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HOWARD ROSENBERG

New Series: Once More, Into The Breach

September 14, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

The rumors are true. A new fall season is starting.

First looks can be deceiving. You are reading the words of a hip shooter who initially blasted ABC's "Moonlighting" and NBC's "St. Elsewhere" and fell in love with premieres of other series that turned out to be absolute clunkers.

Nevertheless, I press on.

At least three of 22 new series--NBC's "A Year in the Life" and ABC's "thirtysomething" and "The Slap Maxwell Show"--have the potential to be outstanding and three others rate superior. Not bad at all, and that does not include four of the 22 that were unavailable for previewing at press time. Maybe all of them will be terrific. And maybe it will snow today.

The season's big question concerns people meters, not programs. Will the new ratings system employed by the networks supply more information about TV audiences or just confusion?

New trends? Nothing major. Continuing trends? Four more private eye series arrive. You'd think from watching TV that half the world wanted to be cops, the rest private eyes: John Paul, Pope by day, private eye by night.

In the something-good-has-to-lose category, "A Year in the Life" faces the sweet new tandem of "Hooperman" and "The Slap Maxwell Story" on Wednesday nights.Awwwwww.

It's encouraging, though, that "Frank's Place" on CBS and "Hooperman" and "The Slap Maxwell Story" join scheduled NBC mid-season returnee "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" as being comedy-type series without laugh tracks. That puts an awesome burden on viewers to decide for themselves what is funny.

Firsts? In "Tour of Duty," CBS is airing American TV's first prime-time series about the Vietnam War. And that stranger, the TV variety show, tries to make a comeback on ABC, with Dolly Parton as star.

Meanwhile, who says TV isn't innovative? "Jake and the Fatman" gives prime time its first lawyer who wins cases merely because of his enormous poundage. After serious thought, moreover, I'm now convinced that pappy-quoting cowboys "J. J. Starbuck" and "Buck James" are the same person.

Here they are, the new series rated on a TV-set scale of 1 to 4.

MONDAY

"Everything's Relative," comedy, 8:30 p.m., CBS. Premiere: Sept. 28. One brother (John Bolger) is a hard hat, the other (Jason Alexander) a hard head. They live together while facing the scrutiny of their pushy mother (Anne Jackson). Nice cast, rare laughs, noodle show. TWO TVs.

TUESDAY

"thirtysomething," drama, 10 p.m., ABC. Premiere: Sept. 29. The rigors of being upwardly mobile chic--and new parents to boot--are depicted in a captivating hour marked by excellent directing, writing and acting by an eclectic ensemble cast. Sophisticated, invigorating, highly promising TV. FOUR TVs.

"Jake and the Fatman," drama, 9 p.m., CBS. Special premiere: Sept. 26. Joe Penny is super-cool investigator Jake Styles and William Conrad fills the screen as his boss, prosecutor J. L. McCabe, in a series whose only message seems to be McCabe's obesity. Fat man, thin show. TWO TVs.

"J.J. Starbuck," drama, 9 p.m., NBC. Special premiere: Sept. 26. Dale Robertson is back as a Texan (surprise), a billionaire who travels America in a 1964 convertible with longhorns mounted on the hood, solving crimes gratis and quoting his ol' daddy: "It's the bumps in life that make life interesting." But not J.J., unfortunately. TWO TVs.

"The Law and Harry McGraw," drama, 10 p.m., CBS. Special premiere: Sept. 27. In an otherwise ordinary hour, Jerry Orbach (Harry) and Barbara Babcock (the law) are an interesting pair as a grubby private eye and a patrician lawyer allied against crime. Orbach has fun with Harry. "Whiskers, I got," he groans while shaving, "clients, I don't." TWO AND A HALF TVs.

WEDNESDAY

"The Oldest Rookie," drama, 8 p.m., CBS. Premiere: Wednesday. Paul Sorvino is a deputy police chief in public relations who fulfills his ambition to become a regular cop. But his naivete irritates his hip young partner (D. W. Moffett). How will these big palookas ever work together? The oldest rookie is trapped in TV's mustiest premise. ONE AND A HALF TVs.

"A Year in the Life," drama, 9 p.m., NBC. Premiere: Wednesday. One of last season's best miniseries spawns one of this season's best series. The Gardner family of Seattle returns to face new challenges, these flawed, believable characters somehow finding ways to cope. Richard Kiley leads a fine cast in a series where the routine becomes irresistible viewing. FOUR TVs

"Hooperman," comedy, 9 p.m., ABC. Premiere: Sept. 23. Gifted John Ritter is still susceptible to banana peels, but ranges far beyond slapstick as the quasi-comic, mildly bumbling but somehow-effective cop hero of a series from the creators of "L.A. Law." It's nice, sweet, tender, intelligent and, as a bonus, occasionally very funny. THREE TVS.

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