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Better Late Than Never


With endless reruns and Sydney's Summer Olympics behind them, the networks finally can go for the gold with a belated fall season we've waited for since May.

The Class of 2000 consists of 30 new series yielding the usual mixed bag of comedy, drama and action, without a single newsmagazine or reality show in the bunch.

Most of the networks are counting on familiar faces (Andre Braugher, John Goodman, Craig T. Nelson and Michael Richards) to pick them up, but they've also made room for a couple of star-driven showcases with Bette Midler and Geena Davis.

Two wild cards in this unpredictable deck are Al Gore and George W. Bush, who will star in prime-time shows of their own ... the presidential debates. With the baseball playoffs, World Series and November sweeps just ahead, it's the most atypical autumn in four years.

Accordingly, here are the corporate bottom lines: Does ABC have the final answer with four nights of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"? Can CBS survive without "Survivor"? Will NBC's peacock preen again after last year's disappointing third-place finish? Can Fox fix its problems with science fiction? Is the WB ready to reclaim the fickle teens who have moved beyond "Dawson's Creek"? What's the future of UPN, whose key affiliates are now owned by Rupert Murdoch's aggressive News Corp.? And can Pax, the seventh network, acquire a higher profile with family fare?

In time-honored tradition, we offer a nightly overview, or scorecard if you will. Some shows will hit. Most will miss. And others will come off the bench before the bird is basted on Thanksgiving.

A word of warning for all you rookies out there: Avoid slow starts. Patience, after all, has never been a virtue in executive suites.



8 p.m. NBC

Premieres next Sunday

Who says you can't go home again? One day, Ed Stevens (Tom Cavanagh) is a happily married attorney at a prestigious New York law firm. The next, he loses his job, catches his wife with the mailman (now there's a government employee who delivers) and buys a bowling alley in his hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio. That's where Ed befriends Carol (Julie Bowen), the "girl he's always dreamed of," and moves in with his old buddy, a droll doctor (Josh Randall) with a multi-tasking wife (Jana Marie Hupp) who has a peculiar way of entertaining their infant. Ed's eccentric employees include a slacker whose favorite pop-culture reference is "Whatcha talkin' about, Willis?" Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, you see. Starting over for Ed means opening a law practice inside the bowling alley. Just don't call him "the first bowling-alley lawyer." He's not fond of that phrase.

First Impressions: A potentially sweet treat in the vein of "Northern Exposure." But even with the charming Cavanagh and an assortment of oddballs to spare, this quirky romantic comedy from David Letterman producers Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman will be fighting to bowl over the entrenched "Touched by an Angel" and "The Simpsons," which still makes us laugh after all these years.


9 p.m. WB

Premieres next Sunday

A trio of "Mad TV" writers created this pop-culture sketch comedy which executive producer Terry Sweeney says will "hype everything in the media" with a sensibility and structure similar to "Laugh-In." Expect "short sketches, short bits--everything is going to move much faster," explains Sweeney.

First Impressions: Not fast enough. Crude and gleefully offensive, the pilot features pale impersonations of Bryant Gumbel, Britney Spears, President Clinton and Japanese game shows. If flatulence and ugly caricatures are your idea of fun, this is the show for you. With "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "The X-Files" and network movies attracting most of America, all the hyperbole in the world won't help "Hype."


9:30 p.m. WB

Premieres next Sunday

She seeks stardom as a Las Vegas showgirl. He's learning the ropes as a pro wrestler. As a newly married couple, they're grappling with a formidable foe who can foil their future: his overbearing mother (Christine Estabrook). Relatively speaking, that's trouble. Can naughty but nice Nikki (Nikki Cox) and big Dwight (Nick von Esmarch) pin down their respective dreams in good ol' Lost Wages? Don't expect any encouragement from Dwight's mom, who has a way with words: "I'm not saying give up your dreams. Just do what everyone else does. Push them way down deep inside you."

First Impressions: Opposites attract in this lightweight comedy, which has the dubious distinction of occupying the worst slot on the WB slate. If you doubt us, ask the producers of "Jack & Jill," which languished at the base of the Nielsens last year.


"Boston Public"

8 p.m. Fox

Premieres Oct. 23

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