Sunday, September 19, 1999

New this fall

        Here are TV Critic John Kiesewetter's previews of the 36 new fall shows:

        What:NBC drama about the president's spin doctors (communications staff). With Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, John Spencer (L.A. Law), Richard Schiff (Deep Impact), Allison Janney (Primary Colors).

        When: 9 p.m. Wednesday (Channel 9) against ABC's Drew Carey, CBS movie, WB's Roswell.

        Why it works:A realistic soap opera set inside the White House during a presidential campaign year from two great dramatists, Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, The American President) and John Wells (ER).

        Why it fails: You can't tell who does what for whom without an office flow chart, and drama seldom works at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

        What: ABC drama about a divorced mother (Sela Ward) and divorced dad (Billy Campbell) whose children don't want them to date.

        When:10 p.m. Tuesday (Channel 9) for six weeks, opposite Dateline NBC and Judging Amy, until NYPD Blue returns Nov. 9. Moves to Mondays in January after football season.

        Why it works: Many can relate to a hassles of divorce, particularly as portrayed with the sensitivity of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick (thirtysomething, My So-Called Life).

        Why it fails: Angry NYPD Blue fans don't give it a chance; viewers refused to invest in a show that will vanish November-December.

        What: NBC drama about New York firefighters, paramedics and police. Starring Michael Beach (ER), Eddie Cibrian, Bobby Cannavale, Kim Raver, Coby Bell and Jason Wiles.

        When: Debuts 10 p.m. Thursday (Channels 5, 22), then moves to 8 p.m. Sunday.

        Why it works: Mr. Wells skillfully combines the police, fire and paramedic formats into a terrific hour.

        Why it fails: Nine characters are too many to get to know; the drama audience at 8 p.m. Sunday is watching Touched by an Angel.

        What: WB drama about alien teen-agers in New Mexico. Stars Jason Behr (Dawson's Creek), Michael Guerin, Maria De Luca and Isabel Evans.

        When: 9 p.m. Wednesday (Channel 64) on Oct. 6, opposite Drew Carey, The West Wing, Get Real.

        Why it works: Following Dawson's Creek guarantees a huge teen audience, while sci-fi fans will enjoy the whodunnit aspect of these teens trying to find out more about the arrival of their species in 1947.

        Why it fails: Most sci-fi series can't maintain their quality on a weekly basis.

        What:Fox spoofs the movie industry with a crude but clever comedy about profane producer Peter Dragon (Jay Mohr from Jerry Maguire) whose colorful language is “bleeped” out. His best friends are a prostitute (Illeana Douglas) and his limo driver (Buddy Hackett).

        When: Pilot which debuted Thursday repeats at 9:30 p.m. today (Channels 19, 45) Another episode airs at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

        Why it works: It really is the funniest new fall sitcom, despite its TV-MA D-L-S rating (for mature audiences and unsuitable for children under 17, with profane language, sexual content and suggestive dialogue). I'd like it better on HBO, with The Sopranos and Sex in the City, instead of broadcast TV.

        Why it fails: Show business satires (Lateline, The Famous Teddy Z) can be too inside for the general public. Don't count on viewer protests to knock this show off the air; it never happened for Married... with Children or Jerry Springer.

        What:CBS' copy of Providence, about a young professional (Amy Brenneman) who returns home to New England. Amy is a family court judge and single mother who lives with her domineering mother (Tyne Daly) and brother (Dan Futterman).

        When: 8 p.m. today (Channels 12, 7). Moves to 10 p.m. Tuesday, opposite Dateline NBC, Once and Again.

        Why it works: A realism based on Ms. Brenneman's mother, a Hartford superior court judge. Providence proves a female-oriented drama can succeed.

        Why it fails: CBS lets it wither against Once and Again and NYPD Blue, instead of moving it to Monday and shipping Family Law to Tuesday.

        What:WB family drama about a Florida sheriff and single father (Gregory Harrison, Trapper John M.D., Falcon Crest) raising four boys — including 12-year-old white and black “cosmic twins” — and a run-away teen-age girl with his eccentric mother (Rue McClanahan, Golden Girls) in an old Florida motel.

        When: 9 p.m. Monday (Channel 64), opposite Ally McBeal, Everybody Loves Raymond, football and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

        Why it works:Brenda Hampton created Safe Harbor as a companion to follow her 7th Heaven drama.

        Why it fails: This hokey hotel clan lacks the genuine nuclear family warmth of 7th Heaven. And specially designed companion series seldom succeed.

        What:Weak CBS comedy about a furniture craftsman (Alfred Molina) working at home surrounded by women: his pregnant wife (Sharon Lawrence, NYPD Blue); ex-wife (Park Overall, Empty Nest); catty mother (Betty White); and two daughters.

        When: 8:30 p.m. Monday (Channels 12, 7), against 20/20, Veronica's Closet, 7th Heaven and Time of Your Life.

        Why it works:It's the only sitcom alternative to Veronica's Closet, which isn't saying much.

        Why it fails: The sex jokes grow tiresome before the second commercial break. Mr. Molina and Ms. White deserve much better.

        What: Law & Order spin-off about sex crime investigators. Starring Christopher Meloni (Runaway Bride), Mariska Hargitay, Dann Florek, Richard Belzer and Michelle Hurd.

        When:9 p.m. Monday (Channels 5, 22), opposite Ally McBeal, Everybody Loves Raymond, football and Safe Harbor.

        Why it fails: Men are watching football, and the heinous sex crimes are too grisly for women, who are watching Ally or Raymond anyway.

        Why it works: A testament to NBC's promotional campaigns.

        What:CBS drama about an attorney (Kathleen Quinlan from Apollo 13) whose law partner-husband dumps her, and takes their clients and associates. She starts over with a man-hating divorce specialist (Dixie Carter, Designing Women), a criminal attorney whose partner was indicted (Christopher McDonald) and an ambitious young friend (Julie Warner).

        When: 10 p.m. Monday, against Dateline NBC and football.

        Why it fails: Everything seems so manipulative, from the lingerie scene to the unlikely partnership with a shark and a snake. These L.A. lawyers will draw fewer viewers than L.A. Doctors did for CBS last year. Judging Amy deserves the plumb slot.

        Why it works: Ms. Quinlan strips to her underwear every week?

        What:UPN's Moesha spin-off with Countess Vaughn and Mo'Nique as mother-daughter college students.

        When: Debuted Aug. 30. Airs 8:30 p.m. Monday (Channel 25), against against Ladies Man, Veronica's Closet, 20/20 and 7th Heaven.

        Why it works:A good fit with Moesha, which may end after this season.

        Why it fails: Outlandish mom and daughter are too much of the same thing.

        What:Jaleel White's UPN sitcom after nine years as Steve Urkel. He plays a white-collar businessman who hangs out with a young married couple (Marissa Ribisi, Dave Ruby).

        When: Debuted Aug. 23. Airs 9 p.m. Monday (Channel 25), against Ally McBeal, Everybody Loves Raymond, football and Safe Harbor.

        Why it works:Grown up Mr. White had a better-than-average pilot in a woefully weak comedy year.

        Why it fails: It's on a woefully weak network.

        What:WB's animated series from Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein (The Simpsons) about young inner-city friends — the aspiring cartoonist (Wallace Langham, Veronica's Closet); his nerdy 17-year-old brother (Scott Menville); their roommate Posey (Anderson Township native Vicki Lewis, NewsRadio); and a gay couple in their late 60s.

        When: Debuts 9 p.m. Tuesday (Channel 64), then moves to 8 p.m. Fridays on Oct. 8 against The Hughleys, Kids Say the Darndest Things, Providence and The Badland.

        Why it works: If the creators deliver on their promise to skewer youth culture and “be the anti-Friends or anti-Felicity.” Look at the weak competition.

        Why it fails: It's tough to do cutting-edge satire in animation, which takes nine months to produce one show. Remember The Critic?

        What:Self-indulgent NBC comedy about a 30-year-old (Mike O'Malley) who talks directly to the camera about his carefree life with his slacker roommate “Weasel” (Mark Rosenthal), his best friends' marriage (Will Arnett, Kate Walsh or his old flame (Missy Yager).

        When: 9:30 p.m. Tuesday (Channels 5, 22), against Sports Night, 60 Minutes II, Party of Five and Angel.

        Why it fails: Can't imagine why anyone wants to spend time with these people.

        Why it works:People refuse to watch a truly quality show like ABC's Sports Night.

        What:Playwright Alan Ball's autobiographical ABC ensemble comedy about three guys living together in Brooklyn — the struggling artist (David Alan Basche); a married man who says he's gay (John Ducey); and a womanizer (Stephen Dunham) who doesn't know he has a teen-age daughter (Niesha Trout).

        When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday (Channels 9, 2), following Drew Carey, and against The West Wing, Star Trek: Voyager, Roswell and Get Real.

        Why it fails: Looks like a clone of ABC's Two Guys and A Girl and It's Like... You Know, as if they were worth copying.

        Why it works: It's the only sitcom in the time period. Hey, it worked for Veronica's Closet.

        What:Fox's family drama about a couple's marriage strained by their jobs and their straight-A daughter who wants to skip college, the skateboarding son who has his girlfriend spend the night in his bedroom; and a 15-year-old son arrested for being a peeping Tom. Starring Jon Tenney (Brooklyn South), Debrah Farentino (Equal Justice), Anne Hathaway, Eric Olsen and Jesse Eisenberg.

        When: 9 p.m. Wednesday (Channel 19, 45), against Drew Carey, The West Wing, Roswell, Star Trek: Voyager and a movie.

        Why it fails: Viewers don't think a teen-ager having sex without repercussions is real at all.

        Why it works: The tension in the Tenney-Farentino marriage may be the most realistic on TV.

        What:NBC comedy about a shy book editor (Neil Patrick Harris, Doogie Howser M.D.) working with a lunatic horror writer (Tony Shalhoub, The Seige, Wings). From writer Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me, Wings), who has a knack for crafting crazy comedies.

        When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday (Channels 5, 22), against Chicago Hope, Charmed, Action.

        Why it fails: Mr. Harris' neurotic character is the only likeable one in this motley crew.

        Why it works: It's on NBC between Frasier and ER. Duh!

        What:UPN's two-hour taped wrestling show.

        When: 8-10 p.m. Thursday, opposite NBC's “Must See TV,” Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Chicago Hope, Charmed, Popular and Wasteland.

        Why it works: The WWF has put UPN on the map, more than doubling ratings with teens and men.

        Why it fails: Eventually we tire of When Wrestlers Attack.

        What:Think of this as CBS' Six Million Dollar Man. When a middle-aged man dies, his brain is put into a perfect young body (Eric Close) designed by a government scientist (Dennis Haysbert). But he can't have contact with his wife (Margaret Colin).

        When: 8 p.m. Friday (Channels 12, 7), against Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Dateline NBC, Harsh Realm.

        Why it works: Clever action-comedy-drama-romance created by Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting).

        Why it fails: Horrible title, too confusing with Sela Ward's Once and Again.

        What:ABC's 15-year-old boy (Erik von Detten) in a house filled with women — his mother (Markie Post, Night Court); aunt (Jessica Capshaw, Steven Spielberg's stepdaughter); and three sisters.

        When: 9:30 p.m. Friday (Channels 9, 2), against For Your Love, Dateline NBC, Now and Again, Harsh Realm.

        Why it works: Kids glued to ABC's two-hour “TGIF” block don't have anything else to watch.

        Why it fails: Nothing rings true, like talk of “estrogen cults.” Maybe I'm jealous because my girlfriend at 15 didn't drive a Miata too.

        What:NBC drama about three Seatle couples, based on a British TV series. Starring Jean Louisa Kelly (Mr. Holland's Opus), David Sutcliffe, William Keane, Dina Spybey,Alicia Coppola and Anthony Starke.

        When: 10 p.m. Friday (Channels 5, 22), against 20/20 and Nash Bridges.

        Why it works: Soft relationship shows start slow. Cold Feet only survives if moved to 9 p.m., behind Providence.

        Why it fails: NBC thought Homicide: Life on the Street ratings were too low on Friday. Just wait.

        What:NBC's turns back the clock to 1980 for its high school drama about a brainy sophomore (Linda Cardellini, Boy Meets World) torn between the Mensa gang and Metallica fans. Comic relief comes from her freshman brother (John Daley) and his sci-fi pal (Samm Levine) who does a hilarious Captain Kirk.

        When: 8 p.m. Saturday (Channels 5, 22), against Early Edition, Cops and an ABC movie.

        Why it works: This charming little family drama could find an audiences on TV's least-watched night.

        Why it fails: It's on TV's least-watched night.

        What:ABC drama about young law-breaking private eyes starring Gina Gershon (Showgirls), Paula Marshall (Cupid), Dany Nucci (Titanic) and Paula Jai Parker. Created by Emmy-winner David E. Kelley (The Practice, Ally McBeal), though his involvement will be minimal.

        When: 9 p.m. next Sunday (Channels 9, 2), against The X-Files,CBS and NBC movies, and Jack & Jill.

        Why it fails: Mr. Kelley has more important things to do.

        Why it works: Blackout knocks CBS, Fox and NBC off the air.

        What:WB's romantic comedy about a woman (Amada Peet) who meets the man of her dreams (Ivan Sergei) in New York.

        When:9 p.m. next Sunday (Channel 64), following Felicity, and against The X-Files, Snoops,movies.

        Why it fails: It's going to place a distant fourth or fifth in a very tough time period.

        Why it works: Only if Felicity works at 8 p.m. — a huge if against Touched By An Angel, The Simpsons and Third Watch.

        What: Fox recycles old Ally McBeal hours into half-hour comedies with some new footage not used in the original broadcast.

        When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28 (Channels 19, 45), against Spin City, Just Shoot Me, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, JAG, Dilbert.

        Why it works: Can't guess, since Fox hasn't provided any previews.

        Why it fails: It's a rerun! Duh!

        What:CBS comedy about a fired Wall Street lawyer (Kevin Pollak, Grumpy Old Men) who joins his wife's (Nancy Travis, Almost Perfect) modest law practice, setting up office in the kitchen-supply room.

        When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 29 (Channels 12, 7), against Norm, Dateline NBC, Dawson's Creek and Beverly Hills 90210.

        Why it fails: Ms. Travis should have been the big-shot attorney forced to join Mr. Pollak's shoestring firm. Could be canceled faster than you can say Maggie Winters.

        WHY IT WORKS: You tell me, and we'll both know.

        What:WB high school drama about the rich snooty cheerleader (Leslie Bibb) whose dad marries the mother of a classmate (Carly Pope).

        When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29 (Channel 64), then moves to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, opposite Friends, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, WWF Smackdown!

        Why it fails: Even kids will see through these stereoptypes — vain cheerleaders, bully jocks and down-trodden outsiders. Plus the popular kids are watching Friends.

        Why it works:Two overweight students (Carmen Ferrara, Ron Lester) steal the show.

        What:Three hip-hop rappers share a California apartment in a sitcom UPN calls “The Monkees meets the Beastie Boys.” Starring Carmine Giovinazzo, Jake Busey and Dale Godboldo.

        When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30 (Channel 25), then moves to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday against It's Like... You Know, That '70s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

        Why it works:Hard to imagine, though TV critics have only seen a 10-minute clip about one guy breaking into a neighbor's apartment and killing her parrot.

        Why it fails: Buffy kicks butt.

        What:WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off about Angel the vampire (David Boreanaz) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) in Los Angeles.

        When: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5 (Channel 64), following Buffy and against Dharma & Greg, Will & Grace, Party of Five and The Strip.

        Why it works: A natural expansion for Buffy, one of the coolest shows on TV.

        Why it fails: May be too dark, and too serious, without Sarah Michelle Gellar around.

        What:Kevin Williamson's (Dawson's Creek) autobiographical drama about young college graduates in Manhattan experiencing “a second coming of age” before turning 30. Starring Marisa Coughlan (Teaching Mrs. Tingle), Rebecca Gayheart (Scream 2), Sasha Alexander, Eddie Mills, and Cincinnati native Jeffrey D. Sams (Cupid, Soul Food).

        When: 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7 (Channels 9, 2), against Frasier, Chicago Hope and Charmed.

        Why it works:Gullible young Dawson's Creek fans believe this mumbo-jumbo, except for the part about the 26-year-old virgin (Ms. Coughlan).

        Why it fails: You don't want these people in your house. Could be the biggest TV drama flop since Central Park West.

        What:CBS comedy about the girl in the penthouse (Paget Brewster, Friends) who falls in love with the doorman's son (Brian Van Holt), to the chargin of her filthy rich parents (Swoosie Kurtz, David Ogden Stiers).

        When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8 (Channels 12, 7), against Providence, Boy Meets World, The Badland.

        Why it fails: Ms. Kurtz's fans will be embarrassed by her boozy role, and the see-through characters.

        Why it works:CBS ditches the parents and focuses strictly on the cute young couple.

        What:Fox drama from Chris Carter (The X-Files, Millennium) about an Army veteran (Scott Bairstow) trapped inside a top-secret virtual reality combat simulator with another soldier (D.B. Sweeney).

        When: 9 p.m. Friday Oct. 8 (Channels 19, 45), against Dateline NBC, Now and Again, Sarbrina, the Teenage Witch.

        Why it works:Mr. Carter is due for another hit, and Fox will give him a chance to make this work.

        Why it fails: Since The X-Files moved, Fridays have been a harsh realm for sci-fi shows.

        What:UPN added this one-hour Las Vegas drama to the lineup when it shelved Secret Agent Man. Starring Sean Patrick Flanery (Young Indiana Jones) and Guy Torry as former cops working for a casino owner (Joe Viterelli, Analyze This).

        When: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12 (Channel 25), against Dharma & Greg, Will & Grace, Party of Five, Angel, 60 Minutes II.

        Why it works: Hard to say sight unseen, except for UPN's faith in creator Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard).

        Why it fails: It's on the weakest network and in one of the toughest time slots.

        What:Fox one-hour drama about a 19-year-old rookie cop (Sean Maher) in Philadelphia's worst neighborhood. Neither his friends (James Roday, Chad Lindberg) nor his co-workers (Michael Rispoli, Clifton Powell, Roselyn Sanchez) trust him.

        When: 8 p.m. Friday Oct. 15 (Channels 19, 45), against Providence, The Hughleys, Mission Hill.

        Why it works: It's the only male-oriented show in the time slot.

        Why it fails: The 18-34 target audience isn't home on Friday, which has been a dark hole on Fox for years.

        What:Jennifer Love Hewitt spin-off from Fox's Party of Five, with Sarah Merrin moving from San Francisco to New York. She hooks up with a struggling actress (Jennifer Garner, Felicity), a hairdresser (Diego Serrano), a waitress (Gina Ravera) and a musician who owns a used record store (Jonathon Schaech).

        When: 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25 (Channels 19, 45), against King of Queens, 20/20, Suddenly Susan and 7th Heaven.

        Why it works:Because Jennifer Love Hewitt is such a sweetheart.

        Why it fails: Fox has delayed the premiere a month, and scrapped the pilot, in which the hairdresser was a stockbroker; the struggling actress was a psychic; the musician was a grocery store clerk; and the waitress didn't exist. Who knows what it will look like.

        What:Fox's adaption of Cruel Intentions, about spoiled rich kids in a Manhattan prep school. Starring Robin Dunne, Amy Adams (Drop Dead Gorgeous), Sarah Thompson and Sean Patrick Thomas (Cruel Intentions).

        When: 8 p.m. Thursdays (Channels 19, 45) in late November or December, against Friends, Popular, WWF Smackdown!, Whose Line Is It Anyway?

        Why it works: Hard to imagine. In the premiere, the manipulative leader of the secret tribunal (Ms. Adams) tries to seduce her step-brother (Mr. Dunne).

        Why it fails: Get real!


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- New this fall
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