Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
Forty seasons of outwitting, outlasting and outplaying. This Wednesday at 8pm on CBS, that's all going to change.
If you're not evolving, you're dying. But if it ain't broke, why fix it? This is the dilemma that Survivor faces, but COVID left the game with no choice. Even Jeff Probst and his crew couldn't escape the pandemic in Fiji.
One thing I love about Survivor is the construct of the game – the contestants were always the entertaining wild cards every season. Sure there were hidden immunity idols and secret advantages, but things always boiled down to 39 days, 20 contestants and one survivor.
Those days are gone. This season’s Survivor will reflect the current times and adapt to the new world we're all living in. Here's what's new:
No Theme – Winners at War. Heroes versus Villains. It's all gone. This time around, it's just Survivor 41. I like the simplicity. The themes are cheesy anyway. Let's play the game.
Game Length – 40 days have been compressed to 26, courtesy of quarantine. That may seem a huge advantage for these new contestants, but Survivor always pushes you to the brink. Gameplay will adjust with an accelerated schedule. Seasons have dragged at the start in the past, but there's no time to waste this year.
Contestants – The number drops from 20 to 18. There are no returning favorites and a truly diverse group of players. This is a welcome change. I've seen a little too much of Boston Rob lately.
Tribe Size – The tribes will stay tight, which means there's no hiding in the background letting the bigger personalities set targets on their backs. With fewer challenges and no daily food staple, smaller groups will bring out more conflict. Can't wait.
Jeff – Yes, his hair is noticeably longer, but he'll go from passive to proactive letting us know about twists before the contestants find out. It's a risky move breaking the fourth wall, but a logical step for accelerated storytelling.
Play at Home – There will be a "Game Within A Game" featuring puzzles hidden inside the episodes for us watching at home. This is an unnecessary step. I'm always looking for clues and trying to get an edge, but the game itself should be compelling enough to stay locked in. Take me to Ponderosa - that's enough of a peek inside.
Three decades on network television is a major achievement, especially for a reality game show. When it started, there were no hidden immunity idols. No tribe swaps. No permanent exotic location. Survivor has always been a malleable beast.
Winners At War was designed to be a greatest hits goodbye to an era. It worked. Change can be painful, but it also can be good and exciting. Jeff and the Survivor team have earned my trust. And we all can use the escape.
THIS WEEK’S SPTINAFOBYMB!
(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)
Dancing With The Stars (ABC) – The dancers are more well-known than the contestants. Not a good sign. Glitters Monday at 8pm.
NCIS: Hawaii (CBS) – An inevitable spinoff but with a female lead. Surfs Monday at 10pm.
Ordinary Joe (NBC) – Three different futures play out for one guy. Doors slide Monday at 10pm.
FBI International (CBS) – Another inevitable spinoff as Dick Wolf steadies his grip on network television. Badges Tuesday at 10pm.
Foundation (APPLE TV+) – This Isaac Asimov book adaptation stars heavies Jared Harris and Lee Pace. Embarks Friday.
The Tony Awards (PARAMOUNT+) – Apparently the neon lights are brighter on a streaming service. Curtain Sunday at 7pm.
Broadway's Back (CBS) – The Tonys may have gone online, but the theater lives on network TV with this two-hour celebration. Live Sunday at 8pm.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
Feel-good romance, rebooting a classic and one last spin for Billy Bob…
Love On The Spectrum (NETFLIX)
Tuesday, September 21st Season 2
Young adults on the autism spectrum looking for love sounds like a horribly exploitative show. The first season ended up being one of the very sweetest dating shows, and a well-earned season two has arrived.
Everything did not turn out well for those seeking love in the first season. That only helped bring out heart and emotion to the stories being told. Now the talkative Michael returns along with other memorable faces, and a new group of singles looking for love charm their way on to the screen. Network dating shows could learn a thing or two from this series.
The Wonder Years (ABC)
Wednesday, September 22nd at 8:30pm ET
One of my all-time favorite sitcoms returns with a twist. The original show focused on the Arnolds, a white middle class suburban family finding its way in the 1970s through the eyes of a 12 year old boy. This time, the story revolves around a black middle class suburban southern family in the late 1960's. Not your typical reboot.
The bar is set high, and Dean Williams (EJ Williams) steps into the Kevin Arnold role, the youngest of three in an Alabama family dealing with turbulent times. Don Cheadle is the voice of grown-up Dean packing a powerful narration reflecting upon prejudice he couldn't clearly see at a young age. Hoping for plenty of wonder from the Williams family. Watch trailer.
Friday, September 24th Season 4
Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) is back for one last ride, and now he's got the pharmaceutical industry set in his sights. George Zax (JK Simmons) is the big bad, and these two Oscar winners are a match made in heaven when they're going at it.
The final eight episodes pack the drama and twists we've come to expect from the series. Goliath has never shied away from big issues, and while pharma is an industry even Billy might not able to take down, I wouldn't bet against him.
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.