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Deja vu Has Starring Role In the Networks' New Shows

Many of the 36 series rely on formulas, but a few may wind up as big hits.

By Lisa Leigh Parney and Yvonne ZippStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / September 18, 1997


After three long months of reruns, Americans starved for fresh entertainment are heading for the couch to check out the new crop of fall television shows. With a mighty clicking of remotes, eager viewers across the country hope to find new favorites.

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But they are, for the most part, likely to be disappointed. While ABC's slogan proclaims "TV is good," viewers may find this increasingly difficult to believe.

Sticking with the tried, and in many cases, the tired, networks are serving up formulaic blends of jaded lawyers, cynical cops, and perky professional women with fabulous wardrobes. Also, in a continuation of last year's trend, viewers will see a plethora of familiar faces on their screens. Among old friends they'll be welcoming back in living rooms are Bob Newhart, Fred Savage, and David Caruso.

Of the 37 new shows created last year, a respectable 17 have been renewed. We're guessing the return rate for this season's 36 new series won't be so high.

Familiar faces

Taking a chapter from the "Dilbert" handbook on work is Fred Savage's ("The Wonder Years") show exploring the perilous world of the cubicle. Snappy writing and a strong lead make Working (NBC) one of the best new sitcoms. In the pilot, Savage starts work at a multinational corporation where a golden retriever draws a salary and only the secretaries are qualified to make important decisions. While Savage is likable, the supporting cast's chemistry needs to jell, and we kept expecting to see Scott Adams credited as the guiding fluorescent light.

At the top of every critic's list but ours is Veronica's Closet (NBC) starring Kirstie Alley ("Cheers"). She plays the queen of romance, a lingerie company head saddled with a philandering husband, whom she dumps in the pilot. Now that she's jettisoned the louse, maybe they can lose such lines as "Someday you'll find someone wonderful enough to cheat on your husband with." Alley's been given the best real estate on prime time (between "Seinfeld" and "ER"), so it's not in danger of being canceled, and she'll have plenty of time to hire some new writers.

Andrew "Dice" Clay is the big name in Hitz (UPN), a crass, boring show set at a record label. Most of the "jokes" can't be repeated here, but Clay is going to have to come up with better lines than "Shut your pie-hole, Snapperhead," if he expects a hit on his hands.

Bob is back, with George and Leo (CBS). Newhart plays George, a bookstore owner on Martha's Vineyard whose life is invaded by a Las Vegas bagman (Judd Hirsch, "Taxi"), who also happens to be the estranged father of George's new daughter-in-law. Newhart is in fine comic form, and Hirsch seems to be finding his feet as a con man who's really a mensch at heart. Jason Bateman heads the supporting cast in what seems to be one of the few sure-fire hits of the season. And it's always good to have Newhart stammering his way through prime time again.

Odd couples

"George and Leo" is the best of the new odd-couple comedies. This fall, networks are pairing mismatched personalities in hopes that friction will spark laughter.

A prime example of this is Dharma and Greg (ABC). She's a hippie, he's a yuppie, and apparently, they're made for each other. The pilot was a tad unbelievable (they're married by the end of the first date), and the plot was weak, although Jenna Elfman ("Townies") grew on us as free-spirited Dharma. Also, Susan Sullivan and Alan Ratchins play culture clash for laughs as his caviar-scarfing mom and her flower-sniffing dad.

One would think a show produced by Ron Howard would be exceptional - funny, creative, and innovative. But Hiller and Diller (ABC) is none of the above. Kevin Nealon is Hiller and Richard Lewis is Diller, a mismatched pair who write comedy shows together. Too bad they didn't write the script for their own show. The main problem: While their characters are supposed to be opposites, their dry brands of humor are too similar to jump-start this show.

In Over the Top (ABC), Tim Curry plays Simon Ferguson, an out-of-work soap-opera star who moves into the Manhattan hotel that his ex-wife (Annie Potts, "Dangerous Minds") operates. Ferguson's character is supposed to be "over the top," which really means he's an adolescent charmer who drinks a lot.

Not much stands out in Between Brothers (Fox), a buddy comedy starring Tommy Davidson ("In Living Color") and Kadeem Hardison ("A Different World"). They play two brothers - one a sportswriter, the other in real estate - who live together in Chicago and hang out in the neighborhood sports bar with a couple of former fraternity brothers. The show is a bit like "Friends," only the buddies are male and African-American. It's only mediocre - the writing is somewhat stale.