- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2000

LOS ANGELES — Enough reality. First the Olympics shoved the 2000-01 television season back two weeks, then the presidential debate tango played further havoc with series premieres.
Now, finally, the moment of truth is at hand: Thirty freshman comedies and dramas are about to crowd into your television set, clamoring for attention and approval.
Was it worth the wait? Could there be a new "The West Wing" to capture our hearts? If the famous names involved in a number of series mean anything — and in some cases, they do — the answer is yes.
Movie actors Bette Midler, Geena Davis and Gabriel Byrne are starring in custom-tailored sitcoms. TV veterans Andre Braugher, John Goodman, Craig T. Nelson, Delta Burke, Christine Baranski, Tim Daly and Steven Weber are returning to the fold.
That's just for starters.
There's considerable behind-the-camera firepower as well. Some of TV's more reliable producers, including David E. Kelley of "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice" and Dick Wolf of "Law & Order," are fielding new series.
Darren Star, who created the impishly bawdy "Sex and the City" for cable, is bringing out two shows, a sitcom and a drama. Aaron Spelling, who can do cheesy melodrama like nobody else, is on board with a new nighttime soap opera.
Even big-shot movie types are getting in the game, among them James Cameron of "Titanic" king-of-the-world fame and action-meister Joel Silver ("The Matrix").
Analysts are upbeat that some shows are going to deliver the goods — the failure rate for TV series is so high that even a handful of moderate hits can make for a rosy season.
"We're seeing a lot more promise this year," says Roy Rothstein, vice president and director of national broadcast research for Zenith Media Services Inc. in New York. "About five new shows look like successes."
Among the potential winners: "Geena Davis"; Mr. Kelley's "Boston Public"; "DAG," with Miss Burke; and the sitcoms "Cursed" and "Yes, Dear."
Success, however, doesn't always equal quality. A bland comedy like CBS' "Yes, Dear" might have a shot at survival because it fills a scheduling niche, not because of any intrinsic excellence.
Mr. Spelling's "Titans," which several analysts picked as a potential winner for NBC, could make a splash since there's nothing like it on TV at the moment.
"People might be ready for something completely escapist," says Stacey Lynn Koerner of TN Media in New York. "I could see young adults getting together with friends and watching the ridiculousness from 8 to 9 o'clock Wednesday."
A handful of potential sleepers deserve support, most notably the charming "Gilmore Girls" on WB and Fox's inventive "FreakyLinks."
On the heels of such successes as "The West Wing" and "Once and Again," networks are trying more dramas. This year's models, however, tend to skew toward the male side of the audience (think heavy action).
What's missing from the fall schedule is a reality series such as "Survivor," which made such a summer splash. The absence will be short-lived: "Survivor II" is coming to CBS in January, and other networks are furiously developing their own hoped-for reality hits.
Also largely unseen: diversity. Despite intense pressure by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights groups to make TV more inclusive, only a few new series have expanded beyond white leads with a smattering of minority supporting players.
Among the exceptions are UPN's "Girlfriends," CBS' "Gideon's Crossing," starring Mr. Braugher; and "DAG," which co-stars David Alan Grier.
A new fall lineup, after all, doesn't mean that everything on television changes.
Here, network by network, are the premiere dates of the season's new series:
When a network has Regis Philbin four times weekly, what else does it need? Just a dollop of comedy with a couple of film stars, from the looks of ABC's schedule. The heavy reliance on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" means there's room for only a quartet of new shows.
Two new sitcoms bow Friday, Oct. 6. "The Trouble With Normal," about a therapist (Paget Brewster) treating a ragtag band of paranoid patients, airs at 8:30 p.m. Mr. Byrne's "Madigan Men," a multigenerational look at dating and romance, is at 9:30 p.m.
"The Geena Davis Show" debuts at 9:30 p.m. Oct. 10. The Oscar-winning actress plays a career woman who falls in love with a single dad (Peter Horton of "Thirtysomething") and finds herself struggling with instant motherhood.
The sole new drama on ABC is "Gideon's Crossing," which stars Mr. Braugher as chief of experimental medicine at a Boston hospital. The show will preview 10 p.m. Oct. 10, moving to its regular 10 p.m. Wednesday slot on Oct. 18.
Summer is over for CBS and so is "Survivor," for now. But the network, which has long skewed older, is hoping younger viewers who swarmed the island show might be inclined to stick around for a look at its seven new series.
First up is a preview airing of "That's Life," a drama about a New Jersey woman (Heather Paige Kent) who ditches her blue-collar world for college, at 8 p.m., Oct. 1. The series moves to its regular 8 p.m. Saturday time slot Oct. 7.
"Yes, Dear," a sitcom about two young couples with very different ideas on parenting, debuts at 8 p.m. Oct. 2. Anthony Clark, Jean Louisa Kelly, Mike O'Malley and Liza Snyder co-star.
Dr. Richard Kimble is on the run again in "The Fugitive," an updated version of the 1960s TV drama with Mr. Daly in the role originally played by David Janssen. The tale of a man falsely accused of his wife's murder premieres at 8 p.m., Oct. 6.
Following "The Fugitive" at 9 p.m. Friday is the crime drama "C.S.I." starring William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger. They are forensic investigators who solve mysteries the traditional way, by relying on evidence.
"The District," 10 p.m. Oct. 7, finds Craig T. Nelson ("Coach") switching gears from TV comedy to drama. He plays a police chief brought in to clean up crime-ridden Washington. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has complained about the city's depiction.
Two sitcoms bow Oct. 11. The divine Miss M, or Miss Midler, takes the stage at 8 p.m. with the debut of "Bette." She plays a diva-wife-mother — in other words, herself, or a version tailored to network television.
"Bette" is followed at 8:30 p.m. by "Welcome to New York." The comedy stars actor-comic Jim Gaffigan as an Indiana TV weatherman lured to New York by a brassy, neurotic producer, Miss Baranski ("Cybill").
Look for NBC to break the "Friends" mold and find life outside the world of hip young singles as seven new series join the lineup. The best drama may be behind the scenes, where NBC executives face pressure for letting CBS get a jump on the reality genre.
"Tucker," a coming-of-age comedy about a teen-ager (Eli Marienthal), his freshly divorced mom (Noelle Beck) and their new life with aunt Claire (Katey Sagal, "Married …. With Children") debuts at 8:30 p.m., Oct. 2.
It's followed at 9 p.m. Monday by "Deadline," from "Law & Order" producer Mr. Wolf. The newspaper drama focuses on a crusading columnist (Oliver Platt), his colleagues and the graduate students who help him uncover scoops.
The prime-time serial as engineered by producer Mr. Spelling ("Dynasty") returns with "Titans," about a wealthy family's suffering in Beverly Hills. Casper Van Dien, Perry King and Victoria Principal star; the show debuts at 8 p.m. Oct. 4.
From the minds of David Letterman's producers comes "Ed," about a New York lawyer who loses his job and his wife, and decides to return to his small hometown. The hourlong show starring Tom Cavanagh bows at 8 p.m. Oct. 8.
"The Michael Richards Show," featuring the "Seinfeld" alumnus as an unconventional private eye working the streets of Los Angeles, premieres at 8 p.m. Oct. 24. The pilot was revamped to include William Devane and Tim Meadows in the cast.
"Cursed," bowing at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 26, features Mr. Weber ("Wings") as an ad executive whose life takes a turn for the weird when a blind date puts a hex on him. Chris Elliott and Amy Pietz co-star.
"DAG," a comedy starring Miss Burke ("Designing Women") and Mr. Grier ("In Living Color") as the first lady and her bodyguard, debuts at 9:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
Fox, trying to rebound from a disappointing season marked by ratings flops and with yet another new head of programming aboard, is courting male viewers with several science-fiction and action series among its five new offerings.
The sci-fi drama "Dark Angel," debuting at 9 p.m. Oct. 3, has a titanic pedigree: It's from director Mr. Cameron of "Terminator" and "Titanic" fame. Jessica Alba stars as a genetically engineered babe trying to get by in post-apocalyptic America.
"FreakyLinks," bowing at 9 p.m. Oct. 6, is from "The Blair Witch Project" executive producer Gregg Hale. The Web master of an Internet site devoted to debunking paranormal claims finds life may be stranger than he thinks.
Producer Kelley ("Ally McBeal," "The Practice") puts his spin on school life in "Boston Public," starting at 8 p.m. Oct. 23. The drama about the on- and off-campus doings of teachers stars Anthony Heald and Fyvush Finkel.
Two series debut Nov. 1. The sitcom "Normal, Ohio" stars Mr. Goodman ("Roseanne") as a homosexual who returns home to re-establish a relationship with the son he abandoned along with his marriage. It airs at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Wall Street is the setting for "The $treet," a drama from "Sex and the City" creator Mr. Star airing at 9 p.m. Nov. 1. Tom Everett Scott, Melissa DeSousa and Adam Goldberg star in this mix of hormones and high finance.
The fledgling network is refusing to age, keeping its focus on the young-adult crowd it has consistently identified as its target audience. Three of the four new shows emphasize humor, but WB also is taking a risk with a "family friendly" drama, "Gilmore Girls."
"Grosse Pointe," a satiric behind-the-scenes look at a fictional prime-time soap opera, is from a producer who knows soap: Mr. Star, who worked on "Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills, 90210." The comedy had its debut at 8:30 last night.
"Gilmore Girls," a comedy-drama about a single mom and her teen-age daughter making it together in a small Connecticut town, premieres at 8 p.m. Oct. 5. Lauren Graham ("Townies") and Alexis Bledel co-star.
A pair of series premiere Oct. 8. "Hype," a sketch comedy show with an emphasis on satire and parodies, features a 10-comedian ensemble cast and airs at 9 p.m. Oct. 8.
It's followed at 9:30 p.m. by "Nikki," a romantic comedy starring Nikki Cox ("Unhappily Ever After") and Nick von Esmarch as newlyweds pursuing their lifelong career dreams — showgirl and pro wrestler, respectively — in Las Vegas.
The network's future is cloudy because of a deal that will put Fox owner News Corp. in control of UPN's core group of stations. But UPN is holding the course in targeting its core audience of young male and black viewers. Three new shows are in the lineup.
"Girlfriends," which debuted at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 11, puts a black American spin on a quartet of "Sex and the City"-like gal pals. Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks, Jill Marie Jones and Persia White co-star.
High kicks and high-tech crooks rule in two dramas debuting Oct. 27. "Freedom," a martial arts action series from producers Mr. Silver ("The Matrix") and Hans Tobeason ("SeaQuest DSV"), airs at 8 p.m. with Holt McCallany, Scarlett Chorvat, Bodhi Elfman and Darius McCrary.
In "Level 9," an elite, top-secret federal group of technology and criminal experts targets the savviest criminals. The drama from "China Beach" creator John Sacret Young debuts at 9 p.m. with a cast including Fabrizio Filippo and Kate Hodge.

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