Break out the finger exercises, couch potatoes, because the fall television season is finally upon us. It is time once more to forego the threatening sea of summer re-runs and network leftovers to wade through a whole mess of new shows among our returning favorites. Almost thirty new shows are making their first appearance on the fall schedule and it”s clear they aren”t all going to last through the season. Does anyone even remember “Tucker?” Didn”t think so.
But after an entire summer where cable basically kicked the life out of the big networks, the Powers That Be must have gotten together and decided to spend the big bucks. Why else would A-list movie stars like Richard Dreyfuss, Sally Field, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips settle for the small screen. OK, so maybe the last two don”t count, but after taking a long look at the fall season it is definitely clear that Hollywood as taken over television. Diane Keaton is producing “Pasadena,” while University alum Adam Herz (“American Pie”) brings us the college comedy “Undeclared.” ABC”s “Alias” is a Gen-Y rip-off of “Le Femme Nikita” (both the movie and the now defunct TV show.), another “Star Trek” spin-off graces our television screens in UPN”s “Enterprise” and the WB tries another spin on Superman with “Smallville.”
Of course, we also can”t forget the resurgence of reality TV. Not only will “Survivor: Africa” premiere in October, but all six of the networks are pulling out varying versions of real TV to compete and hopefully duplicate the success of “Survivor.” Plus, some network hopping has left UPN picking up the WB”s leftovers as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Roswell” leave their teen network to hit it big on a network only WWF fans are watching.
All this grand excitement begs the question: Are the networks spending money on good shows or good talent? Looking at HBO”s past endeavors it”s clear that it is possible to have both, i.e. “Sex in the City,” “Six Feet Under” and this fall”s “Band of Brothers.” But whether or not the networks actually get it right this season will be up to you, the viewing public. So for your reading pleasure, here is a simple introduction to the fall television season for all six of the major networks.
The WB: After losing the burgeoning network”s first big hit “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the WB has decided to infuse more half-hour comedies into the line-up. Unfortunately, half of them seem to cater more to the teen crowd than to the college crowd, focusing on single parent families. Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) returns to TV with “Raising Dad” and Reba McEntire gets her own show ironically named “Reba.” The WB is obviously hoping to bring in a different crowd along with fans of returning favorites. Relationships also seem to be a big theme as “Off Centre,” “Men, Women & Dogs” and “ElimiDate” all focus on dating. “ElimiDate” is the WB”s new reality show, and if you can”t get the gist from the name, just think “Survivor” meets “Blind Date.” The one to watch: The WB”s saving grace isn”t from the college “Creekers but “Smallville,” featuring a coming of age Clark Kent, who just happens to be friends with his future archenemy, Lex Luthor.
UPN: Still reeling from last place in the network race, UPN is hoping to draw in the female and teen crowds by acquiring “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Roswell,” and adding a single dad comedy “One on One.” Losing “Star Trek: Voyager” doesn”t seem so big since there is already another proverbial bun in the oven with the Scott Bakula-driven “Enterprise” which, oddly enough, is set 150 years BEFORE the original “Star Trek” movie. Bittersweet victory: UPN may have scored a two-fer from the WB, but the networks have already given it a “Smackdown.”
ABC: Finally, ABC has smartened up and lowered the Regis volume. Now they actually have to put TV shows on! Taking the place of Regis is Jason Alexander as a guru with a bad home life in “Bob Patterson,” Uncle Jessie (John Stamos) as a government-hired thief in “Thieves” and Jim Belushi in the family comedy “According to Dad.” Also, Kim Delaney switches from Steven Bochco”s cop drama “NYPD Blue” to Bochco”s lawyer drama “Philly.” Damon Wayans and Joan Cusack-led comedies “My Wife & Kids” and “What About Joan” will also return, along with a new “The Mole” challenge. The one to watch: “Felicity” creator J.J. Abrams brings the “Le Femme Nikita”-esque “Alias” to ABC. Murder, intrigue and another female ass-kicker, what more could you ask for?
CBS: After another high ratings year, CBS may just have what it takes to lead the Big Three. Additions to the lineup include three Oscar winners (Richard Dreyfuss and Marcia Gay Harden in “The Education of Max Bickford” and James Cromwell in “Citizen Baines”) and Emmy winner Ellen DeGeneres in “The Ellen Show.” Tim Matheson (“The West Wing”) and Gil Bellows (“Ally McBeal”) do some network hopping and move up to lead actor status in their respective dramas “Wolf Lake” and “The Agency.” Keeping with their move from the “old person”s network” to that of a highly rated one, CBS is hoping to bring in more viewers with their family friendly shows. “The Guardian,” “Citizen Baines” and “Danny” all feature some aspect of a male figure dealing with kid issues, whereas last year it was a female figure dealing with kid issues. Hit or miss: Too busy promoting another “Survivor” due out in October, CBS may fail to father its new lineup, making it very evident that the oldies will always be the goodies. However, like last season”s breakout hit “C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigators,” C.I.A. thriller “The Agency” stands to make a great first impression.
FOX: With “Beverly Hills: 90210” finally graduated to syndication hell and Mulder officially M.I.A. from “The X-Files” can Fox finally be free of stale television? Unless the addition of James Marsden (“X-Men”) can breathe life back into “Ally McBeal” it might be too late. Fortunately, Fox has a stellar returning crew with “Boston Public,” “That “70s Show” and of course “The Simpsons.” Unfortunately, viewers still have to deal with reality schlock “Love Cruise” and “Temptation Island 2.” Things to watch besides “The Simpsons:” “American Pie” creator Adam Herz brings a scaled down version of “American Pie 2” to television with the college comedy “Undeclared.” Meanwhile Kiefer Sutherland stars in the C.I.A. thriller yes, CBS also has one “24” where each of the episodes unfold in real time. Hopefully the show will last 24 hours!
NBC: You heard it here folks: This will be the last season the “Friends” will have together. A collective sigh goes here! But before we say our goodbyes, we should say hello to some interesting new shows. Fear of an impending Hollywood strike gave Dick Wolf plenty of motivation to create another “Law & Order” series. This time “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” takes its cue from the criminal”s perspective. If that doesn”t suit your rebel instincts, “U.C.: Undercover” would be more than happy to take you to the depths of undercover crime fighting. If that”s not enough, you could spend some time in the kitchen with “Emeril,” on the streets with a medical examiner in “Crossing Jordan” or with some hospital interns in the screwball comedy “Scrubs.” He scores: It may come off as “Ally McBeal” for the male persuasion, but “Inside Schwartz” seems the most promising of season. Of course having a prime network spot will also helps “Jessie” was on for more than one season!