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Crazy Like a Rupert

You want to know what's the problem with the world today? Nobody has standards anymore. Take the Fox television network. For years, whenever the new fall shows were announced, we could count on Fox to have one guaranteed stinker, a real corker, that would set our blood a hoppin'. Maybe it was Wild Oats, maybe Ooops!, maybe Lush Life, last year's Lori Petty vehicle that Petty promptly plowed into a wall. Whatever, that was Fox's thing. It was the network that gave us 100 percent, FDA-approved crap. But not this year.

NBC: The Wine-Dark Mind of Warren Littlefield
Fox: Crazy Like a Rupert
ABC: Tarses and Feathered
CBS: Eye on Bronson
UPN and WB: New Kids on the Schlock
Fox announced its 1997 fall prime time schedule Tuesday, and the most stunning news was this: there's no glaringly apparent whopper of awfulness on the slate. Instead, the Network That Rupert Built will offer five new shows, one retooled special-cum-show and a host of retreads (Melrose Place, Beverly Hills, 90210, Party of Five) that inspire... nothing. Nada. Utter indifference. Some sound pretty bad (Between Brothers, Rewind), but none will incite howls of protest like, say, the 1993 Richard Lewis-Don Rickles heart attack, Daddy Dearest. This is quite a letdown for curmudgeons like me who delight in poking Rupert with a stick, but imagine how Australia's favorite megalomaniac must feel. For once, the guy who made hockey pucks glow won't be the center of attention. Why, it's enough to make a fella schedule a midseason replacement about a cross-dressing advice columnist "in the tradition of 'Some Like It Hot,' 'Tootsie,' and 'Mrs. Doubtfire'"...

Here's how Fox shapes up.


It's out with the legally-entangled on Thursday nights (Martin, Living Single, New York Undercover), and in with the hacks. Scott Baio has a track record of late (Diagnosis Murder, Charles in Charge, Baby Talk) that leaves most people busing tables, but he returns to TV in Rewind as a "hard-working" marketing schlep who "when facing a dicey situation... flashes back to teenage life for a funny parallel to what he is currently going through." The curiously-named Mystro Clark (wasn't he one of Spider-Man's enemies?) co-stars as Baio's geeky sidekick, and Christine Taylor ("The Brady Bunch Movie," Party Girl, baldie on Friends), per her pact with the devil, is Baio's object of lust. Fox bills this as "the first sitcom to take place in the present and back in the '70s." I see no earthly reason why that matters, but then again, I am not the marketing savant that is Fox.

Following the hacks of Rewind will be the hacks of Between Brothers. In yet another triumph for the all-time champion of banal sitcom set-ups, Kadeem Hardison plays the all work half of two brothers, and Dondre Whitfield (Martin) is all play. Guess which one's the lousy . . . Oh, let's *not* go there. Naturally (?), because one is an uptight stick in the mud and the other is a disease-carrying gigolo, the brothers clash. Also collecting checks will be Kelly Perrine as the brothers' best friend / TV weatherman (stage name: Dusty Canyon); Tommy Davidson as a bitter, two- time divorcee; and Rachel Crawford as Teri, "the only woman who is off limits to everyone." (In the post-Ellen age, I'm not sure how to take this.) "The one thing all four guys agree on is their love of women, and they get their fill at a nearby microbrewery run by Teri." Whatever. Sounds like Living Single, 'cept with, you know, guys.

Apparently Fox doesn't get the concept of the season-ending cliffhanger, because New York Undercover has been ordered back only as a potential midseason replacement, leaving devoted fans (and those of us who flip away from whatever NBC airs at 9:30) up in the air about the fate of Malik Yoba's Det. J.C. Williams. When last seen, Williams was watching his partner, Michael DeLorenzo's Det. Eddie Torres, get blown to bits--proving once again (ahem, Jill Hennessy, Michael Moriarity, Chris Noth) that you don't screw with Dick Wolf. In New York Undercover's place will be 413 Hope Street, a "powerful, gritty," "riveting" drama that "pulls no punches" from TV's most celebrated dramatic producer...

Damon Wayans?

Yes, from the man who brought you Homey the Clown comes the searing tale of a New York City teen crisis center. (Paging Kellie Martin... paging Kellie Martin... please go to the nearest white courtesy phone. Your TV show has been stolen.) 413 Hope Street stars Richard Roundtree as a wealthy businessman who sets up the center at the location where his son was killed "for nothing more than his sneakers" (hence the show's title--pretty clever, eh?); Jesse Martin, "the exciting new star of the Broadway sensation 'Rent'"; Kelly Coffield; Shari Headley; and Wendall Pierce, as the center's "quirky cook Taffy, who has an oddly original take on health and nutrition." Translation: don't eat the meat loaf.


Milking The X-Files teat until it's red and sore, Friday nights will see the debut of The Visitor, a "gripping action drama" from the geniuses who brought us "Independence Day," "Stargate," and the forthcoming "Godzilla." John Corbett, in a real stretch from his Northern Exposure days, plays a guy who had his brain zapped by aliens. But here's the catch: it happened 40 years ago during World War II when Adam disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. Only now has he returned, and -- imagine -- everyone in the government wants a piece of him. Being the right-thinking, brain-zapped loon that he is, Adam naturally skedaddles. Racing across the country, Adam utilizes his "amazing ability to access the metaphysical that most people only dream about, giving him a seemingly spiritual power to utilize his mind (and body) in extraordinary ways." If you can find a more meaningless sentence in the English language, please, keep it to yourself. "On the run from both human and otherworldly forces, with a mysterious mission to complete [umm, I'll just take a wild shot here: save the universe?], Adam eludes his pursuers to embark on a harrowing quest of enormous proportions that will take him in and out of the lives of strangers--all of whom will find themselves changed by their contact with THE VISITOR." Aaack! My skin is green!


Laboring under the mistaken impression that America was laughing with it, Fox has turned its "popular . . . franchises of hilarious outtakes" into an hour-long World's Funniest... series, set to air Sundays at 7 p.m. TV shows, movies, kids, pets, you name it. Just about the only "reality-based" program Fox didn't schedule for next year is America's Funniest Home Snuff Videos. But give it time. James "I'll Do Anything to Keep My Cushy Job" Brown hosts. America weeps.


In the "One Of These Things Is Not Like the Other" category, Fox will follow the asinine shenanigans of Melrose Place with a new dramatic series from Emmy-award winning producer and notorious one-trick pony David E. Kelley. "Birdcage's" Calista Flockhart stars as Abby McBeal, a young, female attorney whose name sounds like a sandwich. "[O]ne of the most compelling and sensitive portraits of a young professional woman ever rendered by a man" (as opposed to such sensitive female-penned portraits of professional women like the short-lived Patricia Wettig-Robin Givens aneurysm, Courthouse), Abby McBeal co-stars Gil Bellows ("Miami Rhapsody") as McBeal's ex-boyfriend, Billy Thomas, and Greg Germann (Ned & Stacey) as a "smarmy, litigious Brahmin who knows a killer lawyer when he sees one." This is the second-dumbest phrase I've read in the last 20 minutes.

Anyhow, Germann's Richard Fish hires McBeal and, wouldn't you know it, turns out Billy (now married) is her new colleague. Long story short, the two still have a torch for each other, making it hell sitting through a deposition. Oh, "[a]nd one more thing. Occasionally, when Ally has a reaction to someone or something, we see it. Not the usual grimace or rolling of the eyes, but a full-on, Walter-Mitty type fantasy moment. Her interior life literally comes alive in this unique and hilarious way." Fox's publicity release makes me wonder how, but if Kelley's past history is any indication, Abby McBeal will probably be well-written, well-acted, preachy, and utterly unwatchable within a year.


Should Scott Baio's Q rating be as low as I think it is, on the catapults and ready to fly are three midseason replacement sitcoms (as well as additional episodes of Living Single and New York Undercover) that, god willing, will never see the light of day.

First up is Ask Harriet, a "brash" new comedy starring Anthony Tyler Quinn as "[s]uper macho" columnist Jack Cody. Down on his luck and with a precocious 10-year old daughter (Jamie Renne) to raise, he applies for the female-oriented Ask Harriet advice columnist job "to take revenge on his editor and former flame, Melissa Peters (Lisa Waltz)." Cody thinks he can write the column from home, but sonnuvagun if that wench Peters actually wants to meet Harriet. "[S]o Jack goes to work transforming himself into one helluva good-looking woman."

Next is Two Guys, A Girl, and A Pizza Place, a sitcom about the "complexity, outrageous fun, constant worries and endless possibilities of early 20s life." It stars "exciting newcomers" Ryan Reynolds and Richard Ruccolo as graduate students who room together and work at a pizza parlor. Old has-been (my phrase, not Fox's) Traylor Howard (Boston Common) plays Sharon, their "wisecracking upstairs neighbor," "part fantasy woman, part mother hen and part reality check." David Ogden Stiers is Mr. Bauer, a washed-up actor who does the voice for books on tape (Fox words it somewhat differently: "a regular customer... who believes he's lived moments from classic movies").

Last is V.E.N.U.S. on the Hard Drive from Chuck Lorre, the man who brought us both Cybill and Grace Under Fire. All together now: Thanks, Chuck. Actually, Chuck has apparently learned from his experience with temperamental leading ladies. Like Dweebs before it, V.E.N.U.S. is a sitcom for the cybergeek, with the aforementioned Venus actually being a "magnificent computer intelligence that comes to life in the guise of a decidedly female form."

A hologram, Venus has "attitude, wit and a rapid-fire brain, but no working knowledge of the way of the world." Maggie Roswell provides the voice of Venus; Andy Comeau and Oded Gross are the two "regular, twentysomething guys" who benefit from Venus's, uh, data. Counsel for Weird Science can sue in the Central District of California.


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