After Lackluster Fall Lineups, 21 New Shows Make Their Pitch

Networks rely on sitcoms, test a few high-profile dramas

It's midseason in TV land, and network executives are juggling the lineup again. Between now and springtime, 21 new comedies and dramas will appear on your television screens. But judging from the lineup, the networks haven't learned many lessons from the disappointing fall schedule. Most of the new programming won't begin until March because of the networks' desire not to compete with CBS's coverage of the Winter Olympics from Nagano, Japan (Feb. 6-22).

Here's a review of shows that have already premired and a preview of what's to come.

Comedies

Fox may be known for its successful animated series and prime-time dramas, but the network hasn't scored big with comedies. Just take a look at Ask Harriet (Fox, Thursdays, 8:30-9 p.m.). The plot revolves around Jack Cody (Anthony Tyler Quinn), a self-centered former sportswriter who pretends to be a woman to pen his paper's advice column, "Ask Harriet." The show may have energy and spunk, but the plot is stale and the lines are often offensive.

Unfortunately for Fox, it gets worse. Damon (spring release), as in Damon Wayans ("In Living Color"), is an undercover cop at a Chicago police station. In the first episode, Wayans poses as a pimp to catch the head of a Chicago escort service who is involved in illegal activities.Crass sexual dialogue and off-color humor make this show a loser.

More promising is CBS's is Style & Substance (Mondays, 9:30-10 p.m.), starring Jean Smart ("Designing Women") and Nancy McKeon ("The Facts of Life"). Think of a ditsy version of Martha Stewart: Chelsea Stevens (Smart) is the head of a multimedia entertaining empire, and Jane (McKeon) is her producer. Funny lines and good chemistry between Smart and McKeon make this show one of the more likable sitcoms.

A similar show is The Simple Life (CBS, spring) with Judith Light ("Who's the Boss?") playing a domestic expert with a TV show. "Life" bucks the trend of urban, New York-based sitcoms that Jerry Seinfeld inspired for the '90s, as Sara Campbell (Light) trades Manhattan for rural tranquillity. Choosing a farm setting is a charming idea, but good humor takes more than birds and bees.

Dramas

Receiving much advance hype is Dawson's Creek (WB, Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m., debuts Jan. 20), a coming-of-age drama about four teenagers fixated on sex. Unfortunately, Kevin Williamson's ("Scream") drama focuses too much on shock value and not enough on content. While longtime friends Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and Josephine (Katie Holmes) deal with their changing friendship, Dawson starts to date the girl next door (Michells Williams), and their friend Pacey (Joshua Jackson) becomes involved with his English teacher. The program contains sexual dialogue and adult situations.

Prey (ABC, Thursdays, 8-9 p.m.) draws on "The X-Files" ilk. In the debut, airing Jan. 15, Debra Messing ("Ned and Stacey") plays Dr. Sloan Parker, a bio-anthropologist who uncovers a new species of humans. She tests DNA samples of a half-dozen violent criminals and discovers that their DNA is significantly different from other humans. The new species seems intent on eliminating Homo sapiens one by one. Given the show's ridiculous plot, ABC should head back to the drawing board.

CBS makes a foray into the tried-and-true genre of westerns with The Magnificent Seven (Saturdays, 8-9 p.m.). The action is less violent than the original 1960 movie, yet not magnificent enough to match it. In the premire, which aired Jan. 3, seven gunslingers get together to protect a Seminole Indian village besieged by a band of ex-Confederate soldiers. The cast includes Chris Larrabee, Vin Tanner, and Ron Pearlman. For nostalgic effect, the producers included Elmer Bernstein's Oscar-nominated musical score from the original movie.

WB also tries a time-tested plot with Three (Mondays, 9-10 p.m., debuts Feb. 2), which sets thieves to catch thieves, with a teamwork twist. The pilot has few subplots and an ill-defined storyline, but the action keeps it going. The Man, a mysterious figure from an unidentified organization, brings three criminals with numerous aliases together: a jewel thief (Jonathan Vance), a street-smart con (Amanda Webb), and a computer hacker (Marcus Miller).

Two shows, on the other hand, have opted for more originality: Invasion America (WB, spring) and Push (ABC, spring). In the former, an animated science-fiction series, filmmaker Steven Spielberg has created David Carter, a half-human, half-Tyrusian teenager. The production is excellent, just as is the talent behind it - Harve Bennett, who produced "Star Trek" II, III, IV, and V. In David's first adventure, Earth is saved from power-hungry Tyrusians, who infiltrate the United States military. Supplying voices are Robert Urich, Leonard Nimoy, Edward Albert, and Kristy McNichol.

"Push" is sport meets soap. Somewhere in a southern California university - filmed in vibrant shots - athletes are training for the Olympics. Jamie Pressly, Jacobi Wynne, Eddie Mills, and Laurie Fortier play some of the cream roles.

What's ahead

Other sitcoms and dramas slated for a winter or spring release were unavailable for review. Following are brief descriptions.

After a stint on "Friends," Tom Selleck stars in his own sitcom The Closer (CBS, winter, after the Olympics). He plays a Denver advertising executive who launches his own business.

Al Franken, political satirist and formerly of "Saturday Night Live," plays a news correspondent in Lateline (NBC, spring). The first episode of the comedy features cameos by Joycelyn Elders, Candace Gingrich, and Ralph Nader.

The Way We Work (Fox, spring) holds promise because of its solid cast - Vivica A. Fox ("Soul Food"), Duane Martin, and Jon Cryer. The sitcom revolves around Milo (Martin) and Sam (Cryer) working at a TV-commercial production house in Chicago. Meanwhile, Sam goes out on a blind date with Robyn (Fox).

For Your Love (NBC, spring) is about three suburban Chicago couples struggling with relationship issues at work and home. It includes sitcom veterans Holly Robinson Peete ("Hangin' With Mr. Cooper"), D.W. Moffett ("Chicago Sons"), Dedee Pfeiffer, and James Lesure.

Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place (Fox, spring) is a romantic-rivalry comedy in, as the title suggests, a popular Boston pizza parlor. Its leading players are Traylor Howard ("Boston Common"), Richard Ruccolo, Ryan Reynolds, and David Ogden Stiers ("M*A*S*H").

Kelly Novak (Shelley Long) is America's favorite TV journalist in the sitcom Kelly Kelly (WB, spring). After she meets firefighter Doug Kelly (Robert Hays), she marries him and becomes stepmom to his children.

In House Rules (NBC, spring), an attorney (Maria Pitillo) and her two lifelong male friends, a med student (David Newsom) and a reporter (Bradley White), share a house in Denver. The title pretty much sums up the comedy's plot.

The romantic comedy You're the One (WB, spring) focuses on newlyweds from different worlds - a young Jewish New Yorker (Elon Gold) and his Southerner wife (Cynthia Geary from "Northern Exposure"). Also on the scene are meddling in-laws.

Comic Gerry Red Wilson plays a butcher in Queens, New York, in These Are the Days (ABC, spring). His simple life is interrupted when his sister-in-law from Manhattan moves into his second-floor apartment.

Homestead (CBS, spring) is produced by "Knots Landing" alumni David Jacobs and Michael Filerman. The prime-time soap stars Ann-Margret as a headstrong woman trying to keep her ranch away from developers.

Significant Others (Fox, March) is a nighttime soap about twentysomethings and the choices they have to make. Eion Bailey and Elizabeth Mitchell star.

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