A Day-by-Day Viewers Guide
By Michael E. Hill
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 1999
The six broadcast networks trot out some 40 programs this fall, a figure that, like your gas mileage, may vary.
Shiri Appleby is one of leads in the WB's teen-alien drama "Roswell."
(Courtesy the WB)
You might not want to count a new offering that simply brings wrestling from cable to broadcast. Or a half-hour version of "Ally McBeal," derived from the full-hour version. Or another movie slot. Or a show that has developmental problems and might not debut for weeks or months, if at all.
A number of the season's new series are based on past experiences of their creators, and some shows may remind you of their previous work.
Some of the series already have debuted and may already seem not so new. But the bulk of the shows take their first bow this week.
The charts accompanying this guide indicate the timeslots the programs will settle into; premiere episodes may air in other time periods.
Here, day by day, show by show is what's offered by the six broadcast networks for the last TV season of the 1900s.
Debuts next Sunday on ABC
Show creator David E. Kelley ("Ally McBeal") puts his twist on the private eye show, this one featuring an agency run by two women.
The players: Paula Marshall is the agency owner who, more or less, welcomes Gina Gershon to the firm.
The show: It's a stylishly filmed, quick-paced program with the sort of snappy dialogue you'd expect from a show honchoed by Kelley.
Debuts Thursday on NBC
It's not a spinoff from "ER," but that show's executive producer, John Wells, has put together a dramatic series focused on the folks who often feed patients into the emergency room-an ensemble of policemen, firefighters and paramedics.
"I accumulated lots of story material in working on 'ER,' " said Wells. "But it was hard to extend 'ER' to include them."
In the "ER" tradition, Wells keeps the stories, both personal and professional, interwoven and moving along.
MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE
Debuts early next year on Fox.
The situation: Malcolm, played by Frankie Muniz, is a child found to have a high IQ and destined for fast-tracking at school.
The comedy: He's a member of a strange family-strange, that is, unless it's customary at your house for Dad (Bryan Cranston) to stand at the breakfast table while Mom (Jane Kaczmarek) shaves his very very hairy, very naked body. Or unless it's not unusual in your neighborhood for Mom to go about the house topless and answer the door that way.
Producer Linwood Boomer says the show is vaguely based on his own childhood, "with a lot of exaggeration."
Through the football season, Fox will run NFL overruns and "World's Funniest Videos" in this timeslot.
JACK AND JILL
Debuts next Sunday on the WB.
The gimmick: She's called Jack and he's called Jill.
The players: Amanda Peet and Ivan Sergei play a journalist and toy designer meeting, romantically but awkwardly at first, in New York. You know it will get less awkward for there to be a series.
Debuts Monday on CBS
The situation: This is one of two new shows on the schedule that surrounds a male character with a platoon of females. Producer Chris Thompson, who also has "Action" on Fox, says his series is somewhat autobiographical he has a wife, an ex-wife and a loopy mother-in-law, as does Alfred Molina in the series.
The comedy: Molina is supported by Sharon Lawrence and established TV comics Betty White, Park Overall and Dixie Carter, who is featured in two series this season.
Longtime Betty White fans will be delighted to see her return to a more demur role than the foul-mouthed character she played in the movie "Lake Placid." How could she have agreed to dialogue like that? "Well," White said, flashing her best naïve "Golden Girls" expression, "as long as I don't know what the words mean . . ."
Debuts Monday on CBS
Producer Paul Haggis, who created the quirky cult favorite "Due South" and the densely layered (and unsuccessful) "EZ Streets," goes more mainstream with one of TV's staples, a legal drama. "It is more traditional in form," he conceded, "but I don't think it will be in content. We're dealing with things that should make you cry and make you laugh."
The series revolves around Kathleen Quinlan as a lawyer rebuilding her life and practice in the aftermath of her husband's departure. She assembles a staff that includes Julie Warner, Christopher McDonald and Dixie Carter, who may have the plum role as a woman with an intriguing past.
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT
Debuts Monday on NBC
The police unit in this extension of Dick Wolf's "Law & Order" franchise are cops who deal with crimes, generally homicides, with sexual aspects. If sensitive viewers think the subject matter is a little grim for a 9 p.m. timeslot, so does Wolf, who'd like to see the show moved to 10 p.m.
The setup: Unlike "Law & Order," which features cops and prosecuting attorneys, this one focuses on police work. Heading the cast are Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay. Dann Florek, one of the early "Law & Order" hands, also is on board.
The gimmick: Look for cross-over appearances by "L&O" cast members, especially during ratings sweeps periods, and Richard Belzer's character from the late "Homicide: Life on the Street" has joined the SVU.
The tie-in: The show's episodes will also play on cable's USA Network.
TIME OF YOUR LIFE
Debuts Oct. 25 on Fox
This spinoff separates Jennifer Love Hewitt's character from the popular "Party of Five."
The premise: Hewitt's Sarah is off to New York to find a new life.
The bonus: She's also looking for her biological father.
Premiered in August on UPN
In the "Moesha" spinoff, that series's most popular supporting character, Countess Vaughn's Kim, is off to college with her mother, played by Mo'Nique. So far, there's been a lot of sassy dialogue as both women keep an eye out for men &3150; sometimes the same ones.
Premiered in August on UPN
Jaleel White, fully grown and a bit buffed after a long run as Steve Urkel on "Family Matters," tries his hand at a young-adult sitcom, but on the WB rather than his old network, ABC.
At a time when TV executives have been challenged, chiefly by the NAACP, to heighten the visibility of minorities on network television, Jonathan Prince, the "Grown Ups" producer, noted this show was written color blind. "We just happened to get Jaleel," he said.
Debuts Monday on the WB
Legendary producer Aaron Spelling and Brenda Hampton, who teamed up on "7th Heaven," are responsible for this one too.
The premise: Gregory Harrison plays a sheriff in a small seaside town, a single dad raising his kids with the help of the venerable Rue McClanahan.
Promise: If you love "7th Heaven," which attracts the WB's biggest audience, the network says you should like "Safe Harbor" it will have the same vibe. They expect the show to appeal to a slightly older audience than "7th Heaven," and Harrison will deal with crime as well as his domestic situation.
Fun fact: Two of the show's children, Christopher Khayman Lee and Chyler Leigh, are real-life brother and sister.
ONCE AND AGAIN
Debuts Tuesday on ABC
Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz secured their niche in TV annals with two critically acclaimed dramas: "thirtysomething," which explored the anxieties of married couples about that age, and "My So-Called Life," which dealt with the insecurities of adolescence.
Their new show combines elements of both of the old ones.
The premise: Sela Ward and Billy Campbell play divorced parents, with kids in tow, finding romance amid the complications of their families. It's "thirtysomething," with the main characters divorced rather than married.
The subplot: Among the intelligently cast supporting characters, Julia Whelan is a worthy successor to "My So-Called Life's" Claire Danes as a young person fighting her way through the awkward years.
The timing: "Once and Again" holds the "NYPD Blue" timeslot until the police series returns Nov. 9. The new series is scheduled to find a slot on Mondays early next year.
Previews Sunday on CBS
The setup: Amy Brenneman plays a single mother returning home to be a judge.
The complication: Going home means being around mom, a retired social worker played by Tyne Daly. "In this fictional situation," said Daly, "the daughter has gone further career-wise than her mom." She is proud of her daughter, but also a bit jealous.
THE MIKE O'MALLEY SHOW
Debuts Tuesday on NBC
Vital information: Mike O'Malley is the fellow who plays The Rick, the obsessive Boston sports fan on those amusing ESPN promos.
Small surprise: O'Malley is cast in this show as a sports-loving guy's guy.
Cheap shot you'll hear frequently this season: If NBC wanted The Rick, they should have bought the promos instead.
Debuts Sept. 28 on Fox
Premise: Past episodes of "Ally McBeal" cut from a one-hour comedy-drama into a half-hour comedy.
Previews Sept. 30 on UPN
Premise: A racially-mixed hip-hop group carries on in outrageous fashion.
The goal: "We wanted to make a show kids would love," said Neal Moritz, the executive producer. "It's 'The Monkees meets the Beastie Boys.'"
Debuts Oct. 12 on UPN
This action drama features Sean Patrick Flanery and Guy Torry as security men at a Las Vegas casino.
Debuts Oct. 5 on the WB
Joss Whedon, who turned "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" into a series that both adolescent viewers and adult critics could appreciate, wraps a spinoff series around hunk David Boreanaz, whose fallen vampire character, Angel, left Sunnydale and Buffy in the season finale of that series. He resurfaces in Los Angeles with a new set of friends to redeem himself by helping others.
OH GROW UP
Debuts Wednesday on ABC
This sitcom centers on three guys living together: Stephen Dunham plays the ladies man, David Alan Basche is his best friend and John Ducey is the one who's moved in after separating from his wife-upon revealing that he's gay. The jolted wife, Rena Sofer, is on hand, along with Niesha Trout as the daughter Dunham's character didn't know he had.
Ah, but also on hand to observe and comment on matters through captions is the dog of the house, Mom.
Fun facts: Mom is played by Beans, a four-year-old female mixed Australian cattle dog. Studio Animal Services found her in a pound when she was four months old. How do you separate the stars from plain house pets? To be highly trainable for film work, a dog should have a strong food-and-play drive, meaning she'll still respond to a ball even after she's full of pet treats.
WORK WITH ME
Debuts Sept. 29 on CBS
The premise: Nancy Travis and Kevin Pollak play married lawyers. When things go sour at his firm, Pollak moves to his wife's, and the period of adjustment begins.
Pedigree note: Stephen Engel, the show's executive producer (Travis and Pollak also have that title) has a law degree and has written and/or produced for "Dream On," "Mad About You" and "Just Shoot Me."
CBS WEDNESDAY MOVIE
The network rolls out movies at 9 beginning Sept. 29.
THE WEST WING
Debuts Wednesday on NBC
The premise: Drama at the White House.
The chief executive: Martin Sheen. "I believe in non-violence," he noted, looking to future episodes. "But I'm playing a commander in chief who wants to use the military."
The creator: Aaron Sorkin. He offered an apology in advance if the Christian right is offended by a key scene in the first episode, "but I don't back off from what I've written. . . . 'West Wing' is not meant to be good for you. We're not telling you to eat your vegetables. [Such scenes] are there for the drama."
Premiered earlier this month on Fox
The premise: This hour drama is built around a family with a number of issues: Such as, what to do when the teen boy in the family has a girl sleep over? And there will be episodes dealing with cheating, marijuana, sex and death. Meanwhile, the parents, portrayed by Jon Tenney and Debrah Farentino, have long-standing irritations to work out.
Fun fact: Tenney is married to actress Teri Hatcher.
Debuts Oct. 6 on the WB
Devotees of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" might gravitate to "Roswell." It too combines teen characters caught up in fantasy or legend.
The premise: The Roswell alien landing really happened, and a number of teens living in that New Mexico town are descendants of that event.
The hook: The pilot is well-crafted and acted-Jason Behr and Shiri Appleby are among the solid ensemble-and there's a bit of fun along the way. You have to like the alien who listens to music from a CD by holding the disc to her ear.
THEN CAME YOU
Debuts Oct. 7 on ABC
This is another series based on the experience of its producer: Betsy Thomas, divorced at 32, met and eventually married a man 10 years her junior. Susan Floyd plays the thirtysomething on the rebound in the series, and Thomas Newton is the room service waiter she falls for.
Best line: On discovering they went to the same university, she asks what year he graduated. His answer: May.
Debuts Oct. 7 on ABC
Premise: Six twentysomethings in Manhattan sort out life after college.
Underlying social theory: There's something called a "second coming of age" people this age go through as members of a generation that is clueless, suicidal, self-involved, slightly over-educated but unable to find Nebraska on a map.
Pedigree: The show is the work of Kevin Williamson, creator of "Dawson's Creek." Like "Dawson's," he said, this piece is somewhat autobiographical.
STARK RAVING MAD
Debuts Thursday on NBC
Premise: Neil Patrick Harris, once TV's Doogie Howser, is cast as a book editor who must ride herd on a superstar horror novelist. Truly frightening is the resemblance the perpetually frantic Harris bears to "Frasier's" David Hyde Pierce.
Debut uncertain on Fox
The problem: This series, based on the theatrical film "Cruel Intentions," has been sent back for reworking. It might emerge in late November or early December. In the meantime, it's police videos in this timeslot.
Premiered last week on Fox
This is executive producer Chris Thompson's take on Hollywood in a series he originally took to HBO. Jay Mohr stars as a shark-like producer. "This is a show about bad behavior I've either seen, heard about or participated in," said Thompson.
Neat note: If the series lasts the whole season, production of the movie within the series will be completed.
Premiered in August on UPN
Cable's biggest draw comes to prime-time network television. World Wrestling Federation board chairman Vince McMahon enjoys defending wrestling against its detractors: "We're soap opera, talk show, comedy and drama rolled into one. We're the only variety show on television."
Previews Sept. 29 on the WB
Premise: High school cliques have a tremendous impact on students. The show's ensemble of factions serves to remind us, said co-creator Gina Matthews, that "adulthood is just high school with more money."
ODD MAN OUT
Debuts Friday on ABC
Here's another male surrounded by females. This one is a teenager, played by Erik von Detten, fighting for privacy and the right to use the bathroom in an all-female household. Markie Post plays Mom.
LOVE & MONEY
Debuts Oct. 8 on CBS
Premise: The young building super falls in love with the daughter of the rich couple who occupy the top floor. Swoosie Kurtz and David Ogden Stiers play the parents.
NOW AND AGAIN
Debuts Friday on CBS
The premise: In the first episode, insurance executive Michael Wiseman (in a brief appearance by John Goodman) meets an early, ugly end, only to wake up to find his brain transplanted into a near-perfect body, belonging to Eric Close. The first person he meets upon regaining consciousness is an imposing government doctor, played by Dennis Haysbert, who has plans for-and control of-this newly created superman.
The subplots: Wiseman is forbidden to ever see his wife, played by Margaret Colin, and she's fighting her late husband's company over his insurance. Meanwhile, there's this very mysterious "egg man."
The show's creator, Glenn Gordon Caron, noted that the tone of the first show varies, just as his much-praised "Moonlighting" often did. "I hope it will intrigue people and make them come back," he said. "Television is 50 years old, and there's now a body of TV literature. People know how shows generally go. This one is different."
Debuts Friday on NBC
Based on a British series, the show traces the ups and downs of three couples. Among the players are Dina Spybey, whom many viewers will remember from AMC's "Remember WENN," and Jean Louisa Kelly, who played the musically inclined ingenue in "Mr. Holland's Opus."
Debuts Oct. 15 on Fox
This cop series features Sean Maher as a 19-year-old who joins the Philadelphia police force, out to live down the reputation of his father who's been painted as corrupt.
Debuts Oct. 8 on Fox
Chris Carter, creator of "The X-Files," offers a new series that again poses his eternal question: What's going on here?
The premise: Scott Bairstow plays a young soldier lured into a virtual reality game that quickly turns deadly. Lots of combat scenes should hold interest, and the strange final scene should bring the curious back for episode two.
Fun facts soon to be cult facts: Carter likes to give his characters unusual names. "The X-Files's" Scully, for instance is a salute to Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully. "Harsh Realm" offers people named Hobbes, Pinocchio and Sophie. Carter explained: He went to school with a friend named Mike Pinocchio. Carter loves the philosophy of Hobbes, and "The Leviathan" inspired some aspects of the show. And about Sophie: "I lost someone by that name."
SHOCK WAVE CINEMA
Debuts Oct. 8 on UPN
This time block will feature original, two-hour films.
Preview Tuesday on the WB
Format: An addition to the short list of animated sitcoms, this one set in an arty neighborhood of diverse characters and centered on two brothers.
Local note: Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, the show's creators who used to help run "The Simpsons," are longtime working partners who met as students at Washington's St. Albans prep school.
FREAKS AND GEEKS
This series takes the viewer back to high school, circa 1980. That's the year the producers recall best from their own high school days, and the pilot suggests they had times that were tender and times that were brutal.
The ensemble of young actors, featuring John Daley and Linda Cardellini, have imposing acting résumés. Executive producer Judd Apatow, who spent time on "The Larry Sanders Show," said they rewrote the script to fit the actors they found and liked.
At a time when it's common for actors in their twenties to play teens, Daley, at 14, is younger than the character he plays.
In the scene in the first episode that defines how tough it can be to be an outsider, Daley and his friends are pummeled in a dodge-ball game. "That happened to me," said the show's creator, Paul Feig, "ball for ball."