Monday, March 8, 2010

Flipping Channels: Tom Hanks Goes to War Again and More

Posted By on Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 5:59 AM

After the jump: Scene staff writer Ron Wynn surveys the coming week in TV.

He's won two Academy awards and starred in several critically praised and commercially successful films. Yet Tom Hanks now spends far more time touting and promoting different ventures, namely his historical projects. His latest HBO miniseries The Pacific debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. It's the natural successor to the multi-award winning epic Band of Brothers, which has become the biggest DVD seller among HBO productions.

The Pacific is a 10-hour work that examines the American campaign in that theater of World War II. It will be somewhat controversial in that Hanks is devoting significant time to both heroic moments and events that represent something less than the nation's finest hour.

"Certainly we wanted to honor U.S. bravery in The Pacific," Hanks said recently in a Time cover story written by historian Douglas Brinkley. "But we also wanted to have people say, 'We didn't know our troops did that to Japanese people.' " It will be interesting to see whether Hanks receives the criticism Clint Eastwood endured when his wartime chronicles included Letters from Iwo Jima, a film showing the conflict from the side of Japanese soldiers.

Hanks used several books for foundation material. They include memoirs by veterans Eugene Sledge (With The Old Breed) and Robert Leckie (Helmet From My Pillow). Other sources included William Manchester and John Hersey's The Fall of Japan and the Library of America's massive two-volume Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1938-1946.

Hanks again shares executive-producer duties with Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman. The series will include graphic footage from such conflicts as Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Okinawa. But it will also cover battles on less publicized islands and explore related issues like the impact of tropical diseases on the troops and the plight of POWs. Such personalities as Col. Lewis "Chesty" Fuller and Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone are profiled, and the series blends romantic and sentimental memories with bitter and bloody ones.

Given the exceptional success of Hanks' past HBO ventures From The Earth to the Moon, John Adams and Band of Brothers, it's a good bet The Pacific will continue his string of historical works that get sizable viewership from people who seldom (if ever) watch the History Channel.

Returning shows

Gossip Girl, the CW's most talked about show, returns 8 p.m. tonight (CW-Channel 58) with what producers are claiming will be a pivotal tale. Two key characters will discover far more than they want to know about their parents' origins and conduct, while other developments threaten to torpedo a new romance. This program doesn't get big numbers -- no CW series does -- but it generates ample online buzz and tabloid conversation, which are the markers this network considers most important in deciding the fate of its shows.

Their remake of Melrose Place returns 8 p.m. Tuesday for what might be the final episodes of its 21st century incarnation. The biggest news for people who watch it is the faceoff between Amanda (Heather Locklear) and Ella (Katie Cassidy).

The ratings and buzz aren't what they once were, but The Celebrity Apprentice is back with new episodes 8 p.m. Sunday on NBC (WSMV-Channel 4). This year's participants include Cyndi Lauper, Sharon Osbourne and Bret Michaels, as well as Sinbad, Darryl Strawberry, Holly Robinson Peete, Curtis Stone and arguably this year's most discussed competitor, disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Otherwise, there are no format changes to what's become, along with The Biggest Loser and America's Got Talent, one of NBC's few successes.

New series

The CW's Reaper had an intriguing premise and good cast, but the show couldn't survive the deadly combination of a tough time slot and tepid network support. But one person who got an enormous benefit from it was Tyler Labine, whose slacker character proved so popular Fox tabbed him to play a similiar role on its new show Sons of Tucson, which debuts 8:30 p.m. Sunday on WZTV-Channel 17.

Labine plays another hardly wholesome figure in Ron Snuffkin, a guy with no ambition or drive who's hired by three children to play their father after the real dad gets sent to prison. Since I haven't seen any preview episodes, the only positive I can cite here is the involvement of Justin Berfield as executive producer.

How's that? Simple: Berfield played Reese in Malcolm in the Middle, one of the few Fox comedies that lasted more than one season and was also quite enjoyable. Berfield personally selected Labine for the role and is enthusiastic about his performances thus far. We'll see if the praise is justified.

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