The broadcast networks' fall TV schedules were unveiled last week, and
the 2000-01 season can be summed up in four words: Hope you like Regis!
The big news: ABC is using up all of its lifelines on Who
Wants to Be a Millionaire, the
phenomenon that (so far) will not die. "Millionaire" will now air on
four nights instead of three (Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday),
and producers are planning events like "college week" and "high school
week" to draw in younger viewers. ABC is so confident that all you need
is Reege, the network will debut only four new shows next season.
But can "Millionaire" withstand the summer onslaught of the buzz-heavy
voyeuristic CBS game shows "Survivor" and "Big Brother"? Once viewers
have seen desert-island roommates reenacting "Lord of the Flies," will
Regis and his nerd
posse seem hopelessly quaint? Stay tuned.
The new shows: Academy Award winning actress/archer Geena Davis
returns to TV (anybody remember "Buffalo Bill"?) in the sitcom
Geena (9 p.m., Tuesdays), in which she plays a successful
career woman who gains an instant family when she marries a widower
(Peter Horton of "thirtysomething") with kids. Among the other sitcoms:
People Who Fear People (8:30 p.m., Fridays), starring David
Krumholtz as a paranoid guy who thinks everybody is spying on him. Jon
Cryer plays his neighbor, who's spying on him.
The lone drama is Gideon's Crossing (10 p.m., Wednesdays),
starring Andre Braugher of "Homicide: Life on the Street" and executive
produced by "Homicide" creator Paul Attanasio. The ABC announcement
describes Braugher's character, Dr. Ben Gideon, thusly: "The voice of
reason, empathy and wisdom in a world of medical chaos, bureaucracy and
hypocrisy ... he is Disease's mortal enemy." Are you thinking what I'm
thinking? Yeah! Frank Pembleton, M.D.
Canceled: Being named TV Guide's "Best Show You're Not Watching"
this year proved eerily prophetic for Sports Night, which exits
ABC, possibly to resurface on HBO. Also missing from ABC's lineup:
Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which moves to the WB, and The
Hughleys, which has been picked up by UPN.
Among those coming back: NYPD Blue and Once & Again
(sharing a time slot, like last year), The Drew Carey Show,
Whose Line Is it Anyway?, Spin City (Charlie Sheen
replaces Michael J. Fox), The Practice
The big news: CBS renewed Steven Bochco's low-rated medical drama
City of Angels, which has a mostly African-American cast. While
"Angels" has been floundering in the overall ratings, the series is
popular with African-American viewers, and CBS has already lost its most
prominent black face by canceling "Cosby." Bochco also gets his wish for
a later time slot; CBS is moving the show from 8 p.m. Wednesdays to 9
p.m. Thursdays -- which puts it smack opposite "Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire," not to mention NBC's surging sitcoms "Will & Grace" and
"Just Shoot Me." Remember that saying "Be careful what you wish for"?
And, in yet another depressing display of tunnel vision from the network
that pulled the plug prematurely on "EZ Streets" and "Brooklyn South,"
the Eye canceled Now and Again, which was easily the network's
classiest, most original, best reviewed drama of the year. Part sci-fi
thriller, part romantic comedy, part family drama, "Now and Again" was
an unclassifiable wonder that built a small, loyal following despite the
show's dog of a time slot (9 p.m. Fridays). CBS never seemed to know how
to promote the show, which is understandable, given its one-of-a-kind
premise: an unremarkable, middle-aged man named Michael Wiseman (John
Goodman) is gravely injured in an accident and secretly given a second
chance at life when his brain is transplanted into the government-built
body of a young superman (Eric Close).
But that description doesn't even begin to tell the story of "Now and
Again." In Wiseman's touching fidelity to his "widow" (Margaret Colin)
and daughter (Heather Matarazzo), it was a lovely meditation on the
concept of everlasting love. In the Butch and Sundance bickering of
Wiseman and his droll creator, Dr. Theodore Morris (Dennis Haysbert), it
was a mismatched buddy comedy with a cerebral edge. "Now and Again" was
apparently too exotic a flower for the network that continues to
cultivate "Diagnosis Murder" and "Nash Bridges." Here's hoping it blooms
again on cable.
The new shows: Bette Midler plays a saucy entertainer in The
Bette Show (8 p.m., Wednesdays). "Cybill" sidekick Christine
Baranski returns to CBS in Welcome to New York (8:30 p.m.,
Wednesdays), in which she plays the producer of a Manhattan morning
TV show. Mike O'Malley, the comedian whose NBC sitcom lasted for one
episode last fall, gets another shot in Yes, Dear (8:30 p.m.,
Mondays), a sitcom about two sets of new parents.
As for the dramas, Tim Daly comes back to series TV with The Fugitive
(8 p.m., Fridays), a remake of the remake. William Petersen and Marg
Helgenberger play Las Vegas forensic investigators in CSI (9 p.m.,
Fridays). And Craig T. Nelson ("Coach") stars as a Washington, D.C.,
police commissioner in The District (10 p.m., Saturdays).
Canceled: Besides "Now and Again," CBS axed Chicago Hope,
Martial Law and Early Edition.
Among those coming back: Everybody Loves Raymond, The
King of Queens, Judging Amy, Family Law, Touched by
an Angel. The unwatchable Ladies Man might return at
mid-season -- or sooner, if that Mike O'Malley sitcom stiffs.
Attempted Regicide: CBS's Sunday movie and JAG held their
own against the Sunday and Tuesday editions of "Millionaire" last
season; they remain in place next season. On Wednesday, CBS counters the
old-skewing "Millionaire" with two shows that are destined to skew even
older, the Midler and Baranski sitcoms. On Thursday, "City of Angels"
gets thrown to Regis' lions. This is a plan?
The big news: The dubba-dubba picked up two castoffs from other
networks, ABC's Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Fox's Eddie
Murphy-produced animated sitcom The PJs. Other than that, it's
business as usual for WB: Pretty girls with supernatural powers,
angst-ridden teens and the most popular African-American sitcoms on TV.
The new shows: Nikki Cox, the pneumatic co-star of "Unhappily
Ever After" and "Norm," gets her own sitcom, Nikki (9:30 p.m.,
Sundays), produced by Bruce Helford ("The Drew Carey Show"); she
plays a Vegas showgirl married to an aspiring pro wrestler.
Producer-writer Darren Star ("Beverly Hills, 90210," "Melrose Place,"
"Sex and the City") unveils his comedy, Grosse Pointe (8:30 p.m.,
Fridays), a spoof of a strangely "90210"-like prime-time soap .
There's also the family drama The Gilmore Girls (8 p.m.,
Thursdays), about a mother and teenage daughter who actually get
along. Yeah, more sci-fi for the WB.
Canceled: Oh, come on. Nothing gets canceled on the WB. Well, OK.
Among those coming back: Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, Angel, Dawson's Creek, Felicity,
On ice: WB execs are high on the mid-season series Dead
Last, a "Buffy"-esque drama-comedy-supernatural thriller about a
struggling rock band that can see dead people (Jimi? Jerry? Kurt?). It's
created by Steve Pink and D.V. deVincentis, co-writers of the John
Cusack movie "High Fidelity."
Attempted Regicide: None. The only time anybody at the WB worries
about Regis stealing away "Dawson's Creek" and "Charmed" fans is when
some guy from 'N Sync is on celebrity "Millionaire."
The big news: Besides the return of The X-Files? What are
The new shows: The 11th-hour deal to bring back "The X-Files" for
an eighth season -- with former hold-out David Duchovny on board for
only half the episodes -- bought Fox some time to do what it should have
done by now: find the next "X-Files." Candidates include James "Titanic"
Cameron's Dark Angel (9 p.m., Tuesdays), a futuristic sci-fi
drama starring Jessica Alba as a genetically enhanced teenaged freedom
fighter, Fearsum (8 p.m., Fridays), a sci-fi drama from "Blair
Witch Project" producer Gregg Hale about a computer geek who
investigates paranormal mysteries via the Internet, and Chris Carter's
own "X-Files" spinoff The Lone Gunmen, a mid-season series that
was reportedly a pot-sweetener in the deal to sign Carter up for another
season. And with Party of Five and Beverly Hills, 90210
closing up shop, Fox is also in dire need of habit-forming serial
dramas. The network is hoping viewers develop a jones for Darren Star's
latest soap The $treet (9 p.m., Wednesdays), about young and
brash Wall Street investment bankers, and David E. Kelley's Boston
Public (8 p.m., Mondays), about the faculty of a Boston high school.
Canceled: Family Guy, Get Real, Time of Your
Among those coming back: The Simpsons, Malcolm in the
Middle, Futurama, That '70s Show, King of the
Attempted Regicide: Why did Fox work so hard to keep "The
X-Files" on the air? Because "Millionaire" is out there.
The big news: $750,000, each, per episode. That's what NBC had to
shell out to Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Courtney
Cox Arquette, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry to keep Friends,
TV's highest-rated sitcom, on the air for two more seasons. Negotiations
with the stars of "Friends" (who were each making $125,000 per episode
and had asked for $1 million per episode) went down to the wire. The
final deal also gives the six cast members a higher percentage of future
syndication profits from Warner Bros. Television, which produces the
show. That adds up to a sweet $40 million apiece, over two years, for
Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, Monica, Joey and Chandler. That's a lot of latte.
Now, of course, the hand-wringing begins, with pundits knitting their
brows and asking how mere sitcom actors can make this kind of money. Is
the cast of "Friends" worth $750,000 an episode? Well, considering the
hundreds of millions NBC will make from the show -- hell, yes!
Attempted Regicide: On Tuesdays, NBC is sending Kramer up
against Regis; well, not Kramer, exactly, but the guy who played him,
with the new sitcom The Michael Richards Show (8 p.m., Tuesdays),
in which he's a bumbling private eye. The next night, the Aaron Spelling
soap Titans (8 p.m., Wednesdays) tries to lure younger viewers
and women away from "Millionaire." On Thursday, NBC has called in the
reserves to counter the final "Millionaire" of the week -- Will &
Grace now has the tough 9 p.m. slot, with the increasingly creaky
Frasier moving to Tuesdays.
The new shows: Besides the aforementioned "Michael Richards Show"
and "Titans," there's Deadline (9 p.m., Mondays), a Dick Wolf
("Law & Order") drama about a crusading newspaper columnist starring
Oliver Platt and Lili Taylor; DAG (9:30 p.m., Tuesdays), a sitcom
starring David Alan Grier as a Secret Service agent guarding First Lady
Delta Burke; and Ed (8 p.m., Sundays), a one-hour comedy-drama
from David Letterman's production company about a New York lawyer who
opts for the simpler life back in his Midwestern hometown. There's also
an as-yet-untitled Steven Weber sitcom (8:30 p.m., Thursdays)
that co-stars the majestically weird Chris Elliott; for
some of us, that's far more rejoice-worthy news than the fact that
Steven Weber is back on TV.
Canceled: Suddenly Susan, Veronica's Closet,
Freaks and Geeks, Profiler, Pretender, The
Others, Twenty-One, Jesse, Stark Raving Mad
Among those coming back: ER, Law & Order (both
versions), Just Shoot Me, The West Wing
(despite an assassination attempt cliffhanger finale that looked like a
rerun of the Moldavian Massacre episode of "Dynasty")
On ice: Waiting for mid-season time slots are Semper Fi, a
Steven Spielberg-produced drama that follows a group of Marines from
boot camp to field action, and Go Fish, a sitcom from "American
Pie" creator Adam Herz about a geeky high school freshman (Kieran
Culkin) and his geeky friends. Joe Flaherty, last seen as the father on
Freaks and Geeks, plays the father. It's a good thing NBC
and Geeks," or it wouldn't have any place to fit "Go Fish" on the
Must See TV: There's a show in NBC's mid-season bullpen called
News From the Edge, about supermarket tabloid reporters who
investigate otherworldly phenomena. I mention this for one compelling
reason: Sal the Pig Boy, a "half-man, half-pig" who is the tabloid's
"top researcher" and works down in its secret underground archives. I am