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The 1992 fall TV preview: Wednesday

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NEW SHOWS
THE HAT SQUAD
(CBS, 8-9 p.m.; premieres Sept. 16, 8-9:30 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: S.W.A.T. meets My Three Sons.
*COMMENTARY: Producer Stephen J. Cannell’s latest variation on hard-boiled ridiculousness is this action drama about three handsome young cops who, in 1992, actually think it’s cool to wear snap-brim fedoras out in public. They’re also overgrown orphans who live with their foster dad (bullet-headed James Tolkan, a talented stage actor who deserves TV dough). Nestor Serrano (Hangin’ With the Homeboys), Billy Warlock (Baywatch), and Don Michael Paul keep those hats crammed over their foreheads as they chase killers. It’ll be a tight race to see who gets a migraine first, the boys or you.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: With action-adventure shows nearing extinction in prime time, Cannell is hoping to woo younger viewers with The Hat Squad‘s MTV-style cutting and aggressively trendy costumes. As one of the first actors hired, Warlock was the costume department’s guinea pig. ”I got called in six different times for six different looks,” he says. ”I was this mannequin. First they tried dusters-I thought ‘I hope I don’t have to wear those.”’ He won’t; in fact, even those fedoras may be less visible after the pilot.

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Slimmer than a hatband. CBS hasn’t had a hit in this time slot in 15 years.

MELROSE PLACE
(Fox, 9-10 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: The Young and the Feckless. *COMMENTARY: You know the phenomenon: Eight great-bodied nobodies in their 20s find friendship in a Los Angeles apartment complex. Melrose is the place to hear primo beef-jerky Jake Hanson (Grant Show) wax at once improbably eloquent and terribly tough-guy: ”I was so busy living in the moment, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the future,” he said in a recent episode, as his fellow renters nodded, bedazzled both by his wise, world-weary words and by the fact that he had once again managed to spend half the episode with his shirt off.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: Complaints that Melrose Place‘s story lines are insubstantial and too tidily resolved are growing louder, as are gripes that Matt (Doug Savant), the show’s gay character, is virtually invisible. That’s changing, says Fox Entertainment president Peter Chernin. ”Every conversation that we’ve had with the producers has been to say dig deeper, go tougher, be more real. If we have any concern with Melrose Place, it’s that the show is a little bit soft.” Changes may become apparent in November, when the show drops actress Amy Locane (Sandy) and introduces a new love interest for Jake.

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Virtually assured, but for now, it’s no 90210.

LAURIE HILL (ABC, 9:30-10 p.m.; premieres Wednesday, Sept. 23, 9:30-10 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: She’s a mother; she’s a doctor. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry.
*COMMENTARY: Laurie Hill (Delane Matthews) is a heroically devoted physician, a combination of weary bones and scattered thoughts. At home, Laurie is a tired but plucky mom and an ardent helpmate and lover. In some ways, Laurie Hill aspires to be a standard sitcom, the sort of show in which you know her husband (Robert Clohessy) is a writer because he sits at home at his typewriter surrounded by wads of crumpled paper. But creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black are striving for the emotional weight of their Wonder Years; in the pilot, one of Hill’s young patients is diagnosed as being HIV-positive, a subplot that not only obliterates laughs but seems cruelly manipulative.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: In a show trying to achieve thirtysomething sensitivity, an even tone means everything, and Laurie Hill‘s is shaky. ”The pilot was more dramatic than the average episode will be,” insists ABC Entertainment chief Robert Iger. ”Expect more laughs in the series.” And star Matthews says she doesn’t fear the dramedy format, which has yielded a graveyard full of TV flops: ”It’s accepted in other mediums. Comedy and drama can go together. It only stands out because it’s a half-hour show.”

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Not great. If Hill can’t sustain Home Improvement‘s massive audience, ABC will pull the plug faster than you can say code blue.

MAD ABOUT YOU
(NBC, 9:30-10 p.m.; premieres Sept. 23)
*CONCEPT: Seinfeld gets married.
*COMMENTARY: The season’s most intriguing stab at romantic comedy, Mad About You stars Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt as New York newlyweds. Like Seinfeld, Mad hopes to extract comedy from banal spats about who left the cap off the toothpaste and who forgot to bring home a bag of ice for the cocktail party. Reiser and Hunt’s characters may be mad about each other, but their rhythms are distinctly different: Reiser is pushy and insistent, Hunt demure and thoughtful. As the weeks go by, they could prove madcap or maddening: You decide.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: “The show is really about two people trying to make time for each other,” says Reiser, “the little negotiations they have to make every day.” “And we’re not allergic to each other,” adds Hunt, “so that makes it easier.” In fact, it was the costars’ chemistry and the sharp observational humor that sold NBC executives on the pilot and that may be difficult to sustain; sources who were on the set for episode two say that rewrites-and last-minute shooting-stretched into the wee hours of the morning.

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Pretty good if the writing holds up; it’s considered to be stronger than Laurie Hill, the only other comedy in an extremely competitive four-way race.

RETURNING SHOWS

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (CBS, 9-10 p.m.)
Archie Bunker, how far you’ve come: When Heat moves to CBS Oct. 28, the romantic temperature between Chief Gillespie (Carroll O’Connor) and City Councilwoman DeLong (Denise Nicholas) will rise. Look for some scripts credited to “Matt Harris”; that’s O’Connor’s nom de plume.

SEINFELD (NBC, 9-9:30 p.m.)
Follow this if you can: Jerry Seinfeld, played by Jerry Seinfeld, gets an offer from NBC to star in a comedy like Seinfeld. Still with us? The plot line begins Sept. 16 and may stretch through the entire season. While Jerry bids for series stardom, Elaine will scarcely be seen in the first few episodes of the season; actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus is finishing a maternity leave. Let’s hope Seinfeld stays funny enough to hold its own against ABC’s Home Improvement, its new competitor in TV’s biggest clash of comedy titans since Bill and Bart went head-to-head.

LAW & ORDER (NBC, 10-11 p.m.)
Season three begins Sept. 23, but the real shocker won’t come until October or November, when Paul Sorvino (who plays Phil Cerreta) becomes the second Law-man to leave the show’s cast in just two years. As a result, the producers have announced the addition of Jerry Orbach (The Law and Harry McGraw) as a cop.

THE WONDER YEARS (ABC, 8-8:30 p.m.)
This may be the final wonder year for Kevin Arnold—now 16, getting involved in the 1972 presidential campaign, and speaking his mind more (which means that the adult Kevin, played in voice- overs by Daniel Stern, will speak less). As the swinging ’70s beckon, can sex be far behind? “The time has never seemed right,” says executive producer Bob Brush. “There is some question whether that’s the end of The Wonder Years when that happens.”

HOME IMPROVEMENT (ABC, 9-9:30 p.m.)
When last year’s biggest new hit returns Sept. 16, it’s Jill (Patricia Richardson) who will be getting more power—she finally lands a job. Watch for Tim to do some reluctant househusbanding and to freak when he meets his new (female) boss.

CIVIL WARS (ABC, 10-11 p.m.)
The divorce practice begins its second season Sept. 23, with Alan Rosenberg (loopy Eli) and David Marciano (Jeffrey) added to the regular cast. On the docket are more nondivorce cases for Eli, marital wobbles for Denise and Jeffrey, and new romantic partners for Sydney (Mariel Hemingway) and Charlie (Peter Onorati).

BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 (Fox, 8-9 p.m.)
First, the news that will glue millions of teenagers (and former teenagers) to the TV set: Although nobody on the show will confirm it, word is that this summer’s incendiary almost-romance between Dylan (Luke Perry) and Kelly (Jennie Garth) is going to become a very big deal as the season progresses. But there’s more—as the rapidly aging kids of West Beverly High begin their senior year Sept. 9, look for three new faces—Nikki, a sophomore from San Francisco; Herbert, a freshman computer genius; and Sue, whose brother Scott accidentally killed himself in one of last season’s highest-rated episodes. On this year’s syllabus: everything from child molestation to pre-college jitters.

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