In ABC’s Brothers and Sisters, the Walker family dramatically descends from reunion to disunion when the prosperous patriarch dies, leaving unpaid bills and unanswered questions – including how well do we really know anyone, even our own family?

Eight episodes in, this portrayal of a nuclear family exploding hasn’t delivered the big-bang ABC hoped for, but has performed well enough to be picked up for a second season–and seems to be picking up some steam.  It’s a fortunate thing for a network that has been hearing a lot of whimpers coming from their other once-promising dramas, including The Nine and Six D


While the show is holding steady in the ratings, there is a drop-off from the Desperate Housewives lead-in—39 percent last week– that may be attributed to the unyielding seriousness of the show.In order to retain more viewers, Brothers and Sisters should find some of the lighter moments that happen in real life to real families even amid life’s very real tragedies.

In spite of the title, it’s the widowed mother (played by Sally Field) who dominates the often-downbeat drama. She spends the bulk of every episode bearing witness to her kids complicating their lives and her husband becoming more complicated after his death.

The character who should dominate the show is Kitty Walker (Calista Flockhart) a conservative talk-radio host in a family of liberals. But what began as brilliant casting against type –from Time Magazine’s post-feminist poster child to Rush Limbaugh with better legs– has lost its dramatic tension. It seems, after Flockhart’s character got panned in the pilot, the writers have lost nerve and softened Flockhart’s character into a sympathetic, duller version of Ally McBeal.

A character worth considering is baby brother Justin (David Annable), a returning Afghanistan vet. Just five years after 9/11, his portrayal of a returning solider is not the heroic and haloed version of recent years, but a flashback to the pill-popping, maladjusted malcontents returning from Vietnam.

Brothers and Sisters should look to the surrogate family of Grey’s Anatomy, which performed well in the same time period by interspersing love, lust and laughter amid life and death in a hospital. And unsure viewers should give Brothers and Sisters a little more time to work out their family issues.

John Rash is Sr. Vice President, Director of Media Negotiations for Campbell Mithun and is the author of the RashReport ( He also analyzes media for CBS affiliate WCCO-AM in Minneapolis and teaches at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.