NBC wasn't kidding when it set out to make Tuesdays another night of "Must-See TV." How else to explain the moving of Mad About You _ for the zillionth time _ and the Thursday hit Caroline in the City onto a night dominated by ABC?
The result, sadly, will likely frustrate viewers with too many choices at 8 and 9 p.m. At 9:30 p.m., however, NBC best pray for a miracle: Is there anyone on the planet who won't be tuning into former Family Ties star Michael J. Fox's new show, Spin City, on ABC?
To call Fox's return to series television a triumphant event is an understatement. ABC is banking big bucks on Spin City and Fox, hoping that the pair will pick up where Roseanne has tapered off, maybe even give the Disney-owned network a sophisticated non-family comedy hit a la Seinfeld. The positive buzz about Spin City's strong pilot episode hasn't helped ease the pressure on Fox either.
"It's the first sentence in a hopefully long story," Fox says, modest but eager about the future of the comedy in which he plays a go-for-broke deputy mayor surrounded by a team of New York's finest, if least trustworthy, political minds: "We get to play very articulate, bright, energetic people with very loose morals. That's a lot of fun."
The biggest question mark on Tuesdays has to be Life's Work. Though ABC is touting Lisa Ann Walter as the next Roseanne, Ellen DeGeneres or Brett Butler, TV critics weren't even sent a review cassette _ often a sign that the show is undergoing serious fine-tuning.
Walters' track record isn't much to brag about _ the short-lived Fox show My Wildest Dreams and the Whoopi Goldberg movie Eddie. But her show does boast well-chosen sidekicks: Playing Walters' boss is Larry Miller (The Pursuit of Happiness), a wicked character actor known for sucking up to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and playing an evil doorman on Seinfeld.
In the role of her husband is Michael O'Keefe, who quietly disappeared last year as Jackie's (Laurie Metcalf) wishy-washy husband Fred on Roseanne. O'Keefe _ whose real-life wife is singer Bonnie Raitt _ sees comic potential in the coincidence that he's playing another spouse in a show airing immediately after Roseanne:
"I think we should have me come in one night while Lisa's watching Roseanne," O'Keefe suggests. While his new TV wife raves about his old character, O'Keefe adds "I'd take one look at him and say: "Loser.' "
Promised Land (premieres Tuesday, CBS, WTSP-Ch. 10): CBS tries to duplicate the feel-good success of Touched by An Angel in this heavy-handed patriotic drama about a family that turns sudden homelessness into the great American journey. Gerald McRaney (Major Dad), Wendy Phillips and Ossie Davis lead the cast.
Life's Work (premieres Tuesday, ABC, WFTS-Ch. 28): Comic Lisa Ann Walter stars as a mother who goes back to work _ as an assistant district attorney. Michael O'Keefe (Roseanne) plays her equally frazzled husband, Larry Miller (The Nutty Professor) stars as her boss. (Note: A pilot episode for Life's Work was not available to preview.)
Something So Right (premieres Tuesday, NBC, WFLA-Ch. 8): Mel Harris (thirtysomething) plays a twice-divorced, again-remarried mom trying with husband No. 3 (Jere Burns, Dear John) to make a mixed family a healthy family. The pilot episode shows promise beyond The Brady Bunch comparisons, especially the comically realistic portrayal of children shuttling between parents.
Homeboys in Outer Space (already premiered, UPN, WTOG-Ch. 44): The worst-named series of the year tries one of the boldest concepts: Spoofing the sci-fi world and appealing to an urban audience at the same time. The tale of two 23rd century slackers searching the universe also boasts one of the most creative casting moves in recent memory: James Doohan (Scotty on Star Trek) plays "Pippin," the mechanic fond of dissing his former employees.
The Burning Zone (already premiered, UPN, WTOG-Ch. 44): Imagine Outbreak _ the movie about stalking the Ebola virus _ every week. That's the premise of this drama that follows a team of scientists tracking down bad bugs.
Spin City (premieres Tuesday, ABC, WFTS-Ch. 28): A sure thing if ever there was, Spin City pairs Michael J. Fox with his Family Ties scribe Gary David Goldberg for another round of the funnies. It's almost as if Alex P. Keaton grew up, switched networks and took a job as the deputy mayor of New York. Solid sarcasm and witticisms, and a stellar supporting cast including Mad About You's Richard Kind and Barry Bostwick.
Comedy: Tuesday looks to rival Thursday's lineup of top-flight comedies, with Mad About You, Frasier, Roseanne on NBC and Spin City on ABC, to name a few. Look for Mad About You and ABC's Roseanne to boast the strongest storylines _ a pregnancy and a family rebuilding, and Spin City to emerge as the year's smartest newcomer.
Drama: Is NYPD Blue (ABC) the best TV drama of all time? The past three seasons of non-stop gut-wrenching and explosive storylines sure make a good case for it. Look for beefed up roles for Simone (Jimmy Smits) and Lt. Fancy (James McDaniel), and the gradual departure of Sylvia (Sharon Lawrence, who'll star in her own NBC sitcom come January).
For families: Moesha shines as UPN's brightest light, thanks to strong "do the right thing" themes and star Brandy's reputation as a positive role model. Home of the Brave (CBS) also provides families an hourlong safe haven, though kids may not catch all the lessons whizzing by.