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Check It Out: 36 Peeks at Fall's All

September 21, 1997|STEVEN LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 1997-98 TV season has been off and running since late August, with the curtain already rising on one-third of the 36 new series to be unveiled by ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and WB. But Monday is when the race begins officially: That's when everyone has new programming to offer--and when the ratings start counting.

It shapes up as a season showcasing single gals, divorced guys, lots of cops, odd couplings, a few fantasies and clusters of comedies. Diverse actors such as Gregory Hines, Danny Aiello, James Remar and Ice-T are making their series debuts, while others are back for a second, third or (gulp) fourth tour of duty. Tony Danza falls in the latter category.

Which shows will break out from the pack? And which, for want of a substantial audience, will just break down?

ABC has employed a dubious ad campaign rallying support for 11 new shows, while top-rated NBC, which will introduce six fresh sitcoms, seems to think laughter is the best medicine. Meanwhile, the CBS goal is to attract younger viewers with a broader base of programming.

In terms of potental hits (NBC's "Veronica's Closet") or misses (UPN's "Head Over Heels"), our trusty crystal ball can only tell us so much at this juncture. Actually, it's up to the viewer--or at least those monitored by Nielsen Media Research--to determine which ventures will rise or fall.

That said, here is a night-by-night overview of what one can expect as autumn arrives.

SUNDAY

"The Wonderful World of Disney" / 7 p.m. ABC. Premieres Sept. 28

Disney chairman Michael Eisner presents a family friendly mix of theatrical and made-for-TV movies in this revival of a cherished favorite. The lineup will be launched with the box-office smash "Toy Story," while Kirstie Alley ("Toothless"), Whitney Houston and Whoopi Goldberg ("Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella") and Richard Dreyfuss ("Oliver Twist") lend their star power to originals.

The outlook: A potentially popular franchise of which Walt would approve.

****

"The World's Funniest!" / 7 p.m. Fox. Premieres tonight

More rollicking clips--or so Fox would like us to think--of TV shows, movies, kids and animals. Host James Brown ("NFL Sunday") introduces the bloops and blunders, providing a bridge from the network's coverage of pro football. If nothing else, it's a less violent alternative to new editions of "When Animals Attack."

The outlook: Should tackle the diminished audience formerly drawn to "America's Funniest Home Videos," which ABC is revamping for midseason.

****

"Jenny" / 8:30 p.m. NBC. Premieres Sept. 28

Jenny McCarthy as a single, small-town woman from New York who moves to Hollywood, where she seeks a connection to her late father, with help from her best friend (Heather Paige Kent). George Hamilton is McCarthy's ne'er-do-well dad, a B-movie actor she comes to know through old film clips, commercials and home movies.

The outlook: McCarthy could turn up in a bikini every week, but she would remain a heavy underdog to CBS' divinely rated "Touched by an Angel" and "King of the Hill," the animated hit on Fox.

****

"The Tom Show" / 9 p.m. WB. Already premiered

Tom Arnold returns to prime time as a divorced dad raising two daughters in Minnesota, where he tries to revive his career as a TV producer on a morning show hosted by a local icon (Ed McMahon). Arnold is less annoying--OK, he's actually quite likable--and the writing is snappier than in his previous series ("The Jackie Thomas Show," "Tom"), but an overworked premise is no help.

The outlook: And neither is a time slot opposite "The X-Files" and network movies.

****

"Alright Already" / 9:30 p.m. WB. Already premiered

Carol Leifer fronts this Seinfeldian sitcom as a thirtysomething single woman with odd friends and family. The pilot supplies inspired material about Carol's younger sister (Stacy Galina), who's spent so much time with their overbearing parents (Jerry Adler and Mitzi McCall) that she's "turned into one of the Golden Girls." Off-center but generally on the mark, it's a comedy whose wacky plots may remind you of that other sitcom on NBC. But that's a given since the veteran Leifer had a hand in many of "Seinfeld's" zaniest scripts.

The outlook: A dreadful slot for a series with an absurd sense of humor, and there's nothing funny about bringing up the rear in the Nielsens each week.

MONDAY

"Ally McBeal" / 9 p.m. Fox. Already premiered

An appealing drama from producer David E. Kelley ("The Practice," "Chicago Hope") with quirky interludes about a savvy yet vulnerable lawyer (Calista Flockhart) given to witty, Mittyesque fantasies. As the newest member of a Boston law firm, Ally is reunited with a former flame (Gil Bellows), who is now married to a perfect beauty (Courtney Thorne-Smith), which poses an obvious conflict for each of the characters.

The outlook: Or in this case, the unfortunate verdict--"McBeal" will be mangled by other, ahem, ladies of the evening on "Cybill," "Caroline in the City" and perhaps even "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

****

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