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The 1997 Fall Season Dead Pool: Philip Michaels

This upcoming TV season depresses the hell out of me. When I was a punk little kid, I used to look forward to the new fall season. I would rush out and buy my TV Guide Fall Preview issue and watch all the network preview shows -- back when the networks deigned to air specials to preview the new crop of shows -- and then sit down to view every single season premiere, even finagling ways to watch the ones that aired past my bedtime. It was a traditional to me, as important as some people treat weddings and bar mitzvahs and baby showers.

But now... now, I look at the four networks' 30 new attempts to steal away chunks of my waking hours and all I can count is two shows (Michael Hayes, Brooklyn South) that merit at least a first look. The rest? Bland, banal and boring to the last. Not even a show among them that sounds so strikingly awful that I feel the need to work myself into a halfway decent hate frenzy tearing into it like a wolverine into raw meat (Well, Meego, maybe...)

Another cop show? Ho-hum. More family sitcoms? Gee, that's nice. Tony Danza, Kirstie Alley and Danny Aiello returning to the small screen? Now, where'd I put that library card? I saw it around here somewhere...

"Mediocrities everywhere," Salieri says at the end of "Amadeus" in a line that more or less describes the new fall season to a T. "I absolve you."

He can, maybe, but I don't have that luxury. Because of our annual TeeVee Dead Pool contest, I have to put my good name and reputation at stake picking trying to distinguish three shows from this amorphous stew of unremarkable swill. And that's almost too much of a chore for me to bear.


Because at heart, I'm still a cruel, cold man. And singling out three substandard shows for ridicule -- even though they've done nothing more than offend my particular sense of right and wrong -- still manages to bring a smile to my face.

And so Hollywood elite, remove your respective shirts, grip the stanchions and prepare yourselves for the taste of the whip. I promise, this hurts me as much as hurts you.

Phil's Picks, In Descending Order

3. Over the Top, ABC, Tuesdays

When I first heard the title, I thought, "Oh boy! A TV version of Sylvester Stallone's underrated 1987 arm wrestling epic, 'Over the Top.' At last, a chance to probe all the unanswered questions from the movie!"

Then I learned that the show is a sitcom starring Tim Curry and Annie Potts. And I suddenly lost interest.

A while back, a devoted fan of Mr. Curry's took the time out from her busy schedule of gussying herself up for the Midnight showing of "Rocky Horror" down at the Bijou to send me snitty e-mail when I had the temerity to suggest the accomplished star of "Clue" and "McHale's Navy" can be a bit hammy.

I refer this Tim Curry-o-phile to page 59 of the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, where there is a photo of Mr. Curry bugging his eyes out in a most hammy fashion. His co-star, the lovely Ms. Potts, looks as if she's resisting the almost undeniable desire to whap Mr. Curry over the head with a truncheon.

So much for chemistry.

2. C-16, ABC, Saturdays

When I first heard the title, I thought, "All right! At last a show about an unstable carbonic ion that my chemist sister can enjoy!"

Then I learned that the show is really about an elite FBI unit and stars Eric Roberts, who is about as inanimate as carbon thought not nearly as entertaining.

C-16 has the distinct feel of a show that was simply slapped on the schedule so that ABC could avoid the embarrassment of airing test patterns for an hour on Saturdays. I mean, of the small percentage of viewers who are actually in front of a TV set at 8 p.m. on Saturday, who does ABC expect to turn in to see a bearded Eric Roberts fight crime? All the old folks and women will be watching Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. The punk-ass little pre-teens will be thrilling to the adventures of The Pretender. The vastly undervalued white trash segment will be glued to Fox watching a full hour of Cops. So that leaves C-16 with an audience of what? Shut-ins? Drunkards, unable to muster the strength to change the channel? Eric's sis, Julia?

Sorry, C-16. I just sank your battleship.

1. Total Security, ABC, Saturdays

When I first heard the title, I thought, "Oh gee! Steven Bochco's final effort on his multi-show contract with ABC. Sounds like a half-ass effort waiting to happen."

And it turns out I was right!

To hear the critics tell it, Total Security tries to be a mix of drama and broad comedy... and those of us who saw Public Morals flame out on CBS last year know all about El Bochco's comedic sensibilities. Throw Jim Belushi into the mix, and you've got yourself a cocktail fit to induce vomiting. Keep out of the reach of children.

Is Total Security the worst new show out there? Not while Bronson Pinchot is cashing those Meego checks, it isn't. But it's a show being produced by a man who could care less if it lives or dies and airing on a network that's so non-pulsed by what it's seen that it exiled the show to Saturdays at 9. Put it all together and you've got a program that's going to disappear faster than an out-of-favor Soviet premier.


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