The New Fall TV Season : CBS TURNS TO COPS; NBC TO CLASSY

You have to trust someone. My own TV bible these days is Ralphs Bonus magazine. Yes, now even a supermarket chain is reviewing TV shows.

"Fall lineup features new stars and old favorites," Ralphs says about CBS in a seven-page spread on the new season, followed by a bonus coupon for hot dog buns.

And speaking of dogs, two of CBS' new stars who deserve better--Paul Sorvino and Ken Wahl--debut in rather pathetic series tonight: Sorvino in "The Oldest Rookie" and Wahl in "Wiseguy." They're available at 8 and 9, respectively, on Channels 2 and 8.

Wiser guys will choose NBC's excellent new "A Year in the Life," which premieres at 9 tonight on Channels 4, 36 and 39, following its introduction last season as a miniseries that earned a deserved Emmy nomination.

"The Oldest Rookie" is a lighthearted police series, not a sitcom, but a sit cop in which Sorvino is Ike Porter, a veteran deputy chief in charge of public affairs who hankers to trade his glad-handing job on the rubber-chicken circuit for a shot at being a uniformed street cop.

Big, paunchy Ike's dream comes true, but oh nohhhh, he's teamed with brash young Tony Jonas (D. W. Moffett), who is so wild and crazy that he has a basketball court in his living room. And the Lakers play there? He's not that wild and crazy. Much worse, though, Tony likes rock music; Ike likes big bands. Jeepers creepers, is this partnership ever going to work?

Patience. In a convenient plot device, Ike and Tony are made plainclothes detectives, and in no time at all these lovable goofables are pursuing a suspect they haven't seen.

Then, uh . . . how will they know him when they find him?

The plotless, mindless script comes to the rescue. As Ike and Tony are searching for the suspect they've never seen and thus can't identify, the suspect suddenly panics and bolts. Now that they have seen him run away, they know what he looks like and can arrest him. Shrewd.

A chase ensues, followed by a chase, followed at 9 by "Wiseguy," a special two-hour premiere of a series whose regular time slot will be 9 p.m. Thursdays.

Wahl brings a kind of tough-guy street realism to the screen as Vinnie Terranova, a federal agent who works undercover for racketeers. And the premiere has a nice cinematic look, not unexpected in a big-budget pilot.

Elsewhere, credibility comes to a screeching halt.

But not the cliches, including the third-rate "On the Waterfront" dialogue: "You're history, punk. You're history. Oh . . . you're dead."

Tonight, Vinnie infiltrates the Atlantic City mob by being stupid. Listen, if it works. . . .

This cliche calls for Sonny to win the respect of mob boss Sonny Steelgrave (Ray Sharkey) by spilling soup on him and then fighting him. In the real world, Vinnie's actions would land him in the river, encased in cement. In this world, they land him in the mob as Sonny's trusted associate.

The notion that a two-bit pug with Geraldo Rivera's swagger could work his way into the highest echelons of organized crime is absurd, but consistent with the rest of the story. It's a tossup which has more holes, the plot or the bodies that pile up here in one of those all-purpose, everyone-gets-blown-away-who-deserves-to-get-blown-away endings.

With any luck, this show is history.

But, one hopes, not "A Year in the Life," which returns as a regular series with a fine episode about life and death, beginnings and endings.

If only the NBC drama were not opposite ABC's highly promising new "Hooperman" and "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story."

The setting for "A Year in the Life" is again Seattle, where the large, eclectic, irresistibly human Gardner family ever copes, shifts and adjusts, while giving special meaning to the routine of everyday existence.

Widower patriarch Joe Gardner (Richard Kiley) resumes his romance with local physician (Diana Muldaur) and feels badly about not having gotten to know a longtime employee who has died. New parents Jim and Lindley (Adam Arkin and Jayne Atkinson) get baby-sitter blues. And Joe's eldest daughter, Anne (Wendy Phillips), endures the final agonies of a divorce from Glenn (Scott Paulin).

Thomas Carter's direction and Robin Green's script (from a story by executive producers Joshua Brand and John Falsey) ensure a warm, sensitive, humorous episode that is lifted even higher by performances from Arkin, Paulin and especially Phillips as the lonely, vulnerable, sympathetically flawed Anne.

Thus, NBC is developing an exceptional drama bloc on Wednesday nights. Its tandem of "A Year in the Life" and "St. Elsewhere" are prime time's terrific twins, back-to-back hours that make TV glow.

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