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TV networks stage their fall preview

The stars of ”Cosby,” ”Spin City,” ”Suddenly Susan,” and more make an appearance at the Television Critics Association press tour

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Imagine a first date that lasts three long weeks. Throw in some cold chicken and 87 free T-shirts, and you’ve got the Television Critics Association press tour.

In the annual ritual, held this July 8-27 in Pasadena, Calif., the networks play matchmaker, proudly presenting their new shows to the skeptical press. So it’s no shock that a few stars had relationship jitters. Even huggable Bill Cosby almost skipped the proceedings. ”I want to get up after working until 2 a.m., fly in here, and be nipped at the heels [by reporters]?” grumbled the star of CBS’ fall comedy Cosby. (The press might have had more sympathy were he not making a reported $1 million per show.)

Still, the Cos showed up, no doubt because he knows he must court the public. Herewith, more kiss and tell:

Friendly Fire NBC execs weren’t laughing about their toothsome ”Must See” sixsome walking the picket line. But everyone else was. Among those to crack wise about the salary holdout: Conan O’Brien and CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves, who chimed in with ”We’re paying the Friends $150,000 each not to show up.”

And speaking of friends… NBC, the first-place network, isn’t making a lot of them. At a press conference, Fox Entertainment Group president John Matoian groused that the Peacock network had squelched its July premiere of L.A. Firefighters by airing Backdraft opposite it. (He jokingly promised to retaliate by scheduling the TV debut of Independence Day during the premiere of NBC’s UFO drama Dark Skies.) Meanwhile, ABC can’t be happy about the promos for The Jeff Foxworthy Show, which portray the sitcom’s former ABC home as a black-and-white tornado-stricken land and NBC as a brightly colored Oz.

Not Again What would the fall season be without a scandal from NYPD Blue creator Steven Bochco? This year, critics’ eyes were rolling over his bottom-feeding CBS sitcom, Public Morals, which, in its pilot, includes the phrase ”p—y posse” to refer to a prostitute-busting vice squad. CBS has yet to decide whether to nix the language, but among those offended was fellow Eye employee and tour curmudgeon Cosby. ”To have nine people sitting around a table, who call themselves writers, and the best they can come up with is [that]!” fumed the Cos. Bochco later shot back that it was much ado about nothing. He may be right. Insiders predict the laugh-starved show will quickly die.

We interrupt this program… No doubt Brooke Shields is accustomed to makeovers — but not of this kind. Her NBC sitcom, Suddenly Susan, is one of a surprising number of pilots getting revamped before the fall premiere. The new version will have a fresh cast (Judd Nelson is joining as Shields’ boss), a new location (it switches from a publishing house to a magazine office), and the show changed a scene in which all-American girl Shields has liquor poured down her throat. Also on the tinker list: Fox’s Party Girl and Lush Life and CBS’ Promised Land, Maloney, and Pearl. And now that NBC has scooped up Tea Leoni’s Naked Truth from ABC, the sitcom is switching venues to a celeb magazine.

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