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The Prime-Time Pack : THE NETWORKS, LOOKING TO INCREASE THEIR AUDIENCE, PUT THE EMPHASIS ON COMEDY, BRINGING BACK BIG STARS AND ADDING TEACHERS, ALIENS AND CONSPIRACIES TO THE MIX

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last fall, the networks tried to make more “Friends” and influence millions of people, which resulted in cancellations for clones of the NBC hit.

This season, the emphasis again is on comedy as the six networks present a whopping 26 new sitcoms among the 39 series to be unveiled through October.

Presumably, the shows with familiar faces--those of Bill Cosby, Ted Danson, Michael J. Fox, Rhea Perlman, Gerald McRaney and Scott Bakula--will have an advantage in the annual Nielsen derby.

The smart money will be on defending champion NBC to win the ratings race, with CBS and ABC in a dogfight to reach the wire ahead of Fox, UPN and the WB.

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Media analysts have pegged ABC’s “Spin City” and NBC’s “Suddenly Susan” as the season’s sole sure-fire hits, an assessment made by virtue of where they are scheduled and not strictly their quality.

For the networks, whose audience continues to decline in the face of stiffer competition from cable and local stations, the key to survival is weekly programming that is engaging or entertaining.

So what about the level of entertainment in the class of ’96? Onward!

SUNDAY / “The Steve Harvey Show” 8:30-9 p.m. WB. Premiered Aug. 25

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The premise: As the star of his second sitcom, Harvey plays Steve Hightower, an inexperienced music teacher with unruly students. (Think of it as “Mr. Hightower’s Opus.”) An ex-member of an obscure pop group who was “almost a Commodore,” Hightower sometimes gets lowbridged by his insouciant pupils. Student: “I like your suit. Where did you get it ... the ‘70s?”

The prospects: Dim, considering the competition of “Lois & Clark” and “Touched by an Angel.” And by employing such a hackneyed premise, Harvey will find it difficult to distinguish this show from five others nearly like it, including his own network’s “Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher.” In other words, this is not the year to be a prime-time educator, which may be the biggest lesson of all to be learned by actors and networks alike.

****

“Life With Roger” 9:30-10 p.m. WB. Premiered Aug. 25

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The premise: Good and bad things happen to Jason (Maurice Godin) on his wedding day after meeting Roger (Mike O’Malley), a stranger who’s thinking of jumping off a bridge. The bad: His car is towed away and he’s robbed at gunpoint. The good: He has second thoughts about marrying his longtime girlfriend--a pushy, hypoglycemic nag with no job, the sort of qualities Jason generously refers to as “little quirks.”

The prospects: A sitcom whose life can go on only if viewers turn away from high-profile network movies or “The X-Files,” which will be opened on Sundays beginning Oct. 27.

MONDAY / “Cosby” 8-8:30 p.m. CBS. Premieres Monday

The premise: In his latest comeback, Bill Cosby plays Hilton, a 60-year-old with too much time on his hands after being phased out of an airline job, much to the dismay of his loving wife (“Cosby Show” spouse Phylicia Rashad). Or as their friend (Madeline Kahn) casually points out: “A man in the house is like a piano in the kitchen. It’s in the way.”

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The prospects: Speaking of pianos, this sitcom based on a British series is the key to a revamped CBS lineup in which it takes on three other comedies, four if you include the preposterous “Melrose Place.” Cosby, who failed with his 1994 NBC venture “The Cosby Mysteries,” has a lucrative two-year, 44-episode commitment from CBS, which is counting on him to energize the entire evening.

****

“7th Heaven” 8-9 p.m. WB. Premiered Aug. 26

The premise: Stephen Collins wears the white collar in this family drama as a small-town minister with five children. Catherine Hicks is his handy, wholesome wife. What about the youngsters? Matt, the oldest at 16, is smoking and skipping church. His 14-year-old sister Mary can shoot hoops but has yet to score as a kisser of boys. And 10-year-old Simon prays to God for a dog. “Dog is God spelled backwards,” he tells his father, which hardly seems like a compelling reason to buy one.

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The prospects: Collins, who starred in the short-lived 1982 Indiana Jones knockoff “Tales of the Gold Monkey,” should say lots of prayers if he hopes to build a sizable congregation opposite the likes of “Cosby” or “Melrose Place.” Without divine intervention, producers of the series could soon be hearing, “And now we lay thee down to sleep ...”

****

“Ink” 8:30-9 p.m. CBS. Premieres Monday

The premise: Stop the presses. Jack (Ted Danson) and Carrie (Mary Steenburgen, Danson’s wife) are combative reporters at a New York newspaper. They are also newly divorced, and Carrie’s sudden promotion to editor makes a tense situation even tougher.

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The prospects: By pairing veterans Cosby and Danson in back-to-back comedies, CBS expects to cheer its older audience and take hold of a wide-open slot stocked with first-year sitcoms (“Mr. Rhodes” and “Malcolm & Eddie” are the others). As a variation on “The Front Page” and “His Girl Friday,” “Ink” could use wittier repartee, but Danson’s popularity makes him the man to beat.

****

“Mr. Rhodes” 8:30-9 p.m. NBC. Premieres Sept. 23

The premise: Tom Rhodes is a self-assured, unorthodox English lit teacher at a prestigious prep school where he says things like, “I’m way psyched, man” and “He was bummin’!” Rhodes, who likes to joke around, is an instant hit with students--and a pain in the class for stuffy faculty members such as history teacher Ronald Felcher (Ron Glass). Early on, a student asks, “Are you our teacher?” Rhodes replies, “Yes, baby, I’m what your parents are paying a lot of money to keep you away from.”

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The prospects: Discriminate viewers should have no trouble staying away from this formulaic sitcom, the latest to star a stand-up comic seeking a larger stage. One of six new series set in the world of academia, this one deserves a year of detention.

****

“Malcolm & Eddie” 8:30-9 p.m. UPN. Premiered Aug. 26

The premise: One-time Cosby kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Eddie Griffin play mismatched roommates sharing an apartment over a neighborhood bar. Malcolm, the sensible one, is an aspiring sportscaster and ladies man. Eddie, a tow-truck driver, occasionally talks to his unreliable heap. Together, they hope to succeed in spite of their oddness as a couple.

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The prospects: Not odd enough to be funny, this sitcom figures to sputter and choke in a time slot formerly occupied by “Star Trek: Voyager,” which has entered a different galaxy on Wednesdays.

****

“Party Girl” 9-9:30 p.m. Fox. Premiered Sept. 9

The premise: Party all night. Sleep all day. That’s the freewheeling philosophy of goodtime-gal Mary (Christine Taylor, the Marcia Brady of the “Brady Bunch” films). Organizing a cool bash is child’s play for Mary. Learning the Dewey decimal system in a new job at the public library under the supervision of her godmother (Swoosie Kurtz) is anything but merry.

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The prospects: A genuine party pooper, this sitcom based on the Parker Posey film of the same name faces formidable competition from NBC movies, “Murphy Brown” and, to a lesser degree, the saucy Southern belles of the WB’s “Savannah.” Safe to say, the party’s over ...

****

“Goode Behavior” 9-9:30 p.m. UPN. Premiered Aug. 26

The premise: Ex-con Willie Goode (Sherman Hemsley of “The Jeffersons”) moves in with his estranged son Franklin (Dorien Wilson of “Dream On”), a college professor in line to be the university’s next dean. Willie, a crafty con man, wants a second chance. You need not be an Einstein to know that his erudite offspring will give him one.

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The prospects: As always, Hemsley can milk even the corniest of lines for all its worth. After settling in, for example, Willie calls a friend regarding his sweet setup. “Hello, Fish. Water here.” Ultimately, this spirited show will sink or swim because of the character’s bad behavior.

****

“Lush Life” 9:30-10 p.m. Fox. Premiered Sept. 9

The premise: Karyn Parsons (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”) and Lori Petty (“Tank Girl”) portray lifelong friends in this buddy comedy from co-executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser (“Living Single”). Parsons is a naive neurotic who leaves her philandering husband to move in with Petty, a struggling artist renting a funky apartment in Venice. Petty plays a cynic who thinks “love is for people who can’t get dates.”

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The prospects: Fox probably will be patient with its innocuous rookie, which initially goes up against prime time’s biggest lush, better known as rapier-witted Maryann (Christine Baranski) of “Cybill.” If “Lush Life” miraculously pulls a larger audience than its CBS rival, the drinks will be on Fox entertainment chief.

****

“Sparks” 9:30-10 p.m. UPN. Premiered Aug. 26

The premise: The main characters of this sitcom are the silky Maxey (Miguel A. Nunez) and strait-laced Greg (Terrence Howard), bickering brothers who work in a Los Angeles law firm run by their father (James Avery). In the pilot, Greg hires a promising associate played by Robin Givens. He also contends with a high-strung office manager (Kym Whitley) who is battling PMS. So far, the PMS is winning.

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The prospects: One has a right to expect more sparks and wit from a comedy created by Ed. Weinberger, an Emmy-winning writer-producer for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi” and others. The jury is out on how many cases this crew will handle, but it won’t be many judging by the drab debut.

****

“Dangerous Minds” 10-11 p.m. ABC. Premieres Sept. 30

The premise: Annie Potts (“Love & War”) lays on a thick Texas drawl as admirable high school teacher Louanne Johnson, a fiery former Marine hired to shape the hearts and minds of unmotivated students. Potts assumes the role played by Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1995 film.

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The prospects: On the East Coast, this hourlong drama clashes with “Cosby,” “Ink” and a cluster of four other comedies. Here, its competition is the CBS medical drama “Chicago Hope” and the second half of NBC movies. Either way, Potts and her producers must do their homework to come up with a passing grade.

TUESDAY / “Promised Land” 8-9 p.m. CBS. Premieres Tuesday

The premise: Laid off from his factory job, family man Russell Greene (Gerald McRaney) has hit the road with his wife (Wendy Phillips), mother (Celeste Holm) and two children. Greene, a hard-working guy who openly prays to God in a cemetery when his life unravels, is touched by an angel (Della Reese, crossing over from her hit series), who persuades him to canvas the country in search of the real America, not just “the United States of greedy people trying to get richer quicker.”

The prospects: A spinoff of “Touched by an Angel,” this spiritual drama won’t get rich quick in its present slot. At most, its producers only can hope to build an audience slowly and steadily, much like its predecessor. In the meantime, McRaney will continue to bend the Almighty’s ear, if for self-preservation more than anything else.

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****

“Life’s Work” 8:30-9 p.m. ABC. Premieres Tuesday

The premise: Lisa Hunter (Lisa Ann Walters), a wife and mother of two children, tries to balance work and family after accepting a job as assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore. Just out of law school, Lisa is ambitious, determined and eager to make a difference--even if that means arriving home late to assist her put-upon husband (Michael O’Keefe), whom she can handle as well as her pompous new boss (Larry Miller).

The prospects: Coupled with the blue-collar warhorse “Roseanne,” this wan white-collar comedy may have an early edge against its rivals, which include “Promised Land” in addition to freshmen on NBC and UPN. Its biggest drawback: a cliched concept.

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****

“Something So Right” 8:30-9 p.m. NBC. Premieres Tuesday

The premise: English teacher Tom Farrell (Jere Burns) weds Carly “I’m in love again” Davis (Mel Harris), a two-time divorcee who refers to her ex-husbands as “dumb and dumber.” Carly is a corporate party planner with two youngsters, one of whom has a bad habit of walking in on his 16-year-old stepsister in the shower. Yes, we’ve come a long way from “The Brady Bunch.”

The prospects: With the transplanted “Mad About You” as a lead-in, “Right” is not necessarily in the wrong slot. But it does have work to do against “Life’s Work.” And though the casting of Burns and Harris may not hurt, the mediocre writing will.

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****

“Homeboys in Outer Space” 8:30-9 p.m. UPN. Premiered Aug. 27

The premise: Welcome to the futuristic adventures of 23rd century enterpreneurs Ty Walker (Flex) and Morris Clay (Darryl M. Bell). At one point, Ty’s brother-in-law describes them as the “two biggest idiots in the galaxy,” which is painfully close to the truth. Loquatia, a computer with attitude (“Byte me”), steers them in the proper direction aboard their Space Hoopty, a clunky starship that resembles a banged-up Impala.

The prospects: Look for the cheesy “Homeboys” to bring up the rear in the ratings regardless of a lead-in from “Moesha,” a hit with teens last season. These ‘boys are simply out of their galaxy.

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****

“The Burning Zone” 9-10 p.m. UPN. Premiered Sept. 3

The premise: Dr. Edward Marcase (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), one of the world’s leading neurologists, drives a white Cadillac bearing the personal license plate EBOLA. In this hourlong drama, the mellow Marcase heads an elite team of scientists probing bizarre cases. Working under Dr. Daniel Cassian (Michael Harris) are geneticist Kimberly Shiroma (Tamlyn Tomita) and security specialist Michael Hailey (James Black).

The prospects: With “Home Improvement” and “Frasier” as two of its top rivals, this heavyhanded science fair may as well be in the twilight zone. And if the barrage of deadly viruses doesn’t finish off the protagonists, then the highly rated shows of Tim Allen and Kelsey Grammer surely will.

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****

“Spin City” 9:30-10 p.m. ABC. Premieres Tuesday

The premise: Michael J. Fox returns to series television in a comedy about the deputy mayor of New York, an opportunist whose “hand is inside the puppet.” In this case, said puppet is none other than the mayor (Barry Bostwick), a wooden figure whose strings are pulled by the resourceful Mike Flaherty (Fox). And proving that politics makes strange bedfellows, Flaherty lives with Ashley (Carla Gugino), an aggressive reporter and one of the mayor’s harshest critics.

The prospects: Landing the plum spot between “Home Improvement” and “NYPD Blue” puts the proper spin on matters for executive producer Gary David Goldberg of “Family Ties” fame. On the other hand, it didn’t ensure success for “Champs,” his midseason flop last season. If Fox fails with this smart series, our bloodshot eyes will be rolling in disbelief.

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WEDNESDAY / “Townies” 8:30-9 p.m. ABC. Premieres Wednesday

The premise: Molly Ringwald stars in her first series as one of three young women mired in a dead-end town. Carrie and her friend Shannon (Jenna Elfman) have no reservations about using the men’s room when nature calls (“See, their bathroom has no line”). And when Shannon later discovers a naked guy in her bathroom, she innocently retorts: “I’m not a slut. I’m just a quick judge of character.” Denise (Lauren Graham) is an insecure mother who married the father of her child.

The prospects: An occasionally crass working-class comedy, “Townies” will vie for viewers against three sitcoms and “Beverly Hills, 90210,” which figures to lead the way for Fox. Men may warm up to the young ladies here, but will women opt for the smooth new “Pearl” on CBS?

****

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“Pearl” 8:30-9 p.m. CBS. Premieres Monday at 9:30 p.m. Moves to its regular slot Oct. 23

The premise: This comedy from Don Reo centers on Rhea Perlman’s Pearl Caraldo, the plucky widow of a longshoreman who enrolls in an Eastern university. (One friend thinks she now will be drinking “crappuccinos.”) Pearl’s revered nemesis is Stephen Pynchon, an egocentric English lit professor (Malcolm McDowell) whose favorite subject is himself. Can down-to-earth Pearl stand up to the pompous Pynchon? Look at it this way

The prospects: Uncertain in the early going because the series will fill “Ink’s” spot for five Mondays. On Wednesdays, it will be one of 16 sitcoms airing Wednesdays from 8 to 10 p.m., leaving Perlman in peril of being lost in the shuffle. A plus for its star is having “The Nanny,” which moves over from Mondays, as a lead-in.

****

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“Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher” 8:30-9 p.m. WB. Premiered Aug. 28

The premise: Freno (Mitch Mullany) is a wannabe actor who becomes a substitute teacher to make ends meet. Overjoyed to “get the book with the answers in the back,” he soon discovers the kids need someone willing to make a genuine commitment. A weary colleague promptly spots the new guy on his first day in the teachers lounge. “How can you tell?,” the enthusiastic man-child asks. “You weren’t crying on the way in.”

The prospects: Familiarity breeds contempt, which means this silly sitcom figures to flunk its Nielsen test. Conversely, expectations will be low, which is enough to sustain its survival for a season.

****

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“Public Morals” 9:30-10 p.m. CBS. Premiere TBA

The premise: Steven Bochco (“NYPD Blue”) and Jay Tarses (“The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd”) co-created this ensemble comedy about a New York vice squad. The characters include a brash sexist (Donal Logue), an illiterate Italian (Larry Romano) and a bumbling boss (Peter Gerety).

The prospects: Good taste is hardly the hallmark of “Morals,” whose racy dialogue has been toned down from the pilot in a response to concerned affiliates. In a season where comedy is king, this one is a veritable pauper, all the more so because of its talented production team. Hammocked between the shaky “Almost Perfect” and the new “EZ Streets,” the public may never get around to sampling it. Gosh, what a shame that would be.

****

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“Men Behaving Badly” 9:30-10 p.m. NBC. Premieres Wednesday

The premise: Kevin (“ER” graduate Ron Eldard) and Jamie (“Saturday Night Live” alumnus Rob Schneider) are beer-guzzling roomies who are clueless about women. Kevin thinks he should have the last word about a child with his longtime lady (Justine Bateman of “Family Ties”). Jamie, a slovenly photojournalist, is lucky to know any ladies.

The prospects: Based on a British sitcom of the same name, the question is, how will the mundane “Men” behave in the Nielsen poll? Entering its second season, ABC’s “Drew Carey Show” has a great opportunity to lead a weak field at 9:30 p.m., but NBC may not be badly off.

****

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“The Jamie Foxx Show” 9:30-10 p.m. WB. Premiered Aug. 28

The premise: The “In Living Color” comic tries to save his aunt’s failing Hollywood hotel, a hospitable establishment where jazz greats once jammed before appreciative audiences. Unfortunately, it won’t be easy thanks to the unwise wagering of his uncle (Garrett Morris). Nonetheless, he has a fetching front desk clerk (Garcelle Beauvais) to show him the ropes, which he hopes are “connected to her bedpost.”

The prospects: Subtlety notwithstanding, the versatile Foxx knows how to sing and tell a joke. But will anyone turn to his animated antics given a choice of three other comedies plus Fox’s “Party of Five” and UPN’s “Star Trek: Voyager”? Don’t bet on it.

****

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“EZ Streets” 10-11 p.m. CBS. Premiere TBA

The premise: Ken Olin plays a police detective determined to prove that his murdered partner wasn’t corrupt. Jason Gedrick is an ex-con just released from jail for a robbery committed by the feared head (Joe Pantoliano) of a crime syndicate. Posing as a dirty cop brings Olin together with a shady lawyer (Debrah Farentino) and a new superior (John Finn). Olin and Gedrick eventually are destined to meet, but until that day they will work on opposite sides of the law.

The prospects: Moody, atmospheric and densely plotted, the two-hour pilot from Paul Haggis (“Due South,” “thirtysomething”) is not EZ to track. If viewers are turned off, the beneficiaries will be “Law & Order” and “PrimeTime Live.”

THURSDAY / “Moloney” 9-10 p.m. CBS. Premieres Thursday

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The premise: Peter Strauss, the wealthy one in “Rich Man, Poor Man,” moves from mini to series as Nick Moloney, a police psychiatrist whose cases range from petty crooks to cops who have crossed the line. Ronald Bass, an executive producer of ABC’s “Dangerous Minds,” holds the same title on this hourlong drama.

The prospects: Prime-time wanna “Cracker”? Some may draw comparisons to the first-rate British drama with Robbie Coltrane as a sharp shrink. Beyond that, Strauss must be a Sad Man because his first series has fallen into the slot opposite NBC’s “Seinfeld.” If anything shrinks each week, it will be the viewership.

****

“Suddenly Susan” 9:30-10 p.m. NBC. Premieres Thursday

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The premise: Newly single after leaving her fiance standing at the altar (“If I don’t learn to stand on my own now, I never will”), Brooke Shields’ magazine writer approaches life and love from a fresh perspective in San Francisco.

The prospects: NBC recast and reshot the original pilot set at a publishing house, with Judd Nelson and Barbara Barrie joining the cast as Susan’s boss and grandmother. No matter. With the coziest, most coveted slot on TV between “Seinfeld” and “ER,” Shields’ new producers could botch the job and still reach the Top 10 every week.

FRIDAY / “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” 8:30-9 p.m. ABC. Premieres Sept. 27

The premise: Given the title, we know Sabrina (Melissa Joan Hart) is no average adolescent. In fact, it’s up to her eccentric aunts to hone the 16-year-old’s emerging powers, which makes small-town life difficult when no one else is in on the secret. No one, that is, except Salem, a wily warlock doing penance as a household cat.

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The prospects: The first of two new kid-friendly comedies in the network’s revamped TGIF block, “Sabrina” ought to scare up oodles of youngsters without so much as a twitch of the nose. And the casting of Hart, who built a following in “Clarissa Explains It All,” is a good thing.

****

“Everybody Loves Raymond” 8:30-9 p.m. CBS. Premiered Sept. 13

The premise: Comic Ray Romano’s title character is a stand-up guy. He’s a Long Island sports columnist with a warm wife (Patricia Heaton), three children and meddling parents (Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts) who live across the street. Ray can’t tell the folks, who constantly drop in, that his wife wants a little privacy. And why shouldn’t she, since Ray’s aging dad has a bad habit of smelling the twins’ heads. As pop puts it: “I’m sucking in the Fountain of Youth.”

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The prospects: “Raymond” probably won’t grow old on the schedule, primarily because it’s so bland. The cast, which includes Brad Garrett as a 40-year-old brother who eats Fruit Loops, isn’t loopy enough.

****

“Clueless” 9-9:30 p.m. ABC. Premieres Friday

The premise: Spoiled, shallow Cher (Rachel Blanchard) makes the transition to TV in a spinoff of Alicia Silverstone’s hit movie about a Beverly Hills teen. Much of the film’s Cherspeak remains ntact--"duh,” “word,” “whatever"--as do the characters, from best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) to teachers Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan). In the pilot, Cher’s father (Michael Lerner) puts her on a tight budget. Will that foil future spending sprees? As if ...

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The prospects: We can think of better titles for this slug. How about “Brainless,” “Charmless” or “Witless”? And how do we feel about its possible triumph over new dramas on CBS and Fox? One word: Ewwwwwww!

****

“Mr. and Mrs. Smith” 9-10 p.m. CBS. Premieres Friday

The premise: Scott Bakula takes another quantum leap as an operative for a private security outfit whose rules forbid him to know personal details about his partner. Said partner is Mrs. Smith (Maria Bello), a fearless blond who uses sex as a weapon (“It has a way of keeping people from thinking clearly”). For his part, man-of-action Mr. Smith fires weapons and latches onto cars before losing his grip. “OK, Superman I’m not,” he says. No argument there.

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The prospects: The Smiths have a rival date with “Dateline NBC,” which could prosper once “The X-Files” shifts to Sundays. Bakula never scored big numbers opposite Dean Stockwell on “Quantum Leap,” so pairing him with a woman of equal mettle is a shrewd attempt to capitalize on his sex appeal. Will the strategy pay off? If it doesn’t, the network is doomed to take a giant leap backward on Fridays.

****

“Millennium” 9-10 p.m. Fox. Premieres Oct. 25

The premise: Gravel-voiced Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), a former homicide investigator, catches serial killers by experiencing dark visions of their heinous crimes. “It’s my gift. It’s my curse. That’s why I retired,” he explains. Back in Seattle, where he buys a bright yellow house for his wife (Megan Gallagher) and daughter as their sanctuary from evil, Black soon finds himself on the trail of another psychopath. With help from a consulting firm composed of former law enforcers named the Millennium Group, Black sets out to make the Pacific Northwest a safe place to live.

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The prospects: Set to premiere after the World Series, this disturbing drama from “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter is at once edgy and unsettling. It is also one of the fall’s most compelling, well-crafted hours, which begs a more relevant question in these times of violence and paranoia: Do we really need this?

SATURDAY / “Dark Skies” 8-9 p.m. NBC. Two-hour debut Saturday

The premise: After taking a job on Capitol Hill in the early ‘60s, idealistic John Loengard (Eric Close) reluctantly signs on with a covert government operation covering up the earthly presence of aliens. But as the two-hour pilot ends, the plot takes a different turn in which the hero and his girlfriend (Megan Ward) are on the run.

The prospects: The blockbuster status of “Independence Day” may generate early interest in this contrived sci-fi series taking on “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” which still makes house calls on CBS. Older viewers will recall that “The Invaders” floundered on ABC nearly 30 years ago. Can the aliens-around-us theme succeed the second time around?

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****

“Early Edition” 9-10 p.m. CBS. Premieres Sept. 28

The premise: “Homefront” alumnus Kyle Chandler is Gary Hobson, a stockbroker who knows about tomorrow’s headlines today. Huh? Yes, thanks to the delivery of the Chicago Sun-Times accompanied each morning by a friendly feline, Hobson has a 24-hour jump on the next day’s developments in news, sports and weather. An amiable Everyman, Hobson has no idea why he receives these extraordinarily early editions, and his closest friends (Fisher Stevens and Shanesia Davis) possess conflicting ideas on what to do with them. The cat is seemingly the only creature that can explain this remarkable turn of events, but he’s not mewing.

The prospects: Light and likable, this slice of whimsy from Bob Brush (“The Wonder Years”) assumes the former slot of “Touched by an Angel.” Whether it will be touched by comparable ratings is open to question. We suggest that Chandler check his Los Angeles Times each Wednesday for the Nielsen results.

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****

“The Pretender” 9-10 p.m. NBC. Premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. Moves to its regular slot Sept. 28

The premise: A pretender such as Jarod Russell (Michael T. Weiss) is a brilliant individual with the uncanny ability to master any profession. Russell, who walked out on the so-called Centre that exploited his genius, thereby can pass himself off as a doctor, lawyer or professor. Giving chase in the pursuit of this protagonist are Sidney (Patrick Bauchau), a sympathetic psychiatrist he worked with since childhood, and Miss Parker (Andrea Parker), a malevolent mercenary assigned to find him at any cost.

The prospects: If Russell became a programming executive for NBC, you can wager he wouldn’t have scheduled the show on a Saturday, the least-watched night of the week. Since Warren Littlefield controls that situation, all the cast can do is pretend its series is airing on another night.

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****

“Common Law” 9:30-10 p.m. ABC. Premieres Sept. 28

The premise: Latino comic Greg Giraldo is John Alvarez, a Harvard grad working for a law firm in Manhattan. Alvarez, who generally plays by the rules, has broken a big one by dating a colleague (Megyn Price) who has a secret admirer, the boss’ son. Throw in John’s best friend (a cloddish messenger who punches people), his father (a conservative barber) and a stereotypical secretary, and you have an ensemble that makes one yearn for the days of “L.A. Law.”

The prospects: Giraldo and his mates should sue ABC for dumping them in a Siberian slot where even the durable “Coach” can’t offer much aid as a lead-in. Yet given the lackluster writing on this sitcom, perhaps such common scheduling is all it deserves.

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****

“Love and Marriage” 9:30-10 p.m. Fox. Premieres Sept. 28

The premise: Blue-collar Jack (Tony Denison) and April Nardini (Patricia Healy) are a passionate couple who can’t find time for one another because of conflicting schedules and three offspring--a teen with five jobs, a rebellious daughter with red hair and a boy who’s cutting classes. Jack: “How are the kids?” April: “Well, the police didn’t call.” The Nardinis love Sinatra and initially hate their new neighbors, but what they really want is each other. April: “Here comes handsome.” Jack: “There stands gorgeous.” Viewer: “Where’s the remote control?”

The prospects: One of two new shows to get a title change since May (“Come Fly With Me” was the first choice), this uninspired sitcom could use further alterations in concept and scripts. “Married ... With Children,” the medium’s longest-running comedy, has been chosen as a lead-in, but this lost cause is bigger than the Bundys.

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****

“Profiler” 10-11 p.m. NBC. Premieres Saturday

The premise: Stop us if you’ve heard this: Samantha (Ally Walker) is a forensic psychologist who retired from a perilous job in which she pursued serial killers. An FBI agent (Robert Davi) anxious to tap her unique talent says “she’s got a real gift” for visualizing the elements of a crime. According to Samantha, she “can picture it happening.” And like Frank Black of “Millennium,” this hard-working heroine is being spied upon by an unseen foe.

The prospects: Despite multiple coincidences in plot and character, producers for both shows say no major changes are contemplated. “Profiler” is a world away from the soft “Sisters,” which was no match for “Walker, Texas Ranger” in recent years. The bottom line? NBC would like a higher profile against Chuck Norris.

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****

“Relativity” 10-11 p.m. ABC. Premieres Sept. 24 at 10 p.m. Moves to its regular slot Sept. 28

The premise: Attempting to sort out feelings about her boyfriend, the irresistible Isabel (Kimberly Williams) cries on the shoulder of Leo (David Conrad), a fellow Angeleno vacationing in Italy. Once the sensitive Leo tells Isabel that she has “the most incredible flume,” they exchange a series of passionate kisses, becoming more than mere traveling buddies along the way. And after returning to L.A., Isabel falls back into Leo’s arms despite an agreement to marry her fiance, who has bought the house of her dreams.

The prospects: Beguiling yet shameless, this love story comes from Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, producers of the critically acclaimed “thirtysomething” and “My So-Called Life.” In all likelihood, the nation’s critics also will rally behind “Relativity,” which is certain to be stomped by “Walker, Texas Ranger.” Would kudos alone be enough to save the series from obscurity? Well, try to find “My So-Called Life” on the fall slate.

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