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Disappointments outpace winners this fall

Sunday, October 01, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

After the summer of "Survivor," prepare for a fall of fatalities.

That's the fate awaiting most of the programs you'll read about in these pages. Few are likely to return for a second season.

The best of the bunch - NBC's "Ed" - is in a terrible time slot, and the rest, well, there's not a "West Wing" in the bunch. Or so it seems.

    Thumbs up, thumbs down

Every season TV critics love to write, "This is the worst TV season ever." I've never done that, and I won't go that far this year. But it's tempting.

The new fall series are a disappointing lot. Nothing jumps out the way "The West Wing," "Freaks and Geeks" and "Malcolm in the Middle" did last year at this time. Then again, one of my "best" picks, "Cold Feet," turned out to be a dog.

Keep in mind, the "best" series show the most potential, while the "worst" shows appear unsalvageable.

With that margin for error in mind, here are the lists in alphabetical order:


"Bette" (CBS)


"Deadline" (NBC)

"Ed" (NBC)

"Gilmore Girls" (The WB)

"Grosse Pointe" (The WB)

"Welcome to New York" (CBS)


"Dark Angel" (Fox)

"The $treet" (Fox)

"The Trouble With Normal" (ABC)

"Tucker" (NBC)

"Yes, Dear" (CBS)

- Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor


Most of the following capsule reviews are based on viewing of the pilot episode only. Some series improve markedly after the first episode (I'm hoping this will be so for ABC's "Gideon's Crossing"), and other times they tank (will future episodes of CBS's "Bette" be as funny?).

It's too early to tell definitively which of these programs will be long-term winners or losers. But they leave this initial impression: Viewers are already the losers.


"Ed" (8 p.m., NBC): This comedy-drama deserves to be a quirky hit, but it's more likely to be a noble flop, given its unforgiving time slot. Ed Stevens (Tom Cavanagh) loses his job as a high-powered Manhattan attorney the same day he discovers his wife sleeping with the mailman. He moves back to his hometown of Stuckeyville (somewhere in the Midwest), which is filled with lovable oddballs. There he falls in love with the prettiest girl (Julie Bowen) in his high school class and after just a single kiss buys the town bowling alley with dreams of marrying her and starting a new life. The humor is off-the-wall funny: One of Ed's kooky bowling alley employees suggests a way to draw business: "Fill the place with whores ... fun, wholesome, Disney-looking whores." With a line like that, it's no surprise David Letterman serves as one of the show's executive producers with Squirrel Hill native Jon Beckerman. (Premieres Oct. 8)

"Hype" (9 p.m., The WB): You know how some of the sketches on "Saturday Night Live" bomb right out of the gate and yet they keep going? On this new sketch show, some of the skits also bomb immediately, but at least producers have the good sense to keep them short. Alternately inspired (an "American Beauty" parody), simply crude (Bill Clinton gyrating on a bench with Monica Lewinsky's picture on it) or just dumb (Britney Spears passing gas in front of her lover, Prince William), "Hype" is definitely a hit-or-miss affair. But when it effectively skewers its target ("Dead Hollywood Squares"), this show's worthy of a little hype. (Premieres Oct. 8)

"Nikki" (9:30 p.m., The WB): Cute comedy about a Las Vegas dancer (Nikki Cox) married to a pro wrestler (Nick von Esmarch) with an interfering mother (Christine Estabrooke). Though he's of imposing stature, von Esmarch is a big softy. And while the premise is strictly low class, the comedy is middle of the road, coming as it does from "Drew Carey Show" creator Bruce Helford. (Premieres Oct. 8)


"Boston Public" (8 p.m., Fox): David E. Kelley leaves loony lawyers behind in favor of touched teachers. Chi McBride plays the principal of a Boston high school beset by problems ranging from unruly students to troubled (and troublesome) instructors. The show boasts an impressive cast - including Anthony Heald and Loretta Devine - but too often in the pilot Kelley simply reaches into his grab bag of oddities instead of allowing the comedy to come from the characters. A show about heroic teachers would be welcome in prime time, but Kelley needs to tone down the gimmicks and give viewers reason to care about these people. (Premieres Oct. 23)

"Tucker" (8:30 p.m., NBC): Here's everything you need to know about this comedy: There's an erection joke within the first two minutes. This crude "Malcolm in the Middle" knock-off, complete with voice-over narration and direct address to the camera by its young star, tries way too hard to be funny and falls on its face. Noelle Beck stars as a single mom who moves with her 14-year-old son, Tucker (Eli Marienthal), into the home of her snobby sister, Claire (Katey Segal). Tucker must share a room with his ruffian cousin Leon (Nathan Lawrence) while lusting after the girl next door (Alison Lohman). Tucker tells her: "Oh, believe me, if I had a feminine side, I'd never stop touching it." Give me "Malcolm" instead of this slop any day. (Premieres tomorrow)

"Yes, Dear" (8:30 p.m., CBS): Standard-issue sitcom about off kilter couples. Jean Louisa Kelly and Anthony Clarke play nervous nellie, conservative parents who watch over their child like he's, well, a precious child. Liza Snyder and Mike O'Malley (yes, he's back) play lackadaisical parents who think it's great the TV can baby-sit their kids. Clarke ("Boston Common") is always likable, but this sitcom is as bland as they come. (Premieres tomorrow)

  Premiere dates

Curious about when you can see new episodes of your favorite shows? Here's a list of every returning series and its premiere date:

"Ally McBeal" - Oct. 23
"America's Most Wanted" - already premiered
"Angel" - already premiered
"Becker" - Oct. 9
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - already premiered
"Charmed" - Thursday
"City of Angels" - Oct. 12
"Cops" - already premiered
"Daddio" - tomorrow
"Dateline NBC" - Oct. 8
"Dawson's Creek" - Wednesday
"Dharma & Greg" - Oct. 10
"Diagnosis Murder" - Oct. 12
"The Drew Carey Show" - Wednesday
"ER" - Oct. 12
"Everybody Loves Raymond" - tomorrow
"Felicity" - Wednesday
"48 Hours" - Oct. 12
"Family Law" - tomorrow
"For Your Love" - Oct. 8
"Frasier" - Oct. 24
"Friends" - Oct. 12
"Futurama" - Nov. 5
"The Hughleys" - already premiered
"Jack & Jill" - January
"JAG" - Tuesday
"The Jamie Foxx Show" - Oct. 8
"Judging Amy" - Oct. 10
"Just Shoot Me" - Oct. 12
"The King of Queens" - tomorrow
"King of the Hill" - Nov. 5
"Law & Order" - Oct. 18
"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" - Oct. 20
"Malcolm in the Middle" - Nov. 5
"Moesha" - already premiered
"Nash Bridges" - Friday
"Norm" - Wednesday, then moves to Friday
"NYPD Blue" - January
"Once and Again" - Oct. 24
"The Parkers" - already premiered
"The PJs" - already premiered
"Police Videos" - Friday
"Popular" - already premiered
"The Practice" - Oct. 8
"Primetime Thursday" - Oct. 12
"Providence" - Oct. 20
"Roswell" - tomorrow
"Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" - already premiered
"7 Days" - Oct. 11
"7th Heaven" - tomorrow
"The Simpsons" - Nov. 5
"60 Minutes" - tonight
"60 Minutes II" - Oct. 10
"Spin City" - Oct. 18
"Star Trek: Voyager" - Wednesday
"The Steve Harvey Show" - Oct. 8
"That '70s Show" - Tuesday
"3rd Rock from the Sun" - Oct. 24
"Third Watch" - tomorrow
"Titus" - Tuesday10/3
"Touched by an Angel" - Oct. 8
"20/20" - Friday
"20/20 Downtown" - already premiered
"Two Guys and a Girl" - Friday
"Walker, Texas Ranger" - Saturday
"The West Wing" - Wednesday
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" - Tuesday
"Whose Line Is It Anyway?" - Oct. 12
"Will & Grace" - Oct. 12
"The Wonderful World of Disney" - Oct. 8
"WWF Smackdown" - already premiered
"The X-Files" - Nov. 5


"Deadline" (9 p.m., NBC): Oliver Platt stars as Wallace Benton, a rumpled newspaper columnist for a New York tabloid. Graduate students help him do research - and some sleuthing - as he searches for truth and a catchy headline. Despising journalists may be in vogue, but Platt is easy to like in the lead role. Still, it's the supporting cast that makes "Deadline" worth watching. Bebe Neuwirth plays Benton's editor, with Lili Taylor as the paper's gossip columnist and Hope Davis as Benton's estranged wife, who also works at the paper. Tom Conti steals the show as the paper's blustery, cantankerous owner. (Premieres tomorrow)

"Girlfriends" (9:30 p.m., UPN): Compared to most UPN sitcoms, "Girlfriends" is a peach, but in the larger TV scheme, it's a low-rent, less audacious "Sex and the City." Or a louder, less topical "Living Single." Four twentysomething women are the girlfriends of the title, with Joan (Tracee Ellis Ross, Diana's daughter) as the clear leader. The humor is less broad than "The Parkers," but the writing is nowhere near the quality of, say, "Frasier," whose Kelsey Grammer is an executive producer of "Girlfriends." (Already premiered)


"The Michael Richards Show" (8 p.m., NBC): Winner of the "Most Troubled New Series" award, the "Seinfeld" alum's new sitcom went through a complete overhaul after its original pilot was filmed last spring. Richards plays Vic Nardozza, a clumsy private investigator who works in an agency headed by William Devane. Other sleuths are played by Tim Meadows ("Saturday Night Live") and Bill Cobbs ("The Others"). No tape was available for review. (Premieres Oct. 24)

"Dark Angel" (9 p.m., Fox): Bored out of my gourd. Driven to distraction. Fox's post-apocalyptic futuristic funk from James Cameron ("Terminator" movies, "Titanic") and Charles H. Eglee ("Murder One") is a tedious affair about a genetically engineered young woman (Jessica Alba) who escaped from her captors but not her past. So we have a lead character who can move like The Flash and puts on a steely facade that hides a caring giver underneath. Snore. In the two-hour pilot, she hooks up with a guy (Michael Weatherly) who pirates the airwaves to disseminate the truth to a post-nuclear society. Wake me when it's canceled. (Premieres Tuesday)

"DAG" (9:30 p.m., NBC): One of the president's secret service agents (David Alan Grier) dives the wrong way during an assassination attempt and gets busted down to guarding the first lady (Delta Burke) in this White House sitcom (think: "The Wacky West Wing"). It's sort of "Guarding Tess: The Series," but surprisingly funny and even moving in a few scenes. Burke is perfectly cast as the first lady and she has nice chemistry with Grier, whose wrong-way dive is a gut-buster. (Premieres Oct. 31)

"The Geena Davis Show" (9:30 p.m., ABC): At least this sitcom is not as embarrassing as Geena Davis' last TV gig, hosting the 1999 Oscar pre-show. In this self-titled sitcom, Davis stars as a Manhattan career woman who gets engaged to a widower (Peter Horton) with two children. Conflict ensues when she can't sing the family's songs properly and when the teen-age boy (John Daley of "Freaks and Geeks") sees her in a skimpy night shirt. It's not original or funny, but it ought to retain viewers from its lead-in, "Dharma & Greg." (Premieres Oct. 10)


"Bette" (8 p.m., CBS): Self-referential and filled with inside jokes galore, this sitcom starring Bette Midler as a variation of herself is a hoot and a half. Whether subsequent episodes can keep up the hilarity remains to be seen, but Midler willingly and gleefully teases her image and her fans. In the best sequence Midler, grasping at youth, tries to get down with the Kid Rock song "Bawitdaba," which morphs into a traditional Midler tune in the style of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Joanna Gleason plays Midler's manager, and Kevin Dunn stars as her husband. (Premieres Oct. 11)

"Titans" (8 p.m., NBC): Still sad about the cancellation of "Melrose Place"? Desperate for a new "Dynasty"? "Titans" may be your salvation, an excessively cheesy family-centered soap (from Aaron Spelling, natch). Divorced mom (Victoria Principal) and dad (Perry King) live across the street from one another in Beverly Hills. The action begins when golden son Chandler (stone-faced Casper Van Dien) returns home from Navy duty to discover his lover (Yasmine Bleeth) is engaged to dad ("It was a missile strike," Dad says of their love affair). Laughable in its intentional (or is it?) badness, the show needs to zip along faster. Why pause for an emotional moment when there's no reason to care about these disposable characters? (Premieres Wednesday)

"Normal, Ohio" (8:30 p.m., Fox): A runner-up for the "Most Troubled New Series" award, John Goodman's return to sitcoms as a gay single dad has been completely re-thought since its original pilot. Goodman's still gay as William "Butch" Gamble Jr., and he still has an adult son, but the entire supporting cast changed (Anthony LaPaglia is out, Joely Fisher is in). Fisher plays Butch's sister, the single mother of two teen-agers. The new first episode was not available for review at press time. (Premieres Nov. 1)

"Welcome to New York" (8:30 p.m., CBS): After a slow start this comedy about an Indiana weatherman who gets a job in New York eventually kicks into gear. Jim Gaffigan stars as the weatherman with Christine Baranski as the station's dictatorial but insecure news director. Gaffigan represents most viewers, while Baranski's character is the elitist media snob. Some of Gaffigan's humor may be too subtle for prime time, but his pairing with Baranski works well, and Rocky Carroll scores points as an arrogant news anchor. After the original pilot was filmed, Sarah Gilbert ("Roseanne") was added to the cast as Baranski's assistant. (Premieres Oct. 11)

"The $treet" (9 p.m., Fox): The young turks of Wall Street populate this new drama from Darren Star ("Melrose Place"), but since the market has been down most of the year, it already feels dated. Tom Everett Scott ("That Thing You Do!") stars as the lead broker, who dumps his fiancee but is sure to hook up with his company's new marketing executive, played by Jennifer Connelly. The characters are mostly odious, although the premiere gets points for vile creativity by inventing a company that peddles "semen and eggs of Ivy League graduates" over the Internet. Fox, feel free to kick "The $treet" to the curb. (Premieres Nov. 1)

"Gideon's Crossing" (10 p.m., ABC): Andre Braugher is a terrific actor, but he's trapped in a medical drama that flatlines due to its own self-importance. Quiet and moody (everyone speaks in hushed tones), the show is bathed in white light and filled with platitudes ("A doctor is always in control," Braugher says, "except when he's not"). It's got the feel of a Zwick-Herskovitz show ("thirtysomething," "Once and Again"), only they're not involved. And the secondary characters here are a lot less interesting, getting upstaged in the pilot by a guest star. Braugher plays a widower still grieving the death of his wife from cancer. He pours his grief into healing others as a compassionate doctor. "Gideon's Crossing" is admirable in its intent, but that can't make up for a dull viewing experience. (Previews 10 p.m. Oct. 10; day and time slot premiere Oct. 18)


"Gilmore Girls" (8 p.m., The WB): A young single mother (Lauren Graham) and her teen-age daughter (Alexis Bledel) learn and grow together in a small town. The pilot makes too big a deal of the pair supposedly looking like sisters (they don't) and behaving like best friends. Some interesting family dynamics come into play when the mom has to deal with her wealthy, conservative parents. "Gilmore Girls" has potential, but Graham is surprisingly potty mouthed for a show created to appease advertisers seeking family-friendly programming. (Premieres Thursday)

"Cursed" (8:30 p.m., NBC): Despite the goofy premise, this show's pilot was surprisingly funny. Steven Weber plays Jack Nagle, who goes out on a blind date with a woman who talks a blue streak. When he politely dumps her at the end of the evening, she puts a curse on him. This leads to a string of bad luck that includes run-ins with a clown, his ex-girlfriend (Annie Pietz) and an overzealous security guard. Too bad "Cursed" is already living up to its title: NBC replaced the show's executive producers in mid-September. Not a good sign. (Premieres Oct. 26)


"The Fugitive" (8 p.m., CBS): See Dick run. Run, Dick, run! Dr. Richard Kimball (Tim Daly) is on the lam for the third time, chased by Lt. Gerard (Mykleti Williamson). This follows the 1960s series and the 1993 movie that starred Harrison Ford. The latest "Fugitive" looks big budget (the pilot supposedly cost $6 million), but it's also tedious. Sure, there are some dramatic moments and a couple of exciting (and bloody-gross) action sequences. But with an anthology framework and only two characters, it's hard to imagine caring enough about these guys to tune in every week. That structure worked in the '60s, but I'm not convinced it will take off today. (Premieres Friday)

"Level 9" (8 p.m., UPN): People bang at their keyboards feverishly in this action-drama about a secret government agency that investigates computer crime. It's a team made up of reformed hackers and cyber geeks who are joined by an L.A. cop (Tim Guinee) until he's replaced in the second episode (Guinee's gone). Despite its pedigree (John Sacret Young of "China Beach" is one of the executive producers), "Level 9" won't be No. 1 in anything. (Premieres Oct. 27)

"Grosse Pointe" (8:30 p.m., The WB): This satire, set behind the scenes of a "90210" type show, comes stocked with "90210"-types (look, it's the Shannen Doherty character!). Darren Star, who created "90210," pokes fun at his own invention in "Grosse Pointe," which offered the funniest pilot of the season. But will future episodes be able to sustain the spoof? (Already premiered)

"The Trouble With Normal" (8:30 p.m., ABC): Remember the divorce support group sitcom "Dear John"? Imagine the same show, but about a group of paranoid people. And not as funny. "Trouble With Normal" stars Jon Cryer, Paget Brewster and David Krumholtz, all veterans of failed sitcoms, and their luck is unlikely to change. Few people will be watching "Trouble" because it airs as part of ABC's ill-conceived Friday night adult comedy block, which replaces TGIF. (Premieres Friday)

"C.S.I." (9 p.m., CBS): The initials stand for "Crime Scene Investigators" who try to piece together what happens in crimes ranging from robbery to murder. Marg Helgenberger stars as single mom Catherine Willows, with William Petersen as her boss. Flashbacks that change throughout the course of the investigation re-create what might have happened at the crime scene. There also are a few extreme close-ups, including one of a bullet entering a body and another of a piece of hair. Though the cases are of some interest, the characters are not. (Premieres Friday)

"Freakylinks" (9 p.m., Fox): Some of the guys behind "The Blair Witch Project" created this series, but don't worry, it only uses hand-held video cameras for a few scenes. Ethan Embry ("That Thing You Do!") stars as Derek Barnes, who took over a Web site called freakylinks.com after his brother's suicide. An e-mail reveals his brother may not be dead, and Derek embarks on a quest to figure out what really happened (it has something to do with the lost colony on Roanoke Island and evil forces) while helping others solve their own mysteries. It's freaky and spooky in some scenes, but also a little listless. "Freaklylinks" might make a great one-shot movie, but the mix of episode styles - some stand-alone, some that advance Derek's quest - will frustrate fans of sci-fi shows with mythology arcs. (Premieres Friday)

"Freedom" (9 p.m., UPN): "They were prisoners before they were patriots," says the announcer in promos for this drama about a group of martial arts-skilled resistance leaders after a military coup. You know this one is going to be a ratings hit in Idaho. Bodhi Elfman (husband of "Dharma & Greg" star Jenna Elfman) plays one of the "Freedom" fighters out to win back America. The original pilot was completely scrapped, and the new first episode was not available for review at press time. (Premieres Oct. 27)

"Madigan Men" (9:30 p.m., ABC): This one could have been a winner. If only it was filmed single camera style - it has that kind of rhythm and comes from "Sex and the City" writer Cindy Chupack - and wasn't part of this destined-to-fail lineup. Gabriel Byrne stars as a newly divorced New York architect who raises his teen-age son while dealing with his aphorism-spouting father (Roy Dotrice), who visits from Ireland and decides to stay. Dotrice is especially winning, but the subtle humor falls flat in front of a way-loud studio audience. (Premieres Friday)


"That's Life" (8 p.m., CBS): Another show about a thirtysomething woman who ditches her long-term boyfriend and returns to college. Although this comedy-drama's premise sounds like the godawful Fox show "Costello" from a few seasons back, it's mercifully better. Heather Paige Kent stars as a woman from a raucous Italian family (Ellen Burstyn plays the mom, Paul Sorvino is the dad), who indulges in "Ally McBeal"-like imagination sequences. "That's Life" captures the ethnic eccentricities of "The Sopranos" without the profanity or violence. (Previews tonight at 8, day and time slot premiere Saturday)

"The District" (10 p.m., CBS): Craig T. Nelson stars as a newly-installed police commissioner in Washington, D.C., a city beset by crime and a scandal-plagued mayor. No, this isn't another reality show. It's a decent drama with racial politics playing a prominent role. Jayne Brook ("Chicago Hope") plays the deputy mayor and Roger Aaron Brown is the chief of patrol who expected to get the top job and he's not a happy copper. There were some concerns about the "white guy saves the black folks" theme of the pilot. Producers promised to re-cast the mayor and make him less Marion Barry-like. (Premieres Saturday)

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