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Tom Shales's Best
"Relativity," ABC
"Cosby," CBS
"Party Girl," Fox
"Pearl," CBS
"Spin City," ABC

Tom Shales's Worst
"Mr. Rhodes," NBC
"Dark Skies," NBC
"EZ Street," CBS
"Millennium," Fox
"Lush Life," Fox (already cancelled)

These charts list the primetime lineups of the four major networks:
Monday; Tuesday; Wednesday; Thursday; Friday; Saturday; Sunday

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Day by Day, ABC to Fox

By Michael E. Hill
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 8, 1996; Page Y09

There are no new shows on the Sunday primetime schedule, but there is some rearrangement of the hold-overs for the 1996-97 season. (Click on the day of the week for the primetime lineups of the four major networks.)

"Touched by an Angel" assumes the slot held for most of a dozen seasons by "Murder, She Wrote," opposite the relatively new NBC sitcoms, "3rd Rock From the Sun" and "Boston Common."

Fox returns "Firefighters" to the air after a game show, "Big Deal," completes a short run. Sunday also is home to "The X-Files" as of Oct. 27.

"Dangerous Minds" offers a truly leaden knock-off of the Michele Pfeiffer flick. Annie Potts takes the TV role of the ex-Marine out to shape up a mostly minority high school class that is long on ability but short of motivation. The woman on whose experience the vehicle is based was noted for her unorthodox teaching methods. Very unorthodox, judging by the pilot.

"Cosby." Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad have as much chemistry as any couple on television. "She can catch," said Cosby, summing up Rashad's ability to take an impromptu comic toss from him and run with it. Madeline Kahn is the drop-in neighbor. Cosby, playing a worker newly laid off, squeezes a lot of humor from his role as a fellow amazed and appalled at the common outrages found in and around home. Like the laundry that charges for cleaning a stained garment, even though it cannot get the stain out. Casting of some members of the three-generation household was still underway late in the summer. Should be interesting to see how it all comes together. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Ink." Speaking of stains, they were still scrubbing a few spots out of this one this summer, too. Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen are counting on the same chemistry that led them to marriage to make a success of this comedy about a divorced couple working together at a newspaper. She's the boss. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Mr. Rhodes." Standup comic Tom Rhodes has the habit of elevating his voice at the end of sentences. This inflection makes everything he says sound like a question? His character in "Mr. Rhodes" does the same thing? He plays this offbeat novelist who falls into teaching at a starchy prep school? And his methods are very unorthodox, but not as strange as Annie Potts's? (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Party Girl," inspired by the non-hit movie of the same title, introduces us to Christine Taylor (of the Brady Bunch movies) playing a carefree young Manhattanite forced by cruel and unusual circumstances to work at the public library. Bummer. There, she has to cope with people who take their work seriously, notably godmother and boss Swoosie Kurtz, as well as solving the mysteries of the Dewey Decimal System. (Read Tom Shales's preview). (This show is on hiatus).

"Lush Life" features two young women thrown together for the duration of the TV season by virtue of their friendship and a failed marriage. Karyn Parsons is the one with the great hair and fractured relationship. Lori Petty is the one with the cropped hair, big eyes and sassy lines. You'll remember her as Geena Davis's sister who couldn't hit in "A League of Their Own." (This show has been cancelled).

"Life's Work" features standup comic Lisa Ann Walter as a wife and mother returning to the workplace after having done the child-rearing, night-school thing. Her job: assistant state's attorney for Baltimore. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Spin City" has, hands down, the most fully realized pilot episode among the season's new comedies. Michael J. Fox, as the crafty deputy mayor in charge of spin control for a doltish New York mayor portrayed by Barry Bostwick, will strike some as just the sort of guy Alex Keaton of "Family Ties" might have turned into. Media mavens will gasp at the conflict-of-interest romance between Fox and Carla Gugino, who plays a reporter. Hey, it's a sitcom -- that sort of thing never happens in real life. Richard Kind, as the press secretary, rounds out a cast executive producer Gary David Goldberg can be proud of. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Promised Land." Producer Martha Williamson tells the story, choking back tears as the narrative builds, about watching the national memorial service in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. She was in bed, recovering from surgery at the time. During the service, one of the speakers made an appeal. Williamson recalled that he said, " 'I want us all now, if you have a bell, go find a bell in your house and go stand outside and ring it.' And I got out of bed, and found some dumb little bell, some little thing with an angel on it." She went out in her bedclothes and rang her bell. "And I could hear bells up and down the street. And I don't know if those were Republican bells, or Democratic bells, or conservative right or liberal left bells. They were American bells, and I sobbed for my country."

This is the sensibility and passion of the woman who created "Touched by an Angel" and its spinoff production, "Promised Land." Gerald McRaney, Wendy Phillips and Celeste Holm, as McRaney's mother, head a family that has met hardship, as they and the two children are introduced to us and touched by angels. The series will follow their travels as they look for work, McRaney's troubled brother, and America.

"Something So Right." Too bad NBC promo'd this show to death during the Olympics (like everything else). By now, the surprise and spark are long gone from the oft-repeated killer-line delivered by young Emily Ann Lloyd, describing why she can't attend her new family's traditional Sunday dinner. The family is formed when Mel Harris takes a third husband, Jere Burns. Harris has a daughter, Lloyd, and a son, Billy L. Sullivan, by her previous husbands, "Dumb and Dumber." Burns brings a daughter, Marne Patterson, to the mix. We join them barely a fortnight into their new situation. Slick comedy follows. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Townies" brings Molly Ringwald to TV series work for the first time as the glue that holds an unlikely trio of young women together in the unlikely town of Gloucester, Mass. The pals are Lauren Graham and Jenna Elfman. Graham, who went to Langley High School in McLean, Va., plays a new mom about to marry her child's father. (Elfman is the one with the "Regular or decaf" line in the Honda commercial.) (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Pearl" brings Rhea Perlman back to series television as a widow who has enrolled at a prestigious university. There she collides with Malcolm McDowell, out to win a supporting-actor Emmy as a delightfully arrogant and overbearing professor. Carol Kane plays Pearl's sister-in-law. This could be fun. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Public Morals." Much of the early buzz about this show has to do with the differences between CBS and producer Steven Bochco over what sort of dialogue is suitable for prime-time. Even if it's filed down a bit from the pilot, the language and the show's theme -- a sitcom revolving around the lives and work of police vice officers -- will still have sharp edges. The ensemble cast is in the hands of innovative executive producer Jay Tarses. (Read Tom Shales's preview). (This show has been cancelled).

"EZ Streets" is a drama about a good guy and a bad one living parallel lives on mean urban streets. Ken Olin stars. The producer is Paul Haggis, creator of "Due South." It's hard to imagine both shows coming from the same person. "South" was droll in tone, simple in concept, quirky in style. "EZ" is a dense, multi-layered drama that will challenge the viewer's attention span and willingness to commit to a complex piece of story-telling. (Read Tom Shales's preview). (This show is on hiatus).

"Men Behaving Badly" is about just that. Rob Schneider reaches new depths in boorishness. Ron Eldard from "ER" should stick with driving an ambulance. Justine Bateman -- in only the second sitcom she's ever attempted -- is Eldard's girlfriend and the show's best hope. At first glance, she appears to be way too good for him, and the series, too. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Moloney" offers Peter Strauss as a police psychiatrist, a man inclined to talk it out rather than shoot it out. He is aided and abetted by his assistant D.A. pal, Wendell Pierce. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Suddenly Susan." At this point, about the only thing certain about this show is that Brooke Shields stars in it. Virtually everyone else was recast after the pilot was shot, and the premise was adjusted to make Shields a nice young woman who's broken off a relationship and has a job with a hip publication in San Francisco. The fractured pilot showed one thing, though: Shields's feel for comedy may be a pleasant surprise. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Sabrina, The Teenage Witch" joins ABC's Friday lineup of youth-skewed sitcoms. Melissa Joan Hart, from Nickelodeon's "Clarissa Explains it All," is an otherwise normal 16-year-old who has the power of witchcraft. Based on the Archie Comics story. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Clueless" brings to television much of the cast that made the movie an item of interest, except for its star Alicia Silverstone. The role of Cher, the Bel Air shopping specialist, is taken by Rachel Blanchard, another familiar Nickelodeon face ("Are You Afraid of the Dark?"), with much of the rest of the cast held over from the film. Producer Amy Heckerling, who is so successful at this sort of thing, holds the reins.

"Everybody Loves Raymond." Standup comic Ray Romano, his wife (Patricia Heaton) and their children live across the street from his parents. Anyone dumb enough to live across the street from their parents deserve all the things that happen to them, like having the parents -- even if they are Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle -- drop in each week to run their lives. His strange brother, Brad Garrett, often comes along. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Scott Bakula and Maria Bello are secret agents representing different interests who will somehow work together each week in a technology-laced action show. Like the old "Remington Steele" series, the background of one of the operatives -- in this case, hers -- is shrouded in mystery. The action in the pilot was energetic, and Bakula is one of TV's most agreeable leading men. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Millennium." Chris Carter's world, there is a lot to worry about. For instance, some would take comfort in the statistic that says a significant percentage of homicides are committed by acquaintances of the victim. Carter, creator of "The X-Files," instead looks at the kill-count by strangers and marvels at -- and worries about -- the randomness of death. That idea of worry -- it matters little about what -- informs "Millennium." Carter's new show stars Lance Henriksen, perfectly cast as a haunted man, a burned-out case. A retired FBI agent who specialized in tracking serial killers, he brings wife Megan Gallagher and their daughter to Seattle, seeking a less troubled life than the one he had in the other Washington. But serial killings are committed in Seattle, too, and strange stuff keeps coming in the mail. Even his gift haunts him, his penchant for seeing what a killer has seen. In Carter's hands, this could be riveting. And a bit scary. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Common Law" takes us to the world of Greg Giraldo and Megyn Price. He is a Harvard man who has not forgotten his roots (Hispanic, Queens), and she is an Upper East Sider. They are lawyers in the same firm, with a secret romance, and their legal practices are sometimes at odds. On hand to help trade punch lines are David Pasquesi as a pompous attorney likely to head the firm one day, and Diana-Maria Riva as the spunky office manager. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Relativity." She is strolling around a square in Rome, and she is sobbing. Suddenly he is there, a good listener and much more. So begins the most engaging romance of the TV season. Kimberly Williams, who bears a slight resemblance to Natalie Wood, plays a young woman engaged to one man yet attracted to another. And she takes adorable to a new level. David Conrad is handsome, gentle and persistent. You haven't seen kisses like theirs in a long time. Her family and friends are gossipy, funny and warm. The whole affair is in the hands of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, who produced "thirtysomething." It figures to be the perfect date-at-home show. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Early Edition." Stockbroker Kyle Chandler is summoned to his door one morning by a cat reminiscent of Morris, paws planted on a newspaper -- for the next day. How he handles this daily peek into the future is the stuff of the series. Neat idea, messy execution, at least in the first episode. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Love and Marriage" takes us to the home of Patricia Healy and Tony Denison, who have two jobs (one day, one night) and three kids and no time for anything. Another version of domestic life has just moved in next door, in the form of a family newly returned from the suburbs, with everything under control. We'll see what kind of common ground they find. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

Saturday night is for the paranoid and the paranormal on NBC.

Producer Bryce Zabel believes that in 1947 something landed at Roswell, N.M., that did not originate on this planet. If you like that idea, you'll love "Dark Skies," Zabel's version of recent American history shaped by the presence of aliens. Eric Close plays an eager congressional aide who stumbles onto another side of events such as the Kennedy assassination. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"The Pretender" features Michael T. Weiss as a genius with a complex past and the ability to master almost any profession. The seductive Andrea Parker gives the proceedings a "Fugitive" spin as she pursues Weiss for reasons of her own. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

"Profiler." Ally Walker is an investigator adept at reconstructing crimes and drawing conclusions about perpetrators from scant evidence. Playing a character with some parallels to Henriksen's in "Millennium," she's drawn out of her reclusion and back to crime-fighting by FBI agent Robert Davi, one of film's best bad guys. Like Henriksen's, Walker's character is a haunted person. Both "Millennium's" Carter and the "Profiler" producers maintain that their characters are based on the type of folks who actually do this sort of work. But special effects give the proceedings a hint of the psychic -- and a strong sense of the horrible. (Read Tom Shales's preview).

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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