Here are the new network series, with premiere dates in parentheses: New ABC Shows
Timecop. T.W. King, whoever he is, takes over the part played by Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 1994 movie about a supersleuth who can travel forward or backward in time to foil dirty deeds before they happen even after they've happened or might happen. Huh? Anyway, the action-adventure series is designed to be a man-baitingly compatible lead-in for ABC's "Monday Night Football." (Monday, 8 p.m., premieres Sept. 22.)
Over the Top, the first prime-time series from has-been David Letterman's longtime producer Robert Morton, stars Tim Curry (of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show") as a hammy actor fired from a daytime soap opera and forced to take refuge at a small Manhattan hotel operated by his ex-wife, played by that cute Annie Potts. Though the show falls short of laff-riotousness, Curry proves to be a bouncing, beaming bundle of joy, especially in scenes with his new landlady's two kids. (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m., Oct. 21.)
Hiller and Diller goes hither and thither willy and nilly but, for all that, proves one slack old sad sack of a sitcom. Comics Kevin Nealon and Richard Lewis are mismatched as a pair of TV comedy writers, one manic and one depressive, who are loosely based on Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, creator-producers of this very show! As the inevitable bombastic boss, Eugene Levy bursts into the writers' office bellowing, "I don't hear any comedy!" Neither, probably, will you. (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m., Sept. 23.)
Dharma & Greg is lovely and funny and the best new sitcom of the season, at least so far. Jenna Elfman, the most appealing loopy kook since Goldie Hawn, plays charmin' Dharma, raised by free-spirited, frizzy-maned, stuck-in-the-'60s parents; Thomas Gibson is Greg, whose parents are rich and snooty and stuck, if anywhere, in the '80s. When Greg and Dharma fall instantly in love and get married, there are culture clashes and generation gaps galore. Also: laughs. Yet the two young lovers seem fresh and genuine, and the show a dizzy delight. (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 24.)
Nothing Sacred is no relation to the classic 1937 Carole Lombard screwball comedy of the same name. Indeed, the title is the worst thing about this otherwise smart, serious and sophisticated drama dealing with the crises and conflicts faced by a young urban priest. Yes, it's a weekly drama series that's not about policemen, lawyers or doctors, and refreshing for that reason alone. Kevin Anderson skillfully plays Father Ray, who wears jeans or sweats, listens to blues or rock, and makes such irreverent remarks as "God better show His face around here pretty damn soon." Beyond the superficial shocking stuffers, "Sacred" really does deal, and thoughtfully, with weighty matters of the heart and soul. TV this good is simply great. (Thursday, 8 p.m., Sept. 18.)
Cracker, adapted from a British cult hit (imported in recent years by cable's A&E network), is a gritty drama about a cranky psychologist who helps cops solve crimes. Unpleasant and blubbery Robert Pastorelli (the philosophical house painter on "Murphy Brown") takes over the role created by Robbie Coltrane in the British original, and the setting has been changed, not surprisingly, from London to Los Angeles. (Thursday, 9 p.m., Sept. 18.)
You Wish, formerly called "The Genie Show" and before that "Untitled Genie Project," joins other kid-aimed comedies in ABC's successful "TGIF" lineup, with John Ales playing a genie released after 2,000 years and thus indentured to a middle-class divorced mom and her two kids. (Friday, 9 p.m., Sept. 26.)
Teen Angel, adapted from a little-seen fantasy-comedy movie, stars Mike Damus as an adolescent lad who eats a putrid cheeseburger, drops very dead, and returns to Earth wearing fluffy white wings. His mission: watch over an old high school buddy. The supporting cast includes old pros John Amos and Conchata Ferrell. (Friday, 9:30 p.m., Sept. 26.)
C-16 may have been inspired by the hit movie "Mission: Impossible," which was of course based on a TV series. It also sounds like a "Mod Squad" for the '90s: an elite crime-fighting unit operating within the FBI and made up of the young, the hip and the fashionably coiffed. (Saturday, 8 p.m., Sept. 27.)
Total Security is one of two new crime dramas from prolific producer Steven Bochco. James Belushi and James Remar, a pretty gruesome twosome, play tough ex-cops who have started their own security company. The premises are brightened up by Tracey Needham, Debrah Farentino and Kristin Bauer as sexy associates. (Saturday, 9 p.m., Sept. 27.)
The Wonderful World of Disney is only a sort-of-new show; anthologies from the Walt Disney factory have been coming and going on TV since 1954. Now Disney owns ABC, and Chairman Michael Eisner plans to plop his squinty-eyed carcass in front of the camera (bad idea) to introduce new live-action and animated adventures. There are also sure to be beaucoup plugs for Disney's theme parks and current theatrical releases. (Sunday, 7 p.m., Sept. 28.) New CBS Shows
George & Leo rates as easily the worst of the season's several new buddy-buddy sitcoms. Both buddies in this case are insufferable jerks: Bob Newhart as George, mealy-mouthed human doormat who runs a quaint bookstore on Martha's Vineyard; and Judd Hirsch as Leo, loudmouthed bagman from Las Vegas. They meet when George's son marries Leo's already pregnant daughter. Guess what: Leo's on the lam-o and George has a spare room above the bookstore. Odd coupling ensues, but the antics are arthritic, and Hirsch plays a Jewish caricature only slightly less offensive than his shameful performance in the movie "Independence Day" last year. "George & Leo" is less zany sitcom than heinous ordeal. (Monday, 9:30 p.m., premiering Sept. 15.)
Brooklyn South arrives so self-assured and polished that you'd think it had been on the air for years. And in a way it has. Steven Bochco's "Hill Street Blues" begat "NYPD Blue," and "NYPD Blue" more or less begat this, a hard-nosed cop drama set in Brooklyn's multiethnic 74th precinct. Slightly more violent and a tad more profane than "NYPD Blue," the premiere is well acted, shocking and tense, but there isn't a lot about it that seems really new. (Monday, 10 p.m., Sept. 22.)
Hayes. Speaking of "NYPD Blue" -- remember that redheaded actor David Caruso, who left the series so he could star in big hit movies? Well, the movies flopped. And there is Caruso with egg on his face. But this appears to have been chastening and character-building egg, because as Michael Hayes of the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York, he's more credible, flexible and likable than ever, and much less given to fits of pretentious pomposity. Also, he often speaks loud enough to be heard. Naturally the character he plays has a very heavy heart, but Caruso lugs it around New York with mesmerizing style. One of the best of the new dramas. (Special premiere Monday, Sept. 15, at 10 p.m., after which "Hayes" will air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. as of Sept. 23.)
Dellaventura seems to have evolved from Danny Aiello's success last season as a wise old mobster in the CBS miniseries "The Last Don." This time Aiello's on the right side of the law, but in an unconventional -- if once again wise old -- way, leading a team of gang-busting vigilantes who solve cases that stymie the cops. (Tuesday, 10 p.m., Sept. 23.)
Public Eye With Bryant Gumbel. As much of the free world knows, Gumbel left NBC's "Today" show earlier this year to accept a generous offer from CBS News, and this new prime-time magazine is, after hosting the Emmy Awards tonight, his first on-air assignment for his new employer. Few details have been released, but CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves confidently declares, "Bryant Gumbel is the best in the business" and "one of the most consistent winners in television history." (Wednesday, 9 p.m., Oct. 1.)
Meego technically stars TV sitcom vet Bronson Pinchot, but viewers may be more interested in co-star Jonathan Lipnicki, the bespectacled tyke who stole scenes from Tom Cruise in the hit movie "Jerry Maguire" (the scenes that Cuba Gooding Jr. didn't steal, that is.) Pinchot plays an alien nanny from outer space (yes, really) and Lipnicki one of the kids left in his care. By the time it's over, you'll believe a tot can fly. (Friday, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 19.)
The Gregory Hines Show is another component in CBS's bid to imitate and conquer the family-aimed "TGIF" sitcoms over on ABC. Hines, better known as a dancer, is merely okay playing a divorced father with saggy-baggy eyes whose son (lovably played by Brandon Hammond) is just discovering what makes girls different from boys. Good for him, but not so good for us: The show is achingly familiar and routine. (Friday, 9 p.m., Sept. 26.) New NBC Shows
The Tony Danza Show. Not so much a sitcom as a hideous monstrosity from Hell, Danza's latest casts him as a recently separated daddy trying to raise two teenage girls and write a sports column on a computer he refers to as an "evil typewriter." Everyone in the cast gets to yell and scream and make sex jokes, with Danza hogging the worst for himself. Near the end, Daddy tells his daughters: "I'm doin' the best I can. If that's not good enough for you, then you just do what you want." Okey-dokey, Tony, we'll change the channel. (Wednesday, 8 p.m., premiering Sept. 24.)
Built to Last was constructed partly to correct NBC's shortage of minority programming. African American stand-up comic Royale Watkins plays the oldest son in a large middle-class family that's rocked when the patriarch (played by super-smooth veteran Paul Winfield) is slowed down by a heart attack. His son must take over the family business. The cast includes yet another cute kid with glasses from "Jerry Maguire": Jeremy Suarez. (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 24.)
Working suggests what the musical comedy "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" would have been like if it had no music and little comedy. Fred Savage, having left "The Wonder Years" far behind, plays a new employee at a huge corporation whose fatuous ass of a boss tells him "a complete disregard for ethics and fair play" is a plus -- just as it probably is at NBC. The workplace is filled with wackies, most of them one-note bores, whereas Savage never quite works his notes up even to one. (Wednesday, 9:30 p.m., Oct. 18.)
Union Square is a "Friends" imitation in which the friends never leave the coffee shop -- or, in this case, a strategically placed Manhattan diner where characters come and go and recite, at the tops of their voices, the stories of their lives. Most of the customers couldn't care less, and viewers probably won't, either. (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 25.)
Veronica's Closet brings the rather oafish Kirstie Alley back to sitcomedy as a celebrity businesswoman who has filled America's malls with shops selling sexy lingerie. Veronica is for some reason in a virtually perpetual feverish tizzy and as played by Alley looks as though she couldn't run a three-legged race, much less a company. Her husband is a philandering louse and her father a palavering lush. And they're all worth going out of one's way to avoid. (Thursday, 9:30 p.m., Sept. 25.)
Players. Super-rapper Ice-T easily and breezily dominates this slick and enjoyable action drama about three ex-cons who serve as undercover scam artists for the FBI. Beefy Costas Mandylor, formerly of "Picket Fences," and Frank John Hughes play his two street-smart and computer-crafty cronies. Producer Dick Wolf is best known for the grim seriousness of "Law & Order" and "New York Undercover," but his lighter side proves very appealing, too. (Friday, 8 p.m., Oct. 17.)
Sleepwalkers adds more howlable hooey to NBC's hokey "thrillogy" lineup (right between "The Pretender" and "Profiler"), this time with clownish twaddle that borrows from the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, the film "Flatliners" and a nifty 1984 chiller called "Dreamscape." At a mysterious institute midway between here and there, scientists help people whose dreams don't end when they wake up. The troubled dozers get inserted into plastic tubes and sent off to dreamland to dodge sleepytime creeps and demons -- and to set new lows in grievously bad acting. Help, I'm trapped in a lousy TV show, and I can't wake up! (Saturday, 9 p.m., Nov. 1.)
Jenny. Alas, poor Jenny. She used to be so funny. That was back on MTV, when fabulous knockout and former Playboy centerfold Jenny McCarthy co-hosted the cheerfully humiliating game show "Singled Out." She seemed a natural for a sitcom, but this sitcom is sadly unnatural, and Jenny has to be part of a Thelma-and-Louisey twosome, the other half being Heather Paige Kent as her longtime pal. They move into the Hollywood home of Jenny's dead father (George Hamilton, spoofing himself for the zillionth time) and fend off two clucks who live in the guest house. Poor Jenny! Poor us! (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 28.) New Fox Shows
Ally McBeal -- a k a "Silly McDumb." An achingly gimmicky comedy-drama about a feisty young lawyer (Calista Flockhart) who joins a new firm only to discover that the long-lost love of her life (dull Gil Bellows) works there, too, only now he's married to a smart darling played by ever-more-beautiful Courtney Thorne-Smith (like she'd give this loser the time of day). Borrowing from "Billy Liar" and "Walter Mitty" and other such films, "McBeal" shows us the heroine's inner thoughts, fantasies and metaphors right there on the screen -- like when she wishes her breasts were bigger and they proceed to grow, ha ha. The worst show yet from lawyer-turned-writer David E. Kelley. (Monday, 9 p.m., already premiered.)
Between Brothers stars Tommy Davidson and Kadeem Hardison as two guys who like to hang out in Chicago, their kind of town, with buddies Kelly Perine and Dondre T. Whitfield. (Thursday, 8:30 p.m.)
413 Hope Street, an ambitious urban drama series co-produced by comic Damon Wayans, is a huge improvement on a similarly themed show called "Crisis Center" that aired a few seasons ago. 413 Hope St. is a crisis center, and in the pilot, there were plenty of crises to go around: a young mother forced to turn "one last trick" by her pimp boyfriend so he can buy more crack; a guilt-ridden homosexual distraught over being HIV-positive; and so on. The best thing about the show is Richard Roundtree as the center's director; he's got stature and impact to spare. The worst thing is that it's all as overwrought as a silent movie melodrama, and sometimes less plausible. (Thursday, 9 p.m., already premiered.)
The Visitor helps maintain Fox's tradition of scaring its audience, much to its apparent delight. Basically an elaboration on an old "Twilight Zone" episode, "Visitor" stars John Corbett as an Air Force pilot lost in the Bermuda Triangle in 1947. Fifty years later he returns to civilization -- not a day older though presumably deeper in debt. Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it? Or maybe not. (Friday, 8 p.m., Sept. 19.) Weblets
"Weblets" is one way of referring to the two tiny new networks -- Paramount's UPN and the WB from Warner Bros. -- that so far program only a few hours of prime-time fare each week. They could also be called nitworks, nutworks or gnatworks, but they should remember that people used to laugh at Fox, too.
Things are looking up at the WB. Alright Already, a daft comedy airing Sunday nights and starring Carol Leifer, is one of the funniest new shows of the season, different from every other sitcom on the air -- except one. That one is "Seinfeld," on which Leifer worked as writer and producer. But "Alright Already" is simply in the same vein, not a clone, and it has hilarious absurdities that are all its own.
Oddly, the sophisticated "Alright" airs right after one of the WB's worst new series, The Tom Show, yet another futile attempt to make a TV star out of hapless comic Tom Arnold, this time as a small-time producer at a St. Paul, Minn., TV station.
Hitz and Head Over Heels, new to UPN at 9 and 9:30 Tuesday nights, are not exactly sparkling entertainments (and "Hitz" manages the dubious achievement of bringing Andrew Dice Clay back to TV), but as blunt and gag-ridden sitcoms, they're actually superior to Tony Danza's punishing new sitcom on big fat NBC, or the abysmal "George & Leo" on home-sweet-CBS. And "Hitz" follows UPN's established hit "Moesha," a sly charmer that has found a large and loyal audience. Movies and Specials
ABC's original movies this season will include, at long last, a new production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella, originally produced live on CBS in 1956 and starring newcomer Julie Andrews (a later, taped version starred Lesley Ann Warren.) Delayed for years, this new "Cinderella" was to star Whitney Houston in the title role, but after all that waiting, she decided she was too old and will play the wicked stepmother instead. Brandy Norwood, star of UPN's "Moesha," stars as Cindy. You go, girl.
Other ABC movies: Bad as I Wanna Be, based on NBA superstar Dennis Rodman's naughty autobiography; Futuresport, starring Wesley Snipes in a sci-fi action film that sounds suspiciously like "Rollerball"; Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair in a new version of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window, this time directed by Reeve; and Oprah Winfrey Presents: Before Women Had Wings, about brave and courageous women who conquered sadness and adversity by relying on their own -- yadda, yadda, yadda.
Winfrey will also produce an ABC miniseries, The Wedding, starring Halle Berry in an adaptation of Dorothy West's novel.
And here's a truly unprecedented development for you: Peter Benchley has written yet another thriller about a monster from the deep who terrorizes a small community. Creature, as the ABC miniseries is called, is based on Benchley's book "White Shark" (hmm, that rings a bell somehow). ABC says the monster this time is "a horrifying new breed of amphibious predator."
Speaking of which -- ABC also promises A Tribute to Aaron Spelling, two hours devoted to TV's most shameless slinger of shlock, who gave the world "Dynasty" and "Fantasy Island" -- at a date to be announced.
CBS movies boast such stars as Sissy Spacek, playing Helen Keller in Monday After the Miracle, presumably a sequel to "The Miracle Worker"; Jack Lemmon in Running Home, about a 70-year-old runaway; and, on "The Hallmark Hall of Fame," the great Julie Harris in Ellen Foster.
The CBS miniseries lineup includes four new hours of mush from Erich Segal, Only Love; an adaptation of James Redfield's bestseller The Celestine Prophecy and Mama Flora's Family, based on a story by Alex "Roots" Haley.
NBC has had good luck refilming old literary classics in recent years, so this season the network has scheduled a new version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Other NBC movies: Cloned, starring Elizabeth Perkins as a grieving mother who learns her dead son has been cloned by a scientist; and Silencing Mary, yet another movie about a victim of date rape.
House of Frankenstein brings back one of the world's favorite monsters for an NBC miniseries that will also feature a vampire or two and even a rapacious raptor. Another intriguing miniseries from NBC, Merlin, will make generous use of special effects in telling the tale of Merlin the Magician and his tricks. Public TV
Ken Burns, PBS hero, steps up to the plate again this season with an awkwardly titled new documentary Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, airing Nov. 4 and 5. The 10th anniversary of the series The American Experience will be celebrated with a biography of President Truman on Oct. 5 and 6. And one of the "American Masters" specials will be devoted to the rich history and legacy of Vaudeville (Nov. 26).
Among "Mobil Masterpiece Theatre" offerings: The Mill on the Floss, from a novel by George Eliot (airing Oct. 12); The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a two-part adaptation of a novel by Anne Bronte (Oct. 19 and 26); and The Moonstone, a detective story about a cursed but priceless diamond (Nov. 2).
PBS will also offer documentaries on such subjects as genetic research, the American Revolution, the GI Bill and interstate highways. Maybe too much excitement for one season, eh? Cable
American Movie Classics (AMC) celebrates its fourth annual Film Preservation Festival Oct. 3-5 with this year's theme being Classic Suspense. Several Alfred Hitchcock titles will be shown -- most notable among them the newly and lovingly restored version of his erotic 1958 thriller Vertigo starring Kim Novak and the late James Stewart.
"Vertigo," currently being shown by the Starz pay cable channel, will air on AMC Oct. 4, to be preceded by Harrison Engle's enlightening and entertaining documentary Obsessed With Vertigo, which details the work that went into restoring the film and the legends that have grown up around it.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which has the most magnificent film library on the planet, will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the birth of talking pictures with a showing of The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, on Oct. 6. They don't grow corn like that anymore. TCM will unearth another historic oldie Oct. 27 when it presents the U.S. cable premiere of the left-wing documentary Salt of the Earth, suppressed immediately upon its release in 1954.
The film tells the story of Mexican American miners striking for better working conditions. Most of the filmmakers who worked on it had been blacklisted during the frantic communist scares of the late '40s and early '50s. Will Geer, a blacklisted actor who appears in "Salt of the Earth," returned to the public eye many years later -- as beloved old Grandpa on "The Waltons." Do you s'pose Grandpa Walton was a commie?
HBO, the No. 1 pay cable network, continues to supplement its theatrical features with original made-for-TV movies. Ving Rhames will star in Don King: Only in America, a biography of the nothing-if-not-colorful fight promoter. Among the most ambitious HBO projects: From the Earth to the Moon, a series of 12 films chronicling the Apollo space missions, with Tom "Houston, we have a problem" Hanks as executive producer.
"The Larry Sanders Show," the most acidic and sardonic of all the world's sitcoms, won't be back until early 1998, but The Chris Rock Show, starring the increasingly and deservedly popular young comic, returned to HBO Friday night, and new "live" editions will air Sept. 19 and 26.
Whitney Houston will perform in concert from Washington's own Constitution Hall on HBO on Oct. 5. And looking way ahead, expect Jerry Seinfeld to do his stand-up comedy on HBO from the stage of Carnegie Hall sometime next year.
For tickets to the Houston or Seinfeld shows, run out into the yard and start praying. Real hard. Right about now. CAPTION: TOM SHALES'S BEST & WORST OF 1997 The five best shows: DHARMA & GREG NOTHING SACRED MICHAEL HAYES ALRIGHT ALREADY BROOKLYN SOUTH The five worst: TONY DANZA GEORGE & LEO UNION SQUARE SLEEPWALKERS THE TOM SHOW CAPTION: A RED-LETTER DAY FOR RATINGS
One new wrinkle for the fall is a change in the still-young parental guidance ratings that networks apply to their programs. After clamorous choruses from Congress and restless activist groups, all networks except NBC have agreed, as of Oct. 1, to supplement ratings such as TV-14 with the letters S, V and L -- for sex, violence and language -- thus making it easier to understand why a show got the rating it did.
This will also be quite a convenience for sex fiends who don't want to waste time on shows that are merely bloody or foul-mouthed. CAPTION: On NBC, Kirstie Alley, above, stars in "Veronica's Closet"; and "Built to Last," below, features, clockwise from top, Paul Winfield, Denise Dowse, Geoffrey Owens, Natalie Desselle, J. Lamont Pope, Royale Watkins and Jeremy Suarez, center. CAPTION: CBS's eye openers include, clockwise from above, Bryant Gumbel in "Public Eye"; Judd Hirsch and Bob Newhart in "George & Leo"; and Danny Aiello in "Dellaventura." CAPTION: ABC's new series includes, clockwise from above, "Cracker," with Robert Pastorelli; "C-16," with Morris Chestnut, Angie Harmon, Eric Roberts, Zach Grenier, Christine Tucci and D.B. Sweeney; Tim Curry in "Over the Top"; John Ales and Harley Jane Kozak in "You Wish"; and James Belushi and James Remar in "Total Security." CAPTION: Richard Roundtree is the man in the middle on Fox's new drama "413 Hope St."