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FRIDAY // "Millennium' darkens an otherwise lighthearted night

For a man whose nightmares wind up on weekly television, Chris Carter remains remarkably calm as he talks about his latest terror.

After three years of urging from X-Files fans _ the most intense and passionate TV viewers _ Carter has finally created a second series, Fox's Millennium. Far darker and more graphically disturbing, it's like The X-Files steeped in real-world terror, with real-world villains. At its core is a brooding former FBI investigator, Frank Black (Lance Henrikkson, Fox's first middle-age star), who has an unusual gift: He's able to see inside criminal minds, and understand why they have the capacity to kill.

Carter has already heard gasps over the unusually alarming images in the Oct. 25 pilot episode, of blood dripping down a wall, of a serial killer on the job.

"Personally, I think the world is a very scary place," he says. "The darkness is a reaction to the world I live in, and the times. . . . But I'm not doing evil for evil's sake. The show is about hope, about vanquishing evil."

Families who thought Fridays belonged to them shouldn't despair. ABC spruced up its aging "TGIF" lineup with two of the liveliest kid-driven sitcoms in years: Clueless, based on the hit movie; and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, based on the comic book character. And in addition to holding up a mirror to harried married life, CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond may just be one of the all-out funniest sitcoms to join the fray this year.

Following the year's retro trend, Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula returns with CBS' Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a spy-meets-spy romantic drama a la Nick and Nora in The Thin Man movie series. If it sounds like a modernized Hart to Hart with more high-tech gadgetry, it is. Even Bakula likens the show to "Tracy and Hepburn and those old-fashioned romantic comedies."

BEST BETS

Comedy: Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS) _ Seen the show's hilarious "cookie theory" commercials? 'Nuff said.

Drama: Homicide: Life on the Street (NBC) _ After toiling in relative obscurity, this excellent detective drama deserves a broader audience. Millennium (Fox), which takes over the old X-Files slot and whose concept holds promise, may take longer to prove if it's up to X-Files standards.

For families: Clueless (ABC) and Sabrina, The Teenage Witch (ABC), potentially smart and sassy alternatives to the syrupy moral-at-the-end fare typically geared to a family audience.

WHAT'S NEW

8:30 p.m.

Sabrina, The Teenage Witch (premieres Sept. 27, ABC, WFTS-Ch. 28): Melissa Joan Hart (Nickelodeon's Clarissa Explains it All) stars in this cute family comedy based on the Archie Comics heroine. Hart's character learns the ropes from two eccentric aunts while struggling to keep her powers a secret at high school.

Everybody Loves Raymond (already premiered, CBS, WTSP-Ch. 10): The could be the break-out hit of the year _ if only hits were made on Fridays _ starring likable everyguy comic Ray Romano as a harried sportswriter with a loving wife, hungry twins and nosy parents who live across the street. For a predictable format, Raymond shows remarkable spunk.

9 p.m.

Clueless (premieres Friday, ABC, WFTS-Ch. 28): A sitcom adaptation of the popular 1995 movie, with Rachel Blanchard (Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark?) reprising the Alicia Silverstone role. (The roles of Dionne, Amber, Murray, Miss Geist and Mr. Hall will be played by the same actors in the film.)

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (premieres Friday, CBS, WTSP-Ch. 10): Stylish, if formulaic, romantic spy drama starring Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) as one-half of a male-female espionage team mixing professional anonymity and personal attraction.

Millennium (premieres Oct. 25, Fox, WTVT-Ch. 13): Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, invites the viewing public deeper into his bad dreams with this FBI-themed drama about an investigator with an alarming gift: The ability to get inside sociopaths' heads. Creepier than its female twin (NBC's Profiler), Millennium offers one of the most graphic pilots of the year. Not for the timid.

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