Fall TV is chip off last season's block
By TRICIA McHALE
Television is about money. All major networks have an agenda, used to entice viewers by whatever means necessary, so that they can be exposed to eight to 20 minutes of commercials during which they are persuaded to buy a variety of products.
It is particularly important to note this fact because it is the money of the youth of America that these manufacturers want. The 18- to 49-year old demographic is the most influential in the marketplace. Because of this, networks stick to what works, what has made them money in the past. They will not make sudden changes to the lineups.
This season is no exception, for this is the year of spin-offs and rip-offs. If one night the question arises, "I think I've seen this one," know there are no real mistakes being made by you, the viewer.
The popularity of such shows as "Felicity," "Dawson's Creek" and "Party of Five" among younger audiences has helped spawn an entire lineup of teen angst dramas. Similarly, "Ally McBeal"-inspired programs, complete with voice-overs and various imagined scenarios, have been reproduced, the only difference being the names and number of characters.
If a new television show premiering this fall does not fit into one of these classifications, then it is less of a testament to the integrity of the creator than it is to the poor taste of network executives for adding it to the schedule. These category-less shows are generic sitcoms or family dramas with very little substance which most likely will not reach mid-season. The following is a breakdown of these at times monotonous, though partially entertaining shows.
New Programs: Fresh from his multiple-Emmy wins, David Kelley has developed a new crime-comedy hour entitled "Snoops" (ABC). The show follows a group of women who take an unconventional approach to private investigation in a '90s update of "Charlie's Angels."
Opposite the show is the new romantic drama "Jack and Jill" on the WB network. Two 20-somethings struggle to find themselves and each other in this fatalistic tale set in New York City. The young cast includes Simon Rex, the former MTV VJ making a transition into acting as he plays a neighborhood bartender and friend.
In another new drama set in New York, NBC makes an attempt to capitalize on the success of "ER" by introducing "The Third Watch" by the same producers. The new drama follows the lives of paramedics, firefighters and police officers and their civil service on the streets of the Big Apple.
Returning Programs: Fox's Sunday-night lineup will not change this fall due to the success they have had with it in the past. The three animated series "King of the Hill," "The Simpsons" and "Futurama" will precede the popular science fiction drama "The X-Files." However, the sci-fi drama will not premiere until Nov. 7, after the World Series.
This has been Fox's tactic for the last several seasons, and it has proven successful with more and more loyal viewers returning later in the season. This year's season opener will continue with the apparent discovery of an alien spaceship in Africa by Agent Scully and the mysterious mental illness of Agent Mulder that befell him late last year.
The WB hopes to create a powerhouse on Sunday nights by situating "Felicity" right before the new "Jack and Jill." The season opener will answer the question, "Who did Felicity choose, Ben or Noel?"
"The Practice" will also return to ABC, putting two David Kelley dramas — the other being "Snoops" — back to back.
New Programs: Among the new programming offered Monday are several spin-offs of already popular shows that have established a solid audience. Networks want to extend their viewership by removing the popular characters and giving them shows of their own.
"Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC) will deal with the more brutal cases of its predecessor. "The Parkers" (WB) will focus on Moesha's (of "Moesha") eccentric friend and her mother as they simultaneously enroll in college, while "Time of Your Life" (Fox) will find Jennifer Love Hewitt in New York searching for her biological father after her split from the Salingers of "Party of Five."
Other shows making an appearance Monday are a "7th Heaven"-type family drama entitled "Safe Harbor" (WB) and "Grownups" (UPN), a sitcom whose only "appealing" factor is the intrigue of seeing a grown-up Jaleel White (Urkel of "Family Matters") act in a normal role with normal fitting clothes.
"Ladies Man" (CBS) debuts as a weak-premised comedy about a man who lives with an extended family of females. "Family Law" (CBS), a legal drama about a divorcee who attempts to reclaim her practice from her ex-husband and ex-partner, will also premiere Monday.
Returning Programs: Once again, many of the same faces, however made-over they may be, will return. Among them, "Suddenly Susan" (NBC) with Brooke Shields and an entirely new premise and "Veronica's Closet" (NBC) with a blond Kirstie Alley. "Ally McBeal" will also return to Fox as she struggles with her inner demons and short skirts.
New Programs: A random array of programming will call Tuesday home, for the time being anyway. "Once and Again" (ABC), a series about single parents who meet, fall in love and pursue a relationship despite interference from friends and family, will premiere. "Shasta McNasty" (UPN) is a new buddy comedy set in Venice Beach, while "The Strip" (UPN), another cop-turned-security-consultant show, will follow the adventures of one man in Las Vegas as he works for a casino owner.
"Judging Amy" (CBS) is a drama about a single career-mom who moves back in with her family in New England. Their dysfunction and her new job will be the focus of the plot. Sound familiar? Think "Providence," but three days earlier. "The Mike O'Malley Show" (NBC) will also premiere Tuesday evening, exploring the misadventures of a man shaken by the marriage of his best friend and the return of an ex-girlfriend.
Finally, "Angel" (WB), the popular character from "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," will move to L.A., along with another ex-cast member, Cordelia, now a struggling actress, to fight evil in the backstreets of Hollywood.
Returning Programs: A dozen sitcoms and dramas will be returning for the popular night of programming. Among them are "Just Shoot Me," "Spin City," "3rd Rock from the Sun" and "Buffy," sans Angel and Cordelia, as explained above. "Party of Five" also moves to Tuesday.
New Programs: It has been described as "The X-Files" meets "My So-Called Life." "Roswell" (WB) will add the ever-popular teen angst component to the science fiction genre to create something completely original. In the first episode, Max, along with his sister and friend, are discovered to be orphaned aliens from the alleged 1947 Roswell crash. His new friend Liz, as well as the rest of the townsfolk, become suspicious as various oddities begin to unfold.
Other dramas airing on Wednesday are "The West Wing" (NBC), about a noble president and his equally dedicated staff, and "Get Real" (Fox) an hour-long comedy-drama taking the old timeslot and basic concept of "Party of Five," but funnier and with parents.
Returning Programs: Returning series include "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC), "Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox), "Law and Order" (NBC) and "Dawson's Creek" (WB). In the latter, the kids continue to struggle with "typical problems facing typical teens."
New Programs: In an attempt to steal away the rapidly diminishing audience of Must-See T.V., rival networks are introducing some unconventional programs to their lineups. "Action" (Fox), the most unique new show of the season, follows a cut-throat movie producer and cynically examines the politics of Hollywood. The raw style of the series has already raised some controversy and may backfire on the network if the public cannot relate to the satirical look at the entertainment industry.
"WWF Smackdown!" on UPN will explore the vicious rivalries of the World Wrestling Federation on network television.
"Manchester Prep" (Fox), "Wasteland" (ABC) and "Popular" (WB), all of which are centered around a group of young acquaintances, are three more attempts to lure audiences away from the traditional Thursday-night staple, "Friends."
However, NBC, in a relatively futile effort to restore power to its lineup, is adding another sitcom, "Stark Raving Mad," between "Frasier" and "ER." The show stars Neil Patrick Harris of "Doogie Howser, M.D." fame as the editor of an eccentric horror-writer.
Returning Programs: These include the usual suspects: "Friends," "Jesse," "Frasier" and "ER," on NBC, and "Chicago Hope" on CBS. In the season opener of "Friends," the cliff-hanger that ended with the Monica/Chandler and Rachel/Ross weddings will supposedly be resolved.
New Programs: This is the second most difficult night to program, after Saturday, because traditionally it is not a popular night to watch television. However, the networks are attempting it regardless.
"Now and Again," (CBS) about the mind of a family man being relocated into the bio-engineered body of a would-be superhero, is another science fiction-inspired show that will most likely find its audience among the those who take the time to comprehend its involved concept.
The same can be said for "Harsh Realm" (Fox), from the creator of "The X-Files," a series about a young soldier who is trapped in a virtual reality game during an experimental trial.
Two other shows, "Mission Hill," (WB) another look at young friends but this time with animation, and "Love and Money" (CBS), about a socialite who falls for a blue-collar superintendent, will air Friday night. "Odd Man Out" is the latest addition to ABC's TGIF arsenal, though surprisingly it does not star the Olsen twins. On NBC, "Cold Feet" deals with three couples at various stages of a relationship, while "The Badlands" (Fox) follows a 19-year old cop who faces the harshness of reality on the streets of Philadelphia.
Returning Programs: The rest of Friday evening is filled with various sitcoms, specials and newsmagazines like "20/20" (ABC) and "Dateline" (NBC), which tend to get the highest overall ratings.
New Programs: It is practically suicide to program anything on a Saturday night. Only NBC feels confident enough about "Freaks and Geeks," a comedy-drama about the outcasts in a 1980 Michigan high school, to premiere it here.
Returning Programs: Saturday night is the one night of the week where the programming is geared toward older audiences with shows like "Early Edition," "Walker, Texas Ranger" (both on CBS) and "Profiler" (NBC), all of which beat last year's odds and made it back for another season. The return of these programs demonstrates that ultimately, it is up to you, the viewer, to determine which of this year's hopefuls will be back in the fall of 2000.
All Scene Stories for Friday, September 24, 1999