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What's new on TV this fall. You can expect more drama and action-adventure, a dollop of new comedy, and a return to the variety format with the indomitable Dolly Parton.

By Alan BunceStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 9, 1987



Boston

WHAT'S that? You're tired of ``Cheers'' and ``Newhart'' reruns - good as they are? And other reruns - bad as they are? You say you're ready for new material? Take heart (I think). It's coming.

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How about a hopeful comic and a free-wheeling rock-music lover helping a widowed father raise his two small daughters? What about a figure from a cartoon who crosses into the real world - well, the prime-time version of the real world. Or a formal New England professor who finds himself running a New Orleans diner. Or - and this may be the topper - a half-human creature who periodically races through tunnels beneath New York City to save an ex-socialite lawyer from bad guys.

Yes, the Big Three networks' fall season looms, though not all of it as outlandishly as these formats suggest. Many series fall comfortably - perhaps too comfortably - into the comedy and action-adventure types you know so well. And most of the formats - from derivative to hoked-up to interesting - have the telltale ``maybe-this-will-work'' feel to them, as they vie for viewership at a time when network TV itself faces stiffening competition from cable, syndication, home video, the fledgling Fox Broadcasting Company, and other sources.

Although several shows start their regular runs the week of Sept. 21, lots of expanded ``previews'' as well as late-starters have fractured the notion of a traditional starting week. In brief:

Twenty-two regular new series will premi`ere, representing something over a quarter of the prime-time schedule: nine on CBS, eight on ABC, and only five on NBC, which, as last year's ratings king, is least eager to fool with the winning combination of its current schedule.

Just under half the prime-time schedule will be reshuffled.

``Drama'' - a generic term including action-adventure - remains the biggest category (particularly police shows, which are up significantly this year).

Comedy shows, the second biggest category, are also up this year, even though fewer new comedies are being introduced this season than last. Male characters will be more visible in these comedy formats, often as part of an unconventionally structured family unit.

The premi`ere of ABC's ``Dolly,'' starring Dolly Parton, marks the first time a network has attempted a weekly variety show since another country-music star - Barbara Mandrell - left the air five years ago.

The new shows (see times on complete schedule, next page):

Sunday

My Two Dads (NBC): An example of the untraditional-family theme. Two men of opposite type - a yuppie and an artist - share the upbringing of a 12-year-old girl. The question of just which one is the biological father is part of the format.

Dolly (ABC): Country star Dolly Parton spearheads the return of the weekly variety format, with music, dance, comedy, and celebrity spots.

Buck James (ABC): Dennis Weaver plays a slightly renegade surgeon, a cowboy at heart, who fights red tape and conformity inside and outside the Texas hospital where he works.

Monday

Everything's Relative (CBS): Two brothers - one an introverted grind, the other a high liver - form yet another variation on TV's ``contrasting-characters'' format. Anne Jackson plays their mother.

Tuesday

Jake and the Fatman (CBS): William Conrad is a tough California district attorney, and his undercover investigator is a luxury-loving young man whose style - you guessed it - contrasts sharply with his boss's.

J.J. Starbuck (NBC): Dale Robertson has the role of a wealthy, unconventional Texan, who travels the country in a Continental convertible adorned with steer horns, helping people in trouble.

The Law and Harry McGraw (CBS): Jerry Orbach stars as a Boston private eye in a cheap suit - he's often been seen on ``Murder, She Wrote'' - who's a nice guy under the brash exterior.

Thirtysomething (ABC): This brooding, socially conscious study centers on a suburban couple who face the realities of reconciling a family and two careers.

Wednesday

The Oldest Rookie (CBS): A middle-aged cop (Paul Sorvino) leaves his desk job to pound a beat again, finding himself an aging ``rookie'' working with a young - and difficult - ``veteran.''