Times Staff Writer

Next fall, the networks’ emphasis will be on laughter, extended and single-unit families, with an ample supply of widows, widowers and divorced citizens on hand. And the battle against evil-doers by cops, gumshoes and such will continue without letup.

A look at the new prime-time schedules of NBC, CBS and ABC made public in the last weeks shows a total of 32 new and returning sitcoms on tap next fall, with 13 on NBC, 10 on CBS and 9 on ABC. (That 13 for first-place NBC is the highest number it’s ever had on its roster.)

But crime-fighting as a pastime also remains popular, with 17 new and returning police, private-eye and action-adventure series in store--seven on CBS, and five each on NBC and ABC, with one new ABC cop show offering law and order, family and widowerhood.


That series, “Cold Steel and Neon,” stars Robert Desiderio as a tough detective and devoted family man whose wife was killed. He’s been left to raise two young teen-agers. He sees them in the daytime and works at night.

Besides NBC’s returning hit “The Golden Girls,” other comedy or dramatic series featuring widowers or widows include ABC’s new “Life With Lucy,” which returns 74-year-old Lucille Ball to weekly TV, and two new NBC entries--the new Loni Anderson comedy, “Easy Street,” and the one-hour “Our House” with Wilford Brimley, who plays a widower. His daughter, played by Deidre Hall, also has been recently widowed.

It is clearly a good time to be a widow or widower. But divorce, taboo in the 1950s when network executives wanted happy people with happy problems, also will be well-represented in the coming season, albeit primarily involving women in comedy series.

In addition to CBS’ returning “Kate & Allie” and Don Johnson’s well-known divorced detective on NBC’s “Miami Vice,” there is CBS’ new comedy “Designing Women,” which has four female leads. Two are divorcees, one of whom has been through the marital mill three times.

There also is ABC’s new “The Ellen Burstyn Show,” a comedy in which both divorce and widowhood are plot ingredients. The Oscar-winning actress plays an Eastern college professor who tried marriage again after a divorce, only to wind up a widow.

Into her life and brownstone house in Baltimore come her daughter and the latter’s young son. The daughter is a divorcee.

Despite all this divorcing and widowing, the show, like many others slated for 1986-87, has a family theme. That is quite popular at the networks now, no doubt because of the whopping success of NBC’s returning “The Cosby Show” and “Family Ties,” and surprisingly good ratings for ABC’s “Growing Pains.”

Each features a married couple and the couple’s children, the single-unit kind of family. Another single-unit series coming to TV town next fall: CBS’ “Together We Stand,” starring Elliott Gould and Dee Wallace Stone as both natural and adoptive parents.

But another kind of family, the extended or multigenerational clan, also is gaining popularity. The new examples include Burstyn’s series, NBC’s “Our House” and “Easy Street,” and CBS’ “Better Days,” about a Beverly Hills kid who shares a Brooklyn apartment with his “feisty” grandfather.

Yuppies, although desired by advertisers as a prime audience, don’t seem the coming thing. They had their big chance last season on CBS’ with “Hometown,” sort of a small-screen “Big Chill,” but it died fast.

CBS nonetheless is giving young upwardly mobile citizens another try with “Taking the Town,” starring Pam (“Mork & Mindy”) Dawber as a free-lance San Francisco photographer. So is ABC with “Our Kind of Town,” starring Shelley (“Charlie’s Angels”) Hack and Tom Mason as a young couple on the rise in Chicago.

As has been widely predicted, prime-time soap operas are becoming past tense, with no new ones slated for next fall. Six holdovers--CBS’ “Knots Landing,” “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest” and ABC’s “Dynasty,” “Hotel” and “The Colbys"--are the only examples of this art form on the networks’ fall schedules.

Medicine, so big in “Ben Casey’s” day in the ‘60s, only is represented by two series--NBC’s returning “St. Elsewhere,” and CBS’ new “Kay O’Brien, Surgeon.”

And only two series, each new and both on NBC, are tending to legal affairs--"Matlock,” which returns Andy Griffith to weekly TV as a folksy Atlanta barrister, and “L. A. Law” by “Hill Street Blues” co-creator Stephen Bochco.

But three ventures in science fiction and fantasy are afoot--the new “E.T."-like sitcom “Alf,” and Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories,” both on NBC, and ABC’s new “Starman,” based on the movie about a nice-guy visitor from outer space (he is a widower here, returning to Earth 14 years after his first visit to raise his orphaned son).

Religion and variations on same are represented by NBC’s new “Amen,” starring Sherman (“The Jeffersons”) Hemsley as a minister, and the network’s popular returning “Highway to Heaven.”

One of the big battles shaping up may prove to be Monday evening, where CBS has created sort of a ladies’ night in counter-programming against ABC’s pro-football show that primarily caters to the menfolk.

Save for the returning “Newhart,” CBS’ Monday wares are about and star women--"Kate & Allie,” “Taking the Town,” “Designing Women” and “Cagney & Lacey.”

Friday is another night the industry will watch with great interest. That’s when NBC’s action-packed “The A-Team” and “Miami Vice,” followed by “L. A. Law” battle CBS’ lighthearted “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” and the durable soap operas “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest.”

Having unsuccessfully tried to counter-program against CBS’ back-to-back Sunday hits, “60 Minutes” and “Murder, She Wrote,” NBC now is gambling on two newcomers, “Our House” and “Easy Street,” followed by Valerie Harper’s returning “Valerie” sitcom.

The first hour of Thursday night is expected to continue to be dominated by NBC’s Cosby series and “Family Ties,” with CBS’ returning “Simon & Simon” and ABC News’s new “nostalgic” American history series “Our World,” representing the ever-hopeful opposition.

Last fall, the three networks introduced a total of 20 series representing 16.5 hours of new programming. This fall, they’ve got 24 new entries that constitute 18 hours of new programming--five hours by CBS and 6 1/2 hours by each of its rivals.

Despite ABC’s attempt to rebound from two successive third-place finishes in prime-time ratings, few in television expect it to wrest second place next season from CBS, which came in second last season after six consecutive seasons as No. 1.

“No, I don’t think so,” says one analyst for a leading advertising agency in New York. The executive, who declined to be identified, said that he’s certain of one thing--that NBC, which last April won its first television season in 31 years, “is a sure thing to stay in first place. I don’t think anybody argues that.”