- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

Summer’s nearly over, and it’s time for the networks to put away their reality toys. Reality television won’t disappear entirely from the television landscape now that fall is upon us. But the networks are hoping their throwback approach — scripts, actors and other antiquated techniques — will entice viewers in the weeks to come.

If not, plenty of mid-season reality shows are probably being cooked up at this very moment.

At ABC, fall means four new sitcoms and three new dramas arriving to reinforce its low-rated schedule.

The most promising sitcom, if name recognition counts for anything, is “Hope & Faith” (Friday, 9 p.m.). Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford star as two very different sisters — Miss Ripa plays a soap opera diva, while Miss Ford is a stay-at-home mom. When Miss Ripa’s alter ego gets written out of the show, the actress moves in with Miss Ford.

The network’s “Karen Sisco” (Wednesday, 10 p.m.) takes Jennifer Lopez’s character from the 1998 cult film “Out of Sight” and fleshes out her life as a U.S. marshal in South Beach The show features solid support from veterans Bill Duke (1997’s ” Hoodlum”) and Robert Forster (1997’s “Jackie Brown”).

“Threat Matrix” (Thursday, 8 p.m.) is a fictionalized spinoff from the Homeland Security Agency fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist threats.

Should any of these series falter, the network has mid-season replacements “Line of Fire” and “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” ready in the wings.

The network hasn’t forsaken reality programming. Expect a new “Bachelor” (Wednesday, 9 p.m.), featuring funny fella Bob Guiney from “The Bachelorette,” plus a series of shows following the wedding of “Bachelorette” Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, whom she met on the show.

The Peacock network is counting on a passel of familiar names to keep its ratings afloat, including Whoopi Goldberg, John Larroquette, Rob Lowe, James Caan and Ryan O’Neal.

NBC’s once-potent “must see” Thursday lineup faces a crucial test this season. “Friends” is in its final season, and the network’s new “Coupling” sitcom (Thursday, 9:30 p.m.), inspired by the saucy British comedy, could be too sexy for American sensibilities.

Elsewhere on NBC, “The West Wing” soldiers on without creator Aaron Sorkin (Wednesday, 9 p.m.). Can the aging series, a fictionalized account of an honest Democratic presidency, survive without Mr. Sorkin’s gift for sharp dialogue? Mr. Sorkin is one of the few TV talents whose stamp on a show is unmistakable. He won’t be easily replaced.

The biggest additions to NBC are “Las Vegas” (Monday, 9 p.m.), starring Mr. Caan, “Whoopi” (Tuesday, 8 p.m.), “The Lyon’s Den” (Sunday, 10 p.m.) with Mr. Lowe and “Miss Match” (Friday, 8 p.m.), starring Alicia Silverstone and Mr. O’Neal.

With five new dramas and two new comedies, CBS counters with some high-profile names of its own, including Joe Pantoliano (“The Sopranos”), Charlie Sheen and Mary Steenburgen. Even bigger names are behind its new shows, including producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Bad Boys 2”) and David E. Kelley (“The Practice”).

Mr. Bruckheimer’s “Cold Case” (Sunday, 8 p.m.) finds “Minority Report“‘s Kathryn Morris solving long dormant crimes using modern technology and fresh interviews.

“Two and a Half Men” (Monday, 9:30 p.m.) finds Mr. Sheen and Jon Cryer sharing parental responsibilities for Mr. Cryer’s son, while Mr. Kelley’s “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.” (Wednesday, 10 p.m.) follows a trio of brothers getting by in small town America.

Fox, ever the maverick network, jumped the gun on fall ‘03 by releasing “O.C.” last month (moving to Thursday, 9 p.m.). The new weekly soap features yet another young, handsome cast. The setting this time: idyllic Orange County, Calif.

Mr. Bruckheimer has a hand in “Skin” (Monday, 9 p.m.), a new melodrama of race and romance with the adult entertainment business as a backdrop.

Cheech Marin headlines “The Ortegas” (Sunday, 8:30 p.m.), a comedy which blends improvisation with scripted action in a translation of a BBC show “The Kumars at No. 42.” The network’s other Latin-themed show is “Luis” (Friday, 8:30 p.m.), built around talented character actor Luis Guzman (“Traffic,” “Punch-Drunk Love”).

The WB, which transformed the Superman saga into the angst-ridden days of a young Clark Kent, hopes to repackage another aging favorite, Tarzan, for the current generation. In “Tarzan” (Sunday, 9 p.m.), the loincloth-clad man of the jungle, played by fresh face Travis Fimmel, is transplanted from the wild to what passes these days for the civilized world.

The network also trots out “One Tree Hill” (Tuesday, 9 p.m.), yet another adolescent potboiler, this time focused on warring half-brothers. “Run of the House” (Thursday, 9:30 p.m.) stars the former Joey Lawrence of “Gimme a Break” fame. It’s Joseph Lawrence now. Whoa.

UPN, the little network that couldn’t, if ratings are the yardstick, introduces a science fiction complement to the fading “Enterprise.” “Jake 2.0” (Wednesday, 9 p.m.) follows a new secret agent (Christopher Gorham of “Felicity”) injected with tiny computers called nanites which grant him superpowers.

The network’s new “All of Us” (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.), the brainchild of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, takes a warm and fuzzy look at raising children in a divorced family.

On a much lighter note is “The Mullets” (Tuesday 9:30 p.m.), a comedy built around the much maligned hair style sported by the show’s brothers. The sitcom co-stars an un-mulleted Loni Anderson and John O’Hurley of “Seinfeld” fame.

Cable television has some intriguing alternatives this fall should the networks stumble.

HBO, the critics’ gold standard for quality cable, has a slew of new programs slated, including “K Street”, featuring real life political consultants James Carville and wife Mary Matalin. The show hopes to be timely, topical and intertwined with political reality in a “post-modern” way unprecedented in television drama.

“Carnivale” (Sunday, 9:30 p.m.) situates the battle of good versus evil in a dust-filled stretch of America in 1934.

Director Bruce Beresford (1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy”) brings “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself” to HBO Sept. 7. The fact-based story of the “Robin Hood of Mexico” stars Antonio Banderas.

Showtime keeps nipping at HBO’s heels with “The Boys of 2nd Street Park” documentary (Sept. 28) and the 10-episode series “Freshman Diaries” (Sunday, 11 p.m.).

Elsewhere on cable, The Learning Channel brings its makeover touch to the dating scene with “Date Patrol” (Saturday, 9 p.m.), a kindhearted series looking to transform knuckleheaded daters into Casanovas in just four weeks. The channel also introduces the 13-part series “Resident Life” (Monday, 8 p.m.), a reality-style look at young doctors’ lives without the “ER” spit-polish.

The Sci-Fi channel will resurrect “Battlestar Galactica” (Dec. 7) for a new generation, although the early word is that fans are more than miffed at the liberties taken with the source material. The new, four-hour miniseries stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell.

The talk show front is getting even more crowded in the weeks to come as new shows anchored by Sharon Osbourne, Ellen DeGeneres and “American Idol’s” Ryan Secreast all launch their own shows.

Between broadcast television and cable, the fall season should offer something for everyone to enjoy — and bicker about.

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