`Oldest Rookie' and `Wiseguy' enter police-drama lineup on TV

The Oldest Rookie CBS, tomorrow 8-9 p.m. Premi`ere of new police drama series. Wiseguy CBS, tomorrow 9-11 p.m. Network preview of new police drama series before its regular schedule begins. A tubby middle-aged cop stands inside an airliner on the runway, about to leap through the door and onto the inflatable exit slide used for emergencies. You can just see a sheepish ``What-am-I-doing here?'' near-grin cross his face. Then he takes the plunge.

That quick smile is the work of Paul Sorvino, whose self-kidding traits make this series one of the most palatable entries among the new season's inexorable barrage of police dramas. Sorvino's light touch is a winning note in the premi`ere epsiode, which traces the transition of his character - Ike Porter - from a cushy but no-respect public relations job on the police force to ``rookie'' street cop.

Ike's determined to make the switch because he's tired of snide comments by colleagues who say ```another civic lunch?'' In such semi-light comedy - that merciless test of acting skill - Sorvino is a delight.

Adding to Ike's reasons to get on the street is the death of a close colleague - part of the dark side of this series that often overshadows the comic touches. The saving grace is Sorvino's attitude - half wistful, half self-consciously clownish - as he bumbles through his new duties with a cocky young partner (D.W. Moffett) who makes an excellent foil for Sorvino's character.

In ``Wiseguy,'' a priest asks this question of his brother Vinnie's deadly and often unsavory way of life: ``How did we turn out so different - and so alike?''

Vinnie is a street-smart undercover police agent who has moled his way into the confidence of the mob. On screen it's a murky underworld of betrayal and graphic violence, and Vinnie has to embrace it to protect his cover.

Vinnie and his brother may conjure up the Cagney-O'Brien priest, tough-guy image, but this mod version of the classic mob story has the priest wondering and the civilian philosophizing. The moody reflection sets this police-action format effectively apart from the ordinary.

This long preview has the Mafia trying to shake down a foreign gunrunning group, with explosions and lots of mayhem to remind you this is network prime time. Kenm Wahl makes a likable, Rocky-ish Vinnie, clean cut but sufficiently hoodish to be credible as a henchman in the organization he will spend the series trying to undermine.

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