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Trio of Decent but Not Perfect Series From CBS

THE NEW TV SEASON: * One in a series


CBS tonight delivers three series that together are a metaphor for the new season: decent, but not exciting.

That interesting actor David Caruso returns to TV as a federal prosecutor in a new series whose writers should be tried for nonsupport. Despite weak scripts, however, Caruso's magnetic portrayal of this pristine hero alone makes initial "Michael Hayes" episodes watchable.

Meanwhile, CBS is offering a pair of fairly nice new comedies in "The Gregory Hines Show" and the oddly coupled "George & Leo," the only one of tonight's newcomers premiering in its regular time slot.

The underplaying Caruso is a good fit for Assistant U.S. Atty. Michael Hayes, a complex former cop now perched near the top of the prosecutorial food chain. His back story is his irresponsible, about-to-be-released convict younger brother (David Cubitt), whose neglected wife (Mary B. Ward) and son (Jimmy Galeota) Michael has generously looked after in his sibling's absence.

It's the unsolved murder of a 19-year-old woman from his cop days that drives the plot. Michael returns to haunting memories of days past in hopes of undermining a portion of a plea-bargain deal that his colleagues made with a mobster who is informing on his notorious boss.

If you prefer your crime shows to be suspenseful, intricately and tightly plotted and logically resolved, tonight's premiere may not be for you. Its story is thin, its characters' motivations fuzzy. A pressured murderer caves in without cause, and just about everything else in "Michael Hayes" is utterly predictable.

Even flimsier (and much more violent) is the second episode, which catches the idealistic Michael in a cross-fire of cliches that telescope supposedly surprise plot points almost every step of the way.

Yet Caruso (who seemed destined for big things on ABC's "NYPD Blue" before leaving for a brief fling in films) still wins out in both episodes with a quietly commanding presence that hints at mystery and inner seething, and often diverts you from the flaws in the stories he's shackled to.


"The Gregory Hines Show" is a breezy little comedy with mostly modest distinctions. Hines has a free and easy way and is very likable as book publisher Ben Stevenson, a widower whom everyone is trying to set up with dates.

Tonight, he clumsily takes the initiative and goes on a date with a woman (Penny Johnson) he's been admiring from afar, a tryst that comes with an erotic twist. His brother (Wendell Pierce), father (Bill Cobbs) and co-worker (Mark Tymchyshyn) are among the supporting characters.

But it's Ben's relationship with his 12-year-old son, Matty (Brandon Hammond), that promises to lift this series above the ordinary. Matty's parallel romance, and his bemused father's delicate probings into it, are artfully done. The tender affection between father and son is enormously natural and appealing, moreover, conveying sweetness without being saccharine--a trait that other sitcoms would do well to emulate.


Emulation is the soul of "George & Leo," with mismatched, ever-clashing Felix Unger and Oscar Madison of "The Odd Couple" obviously the models for this uneven, moderately funny comedy pairing Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsch. You don't have to be from Mensa to figure out which one plays the fusspot and which the boor.

Sitcom specialist Newhart is George Stoody, a Martha's Vineyard bookstore owner, and Hirsch is small-time hoodlum Leo Wagonman, on the lam from mobsters in Las Vegas. Their lives are converging only because Leo's daughter (Bess Meyer) is engaged to George's son (Jason Bateman).

Hirsch affirms his versatility here, doing nicely with modest material that has him cast in bronze as coarse, abrasive and more than a little bit shady. Newhart's George is quiet, orderly and pastel.

Meaning that again Newhart is Newhart--stammering, wearily perplexed and responding to absurdity with impeccable timing. It's a performance he could have mailed in on a postcard, of course, but one that he has made so bankable through the years that you forgive him for returning to the vault one more time.

After George and Leo have their humorous initial meeting in the bookstore, the episode erodes rapidly, lapsing into extreme silliness with the appearance of a mob hit man who looks like he couldn't even hit his mark on the stage.

And what's this? You say there's a bedroom above the bookstore that's vacant? Any chance Leo will move in? Did Oscar Madison's tie have catsup stains?

* "The Gregory Hines Show" premieres at 8:30 tonight and thereafter will be seen Fridays at 9 p.m. on CBS (Channel 2). It has been rated TV-PG (may be inappropriate for young children).

* "George & Leo" premieres on CBS at 9:30 tonight, its regular time slot. It has been rated TV-G (general audience).

* "Michael Hayes" premieres at 10 tonight on CBS and thereafter will be seen Tuesdays at 9 p.m., beginning Sept. 23. It has been rated TV-14 (may be inappropriate for children under 14).

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