes fly at a fast rate, many landing with a thud. But the diverse cast is so good that I see the potential.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars

* "Parenthood," 8 p.m. Wednesday, midseason: The second remake of the Ron Howard film, it follows the mostly depressing adventures of a loving and flawed family.

You'll Like It If: What a cast! Peter Krause is a baseball coach and father who gets thrown a curve in life dealing with his son. Craig T. Nelson is his disciplinarian father and Bonnie Bedelia his mother. And there are several other stars whose faces are as recognizable as the problems the family is dealing with.

You'll Hate It If: What a downer! Autism, drugs, marital and relationship woes are in the pilot. It is so relentlessly downbeat, it could serve as a birth control device. The PG-13 dialogue includes a discussion of sperm donors and there is a scene involving an adult demonstrating how to rip open a condom, so keep the show away from young kiddies.

Outlook: It is well-acted but the point that it is tough being a parent is hammered home so hard without much humor that it could chase away viewers.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars


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