Coming This Fall

What I Watched on TV over the last three weeks isn't going to surprise any regular reader of "TV Eye." I bet I watched at least 30 of the 43 Joan Crawford films on TCM. I watched oodles of memorials on Diana, Princess of Wales and I actually watched about 18 hours of the nearly 36 hours of video I taped last year the week she died. (Okay, I didn't watch watch it, I put in the tapes and wrote, read, or did housework.) I watched a lot of Court TV, all the judge shows I could find, and, yes, Melrose Place.

Some poor customer service rep at Time Warner Cable will now get his angel wings after listening to me whine. Though I live in the most central place in Austin -- downtown -- I do not have the much-vaunted Fiber Optic Upgrade yet. This, despite a full-page map in the Cable Guide from the last two months that indicates I am upgraded. I am not. You know what that really means? I haven't seen A.J.Benza or The Gossip Show since January! Did I get to see the inside story on Ray Combs? No! What was the clincher? That I couldn't get the MSNBC show Time and Again, which ran three-night segments on Diana's coverage in the media. Was I chapped! The extremely diplomatic service rep rejected my theory that TWC had deliberately selected me as a customer to deprive of service, and consoled me by pointing out that I should have the new Fiber Optic service by September 23rd. Hmmph.

(The job I am glad I did not have this week was answering the phone at FOX on Wednesday, after the Tuesday premiere of King of The Hill was dumped to present Mark McGwire's big hit. The receptionist wearily acknowledged that she had been flooded with calls all day from angry viewers "yelling and even cursing at me." She also said that KOTH will be on next Tuesday night as scheduled.)

Fall is officially here, at least by television standards. I have been researching the new shows coming up and it's neither the best of seasons nor the worst of seasons. Of course, I haven't actually seen any of these shows except the ones on FOX, which was kind enough to invite me to watch previews.

New television shows in the fall are the ultimate crapshoot but this year seems a little less frantic. Maybe because things seem calm in the 9pm primetime slot. Between three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) and 21 possible spots, there are only four new programs plus one moved show, less than 25% change in that time slot. The 8pm slot is undergoing upheaval this year with more than half new and moved shows. Factor in the other three networks (FOX,UPN, WB) that go to local programming at 9pm but compete heavily in the 7-9pm slots and you get 18 new shows plus 11 moves. Still, the 7pm timeslot is the reigning champ of changes: 18 new shows, 14 moves. That's over 50% changes in scheduling between 7 and 9pm. Here are a few of the more interesting-looking candidates vying for your viewing vote this fall.

Mondays: The Brian Benben Show (CBS, 8:30pm) brings the former Dream On star (and Fredericksburg resident) Brian Benben to network as a demoted anchorman facing ambitious and cuter up-and-comers. If he puts a little Ted Baxter in the character, this could work. L.A. Doctors (CBS, 9pm) stars ex-thirtysomething lead Ken Olin as a physician who is fighting the increasingly corporate medical system. No superhero costumes here with the Rx symbol on it, but something has to compete with football and Ally McBeal. Will & Grace(NBC, 8:30pm) intends to do just that too with this perfect-couple-except-he's-gay premise. An intriguing notion that will tank quickly if it has too much heart. Warner's effort, Hyperion (WB, 8pm), might have a better shot with its Revenge of the High School Nerd concept. However, my theory is that up against Monday Night Football, only one show can really shine and I'm betting it's Ally McBeal again this season.

Tuesdays: The Chris Rock creation The Hughleys (ABC, 7:30pm) strikes me as the Huxtables with angst. Still, I really like Rock and his common-man humor. Costello (FOX, 7:30pm) is a snappy comedy starring Sue Costello as a Boston waitress but not in the Cheers vein. FOX is feathering this night with the dark Brimstone (FOX, 8pm), with another ex-thirtysomething star, Peter Horton, as a kind of avenging devil who may be redeemed if he can help round up more than 100 escaped evil spirits. The previews for this looked very Gothy and noir, and may well appeal to fans of Kindred: The Embraced. Felicity (WB, 8pm) is most definitely stepping into Ally McBeal turf, even if it's on campus but the cast looks very appealing.

Wednesdays: Charmed (WB, 8pm) is one of those shows that just might fly -- The Craft meets Bewitched. It's also an effort at making Shannen Doherty count again. I'm not buying into the Hope Floats-y Maggie Winters (CBS, 7:30pm) with ex-Murphy Brown Faith Ford.

Thursdays: Christina Applegate is also hoping to remake her slutty Married With Children image playing a single mom in Jesse (NBC, 7:30pm). The network obviously has high hopes for it, since it got placed between perennial faves Friends and Frasier, but I am guessing the TV audiences really liked the tarty Kelly Bundy.

Fridays: Buddy Faro (CBS, 8pm), written by Twin Peaks' Mark Frost, goes up against Trinity (NBC, 8pm), produced by ER's John Wells. Buddy Faro, with Dennis Farina, looks to be an eerie mystery set in L.A. while Trinity makes its home in New York's Hell's Kitchen with an Irish family. Whatever the case, FOX's Millenium is its real competition (not to mention ABC's Sabrina the Teenage Witch).

Saturdays: Forget the white dinner jacket and midget, Fantasy Island (ABC, 8pm) returns but this time Malcolm McDowell is in the lead. Jeremy Piven plays Cupid (ABC, 9pm) and it doesn't look too stupid. Piven had a great turn in the cast ofLarry Sanders ("I'm the head writer, I'm the head writer," he panted while having sex with an intern on the set by Larry's desk), not to mention his stint on Ellen. That pathetic fart-noise you hear is Wind on the Water (NBC, 7pm), exactly the kind of soft-focus show set in Hawaii you'd expect for Saturday viewing. Stars Bo Derek in case you need more proof of its vacuousness.

Sunday: That 70's Show (FOX, 7:30pm) is one of only two new shows being launched that night. News junkies can feed on three consecutive hours of information, however, beginning with 60 Minutes (CBS, 6pm) followed by Dateline (NBC, 7pm), and wrapping with 20/20 (ABC, 8pm). With all that heavy breathing in these post-Lewinsky days, you'll need the fresh irreverence of That 70's Show, even though I don't remember the girls looking that colorful. Besides, it's the perfect no-brainer intro to the one show that truly rules Sunday nights: The X-Files.

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