They're calling it "Must-Flee TV." In one fell swoop, NBC has invaded CBS' "America's Night of Television" with three downright downers.
There's Dark Skies, the "aliens are among us" sci-fi gross-out in which wormlike creatures nestle in our heads. There's The Pretender, in which a super-genius is on the lam from gun-toting science terrorists. And there's Profiler _ a female version of Fox's Millennium _ in which an FBI specialist has the power to see inside serial killers' heads and share their torture.
So much for a pleasant night of watching TV with the kids.
For non-creep-seekers, Saturdays remains a safe haven if you know where to look. ABC moved Second Noah to 8 p.m., where it will go up against CBS' Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and families' ability to program the VCR. CBS' Early Edition inherits Touched By An Angel's 9 p.m. slot, as well as its do-gooder benevolence, and will surely shine with the leftover Sisters crowd.
ABC may have the perfect counter to Saturday's bout of televised mayhem: Revive the art of romance with a little drama called Relativity from the creative minds behind thirtysomething and My So-Called Life. The series follows a love-at-first sight meeting through the painful reality of getting to know the one you adore _ and his eccentric family.
"It's easier to be cynical," says Relativity's executive producer Ed Zwick. "The temptation is often to write about anything other than real, true deep feeling. To try to talk about that thing that happens between two people that becomes sustaining and abiding and changes your life requires a certain amount of bravery in the midst of a much more cynical world."
Dark Skies (premieres Saturday, NBC, WFLA-Ch. 8): Brace yourself for another alien invasion. This mind trip suggests that aliens are responsible for landmark events in America's past _ such as the Kennedy assassinations, maybe even the breakup of the Beatles. Part revisionist history, part conspiracy theory, this drama is as suspicious as a government cover-up. Too bad it's not much else.
Early Edition (premieres Sept. 28, CBS, WTSP-Ch. 10): What would you do if you knew the news a day before the rest of the world? Work the bookies or save the universe? That's the premise behind this reluctant-hero series, starring Kyle Chandler (Homefront) as the unfortunate stockbroker with an assignment to do good, whatever the cost.
The Pretender (previews Thursday, premieres Sept. 28, NBC, WFLA-Ch. 8): A super-genius, whose intelligence for years has been maliciously tapped, escapes a think tank and tours the country posing in various professions (surgeon, pilot) to right the wrongs of others as retribution for his own inadvertent evil. The Pretender supposedly got the highest scores from NBC test audiences since ER. Whether regular folks will follow this confusion week after week, however, is unlikely.
Love and Marriage (premieres Sept. 28, Fox, WTVT-Ch. 13): Blue-collar family comedy about an overworked couple with no time to raise their kids, let alone get romantic on the fire escape. Vaguely reminiscent of the short-lived Bless This House, minus the mouthy Andrew Clay.
Common Law (premieres Sept. 28, ABC, WFTS-Ch. 28): ABC, long scolded for its absence of ethnic programing, hopes this Latino-as-a-lawyer show (starring comic Greg Giraldo) will earn bonus points with the politically correct crowd. Too bad those folks, like most viewers, were hoping for more than this letdown.
Relativity (premieres Sept. 24, ABC, WFTS-Ch. 28): From the makers of thirtysomething and My So-Called Life comes this thoughtful romantic drama about the complexity of modern love. Two twentysomethings (Father of the Bride's Kimberly Williams) meet in Italy, fall in love, realize they're both from Los Angeles and have no choice but to get out of past entanglements and get to know each other. Strong supporting cast _ including MSCL's Devon Gummersoll _ makes this as much a tale about families and life as love.
Profiler (premieres Sept. 21, NBC, WFLA-Ch. 8): A female version of Fox's Millennium, this suspense-thriller follows a gifted forensic psychologist's reluctant return to high-risk FBI work. Her gift _ the ability to visualize brutal crimes after they occur _ is also the curse that cost her a husband and privacy. Not original, but relatively inoffensive.
Comedy: Coach (ABC) _ Still tickin' after all these years, even a series in wind-down mode is better than the rest of Saturday's stale offerings (Fox's Love and Marriage, ABC's Common Law).
Drama: Relativity (ABC) _ Quirky and quiet, as heady and textured as thirtysomething was self-absorbed, romance is alive and well on network TV.
For Families: Second Noah (ABC) _ The Tampa-based drama about a multicultural adopted family and a houseful of animals remains sweet and safe in its second season _ just like its competitor on CBS, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.