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From ABC, nine new series -- some with familiar faces

By Arthur Unger / September 16, 1986



New York

For the fall TV season, ABC is offering nine new series, one of them marking Lucille Ball's return to television, another starring Ellen Burstyn. Here's a rundown of the shows, based on previews, chats with producers, and industry talk. Remember, almost everything in the new season is subject to late changes, as the networks adjust schedules -- even program concepts -- in last-minute maneuvers to outsmart their competitors in a business where each ratings point means many millions of dollars in profits.

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Life with Lucy is one of the most eagerly anticipated shows of the season -- but anticipated with great apprehension. With so many Lucy reruns in syndication, the new Lucy will have to compete with a much younger and more agile screen image. And, even with the incomparable Gale Gordon once again serving as sidekick, can anybody really go home again in this fast-moving electronic age? Miss Ball has surrounded herself with talent from her own production company as well as Aaron Spelling Productions, but the real creative spirit behind it all is Lucy herself. At press time, the premi`ere was not yet available for screening, but this critic, like viewers the world over, is hoping Miss Ball will succeed in taking Saturday night back from the baby sitters.

The Ellen Burstyn Show, following Lucille Ball on Saturday, suggests ABC is really going after the mature crowd. Well, I fear the pairing will mainly make clear that Miss Burstyn, lovely as she is, can't hold a comic candle to Lucy. Nor even to Burstyn's co-star, Elaine Stritch, who plays -- can you believe it? -- her mother. The show is a three-generational family comedy, in which Burstyn plays an uptight college professor whose students study in her home, where her daughter and mother also live. The pilot I saw is being rewritten, reworked, and scheduled later on in the series. That's good.

Our World has the dubious honor of going up against ``The Cosby Show,'' NBC's big hit. This newsmagazine, with co-hosts Linda Ellerbee and Ray Gandolf, blends newsreel footage from recent American history with eyewitness interviews with those who participated in the events. Each broadcast aims to capture a moment in time and, according to Miss Ellerbee, ``It's supposed to be evocative rather than provocative.'' But, rest assured, if Ellerbee is involved, it will be stimulating. ``Our World'' sounds like one of the most interesting new shows on the ABC schedule. Now, if ``The Cosby Show'' will only move to another night . . . .

Heart of the City is still another cop story, this one with troubled teen-agers in the household. Robert Desiderio plays a widowed, crotchety Los Angeles policeman, impatient with incompetence. The several overlapping story lines are reminiscent of ``Hill Street Blues.'' The premi`ere episode is probably one of the best-written pilots of the season, and Desiderio plays the role with integrity and consistency. The question is: Can the show survive opposite ``Golden Girls''?

Sidekicks stars Gil Gerard (who played Buck Rogers a few seasons back) in an offbeat cop show about a policeman who becomes the guardian of an insightful, 10-year-old karate expert who, in turn, becomes his partner in crime-fighting. These two could make a winning pair, depending on the quality of the scripts -- and the viewer pull of ``Dallas,'' airing opposite them.