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story.lead_photo.caption NBC’s new drama, Rise, stars Auli’i Cravalho as Lilette Suarez and Damon J. Gillespie as Robbie Thorne. The series debuts at 9 p.m. today.

There's a double dose of new drama tonight as NBC and ABC unveil midseason tryouts. First up is the more inspiring offering.

Rise has a special premiere at 9 p.m. today on NBC following the Season 2 finale of This Is Us. That'll guarantee a few more eyeballs hang around to sample the show. Rise will slip into its permanent 8 p.m. slot March 20.

NBC tags the show "a heartening new drama about finding inspiration in unexpected places." I was impressed with the pilot and not simply because it comes from Jason Katims, executive producer and showrunner of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, and Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller. I immediately added the series to my DVR list.

The large ensemble has no weak links and will remind some viewers of a sort of Glee (the early years) meets My So-Called Life meets Fame.

The musical drama is similar to Glee in that it takes a marginalized high school group -- the nerdy, overlooked drama class -- and makes them cool through the inspiration of a dedicated teacher. There's even a popular football jock that corresponds almost precisely to Glee's Finn Hudson.

The character-driven series is inspired by the true story of Levittown, Pa., high school teacher Lou Volpe as told in the 2013 book Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater by Michael Sokolove.

That mouthful of a title just about sums of the series. Note that the key phrase is "inspired by." The series is not a page-by-page dramatization of the book.

In Rise, burned out 17-year English teacher Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor, How I Met Your Mother) overcomes his own self-doubt and takes over Stanton High School's lackluster theater department run by Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez, Fearless). His perseverance and passion "galvanizes not only the faculty and students but the entire working-class town."

Lou faces an uphill battle. First of all, Stanton High is all about football. Theater has little support from administration. Next, the drama department is woefully short of boys, and there's a diva problem among the few regular girls.

Finally, Lou wants to change his first musical from the safe and familiar, The Pirates of Penzance, to something provocative -- Spring Awakening, with its subject matter of teen angst and sexuality.

You can well imagine how that was received by the principal and some parents.

The two main students to keep an eye on are star quarterback Robbie Thorne, played by Damon J. Gillespie (Broadway's Newsies), and Lilette Suarez, played by 17-year-old Hawaii native Auli'i Cravalho, the voice of Disney's Moana, in her first live-action role.

For the People premieres at 8 p.m. today on ABC and is the latest from the prolific Shonda Rhimes and her Shondaland production company.

Rhimes' shows include Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, The Catch and the forthcoming Station 19. All include the basic, successful Shondaland TV series formula.

First, cobble together a diverse cast of young, impossibly telegenic actors playing gifted and driven neophytes at the beginning of their high pressure careers (think doctors and lawyers).

Next, sprinkle in some veteran character actors in the roles of bosses or mentors.

Finally, infuse your red-blooded characters with plenty of lusty hormones and mix thoroughly.

Presto -- a Shondaland drama.

You may enjoy Shondaland's formulaic fare, but the bottom line is For the People is yet another courtroom drama. Do we really need another legal drama? My own father was an ace trial lawyer and I fail to see the fascination with the genre.

I found one list that tallied 144 legal dramas over the years -- from Perry Mason and The Defenders to Ally McBeal and The Good Wife. The legal wheel has yet to be reinvented, so it boils down to whether you like the characters.

For the People features an ensemble of six young actors playing first-time prosecutors and defenders in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York -- the oldest trial court in the land.

All six characters are legal savants. All good-looking. And, of course, all their personal lives are a mess. Will you care?

Petite blonde Britt Robertson, known best for her brooding and troubled teen roles in Life Unexpected, The Secret Circle and Under the Dome, plays crusading idealistic public defender Sandra Bell, the main ensemble character.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

Style on 03/13/2018

Print Headline: NBC's Rise, ABC's For the People debut today

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