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Cable TV Previews: Cable networks ring in new episodes and series

Sunday, January 07, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

New year. New shows.

While the broadcast networks make their splashy debuts in the fall (and then sprinkle out replacement series throughout the winter), cable shows usually premiere new episodes in January or during the summer.

Here's a rundown of new cable programming hitting the air tonight:

"The Lot"

When: 10 tonight on American Movie Classics.

"The Lot"

AMC's Hollywood golden era comedy series returns at 10 p.m. tonight after a hiatus of more than a year, but the time away was well spent.

When four episodes of "The Lot" aired in August 1999 (they'll repeat today from 5:30 to 7 p.m.), the show was disjointed and couldn't decide whether it wanted to be sentimental and nostalgic or mean-spirited and cynical. Producers have settled on the latter, and "The Lot" is better for it.

Additional improvements can be found in the show's writing and the casting of Harriet Sansom Harris as a tart writer.

"I require absolute silence and Absolut vodka continuously," Harris' boozy writer tells her writing partner, formally sweet, now corrupted Charlie Patterson (Steven Petrarca).

Linda Cardellini, who starred in NBC's "Freaks & Geeks," returns as once sweet, now corrupted starlet June Parker.

Tonight, morally bankrupt studio executive Jack Sweeney (Perry Stephens) begins corrupting handsome extra Victor Mansfield (Victor Webster).

Are you sensing a pattern of corruption here?

As before, "The Lot" jumps all around the back lot of late 1930s-era Sylver Screen Studios, checking in with various characters, but it's not as disorganized as earlier episodes. Gossip columnist Letitia Devine, played by Holland Taylor, bookends each episode with dirt-dishing radio reports.

Judging by Sunday's season premiere (12 weekly episodes follow), "The Lot" has improved a lot.

"The Division"

When: 9 tonight on Lifetime.

"The Division"

Two episodes air starting at 9 tonight, and neither one does much to distinguish this Lifetime cop drama from the many police shows that have come before. It's about a squad full of women, but they encounter the same tired situations (one has a junkie sister, another doesn't get along with her new partner, etc.) their male counterparts faced before them.

Created by Deborah Joy LeVine ("Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman"), "The Division" stars Nancy McKeon, who can't escape the tomboy image she cultivated on "Facts of Life." Only now she's a tomboy cop and self-proclaimed slut.

Other top-notch actresses who aren't well served by LeVine's scripts include Bonnie Bedelia as the squad captain, Lisa Vidal (the cop with the wayward sister) and Lela Rochon Fuqua, who actually comes off best but is still saddled with being the organized cop to Tracey Neeham's messy cop with a chip on her shoulder.

"Monarch of the Glen"

When: 9 tonight on BBC America.


"Monarch of the Glen"

The British press called this charming light drama " 'Ballykissangel' with kilts," and it's a fairly apt comparison. Instead of odd townsfolk, "Monarch" focuses on one family, their servants and Glenbogle, the crumbling Scottish Highlands estate where they all live. The show airs at 9 on BBC America.

Prodigal son and novice restaurateur Archie (Alastair Mackenzie) returns home when his mother (Susan Hampshire) calls and leads him to believe his father (Richard Briers) has been gravely wounded in an accident. Turns out his eccentric father is fine, but the estate is in financial ruin.

Archie reluctantly stays on to help right Glenbogle's books, but it's clear he's falling in love with the beautiful countryside and a feisty local school teacher (Lorraine Pilkington).

Like "The Division," "Monarch" isn't groundbreaking, but it's a much better viewing choice thanks to beautiful scenery, a superb cast of whimsical characters and the show's all-around gentle spirit.


When: 10 tonight on HBO.


For something completely different, there's HBO's anything-but-gentle "Oz." Two new episodes of the prison drama offer contradictory evidence on the state of this gritty, brutal series.

On one hand, executive producer Tom Fontana ("Homicide: Life on the Street") never fails to devise new and surprising plot twists for this masochistic soap opera.

Tonight at 10, a TV news crew visits "Oz," a fairly typical storytelling device in series dramas ("M*A*S*H," "China Beach," "ER"). However, Fontana creatively integrates this standard plot with twists that tie up loose ends from last summer's season finale. Fontana also includes a welcome commentary on the baser nature of TV news.

In next week's episode, a boatload of refugees are put in Oswald State Correctional Facility for temporary holding, which is about as likely as a children's choir bunking down in Em City. It's another opportunity to put innocents in the pokey with the show's regular cast of heinous characters, leading to predictably horrific outcomes. Been there, covered our eyes at that. This repetition on "Oz" has bugged me for some time.

The continuing stories of the regular cast (Alvarez returns! Dr. Nathan is in love!) still make "Oz" worth viewing. New characters show promise, too, particularly Warden Glynn's chirpy new secretary, who adds a nice contrast to most of the gloomy prison staff.

But how many times can Fontana tell the story of a prisoner out to kill another prisoner before it becomes de rigueur and even dull?

Repetition is unavoidable in a prison setting, but it's a trap nonetheless. At 33 episodes and counting, I fear "Oz's" number may be up.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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