Ellen Gray: 3 shows pin hopes on juicy time slots
* ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA? 8:30 tonight, NBC10. * ROB. 8:30 p.m. tomorrow, CBS 3. * THE FINDER. 9 p.m. tomorrow, Fox 29.
* ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA? 8:30 tonight, NBC10.
* ROB. 8:30 p.m. tomorrow, CBS 3.
* THE FINDER. 9 p.m. tomorrow, Fox 29.
THE ABILITY to play well with others can be as important in a TV show as it is in real life. Especially at midseason, when viewer habits may already have been formed and networks are looking to tweak their schedules after the fall carnage.
The key for three series launching today and tomorrow?
Location, location, location.
NBC, which has spent several seasons now on the wrong side of the tracks - and whose entertainment chief, Bob Greenblatt, launched into a presentation to TV critics last week with the statement, "We had a really bad fall" - doesn't have much to offer in terms of curb appeal.
But clinging to the possibly outmoded idea of grouping like-minded shows together, it's moved the brash "Whitney" to 8 p.m. Wednesdays and paired it with "Are You There, Chelsea?" a watered-down drink of a sitcom that's loosely based on E! star Chelsea Handler's memoir, Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea.
Handler, who's already plenty busy on NBC's new corporate sibling, E!, where she hosts a talk show, "Chelsea Lately," and also stars in "After Lately," a pseudo-reality show based on it, doesn't have time to portray herself. So Laura Prepon ("That '70s Show") plays Chelsea while the real Chelsea dons a brunette wig to play her character's older, born-again sister, Sloane.
Which, honestly, isn't the most confusing aspect of "Are You There, Chelsea?" that starts with its main character in jail for a DUI - no, I'm not laughing, and neither should you - but that didn't quite have the guts to keep "Vodka" in its title.
"Well, some people like tequila, you know. Some people like beer. Not everybody likes vodka," said Prepon, disingenuously, when asked about the title change.
"We don't want to discriminate," added Handler.
Discrimination isn't a big part of "Are You There," which also stars Lenny Clarke ("Rescue Me") as Chelsea's father and Ali Wong as her best friend, but it might be a good fit for a "Whitney" audience if Prepon herself were a good fit for "Chelsea."
Truth is, even a heavily disguised Handler is more charismatic than her usually appealing co-star, who seems to be trying much too hard here to be a bad girl we're supposed to find irresistible. But then I'm not confident enough in "Whitney's" ability to attract viewers without "The Office" as a lead-in to think it's going to matter much for long.
I can't say the same for CBS' "Rob," which tomorrow night moves in to a cushy time slot between CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" and "Person of Interest."
The words "Rob Schneider sitcom" may not be promising and neither, frankly, is tomorrow's pilot, in which Schneider, who co-created the show with "Saturday Night Live" veteran Lew Morton, plays a mildly compulsive middle-aged guy named Rob whose quickie wedding to the younger Maggie (Claudia Bassols) in Vegas hasn't prepared him for her large Mexican-American family.
This isn't the worst sitcom of the season - if you've seen ABC's "Work It" and survived, you can attest to this - but it's far from the best, with a pilot full of wince-inducing stereotypes (to be fair, most of these get shot down pretty quickly, and Cheech Marin, as Maggie's father, does some of the shooting). Some of the physical comedy is stupidly raunchy, and unworthy of its smarter lead-in.
But crawling way out on a limb here, I'm going to say that there was a time when "Big Bang" wasn't as smart, or as funny, as it eventually became and that I see glimpses in "Rob," which is supposedly based on Schneider's own life and marriage, that make me hope for more: More subtlety, more wit, more heart. But for now, all "Rob" has going for it is a great address.
Fox's "The Finder," which stars Geoff Stults as a brain-damaged veteran with an uncanny ability to track down objects and people, may look like just another of those blue-sky shows USA loves, but it's actually a spin-off of "Bones," which it follows beginning tomorrow night.
If you missed the "Bones" episode in which the characters were introduced, worry not - all will be explained in the series premiere in which we're reintroduced to Stults' Walter Sherman and to his partner Leo Knox (Michael Clarke Duncan), a bar owner who's taken on the responsibility for the welfare of a girl (Maddie Hasson) who was raised by thieves.
There are a fair number of character quirks packed into that first hour, more, perhaps, than I remember from early episodes of "Bones," which built up its own quirky world a bit at a time.
But if location still matters - and DVRs or not, the networks still think it does - then the combination of a popular lead-in and the Florida Keys setting could prove a winning one.