Saved by the Bell: The College Years (NBC, 8-8:30 p.m.)
Concept: Class of ’96: The Sitcom
Our Take: Their voices have deepened and somehow — impossibly, really — they have moved on from high school to higher education. But the two hunks and the dork (Mario Lopez, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Dustin Diamond, respectively) from the Saturday-morning hit Saved by the Bell are still the same overacting nice guys. The original girls may have been replaced — all but the gleaming Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (yay!) — with a passel of fresh-scrubbed coeds, but rest assured, Saved will continue its unique mixture of social-message plots and babe-o-rama visuals.
Behind the Scenes: The Bell boys have gotten used to being teen idols from their Saturday-morning gig, and the possibility of prime-time exposure adding to their legions of screaming fans seems to be the least of their concerns. ”Sometimes we go places and they don’t mob us. That can be upsetting,” laments Diamond, 16. ”So we just go to each other’s houses and mob each other.”
Prediction: Might take a bite out of the long-in-the-tooth Full House, but probably won’t make it all the way to graduation day.
Phenom (ABC, 8:30-9 p.m.)
Concept: Who’s the Blossom?
Our Take: A 15-year-old tennis talent (newcomer Angela Goethals) is pulled in two directions. Her bumptious tennis coach, played with maximum toothiness by Knots Landing‘s William Devane, wants to groom her into a full-time athlete. Her pensive mom, played with maximum hair by Judith Light (Who’s the Boss?), wants her to have a regular life. For the young audience ABC hopes to attract to this sitcom, the show represents a fantasy: adults paying maximum attention to a teenager — cool!
Behind the Scenes: Goethals may be a child star, but it’s Devane who has been acting like a brat — he briefly held up the show until producers caved in and gave him more money and better billing. ”I had no idea this thing would get on the air. I thought [the pilot] would be a nice audition piece for me,” Devane says half-seriously. ”I have to drag my ass over there five days a week, which I’m not looking forward to. It sounds like a show about a mother and daughter, so maybe I won’t be there long.”
Prediction: A sweet time slot helps, but it may end up as a double fault for creator James L. Brooks, whose $30 million ABC deal has yielded only the short-lived Sibs and this squib.
Bakersfield, P.D. (Fox, 8:30-9 p.m.)
Concept: A West Coast Car 54, Where Are You?
Our Take: Paul (Giancarlo Esposito) is an intelligent, by-the-book cop from Washington, D.C., who moves to Bakersfield, Calif., where he’s teamed with Wade (Ron Eldard), a nutty free spirit who likes to wear roller skates when he chases crooks. They’re the odd-couple heroes of this uneven but pleasantly off-beat sitcom, which is not without eccentric charm. The best supporting player is the underrated Chris Mulkey (Twin Peaks), as a dimwitted macho officer who complains about having to work a day shift: ”If I wanted to work 9 to 5,” he grumbles, ”I’d have finished high school.”
Behind the Scenes: The title may be a bit confusing (P.D. stands for ”Police Department,” as in NYPD Blue), but executive producer Larry Levin (It’s Garry Shandling’s Show) prefers it to the name Fox originally announced for his show. ”Buddy Blues sounds like the name of a character Billy Crystal would play,” Levin jokes. ”It didn’t represent to me what the show is. This is not going to be a relationship show between two men. It’s going to be more like Northern Exposure — the story of a man who falls in love with a town.”
Prediction: If it stays stranded on Fox’s weakest night, P.D. will likely be gone P.D.Q.