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Tuned In: Fall season's new shows won't take any chances

Thursday, July 11, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

After watching almost all the premiere episodes of the new fall series, this much is clear: There's no shortage of programming trends this fall -- they're just not original.

Last year's batch of programs was more scattershot, and, frankly, that yielded better results.

This fall can be summed up in three words repeated and rearranged in as many ways possible: cops and docs, docs and cops. There's also a healthy dose of nostalgia shows that look back on gentler times. Beyond that, there's not a lot of variety in the fall lineups.

It's not that this year's crop of shows is bad. They're just overly comfortable. For some viewers, that will come as a relief. For others, it means another reason to keep the TV turned off.

A year ago, the networks were taking chances, particularly Fox with "24," "The Bernie Mac Show," "The Tick" and "Undeclared." Only the first two of those shows are back. This year, Fox has retreated to its ribald roots, with at least one crass comedy in the style of "Married ... With Children."

NBC has little to crow about with its new sitcoms (not a "Scrubs" in the bunch), and ABC is unlikely to escape its ratings doldrums anytime soon. CBS will probably have some success with its "CSI" clones, but copies are hardly innovative.

Beginning tomorrow, I'll attend the summer Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., where I'll have access to the stars, writers and producers of the new series. It's also when network executives will brag about what a great development season they had, blowing enough smoke to send critics away in coughing fits.

I packed a gas mask.

This year, The WB can rightfully claim to have the best development, beginning with -- and it shocks me to type this -- its remake of "Family Affair." Starring Tim Curry as a more erudite Mr. French, the show is funny and equally entertaining for adults and children.

Other winning WB shows include the slightly dark family drama "Everwood," the grrl-powered superhero show "Birds of Prey" and the time-travel comedy "Do Over."

As in years past, the press tour likely will precipitate another punctuation crisis over a show's title.

Following on the heels of Fox's "That '70s Show" (originally announced as "That 70's Show") and CBS's "Ladies Man," which never did get the possessive apostrophe it needed, NBC unveils "Good Morning Miami," which really should be "Good Morning, Miami." We'll see if producers take any steps to improve their punctuation. While they're at it, they ought to work on the show, too.

'Robot' premieres

Whatever happened to "Whatever Happened to Robot Jones?"?

That's the Cartoon Network short created by 1992 Upper St. Clair High School grad Greg Miller that competed for a spot on the network's schedule in August 2000 as part of an audience selection.

"Robot Jones" didn't win, but executives liked it enough to make it a series anyway. Six half-hour episodes begin airing 9:30 p.m. Fridays starting July 19.

In a phone interview last week, Miller said Cartoon Network executives liked the original "Robot Jones" and asked him to do a second pilot. A few months after that was completed, they gave him the green light to take the show to series. Production began last July.

Each episode will consist of two 11-minute stories. Both pilots will air during the six-week run, but not as the series premiere.

Miller said the second pilot used more color in the backgrounds and had tighter, smoother drawing. The show has a retro look reminiscent of the old "Schoolhouse Rock!" cartoons.

"That was the stuff I loved watching as a kid," Miller said. "And that's kind of the way I draw."

With only six episodes produced, Miller is waiting to hear if Cartoon Network will want more.

"I think they're waiting to see what the public thinks once it airs," he said. "It's such a different show from everything else they've made."

Anchor returns

Channel 11 weekend anchor Jodine Costanzo returns from maternity leave Sunday. On May 18 she gave birth to a son, Richard James.


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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