Best & boring of new fall season

Expect a lot of retreads. While there's nothing radically new this season, the broadcast networks offer a few shows, which, judging solely by the pilots, may prove entertaining or enlightening or both. Naturally there are plenty of mediocre, warmed-over formulas and outright trash clogging the airwaves as well.

Promising Shows

Gilmore Girls (The WB, debuts Thursday, Oct. 5, 8-9 p.m.): A smart and funny comedy about a teenage girl who loves her mother. The setting is a small, supportive town where young Rory (Alexis Bledel) was born to her then 16-year-old mom, Lorelai (Lauren Graham). Community is critical to the Gilmore Girls' success in life. A touch of "Northern Exposure."

Ed (NBC, debuts Sunday, Oct. 8, 8-9 p.m.): This comedy also borrows a little from "Northern Exposure's" early spirit. Though it's not so tied to personal eccentricities, it does celebrate community and individualism. A lawyer (Tom Cavanagh) loses his job and his marriage in one day and moves home to Ohio. There he purchases a bowling alley and dispenses free legal advice. He falls for the same girl he pined for in high school.

That's Life (CBS, debuts Sunday, Oct. 1, 8-9 p.m.; then airs regularly on Saturdays): An Italian-American family that is not involved with the Mafia is a rarity on TV, and this one sparkles with ethnic humor that's only a little overstated. A 30ish woman decides to slip out of a family-sanctioned engagement and go to college. Her ex-fianc still hangs with her parents; and her parents think she's too old to find herself. Stars Paul Sorvino, Ellen Burstyn, Heather Paige Kent.

Boston Public (Fox, debuts Monday, Oct. 23, 8-9 p.m.): The drama refocuses our attention on public schools - only this time, the

Deadline (NBC, debuts Monday, Oct. 2, 9-10 p.m.): Drama starring Oliver Platt turns out to be pretty good as a crime drama. Platt plays a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter/columnist (whose ethics are questionable) for a less-than-admirable newspaper. Sharp repartee, eccentric characters played by a terrific ensemble cast, and thoughtful plot twists will keep viewers thinking.

Night Visions (Fox, debuts Friday, Oct. 6, 9-10 p.m.): The pilot for Fox's anthology series is terrific in the tradition of "Twilight Zone." A bit eerie and quite clever with its plot lines, the first episode finds Aiden Quinn investigating a mysterious plane crash. Fearing that his daughter, who was coming to visit him, was on the plane, he redoubles his efforts to solve the mystery. What he finds is oddly reminiscent of Rod Serling's weirdest moments. High "ick" factor.

The District (CBS, debuts Saturday, Oct. 7, 10-11 p.m.): Stars Craig T. Nelson as a crusading chief of police who comes to D.C. convinced that everyone has an equal right to protection by the law - including its poorest citizens. He and shakes up the force from stem to stern, creating ill-will and suspicion, but also renewed devotion to duty. The show is well-written and Nelson is flamboyant and entertaining.

Gideon's Crossing (ABC, debuts Tuesday, Oct. 10, 10-11 p.m.; then airs regularly on Wednesdays): At the top of many critics' lists for many reasons. This is no ordinary hospital drama, and the hero, played by Andr Braugher ("Homicide"), is soft-spoken and profoundly thoughtful. His character is deeply enmeshed in issues of medical ethics. One of the things that sets this story apart from others in its genre is its look - cutting-edge cinematography and visual symbolism.

Bette (CBS, debuts Wednesday, Oct. 11, 8-8:30 p.m.): Bette Midler plays a happily married, slightly neurotic entertainer who suffers the same insecurities that many housewives endure. But it's all a charming joke for fans who like her work. Making fun of showbiz is something of a theme this season. Best of all, she will sing in every episode.

Some Promise

C.S.I. (CBS, debuts Friday, Oct. 6, 9-10 p.m.): The new cop show, which stands for Crime Scene Investigators, is stunningly high-tech visually, but sometimes quite gross. A fine cast headed by William Petersen and an attention to the smallest details of criminal forensics will appeal to those who like mystery/police thrillers such as "NYPD Blue" and "Homicide: Life on the Streets." In the first episode, a rookie learns how tough the graveyard shift can be.

Grosse Pointe (The WB, Fridays, 8:30-9 p.m.): Smart-aleck, behind-the-scenes satire of television soap operas which is also the name of the soap the main characters are shooting. It skewers the ambition and mean-spirited behavior of spoiled teen stars.

Welcome to New York (CBS, debuts Wednesday, Oct. 11, 8:30-9 p.m.): A slight comedy starring Christine Baranski as a self-absorbed TV news exec who refers to her new weatherman as "my boy." Nothing new here, but Baranski fans will enjoy her peculiar brand of caustic humor and the workplace ambience.

Madigan Men (ABC, debuts Friday, Oct. 6, 9:30-10 p.m.): Gabriel Byrne fans may be a bit dismayed to see the marvelous actor playing straight man to a belligerent Irish pa in this mild sitcom - a family story about three generations of guys holding the family tradition together in a highrise in New York. Byrne is always engaging, but shouldn't he be doing serious drama?

Girlfriends (UPN, Mondays, 9:30-10 p.m.): A likable comedy about young professional women who stick up for each other - no matter what. The all African-American cast headed by charming Tracee Ellis Ross has some nice surprises and a sweet temper.

Dag (NBC, debuts Tuesday, Oct. 31, 9:30-10 p.m.): Comedy starring David Alan Grier as Dag, a Secret Service agent who dives the wrong way while defending the president from an assassin's bullet. Demoted to protecting the first lady (Delta Burke), he becomes overzealous. Writing and timing seem a bit awkward, but Grier and Burke are entertaining.

Yes, Dear (CBS, debuts Monday, Oct. 2, 8:30-9 p.m.): It's good-natured enough, but the formula has been played out so much, how can it hold viewers' attention for long? A young married couple with a small baby spend time with her sister and husband and their little ones. A few good one-liners.

The Fugitive (CBS, debuts Friday, Oct. 6, 8-9 p.m.): Tim Daly stars as a doctor wrongfully convicted of his wife's murder who escapes on his way to death row and sets out on a manhunt for the real killer. The police nearly catch the doctor in every episode. Well-made, if perhaps redundant after the movie with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones.

Dark Angel (Fox, debuts Tuesday, Oct. 3, 9-10 p.m.): Director James Cameron of "Titanic" fame indulges himself with a lavishly atmospheric sci-fi drama. A variation on the post-apocalyptic genre, the show features Jessica Alba as a genetic designer model. Cartoonish, perhaps; may improve. Sci-fi fans will want to check it out.

Freakylinks (Fox, debuts Friday, Oct. 6, 9-10 p.m.): A mildly entertaining thriller, it may draw speculative fiction buffs. Though the premise is clever, it isn't scary and the writing is clunky. A man's brother dies mysteriously and then tries to contact him on the computer.

Level 9 (UPN, debuts Friday, Oct. 27, 9-10 p.m.): Police-action buffs may get a charge from this inventive high-tech thriller. An LAPD detective collaborates with a secret government agency made up of computer wizards to defeat high-tech crimes by those who would destabilize the governments of the world.

The Michael Richards Show (NBC, debuts Tuesday, Oct. 24, 8-8:30 p.m.): Kramer is back as Vic Nardozza, a bumbling private investigator, in this featherweight comedy. While there was only one good laugh and a few smiles in this first half-hour, "Seinfeld" fans may be glad to see the tall, goofy Richards recycled as he investigates an elderly candy tycoon on drugs. What does help is the presence of Tim Meadows as a cameraman voyeur.

Nikki (The WB, debuts Sunday, Oct. 8, 9:30-10 p.m.): Actress Nikki Cox stars as a Las Vegas dancer who contemplates going topless to keep alive her young husband's dream of becoming a professional wrestler. It's so vacuous that it's hardly there at all - except for hilarious parodies of Las Vegas dance routines.

The Bad and the Boring

Titans (NBC, debuts Oct. 4, 8-9 p.m.): It's such an absurd melodrama, that even the promoters are hailing it as a "guilty pleasure." Guilty it may be, but it's no pleasure. The newest abomination comes from Aaron Spelling, who ought to have better taste.

Hype (The WB, debuts Sunday, Oct. 8, 9-9:30 p.m.): Brash and caustic, it borrows from every other sketch comedy's crude humor to skewer - none too cleverly - all that the culture hypes, from Hollywood and politics to sports.

Tucker (NBC, debuts Monday, Oct. 2, 8:30-9 p.m.): A poor rip-off of "Malcolm in the Middle." Witless and cynical at the same time, it concerns a boy and his mom who go to live with a nasty set of relatives.

Cursed (NBC, debuts Thursday, Oct. 26, 8:30-9 p.m.): A man goes out on a date with a witch and tries to tactfully part ways. So the scorned woman places a very serious hex on the guy. The unfunny, one-joke premise can't carry the episode, let alone a season. Stars Steven Weber.

The Geena Davis Show (ABC, debuts Tuesday, Oct. 10, 9:30-10 p.m.): The show is a vehicle for the star who has done so much good work in the movies. Here she is wooden. The premise about a single woman moving in with a widower and his two children is dim, and the writing is bad.

The Trouble With Normal (ABC, debuts Friday, Oct. 6, 8:30-9 p.m.): Another one-joke show about a bunch of guys who suffer from paranoia. One suspects another of spying on him - and learns that indeed he is. They, and all their friends, go to group therapy together.

The $treet (Fox, debuts Wednesday, Nov. 1, 9-10 p.m.): Wall Street seen as a symbol of sex and greed. Another melodrama touting gross sexual immorality and unethical behavior. Watch TNT's "Bull" instead - much better writing about rising young Turks.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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