TNT Makes a Play for the Big Leagues

Media Reviews for Media People: 'Raising the Bar'

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NEW YORK ( -- With the fall TV season set to get under way, Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg casts a critical eye on new and continuing series to help marketers determine which may prove to be the best showcases for their ads and products. This week, the focus is on TNT's "Raising the Bar," a legal drama set to debut during a competitive time.
'Raising the Bar'
'Raising the Bar' Credit: TNT

"Raising the Bar"

Where/When You'll See It: TNT, 10 p.m. Mondays, starting Labor Day

What You'll See: For openers, "Raising the Bar" is no "Closer." And that's a shame, because it ought to be.

Backed by well-known TV producer Steven Bochco, legal drama "Raising the Bar" signals new aggression on the part of TNT. The Time Warner cable outlet has had great success launching "The Closer" and "Saving Grace" in the summer. Focused on quirky and flawed female protagonists, these shows have generated buzz by watching their heroines try to solve crimes all the while besieged by their own troubled personalties and addictions.

"Raising the Bar" is a little more bland -- maybe because it's trying to be more of a broadcast-network show? In any case, it's made by Mr. Bochco, who in his time has stirred the pot with shows like "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue" and "LA Law" on broadcast and even Iraq-war drama "Over There" on FX. He's trying to work a little magic here. "Raising the Bar" has many familiar elements: the large ensemble cast, the crime-and-justice plots, and some sexual heat for good measure.

What it doesn't have is the traditional angle of some of those broadcast programs. The viewpoint is that of the public defender, not a district attorney, a judge or the cops. So we get into tales of underdogs, losers and ne'er-do-wells, as well as the public defenders who try to guide them through the legal system and protect them from forces bearing down on them.

The program is centered on a hippie-ish bedgraggled fellow named Jerry Kellerman, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who in this show must sport one of the worst haircuts ever worn on television. He's neurotic, passionate and harried, and works with, around and through a group of young attorneys on all sides of the aisle who have all known each other for years. There's conflict, an oddball judge played by Jane Kaczmarek from "Malcom in the Middle," a great lecherous D.A. played by Currie Graham and a spitfire prosecutor played by Melissa Sagemiller. What's missing is pacing, color, nuance and all the elements we need to care more about these people and the things they do.

Any time these characters have a chance to get more dramatic, flesh themselves out or show a little fire, the scenes dissolve into some jazzy special-effects video display meant to signify time passing, and the story moves on. To take on rivals such as "CSI: Miami" or "My Own Worst Enemy," "Raising the Bar" needs to strut its stuff, show a little fire, get a little deeper into the characters. If it doesn't, then it won't do what its title promises for TNT.

What's at Stake? TNT has been making big promises to media buyers about its ability to compete with bigger broadcast networks, and its launch of "Raising the Bar," made by a big-network producer and filled with actors from network stalwarts like "NYPD Blue" and "ER," is meant to emulate the sort of thing you might see on ABC or CBS. TNT will no doubt not get the same-sized audience for first-run episodes, but can make it up by running each week's show several times. For their part, broadcast networks have fewer new series to boast due to the writers strike, and TNT might be able to steal a little bit of the interest normally focused away from cable at this time of year.

Your Ad Here? If we were a mass marketer, we'd rather put an ad in "Raising the Bar" than any of the reality shows or crazier fare that populates the airwaves these days. Still, marketers ought to be forewarned: "Raising the Bar" contains sexual innuendo, a few harsh words here and there, but nothing that ought to surprise anyone who watches TV with any regularity.

Media buyer's verdict: Since TNT wants to compete with the broadcast networks, let's get right down to it: "Raising the Bar" will air opposite "Boston Legal" on ABC, "CSI: Miami" on CBS and NBC's new drama "My Own Worst Enemy," which comes right out of "Heroes." That's heady competition and will make it hard for a cable show to gain some footing. "It's very unusual for a new cable show to debut in the fall, when the networks are debuting their new programs," said Shari Anne Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat. TNT "must have a lot of confidence in this property."
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