TV Networks Hope Familiar Faces Bring Viewers To New Fall Shows

May 20, 2012
Originally published on May 20, 2012 9:31 am

TV networks have never been accused of doing what's difficult when they can do what's easy. And all other things being equal, it's easier to convince viewers to watch someone they already know they like than it is to interest them in an unknown quantity. So it's no surprise that every roll-out of new fall shows brings back a few people we've seen before. For Sunday's Weekend Edition, I got to talk to NPR's Rachel Martin about some of those faces and where they're popping up again.

Connie Britton is warmly regarded — to say the least — by many who loved her on Friday Night Lights, and now she's back in ABC's Nashville, playing a smart-alecky country singer prepared to drop-kick the ingenue who's keen to take her place as her label's favorite. If you think you hear a little of Tami Taylor in this character, you're probably not wrong. Friday Night Lights may never have been an enormous commercial success, but a deep and abiding love of Tami Taylor runs through many a viewer's pilot-weary heart.

If you want to reach a little deeper, all the way back into your memories of the 1990s (this is a long time in television to remember anyone), Matthew Perry is back, too, on an NBC comedy called Go On. It's about a sports radio guy coming to terms with the death of his wife.

This is, of course, not the first time Perry has been brought back to TV since Friends; he tried drama on Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (as well as a recent, surprisingly creepy guest arc on The Good Wife) and comedy on Mr. Sunshine — neither lasted. Of course, networks are reluctant to give up the dream of reminding viewers of someone they once liked and are ready to like again (as a matter of fact, that's a big part of how Julianna Margulies ended up on The Good Wife). And when you've ever been as popular as Matthew Perry was during Friends, and when anybody thinks that the goodwill audiences once had toward you still exists, they're likely to keep trying until they find something that hits.

Mindy Kaling is familiar to NBC viewers as Kelly Kapoor on The Office, and as the writer of the recent book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? But her new show, currently titled The Mindy Project, will be on Fox. It casts her as kind of a goofy doctor with a loose grip on reality, and her show will be paired with New Girl, which, as you may know, is about a girl for whom "goofy" is a very modest descriptor.

666 Park Avenue is the quintessential ABC show, particularly given the network's recent successes with Once Upon A Time (dark fantasy) and Revenge (wealth-encrusted soap opera). If you were to put those two shows in a blender, you might wind up with something sort of like this show in which Terry O'Quinn (Lost's John Locke) and Vanessa Williams (of past ABC soapy shows Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty) play an evil landlord and his wife. In fact, possibly the most evil landlord. In fact, possibly the devil himself.

In the end, though, it's best not to get overly attached to any of the new stuff. Remember, the broadcast networks have cancelled more than 25 shows that were first put on the air since last year at this time. Statistically speaking and as cold-hearted as it sounds, most of this stuff is toast. In fact, that's part of why you see familiar faces again and again. Making a new fall television show is like opening a new restaurant — the odds are not on your side. Every little bit helps, and sometimes that little bit might be a little bit of Tami Taylor.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit