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Family Drama Behind the Scenes at "Brothers & Sisters"

Call it a case of growing pains... or sibling rivalry.

I can't help but wonder what exactly is going on at ABC's Brothers & Sisters, the freshman drama starring Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Balthazar Getty, Dave Annabel, and Sally Field as the only-on-TV-are-these-people-related Walker family of not so sunny California. (Ron Rifkin and Patricia Wettig also star.) When the behind-the-scenes drama on a series seems more intense than the actual show itself, that's a sign for alarm, especially as fall premiere dates seem to be looming ever closer.

First, there were the well-publicized cast changes. Jonathan LaPaglia and Betty Buckley were voted off the island; replacing them are Matthew Rhys and Sally Field. Okay, post-pilot cast changes/additions are always to be expected and nine times out of ten they're really for the best. (Just look at the original Willow on the pilot presentation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer if you don't believe me.)

News leaked out about a certain cast member getting killed off early on in the first episode, a very obvious death that network insiders were quick to try to hush up. (If you've seen any promo for the series or have seen the pilot for Brothers & Sisters--reviewed here--or have even heard what the show is about, it's patently obvious who doesn't stick around for the second episode. But if you want to stay in the dark, don't read the review.)

Critics attending the series' Television Critics Association panel last month were mightily confused about what exactly ABC was trying to say when they wouldn't confirm or deny which cast member wouldn't be appearing on the series and executive producer Ken Olin kept waffling about whether that Certain Someone was in fact killed off or not. That is, until a member of the press read a description of Brothers & Sisters pulled off of ABC's website. A burnt-out Olin wasn't sure how to respond. "I don't know," said Olin. "That's what they said. They are my bosses. If that's what it says, that's what it says." Um, right.

Some critics had their own opinions about the series after not being able to screen the pilot. "ABC would to have legitimate reasons for not showing us the Brothers & Sisters pilot — what with the recasting and reshooting," wrote Scott D. Pierce of the Deseret Morning News. "But in the past 16 years, no series that wasn't shown to critics before or during press tour has ever succeeded."

(It's worth noting, however, that Flockhart's Ally McBeal also wasn't screened at the TCA and it went on to become both a critical and ratings hit.)

Showrunner Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and FOX's short-lived Point Pleasant) was quick to defend the show, casting off the "troubled" label that had become someone affixed to Brothers & Sisters at that point. "We're the private show," joked Noxon. Ah. Well, that must explain it then.

It's funny what a difference a few weeks can make. Noxon quit the series unexpectedly last week after what many have said were weeks of "friction" between her and neophyte television writer Jon Robin Baitz, the show's creator. The Los Angeles Times blamed the departure on "a dispute over [the series'] artistic direction." While Brothers & Sisters did continue filming after Noxon's departure, it raises more than a little concern about the future of the show, which many TV critics have referred to as Calista Flockhart's Return to TV (as though she's been on vacation on some tropical island for the last few years).

Still, studio execs at Touchstone Television were hopeful that Noxon might return to the show. It's not final," Charissa Gilmore told the LA Times last week. "Until then, she's on the show."

It's not quite that easy. Yesterday, there was another development in the ongoing Brothers & Sisters family saga. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Everwood creator Greg Berlanti has been said to be "spending a lot of time in the Brothers & Sisters writing room, lending a hand on the show," following Noxon's unexpected depature last week.

While there's currently no deal in place to secure Berlanti's services on the series, insiders said that he was a great fit with the show's writer/producers. "Everyone is thrilled about this collaboration," a Touchtone Television spokewoman told The Hollywood Reporter. (Um, that wouldn't be the same spokeswoman who claimed that Noxon might come back, right?)

Officially, Touchstone Television is still looking at candidates to replace Noxon, but I have a feeling that Berlanti will be the one to fill her shoes, as he has experience overseeing a series: Everwood ran for four seasons on the (now defunct) WB. And it's also worth noting that Berlanti has experience with short-lived dramas as well: Jack & Bobby, while critically acclaimed, failed to make it past its freshman season. Will the beleaguered Brothers & Sisters be added to that list? Or will it be the triumphant return to television that Flockhart's handlers wish it to be? All I can say is find out this fall on ABC.

"Brothers & Sisters" is scheduled to premiere Sunday, 24 September, at 10 pm, following "Desperate Housewives."

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Rock Star: Supernova (CBS); America's Got Talent (NBC; 8-10 pm); Blue Collar TV/Blue Collar TV (WB); George Lopez/George Lopez (ABC); So You Think You Can Dance (FOX; 8-10 pm); America's Next Top Model (UPN)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); One Tree Hill (WB); George Lopez/George Lopez (ABC); All of Us/Half and Half (UPN)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Primetime (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm: Project Runway on Bravo.

Yay! Another new episode of my new reality fix, Project Runway. Michael finally got some much deserved love from the judges last week, but Robert better step it up if he hopes to stay in the competition. However, it looks like Vincent, Jeffrey, and Kayne are called out this week by style maven Michael Kors. Michael K., as long as Kayne stays, you can get rid of the other two. Just saying...


Anonymous said…
It's not like Greg Berlanti is doing anything else....
Anonymous said…
I am big Buffy fan, so not so much a Marti Noxon fan. She's joked about how she's blamed for ruining that show. Not funny. I suspected Point Pleasant (her failed series about the devil's daughter) was the thinly veiled auto-biography.
Now, I don't know the woman nor have I seen anything of Brothers & Sisters, so what do I know? However, to me her departure (and the addition of Greg Berlanti) is reassuring.
Anonymous said…
First of all, I'd LOVE to know how you got a copy of this pilot when it sounds like most major critics have yet to see it.

Putting that aside, I still think this show sounds troubled. Recasting is one thing, but even before it was picked up there were rumors that it was DOA because audiences hated Flockhart's character. Supposedly audiences responded better to a recut of the pilot, but it still sounds like a case of trying to make a diamond out of a lump of coal.

As for the departure of Marti Noxon--thank god! Her version of Buffy was so over the top depressing and grim that it completely soured me on what had been my favorite show until then. I also saw the pilot for her series Still Life a few years ago. Supposedly Fox never aired it because they thought it was too depressing to ever find an audience. From what I saw, I totally agreed. Hopefully the addition of Berlanti will help lighten the tone on this show enough for it to make it.
Vance said…
I agree. Buffy was a great show but Point Pleasant was HORRID. ABSOLUTELY HORRID, so it doesn't give Marti Noxon any points. Meanwhile, Everwood was perfection and Jack & Bobby had enough to build on to get there so I'm glad Greg Berlanti is involved and hopefuly this show with a great cast will actually turn out to be something fantastic. Or, if could turn out to be another Commander in Chief... let's hope not.

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