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'Deadline' arrives hot off the presses

Monday, October 02, 2000

Among new series premiering tonight, NBC's "Deadline" deserves to have the highest circulation figures (that's newspaper talk for "highest ratings").

This newspaper drama crackles. But "Law & Order" fans be warned: Although "Deadline" comes from producer Dick Wolf, don't expect the plots to match the high standard of "L&O." The stories here are passable, but nothing special. "Deadline" (9 p.m., WPXI) delivers because of its cast.

Oliver Platt stars as Wallace Benton, who writes a column called "Nothing But the Truth" for the fictional New York Ledger. Platt scores as a nattily attired journalist who still manages to look rumpled thanks to his distinctively pudgy face.

Bebe Neuwirth plays Nikki Masucci, the tabloid's managing editor and Benton's boss. Tom Conti is Si Beekman, the eccentric owner who barks out orders and battles with the liberal newsroom staff when they hedge about pursuing an investigation of a Democrat in the second episode.

"If this was a Republican we were discussing here, you'd all be bouncing up and down with glee like a bunch of monks in a whore house," Beekman says.

He's not tactful or classy, but the lines that come out of Beekman's mouth are, at the least, unpredictable.

The paper also has a gossip columnist (Lili Taylor) who gives Benton tips. Benton's estranged wife (Hope Davis) also works at the Ledger, though it's not clear in early episodes what exactly she does.

Tonight's premiere focuses on slayings at a fast food restaurant in Chicago that resemble a similar incident in New York years earlier. Benton advocated the death penalty for the men convicted in the New York case, but now he's having second thoughts about their guilt. Naturally, they're on death row with only three days to live. With a trumped-up plot like this, it's clear "Deadline" is more sensational and less realistic than "Law & Order."

In addition to writing a column, Benton works with journalism graduate students and often enlists them in investigations, especially since he doesn't own a car. Why doesn't he just use one of the paper's pool cars?

Never mind, this isn't a critique of the show as reflective of reality, just as entertainment. As such, "Deadline" rolls off the presses in good shape.



"Yes, Dear" (8:30 p.m., CBS)

Do yourself a favor. If your spouse turns the channel to this show, gently say, "No, Dear," and steal the remote control. Run and lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to. You'll be doing the right thing.

This bland sitcom about two couples with children -- one couple is overly concerned about their child, the other couple is irresponsible -- contains predictable humor and jokes that aren't as cute as the writers think they are.

When the neurotic parents try to get their infant to eat by downing some baby food themselves, they react by (choose one):

a) gagging

b) making a face

c) doing a spit take

d) all of the above

If you guessed "d," you too could write for this cruddy comedy.

"He could just sit in front of the TV all day and never say a word," the worried mom says.

"I know," the lazy mom replies. "Isn't it great?"

That's just the first of two "jokes" about using TV to baby-sit kids. Funny, I didn't laugh.

In tonight's premiere, the guys take the kids to a park, but end up at a casino. Next week there's much debate about how to get one of the kids to stop breast feeding, which provides myriad opportunities for obvious nipple jokes.

What's really sad is the track record of the show's stars: Mike O'Malley ("The Mike O'Malley Show") and Jean Louisa Kelly ("Cold Feet") are fresh off flops from last season. Liza Snyder ("Jesse") and Anthony Clark ("Boston Common") come from series that lasted just two seasons.

Actually, I feel badly for Clark. I actually liked "Boston Common" (some critic had to), which now looks like "Frasier" compared to "Yes, Dear."



"Daddio" (8 p.m., NBC)

There's no two ways about it: "Daddio" remains baddio.

This sitcom -- about a Mr. Mom who quit his job to raise his kids while his wife works -- was a surprise midseason hit when it aired after "Friends" last spring. Now that it's in an unprotected time slot, expect to see it fail quickly.

Although it's admirable to see a network put on a sitcom that emphasizes the importance of eating together as a family, "Daddio" does no favors to its positive message because it's so horribly written and painfully unfunny.

Star Michael Chiklis looks like he could break into a flop sweat at any moment while reciting his lines. He knows they're awful. When his young daughter looks embarrassed about the way her father behaves, you have to wonder if she's acting or if she's just embarrassed to be involved in this show.

"Daddio" requires a 30-minute investment on the part of viewers. The highlights of tonight's episode are a Donny Osmond guest appearance and an in-joke reference to Eastland Academy (the school on "Facts of Life"). That's too little return on anyone's investment.



"Roswell" (9 p.m., The WB)

The WB's show about alienated teen-agers who are aliens begins its second season with a wink and more smiles than it exhibited in its dour first year.

The episode opens with alien Max (Jason Behr) visiting a shrink.

"However unique you think your problems may be, there are millions of teen-agers out there going through exactly what you're going through," the shrink says, oblivious to Max's alien nature. "Let me assure you... this is all normal teen-age stuff."

Not.

As last season ended, there were fears of attack from another alien civilization. So far that hasn't happened, but a new race of aliens -- the Skins -- are moving into Roswell.

This sounds like sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, but while visiting the shrink, Max gives a useful recap of last season, which should open the show up to new viewers.

The WB has been proclaiming "Roswell" more about sci-fi and less about teen angst this season, but in its first two episodes, "Roswell" strikes a good balance between the two. The second episode, in particular, does a nice riff on what it means to be a leader as Max studies John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis while he and his alien brethren undergo their own crisis.

Trouble begins tonight. A congresswoman (Gretchen Egolf) has her own suspicions about the presence of aliens in Roswell, and a new owner at the town museum threatens to cause trouble, too.

Swissvale native David Conrad returns in the season premiere. Although his character -- FBI agent Pierce -- was killed at the end of the first season, a shape-shifting alien protecting the teens continues to take on the form of Pierce, hence the need for Conrad.

In the past, the concept of "Roswell" was more tantalizing than the series itself. But in its first two episodes this season, "Roswell" is poised to finally fulfill its initial promise.


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum .



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