TV Eye

Time of the Season

<I>Malcolm in the Middle</I>
Malcolm in the Middle

As far as TV watching goes, this time of the year stinks. Why? Because it's that lousy, liminal period before fall premieres when there's nothing real exciting to report on. Just look at the entertainment rags. All they're running are features on actors, based in part on interviews and tips gleaned from the Television Critics Association summer meeting held in July. The TCA is a membership organization of about 200 members (according to Ultimate Unfortunately, I'm not one of those members, try as I have to find out where the heck they are, and how I can become some kind of peon member. So, what's a "TV Eye" gal to do? For starters, I've been tuning in to cable a lot. A whole lot. And let me just say, here and now, if The Sopranos doesn't win an Emmy Award for writing and a Best Supporting Actress award for the incomparable Nancy Marchand, something is horribly wrong.

But let's put cable television aside for a moment. What I've really set out to do is look at the fall prime-time schedules and make some calls on what looks good, and what looks like good ratings wars. Keep in mind that there is no single launch week as in years past, and the networks may alter their programming at any moment. As always, check current listings for air dates and times.

Sunday Night: The Fox Network looks the strongest, with Malcolm in the Middle eventually leading off the evening (it doesn't launch until January 2000), followed by the network's trio of animated series King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and Futurama. The X-Files once again wraps up Fox's prime-time schedule. The competition? Not much: The perennial 60 Minutes leads off CBS's evening, followed by the saccharin though popular Touched by an Angel. Set up against 60 Minutes is Dateline NBC, 7th Heaven: Beginnings on the WB, and ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney.

Monday Night The geriatric CBS actually has a decent, amiable evening lined up with The King of Queens, Ladies Man, the Emmy nominated Everybody Loves Raymond, Becker, and Family Law. The UPN offers an equally easygoing evening with Moesha, The Parkers, The Grown Ups, and Malcolm & Eddie. It's family night on the WB with 7th Heaven and a new family drama, Safe Harbor. Unfortunately, Safe Harbor is a yawner compared to, well almost anything, but especially its competition: Ally McBeal on Fox and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit on NBC. The Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle Time of Your Life (Fox) should easily lure viewers away from Suddenly Susan and Veronica's Closet (NBC), its only other competition being 7th Heaven (WB) and ABC's 20/20. After 20/20, it's Monday Night Football on ABC. The sounds of two TVs blaring in many households this night is certainly likely.

Tuesday Night It's a shootout between ABC's Spin City, NBC's Just Shoot Me, and possibly Ally on Fox, while the rest of us will be watching Buffy, the Vampire Slayer on the WB. Buffy spinoff Angel will immediately follow its progenitor, with unfortunate competition in Dharma & Greg and Sports Night on ABC, and Will & Grace and The Michael O'Malley Show on NBC. The Strip (UPN) is Angel's only other competition. Later in the evening, ABC's Once and Again spars with a new CBS drama, Judging Amy. Good press on Once and Again, starring Sela Ward and Billy Campbell as fortysomethings navigating through a relationship affected by jobs and kids. No news on The Strip or Judging Amy.

Wednesday night: What a good night for dinner and a movie. No real stinkers, no real "must sees" either. The most promising offerings are all the new shows, three of which are poised head-to-head: Fox's family dramedy, Get Real, NBC's West Wing starring Martin Sheen (the only Hispanic actor in a starring role in a television series, if you don't include Bob Vila), and another in a line of teen alienation fables, Roswell (WB). Returning favorites include Dawson's Creek (the lead-in to Roswell), and Law & Order (which follows West Wing). Oh yeah, The Drew Carey Show and The Norm Show return on ABC, followed by Oh, Grow Up, while Star Trek: Voyager (UPN) airs against West Wing and Roswell.

Thursday night: Skeptics hold little promise for the re-tooling of NBC's Jesse. Book-ended by Friends and Frazier, the 7:30-8:30pm time slot could be the dullest hour in NBC's Thursday night lineup, especially if Frazier does not improve from last year's mostly blah season. Though little is known about NBC's lone new show of the evening, Stark Raving Mad, the trailers look promising. However, it goes up against Fox's most anticipated new show of the season, Action. Competing dramas of the evening include Diagnosis Murder (CBS) up against Popular (WB), Chicago Hope (CBS) against Charmed (WB), and ER (NBC) up against 20/20 (ABC) and 48 Hours (CBS). Can't decide what to watch? There's always WWF Smackdown! on UPN.

Friday Night: The Hughleys (ABC) is pitted against The Steve Harvey Show (WB), while Fox sets up the police drama The Badland (formerly titled Ryan Caufield) against the warm and fuzzy Providence on CBS. For Your Love, the WB's most accomplished, though underrated, sitcom, is programmed against Boy Meets World (ABC) and Love and Money (CBS). The two most interesting shows of the evening include the new animated series Mission Hill (formerly The Downtowners, WB) and a new Chris Carter sci-fi drama, Harsh Realm (Fox). Mission Hill will compete with Sabrina the Teenage Witch (ABC), while Harsh Realm's only real competition is Dateline NBC.

Saturday Night Another good night for dinner and a movie, or curling up with a good book -- that is, after catching the lone newcomer of the evening, Freaks & Geeks on NBC. It looks like CBS will keep old standbys -- Early Edition, Martial Law, and Walker, Texas Ranger -- on tap, and NBC will keep The Pretender and The Profiler. A Saturday Night Movie keeps ABC booked for the evening, while it looks like UPN and WB will have local programming on Saturday.

Network Premieres on Deck:

Sept. 6: Malcolm & Eddie (8:30 pm., UPN)

Sept. 8: Beverly Hills 90210 (7:00 pm., Fox) and Get Real (8:00 pm., Fox).

As always, schedules are subject to change. Check local listings.

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