Below, Ron Wynn scans the week in TV, focusing on the week's big event: the premiere of David Simon's hotly anticipated New Orleans drama Treme.
Ever since his magnificent series The Wire ended, its creator David Simon has been touting the virtues of his next project Treme, a kaleidoscopic portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans which finally debuts 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO.
But this will be a far different production than anything Simon's previously done. Both The Wire and Simon's earlier The Corner were urban dramas that used the backdrop of drugs, poverty and crime to make larger points about society, governance, morality and politics. Treme will be a cultural study that spotlights a particular city and community's response to a tragedy, while showing why that reaction is important to the nation as a whole.
The program's not only a showcase for Simon's writing and vision. It also puts the spotlight on Wendell Pierce, an outstanding character actor who envisions Treme as the chance to highlight a part of his background that's not generally known. Pierce, a New Orleans native, grew up in Pontchartrain Park, one of many neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina. He plays trombonist Antoine Batiste, a veteran of the city's brass-band network trying to rebuild his life on the fly while adjusting to the changes in New Orleans' citizenry and sensibility.
In a bold move aimed at retaining authenticity and reality, the producers are casting both veteran actors and familiar musical figures. The cast includes Clark Peters, Kim Dickens, Khandi Alexander, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, the superb trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and dynamic performer Trombone Shorty, someone admired by both jazz and rock fans. The scripts will also reflect the regional cuisine and language that are such a special part of the New Orleans experience.
By focusing on the present rather than the past, Simon and company are taking a big gamble with Treme. Traditional New Orleans jazz and Cajun food may be wonderful tourist attractions, but they're riskier as centerpieces for a prime-time series. The Wire was beloved by critics, but it never attained even mild hit status during its tenure (and also never won any Emmy awards, which says more about the Emmys than the series). Plus Treme tragically lost a key member of its creative team last week when award-winning writer David Mills collapsed on the set and subsequently died.
Still, there's plenty of curiosity and buzz around Treme. It will probably get a sizable opening night audience. Hopefully, HBO also is willing to let the show grow and won't panic if it's not an instant success. But whatever happens, there's no doubt that Treme will be different from anything on cable or network this season.
'Criminal' repeat offender
Given the runaway success this season of NCIS:Los Angeles and the ongoing ratings clout displayed by CSI: Miami and CSI:NY, it was a safe bet CBS would see what else it could spin off from its array of procedural dramas. Wednesday night viewers get a preview at this fall's Criminal Minds spinoff when Forest Whitaker guest stars at 8 p.m. (WTVF-Channel 5). The plot involves having the main team head to San Francisco, where their paths cross with another group of FBI profilers supervised by Whitaker.
Whitaker is a super actor who has been a sensation in both prolonged roles (The Shield) and as a guest star in arcs (ER). So if he can hit the series jackpot and enjoy five years in a role that will probably require him to use about a tenth of his talents, he's earned that right. It's also interesting that no program in recent years has been more universally despised by critics and loved by audiences than Criminal Minds. For whatever reason, the more despicable the crime being presented, the bigger the show's audience.
The Fox show Bones (WZTV-Channel 17) hits the 100-episode milestone Thursday night, and co-star David Boreanaz will perform double duty for the episode, directing for the second time. The show takes fans back to the very beginning, examining their very first case together five years ago.
Bones has proved a reliable and popular program, one of the more consistent dramas that Fox has developed. It even gets reasonable numbers on Thursday nights at 7 p.m., a time slot where any previous Fox show other than American Idol or Family Guy was sometimes beaten by cable reruns.
Meanwhile Fox last week confirmed what many people felt was going to happen for weeks. They announced this would indeed be the last season for 24, its eighth, which is at least two more than originally anticipated. The finale airs May 24, and the producers are already on record saying they won't wrap things with a cliff-hanger.
But the cancellation is only the network end for 24. Both star Kiefer Sutherland and executive producer Howard Gordon have told TV Guide and other publications they are working on a script for a two-hour big screen version they hope to complete within 18 months after the final television episode of 24.