Tom Shales, Style Columnist
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Not Live! Not From New York! It's 'Studio 60' . . .

Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford as once-fired producers rehired for a sketch-comedy show on
Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford as once-fired producers rehired for a sketch-comedy show on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." (By Scott Garfield -- Nbc)

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Maybe "Studio 60" deserves a break partly because one is inclined to root for underdogs -- in this case, low-rated NBC. CBS has become the Cocky Broadcasting System with its marching robotic army of slick crime shows; ABC became the Arrogant Broadcasting Co. when it aired the recent and deplorable docudrama about the 9/11 tragedy, seen in some circles as a favor to George W. Bush.

Sorkin aspires to "importance," which can sometimes curdle into pretentiousness. The setting and characters of "Studio 60" promise to work against that because, after all, they aren't deciding the fate of the world. Unless things have taken a truly absurdist turn, they aren't capable of launching nuclear missiles or invading countries, either.

For now, the show isn't "must-see TV" but more like "might-see TV." Can "Studio 60" coexist on the same network with "30 Rock"? Why, good heavens, they're as different as night and -- uhh -- evening.

'The Class'

"The Class" has very little. Considerably worse than being classless, however, is being laughless, at least if you happen to be a sitcom, and "The Class" does, albeit one that's about as rib-tickling as a migraine.

Of course, the show might ring true and strike all kinds of responsive chords with some viewers -- but only those who feel that their lives peaked in the third grade and it's been all downhill from there. The third grade? Some folks long for carefree college capers, some may still be sentimentally stuck at their high school's senior prom, but how many people sit around mooning over prepubescent days of dodge ball, jump-rope and simple addition?

A very simple addition to the CBS Monday night comedy schedule, "Class" premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 9 with a pilot episode that struggles clumsily to establish the premise. Ethan Haas, played by Jason Ritter -- John's son-- wants to give his girlfriend an extra special wonderful splendid surprise party to announce their engagement. He comes up with a ridiculous scheme: reassemble their third-grade class at Woodman Elementary School near Philadelphia and let the fur fly where it may.

Some of these people haven't seen one another since 1986, and you have to wonder how many would really hop on a plane, train or even a crosstown bus to renew acquaintances that old. Basically the colorful quirky characters march in and announce their various neuroses and idiosyncrasies, and then the show's writers try to find reasons to pair them off and keep them together for 22 weeks, should the series last that long.

"Class" will answer one question that may have been perplexing some of the folks out here in television land: Whatever became of Sam Harris? Harris was a big winner on "Star Search," the "American Idol" of its day -- a syndicated talent hunt hosted by Ed McMahon. Harris had an especially melodramatic, over-the-top style of singing that people either loved or loathed. He was very big in the '80s. Then he went away. Now he's come back as Perry Pearl, one of the third-graders who hated to grow up.

Andrea Anders co-stars with Ritter as Nicole Allen, a young woman who seems not all that thrilled to have married a brain-damaged former pro football star named Yonk Allen. Yonk is played by David Keith, perhaps best remembered as the guy who hanged himself in the shower in "An Officer and a Gentlemen." One assumes there'll be no hangings in the shower in "The Class," although, wait just a minute, one member of the group, in a future episode, does try to commit suicide by taking too many sleeping pills.

He calls 911, but puts 911 on hold when he sees another call coming in. Funny, or just dumb? Some of the dialogue is laugh-worthy, or at least chortle-worthy, as when one of the female classmates notes, "I'm married to a man I love -- a good percentage of the time." But only for a small percentage of its time is "The Class" comically compelling.

Herewith a tiny confession: After watching the pilot for "The Class," I was certain I'd seen an hour-long show. Imagine my surprise to find out it was only half that length. It's definitely not a good sign, and "The Class" seems an awfully wobbly cornerstone on which to rest the CBS Monday night comedy lineup.

Apparently CBS executives are hoping the show will seem reminiscent enough of "Friends" to keep viewers -- at least those in the 18-to-34 demographic -- quietly appeased. Only the most appeasable people in the universe, however, are likely to fall for that one.


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