Viewer's Guide to New Fall Shows

If you're looking for something new to watch on television this fall, do the networks have a treat for you: Forty-two prime-time shows are making their debut by early October. If you're expecting quality, though, the choices are more difficult to navigate. Falling short in the originality department, many of the series are really ''Friends'' (or maybe ''Seinfeld'' or ''Ellen'') in disguise. An abundance of the new shows are set in newsrooms, capitalizing on successes like ''Murphy Brown'' and ''NewsRadio.'' Also notable is a continued trend toward racier material that may be offensive to some adults and inappropriate for younger viewers. Sexual innuendo abounds, and the ''milder'' expletives crop up in a number of shows. Here's Part 1 of a two-part rundown of all 42 new series, with broadcast times listed as of publication. Not every show was available for viewing, as noted. All times are Eastern; please check local listings. * MONDAY Can't Hurry Love (CBS, premieres Sept. 18, 8:30-9 p.m.): This lackluster version of ''Friends'' features Nancy McKeon as Annie O'Donnell, who's a twenty-something New Yorker looking for the perfect man in all the wrong places. Partners (FOX, 9-9:30 p.m.): Jon Cryer plays his trademark role of ingratiating annoyance in this threesome tale about his best buddy getting married. Lukewarm laughs in this ''Friends'' variation. Nowhere Man (UPN, 9-10 p.m.): In the time it takes for Thomas Veil to visit the restroom at a restaurant, unknown forces erase his identity. These forces have reached everyone he knows - his wife, his friends, even his mother in a faraway city. Thomas vows the forces ''won't get to me,'' thus beginning this nouveau-''Fugitive'' series. A psychological thriller at times heavy on despair. If Not for You (CBS, premieres Sept. 18, 9:30-10 p.m.): What happens if you realize you're engaged to the wrong person? That's what Jessie Kent (Elizabeth McGovern) and Craig Schaeffer (Hank Azaria) begin to discover when they meet and lock eyes for the first time. (Unable to view.) Ned and Stacey (FOX, 9:30-10 p.m.): It's a big change seeing Thomas Haden Church, who played the repairman Lowell on ''Wings,'' as a businessman here. Nor is it very convincing. The story line about a marriage of convenience has some laughs, but the show needs more tuning. * TUESDAY John Grisham's The Client (CBS, previews Sept. 17, 9-10 p.m.; premieres Sept. 19, 8-9 p.m.): The best-selling novel and hit movie comes to TV. JoBeth Williams stars as Reggie Love, an Atlanta-based attorney in family law who helps children in trouble. (Unable to view.) Deadly Games (UPN, 8-9 p.m.): A science whiz works on his own video-game program, but his research quickly gets out of hand when the evil players come to life. Christopher Lloyd marks his return to series television in this drama that seems to have limited plot potential. Hudson Street (ABC, premieres Sept. 19, 8:30-9 p.m.): Tony Danza makes a return to television comedies as Tony Canetti, a New Jersey police detective romancing an opinionated newspaper reporter. Amusing comedy about a divorced dad back in the dating game. Live Shot (UPN, 9-10 p.m.): This drama takes on the flavor of the ''Re-Action'' local news that it portrays. The large cast and variety of story lines give the show promise. But some of the acting is exaggerated and stilted, and the show gets bogged down in an aura of ''News broadcasting is so cool.'' Pursuit of Happiness (NBC, premieres Sept. 19, 9:30-10 p.m.): This comedy series may come from the producers of ''Frasier,'' ''Wings,'' and ''Cheers,'' but it doesn't have the same vitality or wit. It revolves around Steve Gerard (Tom Amandes), who suddenly finds his life going downhill when - among other things - his wife loses her job and his disaster-ridden brother-in-law moves in. * WEDNESDAY Bless This House (CBS, 8-8:30 p.m.): In the ''Roseanne'' tradition, Cathy Moriarty and Andrew Clay play a working-class, sometimes-bickering couple with two kids. Although it does have big laughs, the humor is raunchy and crass; this is not a show for younger viewers. The Drew Carey Show (ABC, 8:30-9 p.m.): This comedy stakes out unique territory in sitcom set-land: Cleveland. Sporting Indians and Browns paraphernalia, Drew and his friends steer through the pitfalls of work and dating in the '90s. A working-class ''Friends''/''Seinfeld'' clone. Central Park West (CBS, 9-10 p.m.): Welcome to ''Melrose Place'' in New York City. The most entertaining thing about this show is figuring out who parallels whom on the two shows, which are both from Darren Star. The triumphs and tragedies of these enterprising ''CPW'' twenty-somethings - including Mariel Hemingway and John Barrowman - promise a wild and steamy ride. A bright spot: on-location shots of the Big Apple. The Naked Truth (ABC, 9:30-10 p.m.): Her personal life turned upside down, photojournalist Nora Wilde (Tea Leoni) lands a job at a cheap tabloid. The magazine's risque material is matched by the show's daring jokes, which stray way into the sexual-innuendo category. The show may garner attention from audiences by big-name guest appearances, including Anna Nicole Smith and Tom Hanks. Courthouse (CBS, 10-11 p.m.): Take a decaying big-city courthouse facing ever-smaller budgets and overbooked schedules, and add a diverse group of judges, lawyers, clerks, and reporters, and you have a series billed as portraying a justice system on the brink of chaos. (Unable to view.) * THURSDAY Charlie Grace (ABC, 8-9 p.m.): Mark Harmon is a lot of things in this drama: a divorce, an ex-boyfriend, an ex-cop, a private investigator, and a part-time father. Needless to say, things aren't exactly boring when he's around. (Unable to view). The Crew (FOX, 8:30-9 p.m.): This ''Friends'' rip-off comes complete with a pet and a theme song by Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman of Prince fame. The four supposed friends (they don't have that much in common) work for a Miami-based airline. The raunchy jokes often fall flat. The Single Guy (NBC, premieres Sept. 21, 8:30-9 p.m.): Jonathan Silverman is soon to become the hero of all twenty- and thirty-something men who don't want to marry. Silverman plays Johnny Elliot, whose closest friends have all tied the knot and now want to help him do the same. Johnny, of course, holds out - leading to some funny moments that should make this show a success, given its desirable Thursday-night spot. New York News (CBS, premieres Sept. 28, 9-10 p.m.): Mary Tyler Moore plays tough editor Louise (The Dragon) Felcott at the New York Reporter. An ambitious cub reporter (Melina Kanakaredes) and a veteran gossip columnist (Madeline Kahn) are other key members of a hard-living staff that reflects the gritty city they live in. (Unable to view.) The Monroes (ABC, begins regular show time Sept. 14, 9-10 p.m.): Politics is the backdrop for scandal in this nighttime soap opera about a powerful Maryland family. Among the bold and beautiful stars are veteran drama actors William Devane as multimillionaire John Monroe and Susan Sullivan as his strong-willed wife, Kathryn. Caroline in the City (NBC, premieres Sept. 21, 9:30-10 p.m.): Big laughs, sharp writing. Sandwiched between ''Seinfeld'' and ''ER'' on NBC's Thursday-night lineup, this show is all but guaranteed to be a big hit. Lea Thompson (''Back to the Future'') stars as cartoonist Caroline Duffy, who has just broken up with Del, president of the greeting-card company she works for. Malcolm Gets, who plays Caroline's assistant Richard, gives a deadpan performance that spices up the show. Murder One (ABC, previews Tuesday, Sept. 19, 10-11 p.m.; begins regular show time Oct. 12, 10-11 p.m.): It's the O.J. Simpson trial all over again - except this time the victim is a 15-year-old, the accused is Los Angeles philanthropist Richard Cross (Stanley Tucci), and the criminal attorney is Theodore Hoffman (Daniel Benzali). Nine-time Emmy Award-winner Steven Bochco produces this slick drama that will focus on the ''circus'' case for the entire season. * FRIDAY Dweebs (CBS, premieres Sept. 22, 8-8:30 p.m.): The workplace sitcom moves to the high-tech world of computers. Five dweebs, plus Farrah Forke (''Wings''), are surprisingly funny, although the show will need time to develop its characters and gain attention from audiences in its less-than-favorable Friday-night slot. Strange Luck (FOX, premieres Sept. 15, 8-9 p.m.): This drama proceeds from the premise of a photojournalist (D.B. Sweeney) who has all sorts of luck - which lands him in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time. This drama has the potential for interesting story lines, although the hero's camera-clicking during intense moments is distracting. The Bonnie Hunt Show (CBS, premieres Sept. 22, 8:30-9 p.m.): This comedy series follows the ups and downs of the fictional character Bonnie Kelly, features reporter at WBDR-TV in Chicago. The show weaves in improvisation material as Bonnie delivers her news stories on location in Chicago. Each episode of this series is taped from start to finish in real time without retakes. Executive producers are David Letterman, Bonnie Hunt, and Rob Burnett (head writer of the ''Late Show With David Letterman''). (Unable to view.) American Gothic (CBS, premieres Sept. 22, 10-11 p.m.): Sheriff Lucas Buck (Gary Cole) rules with an iron arm over the seemingly quaint community of Trinity, S.C., paying no heed to law or conscience. When newspaper reporter Gail Emory (Paige Turco) returns to her hometown here, a series of calamities are unleashed. (Unable to view.) * New television shows in the networks' Saturday and Sunday lineups will be reviewed in Part 2, which will appear tomorrow.

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