Used to be, Mondays were a sure thing. A little Murphy Brown, an NBC movie or an NFL game. No hard choices, no arguments to make so early in the work week.
Surprise. With 10 new shows on Monday _ the most of any night _ and two returning series swapping networks, sitting down for a night of TV on Mondays doesn't look so easy anymore. This year, it's downright confusing.
So hot is the race on Mondays that producer Aaron Spelling has the unfortunate luck to be competing against himself: Melrose Place and 7th Heaven _ both Spelling series _ air at 8 p.m., on rival networks.
Still basking in Murphy Brown's glow, CBS chose Mondays to launch Cosby and Ink, the network's two most important new shows. The pressure of continuing the reign is not lost on Cosby.
"I'm not predicting we'll be No. 1, because I wasn't with the last two shows," Bill Cosby says, referring to the ill-fated Cosby Mysteries and game show revival You Bet Your Life. "Whatever angel of mercy was following me for the Huxtables, he or she is over somebody else now."
NBC is using Mondays to debut a remodeled Jeff Foxworthy Show (formerly of ABC), while UPN is hoping that In the House fans remember that the LL Cool J comedy has moved from NBC to UPN.
And ABC, in an unusual strategic move, scheduled the female-driven Dangerous Minds to precede NFL Monday Night Football.
Only Fox appears wedded to its Monday strategy of finding the perfect comedies to follow the increasingly hysterical Melrose Place. After the failure of Partners and Ned & Stacey last year, Fox goes broader _ and bawdier _ with Party Girl and Lush Life. Indeed, the premise behind Party Girl was simple: What if Sydney from Melrose Place had her own sitcom?
The result: A TV adaptation of an independent film about a woman who considers club-hopping a full-time job.
"She's not frivolous. It's not like just a girl looking to have a good time," says producer Efrem Seeger of the character he compares to Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. "This is a girl who has no family and is constantly trying to create a sense of community in her world."
The stars of Lush Life, however, make no excuses for the "women behaving badly" motif of their buddy comedy.
"We're hoping to break some conventions and not be politically correct," actor Lori Petty says. Chimes in partner Karyn Parsons: "We're not role models."
Comedy: Cosby's debut is mediocre and may confuse viewers at first _ it's not the same show all over again, and it's on CBS. But with time and patience, it's not likely to disappoint.
Drama: Finally out of ER's shadow, Chicago Hope (CBS) proved itself with powerful storylines and casting _ such as Kathy Najimy as a chronically depressed psychologist _ in spite of Mandy Patinkin's departure.
For Families: Can Aaron Spelling do kid-safe TV? Yup _ Just watch 7th Heaven (WB). For the half-hour crowd, the revamped Jeff Foxworthy Show (NBC) promises to be fun for all ages.
Dangerous Minds (premieres Sept. 30, ABC, WFTS-Ch. 28): Have you seen the movie, or last year's CBS show Matt Waters? Same story _ tough, ex-marine tackles inner-city teaching _ with a different hero, Annie Potts (Designing Women) instead of Michelle Pfeiffer or Montel Williams. Although most series based on movies don't work, Potts may pull it off, with a thankful absence of too much moralizing. Semi-regular appearances by rapper Coolio are an added bonus.
Cosby (premieres Monday, ABC, WTSP-Ch. 10): Bill's back, and as cantankerous as ever. So is his Cosby Show wife, Phylicia Rashad, in a bossier role this time around, and the delightful Madeline Kahn as a lovably pesky neighbor in this working-class comedy about an average guy coping with downsizing and forced retirement. Debut looks weak, but future episodes show signs of life. With talent like this, it's almost an automatic hit.
7th Heaven (already premiered, WB, WTMV-Ch. 32): Remember Family? Aaron Spelling does, and has for years longed to repeat its warm success. Now, the king of the nighttime soap creates a charming, relatively schmaltz-free family story led by a progressive minister and househusband (Stephen Collins, Sisters) and a fix-a-holic wife (Catherine Hicks).
Ink (premieres Oct. 21, ABC, WTSP-Ch. 10): Ted Danson is back, sans toupee and with real-life partner Mary Steenburgen. Together, they're a divorced newspaper couple who live, love and work right under each other's nose. The original pilot was so dreadful, even Cheers fans would have rejected it. Now undergoing complete renovation. (Note: Because of production delays, Ink will not debut until Oct. 21. Pearl will air in its timeslot until then.)
Mr. Rhodes (premieres Sept. 23, NBC, WFLA-Ch. 8): Some stand-up comics should stay away from stupid sitcom ideas. Tom Rhodes is one of them. The Florida native tanks as a loosey-goosey novelist-turned-teacher in a hoity-toity prep school. The only thing to redeem this mess is the long-lost Ron Glass (Barney Miller), so fine in a trite role he deserves his own show.
Malcolm & Eddie (already premiered, UPN, WTOG-Ch. 44): Talk about Odd Couple rip-offs: Malcolm Jamal-Warner (The Cosby Show) plays a straight-and-narrow sportscaster living with a slightly deranged tow truck operator (comic Eddie Griffin). Ill-matched they are, as is the show, which saddles Jamal-Warner with a boring role and fewer laughs.
Party Girl (already premiered, Fox, WTVT-Ch. 13): Christine Taylor (delightful as Marcia in the Brady Bunch movies) shows potential as a fun lover who takes a day job in a library to prove she's not just a slouch. Swoosie Kurtz (Sisters) plays her godmother, a bitter librarian. They make a fine team. Now, if only the writing weren't so mediocre.
Goode Behavior (already premiered, UPN, WTOG-Ch. 44): Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons) plays an ex-con forced to live with his uptight college professor son (Dorien Wilson, Dream On) as part of his probation.
Lush Life (already premiered, Fox, WTVT-Ch. 13): Not to be mean, but Lori Petty's emaciated, creepy-cheery alien look will be this show's demise. Petty (A League of Their Own) and Karyn Parsons (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) star as childhood buddies who took separate paths but stayed true. Too bad they're frightfully annoying. Even the laugh track sounds pained.
Sparks (already premiered, WB, WTMV-Ch. 32): James Avery (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) plays dad and dictator in this comedy about an inner-city law firm fighting battles in and outside the office. Robin Givens (Head of the Class) brings sexual tension and daring hemlines to the couldn't-be-different brothers who run the firm.