By a wide margin, football remains king on television this season.
NBC's only program in the Top 20 most weeks is the Sunday Night football game, while ESPN's Monday Night Football has set rating records three different weeks, and Sunday games on CBS and Fox continue to grow.
But this week FX introduces a new twist on the pigskin theme. They're debuting a comedy based on fantasy football called The League. It premieres at 9:30 Thursday night.
Mark Duplass stars as Pete, a quirky, problematic fellow whose juvenile antics often frustrate and anger his wife and fellow workers at the office. But there's one area where he's a wizard. Pete has won the company fantasy football league three of the past four years, something he never lets his friends forget. In turn, they're determined to beat him this season, even as he's equally determined to stay on stop.
While fantasy football will provide the thematic foundation, The League will also have episodes dealing with everything from the nature of adult friendships to interoffice politics and marital tensions. But this won't be a comedy-drama, just a straight sitcom revolving around the promience of fantasy football in the lives of several friends.
Other regulars on the show include Steve Rannazzisi, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Jon Lajoie, and Katie Aselton.
Although currently only scheduled for a six-episode run, The League generated headlines before a single show had been produced. That's because it lined up two principal sponsors, Anheuser-Busch and DirectTV, both of whom also will be included in product placement spots. It's the first time DirectTV has been directly featured in a program, though they run regular commercials on many cable and broadcast shows. Anheuser-Busch was one of the first sponsors in the early days of The Shield, and held firm when some others bolted after protests over language and content.
While it will be instructive to see how these companies are incorporated into plots on The League, it will be even more interesting to see whether fantasy football can provide enough plots and situations to drive six editions of a weekly comedy.
Wednesday night ‘Lights’
Only fans that are DirectTV subscribers can enjoy it now, but that audience will now get first-run episodes of the fabulous (but perennially low-rated) show Friday Night Lights.
Oddly, it returns Wednesday night at 8 p.m. The new season has several fresh plot twists, most notably the fact Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) is no longer at Dillon High, despite his past success.
Taylor lost a power struggle and has been forced to take a new job at East Dillon High, a school that's been closed for two decades and is reopening with a meager student body and no resources. Plus his wife Tami (Connie Britton) remains principal at Dillon, and must deal each day with the people who fired her husband.
These episodes won't be shown on network television until later in 2010, and the DirectTV versions will contain additional material that won't air on NBC. But this arrangement has kept alive a superb drama, so it's definitely worth waiting on.
The shift to CBS has creatively revived Medium, a show that NBC cancelled last season even though it had better ratings than several than they renewed. It's also doing better this year on Friday nights at 8 (WTVF-5) than either of its NBC or ABC competitors, even as new developments from the cliffhanger finale play themselves out.
For one, Allison Dubois is still recovering from her stroke, while her psychic powers are returning, but not always operating correctly. Second, her husband Joe (Jake Weber) continues trying to find another job comparable with the engineering position he lost at the end of the season.
Then there are the dreams and strange cases that remain the essence of Medium’s appeal. Friday's episode will be the show's first Halloween-themed program, and features a tribute to the 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead.
But the zombie theme takes a different turn in this show. Now Allison finds herself fighting them in her dreams and waking up with injuries she suffered. Now she's terrified she might even be killed in one of her visions, while trying to figure out the significance of what's she seeing.
After trying for years to find a show it felt was compatible with the 7 p.m. lead-in of Ghost Whisperer, it seems CBS has found one. Now it's trying to figure out why Numb3rs has experienced a 20 percent dip in its audience.
Betty White guest appearance
Three consecutive Emmy awards hasn't seemed to help 30 Rock in terms of attracting new fans. The first two episodes suffered another dip in audience and ratings.
But Thursday's episode at 8:30 p.m. (WSMV-4) features a guest shot from comedy legend Betty White, who shows up when the team takes a trip to Stone Mountain, Ga., seeking new talent.
Surprisingly, 30 Rock is the lone program among NBC's Thursday night comedy block losing strength. The Office has been the network's only scripted program to break into the Top 20, and both Community and the vastly improved Parks and Recreation are getting improved ratings and good critical notices, making Thursday the one night on NBC enjoying some success.