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The Good, the Bad and the Worse : Seven Series Debuts Kick Off First Big Weekend of Fall TV Season

Get ready for the first really big weekend of the 1991-92 fall season, one showcasing the good, the bad and the even worse. Seven series are scheduled to debut, although the season doesn’t officially begin until Monday.

The class of this early field is on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39), whose near-new Sunday night lineup features three comedy series to get excited about: “Eerie, Indiana” at 7:30, “Man of the People” at 8 and “Pacific Station” at 8:30. (They follow another new series at 7 p.m., “The Adventures of Mark & Brian,” which already has had two preview airings this week.)

The clunker of the lot, “Nurses,” is also NBC’s. It premieres at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. (If NBC’s entertainment schedule doesn’t succeed, it won’t be from lack of effort on the part of NBC News, which this week used its “Today” program to air puff pieces on 10 of the network’s series or specials.)

Somewhat better than “Nurses,” but not significantly, is the light drama “P.S. I Luv U,” opening with a two-hour premiere at 9 Sunday on CBS (Channels 2 and 8), thereafter to air at 10 p.m. Saturdays.

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Also premiering this weekend, on KCAL Channel 9, are new episodes of that oldie “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Premiering at 9 tonight on KTTV Channel 11, meanwhile, is the Fox series “Ultimate Challenge,” featuring daredevils performing life-threatening stunts. It was not made available for review, but a Fox promo for the series shows a man--probably a member of the preview audience--jumping from a high-rise.

“Eerie, Indiana” is one of those comedies that operates engagingly (most of the time) on two tiers: action, quirky camera angles and youthful heroes for kids, satire for adults.

The appealing 13-year-old protagonist is Marshall Teller (Omri Katz, formerly of “Dallas”), a newcomer to a small town where white picket fences coexist with peculiarity. Soon, Marshall discovers that apparently “the most normal place in the entire country isn’t so normal.” And he and his 10-year-old friend, Simon (Justin Shenkarow), set out to prove it.

Sunday they uncover an insidious conspiracy to vacuum-seal humans, meeting adolescent twin boys who in reality are (gasp) thirtysomething. That’s because their suspiciously cheerful mother (Louan Gideon) has been sealing them--and herself--in coffin-sized fridge containers since 1964. In fact, the practice appears widespread in Eeerie, with Marshall’s own mother in danger of being “lured into a mind-sucking cult of housewife zombies who preserve themselves in giant rubber kitchenware.”

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What could be more evil? “It ain’t natural,” says Simon.

Exactly what Marshall and Simon could ever do with their evidence of weirdness is unclear. Call “A Current Affair”? And, since all of this is refracted through the prism of kids--who at times exaggerate and see adults as caricatures--we don’t know if their accounts of abnormality are true or merely the product of youthful imaginations.

Nonetheless, “Eerie, Indiana” is a very likable series and witty enough in spots to whet your interest. Even though the premiere ultimately sputters, Karl Schaeffer and Jose Rivera have created a clever half hour--they even seem to be using Marshall and his family to poke fun at “The Wonder Years"--with the potential to sprout into something quite terrific and wonderful.

Add Jim Doyle of “Man of the People” to the fallible TV heroes that James Garner has played through the years. As much a card shark as gambler Maverick, as reluctant a public servant as Sheriff Nichols, as much an operator as gumshoe Rockford, Doyle is the likable scoundrel appointed to the Longview City Council by a corrupt mayor (Kate Mulgrew) who is certain of his ineptitude and dishonesty and her ability to control him.

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Predictably, Doyle confounds her by turning out to be not only shrewd but also one of those rare schemers whose self-serving behavior is softened by occasional spasms of conscience and integrity. And when he needs prodding to do the right thing, his idealistic assistant, Constance (Corinne Bohrer), is there to shove him hard.

“There’s a bus leaving in 10 minutes,” the fed-up Doyle tells her. “Shouldn’t you be under it?”

It’s such writing--along with winning performances by Garner, Bohrer, Mulgrew and Romy Walthall as Doyle’s endearing bimbo secretary, Rita, who has a tub of popcorn on her desk and a huge photo of Madonna on her wall--that elevate “Man of the People” far above the comedy/drama crowd and give predictability a good name.

Sunday’s premiere, with Doyle foiling the mayor and her cronies while making temporary peace with Constance, sets the tone for the series. But it’s the second episode that’s a real hoot, with Doyle agreeing to help a smarmy golf-course promoter in exchange for a free membership, even though the development will require demolition of a kids’ playground. Not to worry, says Doyle, for now the kids can learn to caddy.

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On this swing, at least, a hole in one for “Man of the People.”

What could be more mundane or formulaic than a comedy set in a police station full of bumblers and centering on cop partners who don’t get along? Yet execution is everything, and there’s a brightness and humor in “Pacific Station” that freshens its stale premise.

At least it does in the second episode.

Sunday’s premiere does little more than fill time while introducing the police characters assigned to this Venice precinct: Bob Ballard (Robert Guillaume) is the traditionalist detective who recoils at his new partner, Richard Capparelli (Richard Libertini), whose “new age” ideas about love, sensitivity and spiritual consciousness make him the station house’s UFO. Al Burkhardt (Ron Leibman) is the detective who breaks all the rules that Ballard cherishes. Inept Kenny Epstein (Joel Murray) is bungling the captain’s job that Ballard deserves, spending much of his time talking on the phone to his mother. And blustery Deputy Commissioner Hank Bishop (John Hancock) constantly pigs out on snack food.

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All right, not exactly “Barney Miller” West. But return next week and you’ll be rewarded, for Episode 2 is a spectacularly funny half hour that hilariously celebrates the odd coupling of growling Ballard and nurturing Capparelli while concluding with a police canine sequence that rivals Matisse the Dog in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”

If anyone steals the show here, however, it’s the under-acclaimed Libertini--not the dog, Guillaume or Leibman, whose over-the-top character tends to grate. Says Ballard: “This partner thing isn’t going to work.” Comedically, it does.

The release of that dark comedy “Hospital” in movie theaters 20 years ago inspired several TV series that sought unsuccessfully to emulate its on-target, slashing satire of the medical profession.

Equally unsuccessful is “Nurses,” a hyperventilating, devastatingly unfunny hospital comedy that makes a compelling case for series euthanasia. Many industry gurus are calling “Nurses” a sure-fire hit because of its placement in NBC’s popular Saturday night lineup behind the hit “Empty Nest.” If anything is empty, however, it’s this broadly played caustic farce centering on five nurses at a Miami hospital where high jinks is the raging, incurable disease.

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“How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know. I never died before.”

Ho ho ho.

Sandy (Stephanie Hodge) is the sassy white nurse. Annie (Arnetia Walker) is the sassy black nurse. Julia (Mary Jo Keenen) is the zany new nurse. Greg (Jeff Altman) is the doctor-bashing male nurse. Gina (Ada Maris) is the guileless Latina nurse, whose virginity is ridiculed and who says about the men in her country: “They take the goats and pigs and disappear into the night.”

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If only “Nurses” would take its bad gags and disappear into the night. But no. In the second episode, it tries getting serious, with Julia waxing emotional when she loses her first patient. Hey, death, cheap one-liners--they’re part of nursing. Get serious.

Grifter-turned police informant Wanda Talbert (Connie Sellecca) and New York cop Joey Paciorek (Greg Evigan) are on the mob’s hit list. So they’re brought into the witness protection program, relocated to Palm Springs and given new identities and jobs at a local security agency.

One catch: Their new identities are as Danielle and Cody Powell.

These two live together as wife and husband? Oh, no! There must be some mistake. You see, they despise each other. Yadda yadda yadda.

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The “P.S.” in “P.S. I Luv U” stands for Palm Springs. However, there’s little to luv about the show’s obesely bloated two-hour premiere, a prime candidate for liposuction.

What “P.S. I Luv U” looks like in hour form in its regular time slot remains to be seen. It attempts Sunday to copy the kind of romantic adventure that the wittily quarreling partners of “Moonlighting” and some of its predecessors deftly managed. Yet the premiere of “P.S. I Luv U” is so badly written, graceless, suspenseless and dully rendered--with the “newlyweds” immediately facing a possible murder over possession of a $27-million lottery ticket--that it’s nearly unwatchable.

It’s not the cast’s fault. Sellecca is bouncy, Evigan amiable and Earl Holliman ever perplexed as their new boss, who wonders just how he will be able to keep these two uncouth, mischievous kids in line. Tradition dictates that he won’t.

“This,” Cody says at one point, “is the worst case of circumstantial nothing I’ve ever seen.” Exactly.

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Creator Hugh Wilson is sitting this one out. As are original cast members Gary Sandy, Loni Anderson, Tim Reid and Howard Hesseman. But Gordon Jump, Frank Bonner and Richard Sanders are back. And so is Cincinnati.

“WKRP in Cincinnati” was one of prime-time’s funnier sitcoms when it ran on CBS from 1978 to 1982. Now, riding one of those waves of nostalgia that periodically roll over entertainment TV, new episodes of the series are in syndication, airing in Los Angeles at 7 p.m. Saturdays on KCAL Channel 9 and in San Diego on Sundays at 6 p.m. on KGTV Channel 10.

We learn from the opener that Arthur Carlson (Jump) is still general manager and on the ropes at the radio station owned by his mommy. Forever plaid sales manager Herb Tarlek (Bonner) still hasn’t gotten integrity or better taste in clothes. And frightened news reader Les Nessman (Sanders) is still frightened.

As the premiere opens, the bumbling Carlson is in big trouble over lewd comments someone has made on the air, and as it ends Carlson is wringing his hands over his mommy’s plan to sell the station. In between, laughs are sparse, even though WKRP has an abrasive new husband-and-wife team who are as hateful to each other off the air as they are deferential on the air.

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But relief is on the way, for who is scheduled to show up as guests in the next episode but Anderson and Hesseman themselves. Says Carlson: “It looks like they’ll be able to save our fat, just like the old days.” We’ll see.


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