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A Gathering Of Old Men

My father and I were driving back from a hockey game late one night, the Chrysler New Yorker heavy with the awkward silence that can hang in the air when fathers and sons run out of things to say. I fiddled with the cigarette lighter. My father drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Then, finally, the silence became too much, even for him. The old man cleared his throat, glanced at me and looked down at the New Yorker's floorboards.

"Son," he said, in the kind of hushed voices that fathers use to tell their offspring that they've been noodling their secretary for the past 24 years. "I really like the JAG."

Sometimes, even when you brace yourself for the worst, it still hits you like an uppercut flush on the jaw.

Yes, my father loves JAG. Never misses an episode, in fact. When CBS strings together a bunch of old repeats and bills it as a "JAG-a-thon," my old man is there, sitting on the sofa, eating nacho chips. The laughable premise of a jet-flyin', crime-bustin' Navy lawyer who not only argues arcane points of military law but tracks down the evil-doers his own bad self? Doesn't trouble my pops one bit.

"What adventures will JAG get himself into this week?" my father will ask.

"The character's name isn't JAG, Dad," I'll try to remind him.

"Don't you talk that way about JAG," he'll growl.

No, no one speaks ill of JAG in the Michaels home -- and never was heard a discouraging word about JAG's crime fighting buddy, Nash Bridges. Forget the gritty realism of Homicide, the probing character studies of NYPD Blue, the meditations over crime and punishment on Law & Order. To hear my father tell it, Nash Bridges is the be-all and end-all of cop-related programming. Sonny Crockett? Never heard of him. That there is Nash, bubba, and don't you forget it.

I'm not even going to touch Diagnosis: Murder. Some family secrets are too shameful to ever see the light of the day.

The point is, if there's a typical CBS viewer, he matches the description of my father. Set in his ways. Somewhere north of 50. Well-off, if not necessarily affluent. And, when it comes to television, not at all happy with unexpected surprises. He wants his dramas uplifting, his cop and lawyer shows black and white and his sitcoms above the belt.

And, based on CBS' planned schedule for this fall, my father is getting exactly what he wants.

There's nothing on the schedule of the No. 1 network that will cause any waves. None of the new shows will ruffle any feathers. Angry mobs won't picket outside of Black Rock to protest the absence of Payne or L.A. Doctors or The Nanny from the fall lineup.

But, just as there's nothing about CBS to get worked up over, there's nothing to be excited about either.

In fact, perhaps the most notable aspect of CBS' schedule shuffling is one of the shows that didn't make the cut: a TV version of the mob movie "Donnie Brasco" to be called Falcone. A couple weeks back, CBS was very high on the show, hinting that it was to be the centerpiece of the fall season.


Then some kids went and shot up a couple of high schools, and suddenly, Les Moonves decides that maybe a show about the mob might not fly at this particular point in time, and why rile up CBS' geriatric demo if you don't have to?

"It's not the right time to have people being whacked on the streets of New York," said Moonves, never to be mistaken for someone with balls.

Which raises an interesting question: When is the right time to have people being whacked on the streets of New York? January? You know, when all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season has ended. Or how about late August? Or maybe when the Rangers break training camp?

At any rate, you won't be seeing Falcone next fall. Nor will you be seeing half the cast of Chicago Hope who were all summarily fired in last week's season ender. Coming back is David Kelley, who will be busy next fall working on an estimated 127 shows, all of which will become too quirky and self-referential for their own good by about the third episode.

The good news, Chicago Hope fans, is that Christine Lahti -- she of the subtle weeping and nuanced scenery-chewing -- has been eighty-sixed. The bad news? Her replacement is Lauren Holly, sort of a Christine Lahti Version 2.1.

Win some, lose some.

As for the new shows, well, there's nothing here you haven't seen before in one form or another. On Monday, CBS will wedge a new show, Ladies Man, in between two of the better comedies on television -- King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond. Ladies Man stars Alfred Molina as the only man living in a household full of women. You may remember this premise from every show ever created. The over-under on "You left the toilet seat up again" jokes in the pilot is 12, by the way.

Rounding out the cast of Ladies Man are the fit-inducing Sharon Lawrence and Betty White, continuing the alarming trend of ex-Golden Girls finding their way back on to network TV. We can only hope that our Earth jails manage to keep the mighty forces of Bea Arthur in check.

At 10 p.m. on Monday, you can thrill to the dulcet rhythms of Family Law, which, presumably, has something to do with families, something to do with law, and everything to do with banality.

New to Tuesday night -- or, as it's known around the Michaels home, JAGsday -- is Judging Amy. The show stars Amy Brenneman as a woman who undergoes a messy divorce and moves back home to live with her mom.

Savvy TV viewers may recall Maggie Winters, a CBS show starring Faith Ford as a woman who undergoes a messy divorce and moves back home to live with her mom. Oh, silly reader. Maggie Winters was a 30-minute comedy. Judging Amy is an hour-long drama. Plus, since Maggie Winters has since been canceled, the cast and crew of the late, lamented show has now moved back home to live with their moms.

Wednesday offers an intriguing show, Work With Me. It stars Kevin Pollack and Nancy Travis, which is usually a good sign. Of course, we were saying the same thing about sitcoms starring Nathan Lane at this time last year, and I didn't exactly see you sobbing about the Encore! Encore! cancellation.

The downside to Work With Me? Its premise. Pollak and Travis play a married couple who start working together and -- say it with me now, folks -- that's when the hijinks begin. The fact that CBS has left this show to tread water behind the wheezing Cosby on Wednesdays also bodes ill.

Thursday night sees the triumphant return of the revamped Chicago Hope along with the highly anticipated renewal of Diagnosis: Murder. And by brining back the Dick Van Dyke magnum opus, CBS staves off yet another bloody riot in assisted living facilities across the country.

Only two other new shows made CBS' fall schedule, both of them on Fridays. There's Love or Money and Now & Again. One's a comedy and the other a drama, though, for the life of me, I couldn't tell you which one. I figure if you're the kind of a person who tunes into CBS on Fridays -- a night anchored by Kids Say The Darndest Things -- you probably aren't a regular reader of TeeVee. And even if you are, you probably stopped reading this article at about paragraph 17, right when I mentioned Les Moonves' testicles.

As for the rest of the CBS lineup, it's pretty much the same as last year. You want do-gooders who use their mysterious powers of prophecy to right all wrongs? You got Early Edition. You want a punk-punishing Kung Fu cop? Sammo Hung and Martial Law are right back at you. You want Chuck Norris? Man, who doesn't? Both he, and Walker, Texas Ranger are back in the saddle on Saturday. As for Sunday, Mike Wallace and the Over The Hill Gang are back, as is that goofy-talking Mick angel and her pals.

All very safe. All very predictable. All about as shocking as 747s landing safely at the airport and sunrise following sunset.

And my father wouldn't have it any other way.


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