For more than 20 years, David E. Kelley wrote and produced some of network television’s best shows — a list that includes “L.A. Law,” “Picket Fences,” “Chicago Hope,” “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Public” and “Boston Legal.” More recently, he moved to streaming and cable TV, with “Goliath” for Amazon and “Big Little Lies” for HBO.
Now, he’s back on broadcast TV with the thriller “Big Sky” for ABC (Tuesday, 9 p.m., Ch. 4). And he doesn’t sound entirely excited about returning.
“I was not anxious to get back to the broadcast world for a lot of challenges,” he said. “The biggest challenge for me is commercials. I still hate them. I know the audience fast‑forwards through them, so that’s better. But it still calls upon them to pick up their remote and break a wall, if you will.”
Well, that’s a bit bold, given that commercials pay the bills on network TV. And networks like to pretend that viewers don’t skip commercials, because, otherwise, how would they sell them?
But, Kelley assures us, “Big Sky” isn’t just any network TV show. ABC executives were anxious to “break their own mold,” he said, “and to present storytelling to the audience that would be more in line with cable or streaming.”
For sure, it’s not your typical broadcast TV crime drama. As the story begins, sisters Danielle (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Grace Sullivan (Jade Pettyjohn) are driving through Montana when they run afoul of a trucker, who takes them captive. That brings in ex-cop/private detective Cody Hoyte (Ryan Phillippe), his partner, Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) and his estranged wife, Jenny (Katheryn Winnick), who’s also an ex-cop.
The personal dynamic among the three of them is … complicated.
“Big Sky” has big vistas (it’s set in Montana, but filmed in Canada), a big cast and big characters. It is not, however, a whodunnit — viewers quickly learn who did what to whom, while the good guys are trying to figure out who the bad guys are and save the kidnapping victims. And, it turns out, these are not the first kidnapping victims.
The biggest difference between “Big Sky” and the kind of network shows Kelley wrote and produced for decades is the length of the story. There won’t be 22 episodes, there are 10. And the season will be broken into two five-episode arcs that will be somewhat separate even as they “bleed into each other and overlap,” as Kelley put it.
Actually, the biggest difference comes with a shocking plot twist at the end of the first episode that you’d never see on your average network drama.
(If you’ve read the book on which this is based — “The Highway” by C.J. Box — you won’t be surprised. But don’t spoil it for viewers who haven’t read the book.)
“Big Sky” shows promise. (The first two episodes were screened for critics.) The first episode is worth it for the surprise alone.
Royal soap opera returns
A couple of major characters move to the forefront as “The Crown” returns for Season 4 — Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) — and the drama is as juicy as ever.
(All 10 episodes start streaming on Sunday.)
Yes, it’s all based on fact. But it is, nonetheless, a giant soap opera filled with deeply flawed people. It’s hard to imagine that any royal family could be a “normal” family, but it’s also clear that the Windsors can be bloody awful. Which makes for can’t-look-away TV.
We all know how the Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Diana and Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emerald Fennell) triangle turned out — watching it happen in “The Crown” is, nonetheless, engrossing. (Charles does not come out looking good.)
By the way, we won’t get to the end of the Charles-Diana marriage until Season 5.
And the faceoffs between Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) and Thatcher are fascinating. “The Crown” remains great TV.
Another ‘Star Wars’ holiday
Waaay back in 1978, “The Star Wars Holiday Special” aired on CBS and instantly became legendary — for being utterly terrible. And it was. There’s a reason it doesn’t air on TV every year.
Almost a third of a century later, we’re getting “The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special,” which is not a remake of the original but was inspired by it.
It starts streaming Tuesday on Disney+, and I’d like to tell you more about it — but Disney+ has inexplicably forbidden reviews from being published until Monday. I will tell you that it pokes fun at both “Star Wars” and holiday specials in general. And if you’re a Disney+ subscriber ... well, take advantage of that subscription.
Will Smith chats with all the surviving cast members of his 1990-96 sitcom in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion” — including Janet Hubert, who left the series after three years amid reports of a huge feud with Smith.
They recorded it on Sept. 10 — the 30th anniversary of the show’s premiere. It starts streaming Thursday on HBO Max.
New TV includes Reagans revisited
The four-part documentary “The Reagans” is not exactly an ode to Ron and Nancy. It argues that Ronald Reagan was a tool of the mega-rich and a precursor to Donald Trump — complete with dog-whistle, racist politics.
The doc debuts Sunday at 7 p.m. on Showtime.
And in other new TV, these are among the shows returning with new episodes this week: