CLASS OF ’96
(Fox, 8-9 p.m.; premieres Oct. 27)
*CONCEPT: New England, 9021-0lder.
*COMMENTARY: How is this series different from all the other good-looking-Gap-wearing-young-people shows on this season? Well, its tales of academic hugger-mugger are a cut above the rest, as we see these attractive freshmen at the fictional Havenhurst College actually attending classes, reading real books—the pilot even includes a discussion of Moby Dick!—and cramming for exams. And remember thirtysomething’s Gary, the stubbly classics professor who died and then became the show’s wise ghost? Well, actor Peter Horton, once Gary and now a Class of ’96 series consultant, pops up here occasionally—as a stubbly English professor. *BEHIND THE SCENES: ”College,” says co-executive producer John Romano, ”is different than the high school show you (watched) 20 minutes before. We’re exploring what happens when your parents aren’t around and the world is open to you—that sudden boundlessness.” It’s a freedom that Fox has respected; Romano says the network hasn’t balked at the 8 o’clock show’s adult themes. And he insists that Class of ’96 could continue even past graduation day. ”Four years?” he says. ”Why stop there? As (coproducer) Leonard Goldberg says, they’ll still be the class of ’96 in 20 years.”
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Class of ’96 is launching a new night for Fox against tough competition, so don’t rent those caps and gowns for the cast members just yet. Let’s just hope that Nielsen grades on a curve.
HANGIN’ WITH MR. COOPER
(ABC, 8:30-9 p.m.; premieres Sept. 22)
*CONCEPT: Three’s Company meets Welcome Back, Kotter.
*COMMENTARY: Mark Curry stars as a substitute elementary school teacher who shares a big apartment with two women, played by Holly Robinson and Dawnn Lewis. Double entendres and intense ogling abound—Robinson inserts herself into many of the tightest dresses in prime time. But just as Company was frequently saved by John Ritter’s slapstick flair, so does Mr. Cooper thrive on Curry’s stand-up wackiness; a gifted mimic and motormouth, he has found a show with a familiar premise that can use every ounce of his talent.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: If Cooper’s first episode seems eerily reminiscent of Growing Pains, here’s why: To save money, the show’s producers borrowed the Pains set for the pilot. When the show was picked up, the producers built a new set, but the sudden relocation won’t be explained until the second episode. There’s one Cooper star who is already used to moving; Lewis, a veteran of A Different World‘s original cast, quit World to jump to ABC. ”I took a check for five years-why keep doing that?” she says. ”At this point, it made sense to go from a cast of 12 to a cast of 3.”
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Good, largely because of the can’t-lose time slot that made Home Improvement a smash last year, but some say Cooper won’t live up to Tool Time.
KEY WEST (Fox, 9-10 p.m.; premieres Oct. 27)
*CONCEPT: Faust meets Baywatch, says executive producer David Beaird.
*COMMENTARY: Fisher Stevens is a nebbishy New Jersey lottery winner who heads for Key West, Fla., to fulfill his dream of being a Hemingwayesque newspaper correspondent. The notion that anyone still finds newspaper work romantic would seem to hobble Key West—don’t reporters dream of winning the lottery so they can avoid spending their lives filing copy? But with an editor named King Cole (Ivory Ocean) and new chums—a wise Rastafarian (T.C. Carson) and a sweet prostitute (Jennifer Tilly)—Stevens’ character seems destined for eccentric, if humid, nirvana.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: ”We really want Dan Quayle to hate us,” says Beaird. ”I can’t stress that enough.” Done. Key West includes a family-values politician who is secretly a trampy alcoholic, voyeurism scenes, and a $300-a-night hooker (”The smartest character I’ve ever played,” says Tilly). But the show can expect standards-and-practices squabbles aplenty; the network already nixed the original title—Sex and Politics at the End of the World—along with a gay bedroom scene. ”They said no,” says Beaird. ”Loud. Real loud. Maybe if we make a ton of money, they’ll let us do it next time.”
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Slim, unless it becomes a critics’ darling. If Beaird thinks the censors are mean, wait until he meets the competition.
GOING TO EXTREMES
(ABC, 10-11 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: Northern Exposure meets The Mighty Quinn.
*COMMENTARY: Executive producers Joshua Brand and John Falsey, currently television’s foremost class act (I’ll Fly Away, Northern Exposure), take eccentricity to a tropical climate in a show about American medical students attending school on the isle of Jantique (actually, Jamaica). Falsey has called Extremes “the first Third World network television show,” and as always with a Brand-Falsey series, the interactions between white Americans and ethnic Others are played for something deeper than culture shock and laughs (although they achieve those, too). Prepare to be moved even as you chuckle.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: When ABC saw the pilot and asked Brand and Falsey to recast one role, the producers quickly acquiesced, hiring actress Joanna Going (Dark Shadows) to play medical student Kathleen McDermott. “ABC felt very strongly,” Brand says. “(And) our heart wasn’t really in a fight.” Perhaps he was saving strength for clashes over the show’s risque content; the pilot even includes brief nudity. But Brand and Falsey have a powerful ally in ABC Entertainment president Robert Iger. “Going to Extremes might offend some people,” he says, “but you can’t please everyone.”
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: The network will be patient, but only if the show is as good as its pedigree.
(NBC, 8-9 p.m.)
Bad guys will seize the spotlight as Quantum Leap begins its fifth season; on Oct. 6, Sam leaps into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald. Recurring clashes with an evil female leaper, heavily promoted during the Olympics, are promised as well.
(NBC, 9-10 p.m.)
In year two, the crime drama will emphasize law-and-order story lines, and that’s bad news for Nancy Everhard, whose character, bartender Kay, will take a bullet in the Oct. 13 season premiere. “We found Nancy’s character was too far outside the legal profession,” says the series’ creator, Robert Singer, who plans to address that problem by adding a new cast regular, Kay Lenz, whose character, lawyer Maggie Zombro, made a brief appearance on the show last season. And don’t expect a big romance between stars Marlee Matlin and Mark Harmon; Singer says Matlin’s Tess will date around. “I’m fine with it,” says Matlin, “as long as the stories are good.”
(ABC, 9-9:30 p.m.)
Two shockers are in store as TV’s top-rated show returns on Sept. 15; the bankruptcy bell tolls for Dan’s motorcycle shop, and Becky (Lecy Goranson) and Mark (Glenn Quinn) elope. But the biggest changes in Roseanne are off camera: A new writing staff (yes, another one) will try to keep the show fresh in its fifth season.