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Roll of the Dice: 36 to Show

September 20, 1998|STEVEN LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So much hype, so little hope.

Only six of 36 new network series survived the fall of 1997 and yet here we are again, with another 36 designed to hook millions of viewers from now until spring, when the arduous, wildly expensive and increasingly insane selection process begins all over again.

The fresh crop of hopefuls yields series about single fathers, family unity, '70s flashbacks and flights to suburbia. One other, Fox's macabre "Hollyweird," has been pulled for retooling but may never see the light of the small screen.

ABC sets out to strengthen its pull with adults 18 to 49, the age bracket most sought by advertisers. CBS yearns to build on last season's overall growth without alienating its aging audience. NBC hopes to retain prime-time supremacy in a post-"Seinfeld" era. Fox, ever the maverick, strives to confound critics, whether it's with wild police videos or record-setting tumors worthy of a nod from Guinness. Meanwhile, the WB strategy is to attract more teens with ballyhooed dramas as UPN shuns urban shows for more mainstream material.

Surprisingly, the Madison Avenue mavens are not expecting any of the newcomers to be a big hit, but Christina Applegate's sitcom "Jesse" could come closest by virtue of its spot on NBC's revamped Thursday roster. Others must work harder to reach the hallowed Top 20.

Will any of these rookies match the robust appeal of "Ally McBeal" or the midseason sensation "Dawson's Creek"? As always, the toughest critics of all--the viewers--will have the last word.

Here, then, is a night-by-night overview to all that's new on the six major commercial networks.

SUNDAY

"Holding the Baby"

7:30 p.m. Fox

Comedy

Already premiered

Uptight papa Gordon (Jon Patrick Walker) is left holding the baby--and attending diaper bags--when his wife abruptly leaves him and moves to Tibet. She's destined for inner peace, while Gordy is doomed to late feedings and long, vacuous conversations with his jobless, womanizing brother (Eddie McClintock). Lucky for them that grad student Kelly (Jennifer Westfeldt) is willing to pitch in as nanny.

The outlook: This is one infant unlikely to grow up before our eyes, what with stiff competition from two established family shows ("The Wonderful World of Disney" and first-season repeats of "7th Heaven") plus perennial leader "60 Minutes." In short, "Baby" is bound to take a licking and not keep on ticking.

****

"That '70s Show"

8:30 p.m. Fox

Comedy

Already premiered

The year: 1976. The place: Wisconsin. The protagonists: a handful of scheming 17-year-olds who live for beer and Todd Rundgren concerts. Eric (Topher Grace) and his three best friends (Laura Prepon, Danny Masterson and Ashton Kutcher) deal with bad perms, bell-bottoms and leisure suits.

The outlook: Regardless of how dazed or confused these kids may be, they can feel all right about their cushy slot between "The Simpsons" and "The X-Files." Fox has high hopes for its retro sitcom, whose debut cracked the Top 10 last month.

****

"The Army Show"

9:30 p.m. WB

Comedy

Already premiered

MTV alum John Sencio is in the Army now as a shiftless hacker who selected four years in the service over a stint in prison. The misfits and morons at loosely run Fort Bendix range from a scamming master sergeant (David Anthony Higgins) to a pratfalling corporal. A sampling of the deadly dialogue--Higgins: "Where'd all that hair come from?" Sencio: "From deep inside my head."

The outlook: With network movies and "The X-Files" as intelligent alternatives, viewers will desert this man's "Army," a knockoff of every military comedy ever made, but with a louder laugh track and much less wit.

MONDAY

"Guys Like Us"

8 p.m. UPN

Comedy

Premieres Oct. 5

The guys are Jared (Bumper Robinson) and Sean (Chris Hardwick of MTV's "Singled Out"), twentysomething roommates who reluctantly accept a new boarder: the former's hip 6-year-old bro (Maestro Harrell). Jared struggles with his role as temporary parent (their father is building a dam in Venezuela), but party-hardy guitarist Sean soon discovers the kid can be a chick magnet.

The outlook: As the lead-off for UPN's revamped Monday night slate, the obvious question is whether "Guys" will be a magnet for viewers. Given the competition of "Monday Night Football," "Cosby," "Melrose Place" and "7th Heaven," the answer would seem to be, like, no.

****

"The King of Queens"

8:30 p.m. CBS

Comedy

Premieres Monday

Doug (Kevin James) is a husky delivery guy blessed with a thoughtful wife named Carrie (Leah Remini). He also has football-fan buddies who could use toilet-training and an eccentric father-in-law (Jerry Stiller of "Seinfeld") who once shingled the roof with no pants. Carrie and her squirrelly sister (Lisa Rieffel) prefer to put their father in a retirement home, but guess where he ends up after burning his house down?

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