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Fall TV: In a family way

TV's big new-show trend: Moms, dads and kids in dramas and lots of comedies.

Robin Williams returns to series TV as an unorthodox ad exec whose daughter (Sarah Michelle Gellar) works with him.
Robin Williams returns to series TV as an unorthodox ad exec whose daughter (Sarah Michelle Gellar) works with him.Read more

REMEMBER when all the sitcoms wanted to be "Friends"?

A few still do - CBS has a midseason comedy about six youngish people called "Friends With Better Lives" - but as broadcasters unveiled their 2013-14 plans to advertisers in New York last week, it didn't take a baby bump to send the message that TV was once again in a family way.

Better make that a "Modern Family" way.

There was the show called "Mom" from CBS, another from Fox called "Dads." "Welcome to the Family," said NBC, which also has a midseason show called "The Family Guide."

Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar - Mork and Buffy! - will play a father and daughter in advertising in David E. Kelley's "The Crazy Ones" on CBS, while James Caan and Maggie Lawson ("Psych") do their own father-daughter dance in ABC's "Back in the Game." "Dads" has Martin Mull and Peter Riegert playing the difficult fathers of business partners Giovanni Ribisi and Philly's Seth Green, and in NBC's "Sean Saves the World," star and executive producer Sean P. Hayes ("Will & Grace") plays the divorced gay dad of a daughter (Sami Isler).

NBC's "The Michael J. Fox Show" showcases the star and executive producer in a familiar situation - he's playing a news anchor with Parkinson's who's been devoting himself to his health and his family but who now wants to go back to work (to his family's apparent relief).

Mothers are getting face time, too: Besides "Mom," which stars Anna Faris ("The House Bunny") as a newly sober single mom and Allison Janney ("The West Wing") as her own not exactly supportive mother, we'll have Margo Martindale ("The Americans," "Justified") starring as the mother who moves in with her newly divorced son (Will Arnett, "Arrested Development") in CBS' "The Millers." Linda Lavin ("Alice") will co-star as Hayes' mother in "Sean Saves the World."

Jenkintown's Adam F. Goldberg ("Breaking In," "Fanboys"), using video he shot of his own loud and loving family, sold ABC on the '80s-set comedy it's calling "The Goldbergs" (which, yes, was also the name of one of TV's earliest shows).

"Welcome to the Family," starring Mike O'Malley ("Glee"), Mary McCormack ("In Plain Sight") and Ricardo Chavira ("Desperate Housewives") is about a young couple (Ella Rae Peck and Joseph Haro) whose very different families have to pull together when they find out their kids are having a kid.

In all, of the 21 new comedies in the pipeline for next season, two-thirds have a strong emphasis on family or family-like relationships. There are also at least a couple of dramas - ABC's midseason "Mind Games," starring Steve Zahn and Christian Slater as brothers, and the CW's "Vampire Diaries" prequel, "The Originals" - with obvious kinship issues.

A few other trends for next season:

Spin-offs and remakes: Among the shows looking to capitalize on something we may already have seen are ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," from Joss Whedon ("The Avengers"); ABC's "Once Upon a Time" offspring, "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland" (starring Sophie Lowe as Alice and John Lithgow as the voice of the White Rabbit); NBC's midseason "Chicago PD," a sibling of its freshman drama from "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf, "Chicago Fire"; "Dracula," starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("The Tudors"); NBC's midseason "About a Boy," another adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel, this one from Jason Katims ("Parenthood"), with David Walton ("Bent") in the Hugh Grant role; and "The Originals."

There's also the 12-episode "event" series Fox is planning, "24: Live Another Day," in which Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) will get to skip about half the hours that used to make up a season of "24."

Fewer reruns: Even CBS, which has long taken the position that its viewers never ask for fewer episodes of their favorite shows, is splitting a time slot next season, with the Jerry Bruckheimer thriller "Hostages" (starring Toni Collette as a surgeon whose family's taken hostage just as she's getting ready to operate on the president of the United States) running for 15 episodes before being replaced on Monday nights by "Intelligence," an action drama starring Josh Holloway ("Lost").

And though most networks have been paying lip service to the idea of year-round schedules for several seasons, there's evidence - witness Fox's ordering of multiple "event series," and this summer's "Under the Dome" on CBS - that they plan to do more than just throw extra singing shows at us.

So look for more premieres (and finales) to break the traditional fall/winter pattern.

A more mainstream view of disability: Besides the NBC remake of "Ironside," starring Blair Underwood as a detective in a wheelchair, there's "The Michael J. Fox Show" as well as "The Family Guide," in which J.K. Simmons ("The Closer," "Family Tools") plays a character who's blind.

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