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Welcome to the fall TV season, that heavily hyped time of year when optimism reigns at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox--until the ratings roll in and nervous Nellies scramble to find replacements for any of the 28 new shows going down in flames. Our advice? Take a seat in front of the small screen--fire retardant material is strictly optional--and decide for yourself whether any of these rookies is really smokin.'



The indomitable duo of "60 Minutes" and "Murder, She Wrote" will not be preceded by pro football this year, but it nevertheless figures to carry the night for CBS, which has its eye on winning a prime-time crown for the fourth straight season.

"EARTH 2" Sundays 7-8 p.m. NBC. Premieres in November.

The premise: Colonists crash-land on a planet thousands of miles from their destination in this futuristic adventure. Raised in sterile space stations, these pioneers (Debrah Farentino, Clancy Brown and Antonio Sabato Jr., among others) face perilous situations as they begin life anew in a pristine environment.

The possibilities: Nothing is more perilous in TV than facing Mike Wallace and the staff of "60 Minutes," which may never stop ticking. Like "seaQuest DSV," "Earth 2" is co-produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television, which, judging by most of last year's drab "seaQuest" episodes, is not necessarily a good thing.

"FORTUNE HUNTER" Sundays 7-8 p.m. Fox. Premiered Sept. 4.

The premise: The title character is Carlton Dial (Mark Frankel), a suave spy with a perfect record for Intercept, a global recovery organization. Dial's daring missions are monitored by dweebish Harry Flack (John Robert Hoffman) with the help of a high-tech telemetry system. Not surprisingly, the charming Dial has a knack for snappy repartee. Beautiful blonde who's entered his hotel room: "The bellboy let me in." Dial: "Hooray for the bellboy."

The possibilities: The mission Frankel has chosen to accept also puts him on a collision course with "60 Minutes." Fox sees its relatively nonviolent hour of escapism as a compatible follow-up to newly acquired NFL games, which are predominantly watched by men. Whether the show can score each week may hinge on its acceptance by women, who will bond with Frankel in the network's estimation.

"ON OUR OWN" Sundays 7:30-8 p.m. ABC. Premieres Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. Moves to its regular slot Sept. 18.

The premise: Newcomer Ralph Louis Harris plays the 20-year-old head of a household with six children whose parents died in a car crash. When an officious bureaucrat threatens to split the family unless it can find a suitable guardian, Harris grabs a dress, stuffs a bra and transforms himself into Aunt Jelcinda, their buxom, bespectacled savior. And faster than you can say Mrs. Doubtfire, the stuffy children's services boss (Roger Aaron Brown) is serenading Harris, uh, Jelcinda with a chorus of "Chances Are."

The possibilities: Dressing in drag did wonders for Robin Williams, but it probably won't earn Nielsen points for this farce from "Full House" executive producers Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett, who have hired real-life siblings (the Smolletts) to play the kids. Small fry on their own would be wise to keep the remote handy.

"HARDBALL" Sundays 8:30-9 p.m. Fox. Premiered Sept. 4.

The premise: This "sportscom" from executive producers Kevin Curran and Jeff Martin ("The Good Life") follows a hapless baseball team. Veteran pitcher Dave Logan (Bruce Greenwood) has a new, no-nonsense manager (Dann Florek) hired by the team's salty owner (Rose Marie). One of the Pioneers' overpaid players wins $3 million in the lottery. "I really wanna do something good with this money," he tells his mates. "I think I'll buy a Lamborghini."

The possibilities: The ageless "Murder, She Wrote" plays hardball with any competitor that crosses its basepath, which could mean a quick shower for Greenwood ("St. Elsewhere") and Co. On the other hand, this comedy should get a decent lead-in from "The Simpsons" while going to bat against the second halves of "seaQuest DSV" and "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." One bad sign: Fox reshot the pilot, dropping a couple of supporting characters and adding a few others.

"WILD OATS" Sundays 9:30-10 p.m. Fox. Premiered Sept. 4.

The premise: The subject of s-e-x comes up a lot in this sitcom about two pairs of young roommates. Jack (Tim Conlon) is a glib, shallow photographer living with Brian (Paul Rudd), the sweet and sensitive type. Jack broke up with Shelly (Paula Marshall), a teacher who lives with the unlucky-in-love Liz (Jana Marie Hupp). Jack and Shelly have a love-hate thing going that threatens to spoil her budding relationship with Brian. Shelly on seeing Brian: "It's like dating Beavis thinking you can avoid Butt-head."

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