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Television Network TV fights for the right with debut of shows The Rookie and The Kids Are Alright

Nathan Fillion with The Rookie premiere this week.

ABC/Tony Rivetti

Tuesday night is a big deal in the U.S. network-TV racket. The late arrivals in the new fall TV season finally land, and there’s a lot at stake. Specifically, “red state” viewers.

Call it the Roseanne effect. Last season’s Roseanne reboot succeeded because pro-Trump viewers relished the show’s depiction of working-class family life in what is called flyover America – you know, that heartland where Trump support is strong and where a lot of people still watch network TV. Who do you think puts NCIS and all those other CBS shows at the top of the ratings? Donald Trump even claimed the Roseanne ratings victory as his own. Like he does. And, given the ratings, the continuation of the series without the disgraced Roseanne Barr (and with a new name) was compulsory for business reasons.

Thus, The Conners (ABC, CTV, 8 p.m. ET) launches Tuesday. I’ve already reviewed it. But it’s only part of the package being offered to those red-state viewers.

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The Rookie (ABC, CTV, 10 p.m. ET) is perhaps the most anticipated new drama of the fall. Heavily promoted here by CTV, it has made network execs giddy. It promises so much, with a likeable male lead and a storyline that oozes charm. It’s mass-appeal TV on a grand scale.

Certainly, the first episode is flawless, as a network-TV exercise. It stars Canadian Nathan Fillion (Castle, Modern Family) as John Nolan, the oldest rookie in the Los Angeles Police Department. After working in construction for years and divorcing, he moves to L.A. to pursue his dream of being a police officer. Everyone is younger than him, but he’s got life skills. You get the picture immediately – the character and the show are a poke in the eye at youth and youthful energy and ideals. Nolan is an average, middle-aged guy from a small town and, inevitably, he knows more about life’s ups and downs than any other rookie.

At first, you think The Rookie is about a male midlife crisis – that’s an insult thrown at Nolan by his commanding officer – but it isn’t. It’s about the strength and aptitude of the main character. The opening episode is smartly written, with crisp dialogue, and it sure has charm. Fillion is enormously likeable here and he’s got a huge fan base who adored him on Castle, a mindless mystery series. The plot zips along. There is almost no backstory and there’s no time to think about that. It just breezes on, all heart and corny, comforting lessons about middle-aged white guys being supernice, supersmart and superreliable. Not to mention being a babe-magnet.

The show is preceded by The Kids Are Alright (ABC, CTV, 8:30 p.m. ET), one of the oddest comedy concoctions in years.

It’s a slice of we-were-poor-but-we-were-happy humour, with a peculiar and rather pointed overlay about social tensions. It’s set in 1972 or thereabouts, somewhere near Los Angeles, and it’s about the Cleary clan, a loving but disorderly Catholic family of 10. Eight boys and mom and dad. Their religious faith and old-fashioned family values keep them cheerful. Dad Mike (Michael Cudlitz) is a machinist at an aerospace company and mom Peggy (Mary McCormack) is a homemaker trying to make ends meet and civilize those eight boys.

Among them are Lawrence (Sam Straley), who is in a seminary, about to become a priest, and Timmy (Jack Gore), who wants to go into showbiz as a stage performer. The Timmy character is central and the show is presented as an older Timmy reminiscing fondly about his childhood.

The first episode is very funny and flies by. (The creator/executive producer is Tim Doyle, also responsible for the retro, male-centric Last Man Standing.) What’s distinct, though, is the attempt to connect the 1970s setting to contemporary America. Somebody brings up Richard Nixon’s Watergate troubles and Dad says, “Know what I call this Watergate thing? Phony news! That’s what I call it.”

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In a voice-over at the end, the unseen, older Timmy says this: “People remember the seventies as a divisive time. But when I think back on my ridiculous family, it gives me hope for today. Tense times are something we have to go through once in a while to come out the other side a changed and more accepting world.”

That’s practically a sermon. And it’s aimed at red-state viewers. They might disagree with the sentiment, but they are meant to pay attention.

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