Tube Talk: TNT launches Southland, Memphis Beat and Rizzoli & Isles

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

TNT raised the bar for original cable series with The Closer, which last year pulled in ratings rivaling those of the show’s broadcast competition. This summer, TNT is adding three new series. Well, two-and-a-half, considering they picked up Southland after NBC canceled it and have been airing repeats for several months.

The two brand-new shows are Memphis Beat, which premiered June 22, and Rizzoli & Isles, debuting July 12.

Memphis Beat stars Jason Lee (My Name is Earl) as hardworking Memphis police detective Dwight Hendricks, who lets off steam by belting out the blues at a local bar.

The show has a great supporting cast, including Alfre Woodard as Hendricks’ new boss, Sam Hennings (from TNT’s recently wrapped series, Saving Grace) and as Hendricks’ partner. Leonard Earl Howze (Barbershop), Abraham Benrubi (ER, Men in Trees, Happy Town) and DJ Qualls (who pops up in almost everything from Hustle & Flow to Lost) round out Hendricks’ corner of the police station, and Celia Weston (Junebug) plays Hendricks’ mom.

Perhaps the most intriguing character in the show is Memphis itself.

A few seconds into the pilot episode, I thought, “That kinda reminds me of how they used images of Baltimore in Homicide: Life on the Street.” No wonder. Former Homicide star Clark Johnson—who’s also made a name for himself as a director (The Shield, The Wire, and the film version of S.W.A.T)—is an executive producer and directed the pilot.

Pilot episodes aren’t easy to produce. You have to set the scene and introduce characters and back story without bogging down the action. So, I’ll forgive one really awkward, overwrought rooftop scene from the preview DVD. (This was an unfinished copy, so for all I know, that scene won’t make it to air.)

That scene aside, Memphis Beat has promise. It’s a drama with a touch of humor—a stakeout from a tree house, for instance—and we all know I like a good mix of drama and humor. It’s also a good match for Jason Lee, who spent several seasons bringing depth to good ol’ Earl Hickey, who could have been a buffoon in a lesser actor’s hands. All in all, the Memphis backdrop, great music and Southern charm are quite enticing.

Rizzoli & Isles—starring Angie Harmon (Law & Order) and Sasha Alexander (NCIS) and based on Tess Gerritsen’s popular book series—will start things off right. The show debuts immediately after the season premiere of The Closer.

I’m just a bit concerned that having Harmon starring in another series based on a popular book series, playing another tough cop who has another best friend who happens to be the medical examiner, might be too soon. Her solid, but short-lived, ABC series, Women’s Murder Club, is still fresh in the minds of her fans. I hope Rizzoli & Isles can do what Women’s Murder Club couldn’t do: quickly find its audience. Of course, as a cable network, TNT is in a better position than a broadcast network is to nurture a new series.

From the June 23-29, 2010 issue

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