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Neil Patrick Harris brings variety to NBC, plus 'The Mindy Project' is back and FX launches killer 'Bastard Executioner'

The Fresno Bee

LOS ANGELES The 2015-16 fall network TV season officially starts Tuesday, with a new variety show hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. But, the networks aren't the only ones starting new programs Hulu brings back a canceled FOX comedy and FX gets medieval with a new series.

'BEST TIME EVER WITH NEIL PATRICK HARRIS'

Variety shows were a staple of televisions programming for years, but they slowly fell out of favor. With five Emmy Awards and a Tony Award in his pocket, Neil Patrick Harris believes he can revive the genre.

His new variety show is a mix of stunts and comedy skits with elements from game shows and hidden camera pranks. It's loosely based on the British series "Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway."

"I love variety. I was interested in the notion that I can show people at home, or in an audience, cool, interesting things that are clever enough that you can set your remote down and watch," Harris says. "I love the magic. I love the circus. I love the juggling. I love singular talents. I was sent a full episode of the U.K. version, and I just loved it."

He loves the concept so much that Harris is certain viewers will enjoy the show's maddening pace and wild mix of competitions, guest appearances and stunts.

NBC has ordered only eight episodes. That's OK with Harri, who believes "Best Time Ever" is so different than a traditional TV program that each episode should be treated like a big event.

"I feel like when if Cirque du Soleil came into town and planted at Santa Monica Pier and was there all year long, you'd be less inclined to want to go to the circus." Harris says. "So you kind of want to see it when it's on."

Harris is cautious about giving away any specifics. He does say that all aspects of the show adhere to the two things he holds dearest when it comes to performing: creativity and authenticity.

And because the show will be live (on the East Coast), he will have to be able to handle all the madness and get done within the one-hour framework.

"So that's flying by the seat of your pants. And I've gotten to do that a fair amount on awards shows," Harris says. "You have to look at your bits and your jokes and eliminate them and do a straight read or make it faster. So that's the fun, for me, of having it done live."

'THE MINDY PROJECT'

There was a time when the cancellation of a TV show meant it was dead and gone. Getting the ax is no longer a death sentence since online services like Netflix, Crackle and Hulu have become a second option.

It was Hulu that swept in and picked up "The Mindy Project" after Fox decided three seasons were enough. The online service has ordered 26 more episodes as a fourth season.

For star Mindy Kaling, the move was quite seamless. She already knew many of the executives at Hulu because past episodes of the Fox series were already airing on the online company.

Don't expect too many changes to the show.

"I think if we really changed the show too much and made it more risque and kind of put it more on a tilt towards stuff you might find on HBO or Showtime, I think we would maybe turn off some of our core viewers," says Ike Barinholtz, who both stars on the show and is a producer. "So we've really kind of made a conscious effort to keep it similar in tone. So there is a little bit more freedom, which I think is really nice for us to not have to worry about."

'BASTARD EXECUTIONER'

The new FX series is a medieval epic that tells the story of Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), a 14th century warrior in northern Wales. His life is changed when a divine messenger begs him to lay down his sword and lead the life of a journeyman executioner.

The series comes from Kurt Sutter whose past work includes "Sons of Anarchy" and "The Shield." This is his first series set in a different time and place.

"It wasn't like I was looking for a period piece. I knew that I didn't want to do anything else in the crime genre. I loved 'The Shield' and loved 'Sons' but really, creatively wanted to do something else," Sutter says. "I love history, so I got to immerse myself in the history of the Plantagenets and that whole really (expletive deleted) up lineage. And then when we set it in Wales, suddenly it presented all these great, less documented external conflicts and external pressures as far as the rebellions that were going on. The world itself definitely has its own mythology and history."

The story has Brattle trying to protect his true identity while serving a mysterious destiny. He's guided by Annora (Katey Sagal), a mystical healer whose seeming omniscience keeps Brattle under her sway.

This all unfolds in a brutal world.

Sutter says that there's nothing wrong with colorful brutality.

"My mandate, as it was on 'Sons,' is the same for this, which is that the violence, as absurd as it could be sometimes on 'Sons,' that it always came from an organic place and that it was never done in a vacuum, meaning that to every violent act, there are ramifications," Sutter says.


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