Fall TV Preview Part 1
By Beth Hannan Rimmels
Between the networks jockeying for position and the end of the baseball season, the debut dates for fall TV shows can range from early September to late October. This year, programmers are dealing with the added snags of the presidential debates and the Sydney Olympics, so while a few returning shows debut new episodes in September, most new series donít appear until October.
First out of the gate is the WBís Grosse Point (8:30 p.m. Fridays starting Sept. 22. Check local listings for stations). Created by Darren Starr (Sex in the City, co-creator of Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210), itís a comedy about the behind-the-scenes drama, personalities and histrionics of a prime-time soap. Rumors claim that the show has been toned down a trifle when Aaron Spelling (the power-that-be behind Melrose and 90210) became miffed at a few too many satiric parallels to 90210, including an talentless actress who only got her part because daddy was the executive producer. Viewers can decide how coincidental the resemblance is to Tori Spelling.
The serious flip side to Grosse Pointe is NBCís Titans (8 p.m. Wednesday starting Oct. 4). Producer Spelling has the night-time soap opera formula down cold, and this version is like the Melrose crew if they had Dynastyís money. It even has Melrose alum Jack Wagner co-starring as the scheming younger brother of Williamsí family patriarch Richard (Perry King). But the hottest part of the numerous love triangles features Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers, Sleepy Hollow) as Navy pilot Chandler Williams, who returns home to find that dadís new trophy wife (Yasmine Bleeth of Baywatch, Nash Bridges) is the woman who broke his heart after a weeklong fling in Hawaii. Add in other wrinkles like Richardís ex-wife Gwen (played by Dallasí Victoria Principal) owning the mansion across the street, her daughters (played by Elizabeth Bogush of Felicity and Josie Davis of 90210) vying for David OíConnor (Ingo Rademacher, who was the popular Jax on General Hospital), the handsome manager of Gwenís nightclub, and sibling rivalry between Chandler and his ambitious brother Peter (John Barrowman of Central Park West), among many others, and is it any wonder that this series quickly builds from a slow opening to a sizzling cliffhanger in just the first episode? The only thing that could hurt it is a bad time slot combined with impatience from NBC. Given time, itís sure to be as much of a guilty pleasure as its predecessors.
Also looking promising for NBC is Ed (8 p.m. Sundays beginning Oct. 8), an hour-long mix of comedy and drama that has a quirky charm a la Ally McBeal, Picket Fences and Northern Exposure. Title character Ed Stevens (Tom Cavanagh) is a married attorney in NYC until the day heís fired and learns that his wife is having an affair with the mailman. Ed returns to the small town he grew up in ó named Stuckeyville Ė to lick his wounds and plan his next move. On impulse, he tries to spark a relationship with Carol (Julie Bowen of ER), the most popular girl from his high school class and ends up buying the local bowling alley, which, of course, has three eccentric employees. In the cold light of day, he begins reconsidering his rash decision but gradually the idea of simultaneously practicing law and running a bowling alley grows on him just as he starts looking more appealing to Carol. While the setup sounds absurd, its low-key execution gradually works its magic, aided in a large part by the extremely likable Lesley Boone as Molly, a high school friend of Edís and coworker of Carolís. Also appealing are Edís friends Mike (Josh Randall) and Nancy (Jana Marie Hupp), with whom Ed lives. Any couple juggling two careers and an infant will empathize with this pair.
Unfortunately, other parts of NBCís line-up are much more troublesome. The Michael Richards Show (8 p.m. Tuesdays beginning Oct. 24) has been revamped so many times with different supporting cast members that no tape is available at press time because the debut episode is still being reworked, though the basic setup remains the same ó Richards plays a bumbling, offbeat private investigator with unconventional methods in Los Angeles. The current cast, which includes veteran actors William Devane and Bill Cobbs, and Saturday Night Live alum Tim Meadows, is certainly talented but it remains to be seen if a character actor like Richards can carry a series, especially considering one that appears to steal liberally from his Seinfeld character Kramer.
Equally questionable is Cursed (8:30 p.m. Thursdays starting Oct. 12). Despite requesting a review tape, the only one sent was labeled "not for review purposes," so itís hard to say what might change in this comedy starring Steven Weber (Wings). Despite that, the biggest problem is that the premise sounds impossible to sustain: a happy-go-lucky guyís life is turned upside down when heís literally cursed after a bad blind date. That could make for a funny movie, but how do you make it work as an ongoing series? The "background" tape was not encouraging. For Weberís sake, since he is a charming, funny actor, I hope the broadcast version finds a solution.
ABCís debuting the smallest amount of new series Ė four Ė in part because the network is gambling that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire will sustain its ratings. With four airings a week, itís a gamble ABC needs to win. The network still hasnít finalized its debut dates but the most promising show is Gideonís Crossing (10 p.m. Oct. 10 and then 10 p.m. Wednesdays thereafter), a drama set in the experimental medicine unit of a Boston teaching hospital. Unlike ER, Gideonís Crossing explores how illness changes lives. Starring Emmy winner Andre Braugher (Homicide) with a talented, multi-cultural supporting cast that includes Ruben Blades, it has quietly attracted a strongly favorable buzz if it can survive opposite Law & Order.
ABCís most hyped series is The Geena Davis Show (9:30 Tuesdays starting Oct. 10), which features Geena Davis as a successful businesswoman whose life is turned upside down when she gets falls in love with a man and gets a complete family in the process. The supporting cast has talent to burn with Peter Horton (thirtysomething) as Geena's love interest and Mimi Rogers (Someone to Watch Over Me) costarring as her best friend, but weíve seen this premise before, and it often fails. At least medical shows are more flexible.
CBS stopped resisting its appeal to older viewers, though itís also casting a broader net without alienating its core viewers. Like the film version with Harrison Ford and the original TV version, The Fugitive (8 p.m. Fridays beginning Oct. 6) hopes to grab viewers of all ages. With likeably sincere Tim Daly (Wings) as the accused Dr. Richard Kimble and charismatic Mykelti Williamson (Three Kings) as the obsessive pursuer Lt. Philip Gerard, it has an excellent shot. The formula is the same as the David Janssen version Ė Kimble escapes execution and seeks his wifeís true killer, the one-armed man, while eluding Gerard Ė but the action is in keeping with the film. Still, it doesnít dumb down and the changes in technology from the original to today both help and hinder Kimble.
Another contender for CBS is C.S.I. (9 p.m. Fridays starting Oct. 6), which stands for the Crime Scene Investigators of Las Vegas. Sound like a snooze? Think again. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Con Air, Armageddon) is tackling television with his usual high-energy style. Imagine Bruckheimer doing Law & Order and youíve got it, though this series focuses on the forensics investigators rather than police detectives. William Petersen (To Live and Die in L.A.) stars as the eccentric lead forensic scientist in this colorful group of characters. In fact, they might be a bit too colorful. So much is going on in the first episode, itís almost dizzying, but Bruckheimer knows how to play an audience to keep them coming back. A cliffhanger at the end of the first episode shows that he can do the same with TV.
Fox has two of the most promising two new series Ė Freakylinks and Dark Angel, both produced and created by filmmakers. Freakylinks (9 p.m. Fridays beginning Oct. 6) is by the team behind The Blair Witch Project, which is evident from watching one episode. The title refers to a Web site (which the series did register) that tracks, reports and often debunks unexplained phenomena. Derek Barnes (Ethan Embry) inherited the site (though he changed the name from OccultResearch.org and made it hipper) from his twin brother, Adam, who committed suicide. But when he gets an anonymous video clip that shows Adam alive, he starts digging and finds more mysteries the deeper he goes.
Like Blair Witch, Freakylinks uses a lot of handheld video (though not nearly as jumpy and nausea inducing) as they document their activities for the Web site, and Web promotion is a key part of the series. The potential drawback to the show is that if the overall mystery factors too heavily into early episodes, it could drive away viewers before they have a chance to get hooked. Derekís obsession with Adam supposed death parallels that of Mulderís obsession with his sisterís abduction on The X-Files, but the latter series was smart enough to hook viewers first with a variety of strange cases before it delved too deeply into the aliens/government conspiracy story.
Dark Angel (9 p.m. Tuesdays starting Oct. 3) has no such problem. Created by James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator), itís set in a shabby, near-future America and focuses on Max, an escapee from a project to genetically engineer and indoctrinate future soldiers. Played by Jessica Alba, Max sounds cynical and her sleepy-eyed beauty backs up the world-weary attitude of someone who doesnít want to get involved. Yet she constantly does, helping other squatters like herself and bailing coworkers out of trouble they earned, while searching for other escapees. Her life gets complicated when she stumbles across Logan Cale (Michael Weatherby), a wealthy hacker seeking to undo the corruption thatís adding to the countryís problems. Each has abilities the other needs, so a tentative partnership is created.
Cameron has always created strong, smart, appealing female characters, and Max doesnít disappoint. The show is slick, polished and very watchable. Its only real problem is that a large part of its target audience is already hooked on Angel, which airs at the same time on the WB. If Fox was smart, rather than pairing Freakylinks with Police Videos now that Night Visions has been shifted to a mid-season replacement, it would instead air Dark Angel on Friday nights with Freakylinks since both shows are shooting for largely the same audience.
Next issue: The latter half of the fall television debuts.
Gideon's Crossing and The Geena Davis Show photographs © 2000 ABC
FreakyLinks and Dark Angel photographs © 2000 Fox
Titans cast photo: Jerry Wolfe
Ed cast photo: Ken Staniforth.
Michael Richards Show photograph: Michael Yarish.
Cursed cast photo: Chris Haston.
Gideon's Crossing photo:
Geena Davis Show photo: Bob D'Amico.