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Wednesday's returning shows

”Ellen,” ”Law & Order,” ”Party of Five,” and more are among the hits returning this fall

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ABC, 8-8:30 P.M.

Still in search of an identity, Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom gets serious this season. Ellen starts therapy again after her parents split, sells Buy the Book to a corporation, and purchases her own house. ”She goes on a personal journey where everything collapses around her,” says DeGeneres. ”She finds out who she is, which is what I think the audience wants to know — I can’t tell you who she is.” And for the first time, there are no cast changes: Joely Fisher, Jeremy Piven, David Anthony Higgins, and Clea Lewis are all coming back.

The Nanny
CBS, 8-8:30 P.M.

Guest stars galore as the sitcom tries to become CBS’ first Wednesday-at-8 hit since The Jeffersons: There’s Jason Alexander as a blind man who falls for Fran (Fran Drescher) in the season premiere; Rosie O’Donnell as herself when she offers Fran a weekly segment on her show; and Joan Collins as Maxwell’s stepmom. Romantic tension continues to flare between Fran and Maxwell (Charles Shaughnessy) — and may heat up between butler Niles (Daniel Davis) and the annoying C.C. (Lauren Lane). Not that she’s his first choice: ”I’ve always played it that Niles has an attraction for Miss Fine himself,” says Davis. ”But he realizes she’s beyond his reach.” So what about last year’s cliff-hanger, with Fran and Maxwell aboard a plunging airplane? Says executive producer Rob Sternin, ”Obviously, the plane doesn’t crash.” Well, duh.

NBC, 8-8:30 P.M.

”The biggest thing is that this is not the last year of Wings,” says executive producer Mark Reisman. Is that a promise or a threat? The sitcom’s seventh season starts with an insurance investigator (Chicago Hope casualty Roma Maffia) probing the fire that burned down the house of Brian (Steven Weber) and Casey (Amy Yasbeck) in May’s finale. The homeless couple bunks with Joe (Tim Daly) and Helen (Crystal Bernard). And in her ongoing campaign to be even more overexposed than Gwyneth Paltrow, MTV’s Jenny McCarthy will soon have a guest fling with Brian. (Sept. 18)

Beverly Hills, 90210
FOX, 8-9 P.M.

”It’s still the same Spelling formula: emotion, passion, bonding, and fun,” says exec producer Larry Mollin. ”Then I have my own alternate version: commotion, fashion, blonding, and sun.” That sounds more like it. The 90210 kids are now college seniors, believe it or not, and ”at least some of them will graduate,” says Mollin. ”Maybe even Steve [Ian Ziering].” Meanwhile, Brandon (Jason Priestley) gets involved with the university TV station — and its sexy anchorwoman (Jill Novick). Any chance of Luke Perry or Shannen Doherty returning? ”There’s always a chance,” says Mollin. ”Certainly more for the former than the latter.” Ouch!

The John Larrquette Show
NBC, 8:30-9 p.m.

Catherine (Alison LaPlaca) is leaving, but not without a little bit of intrigue. As Larroquette’s John Hemingway stands at the altar with new bride — and ex-hooker — Carly (Gigi Rice), ”we find out Catherine is pregnant with his baby,” says Larroquette. ”That’s our little soap opera.” But with the great LaPlaca gone, why should viewers stick around? ”There’s been foreplay between Hemingway and Carly for three years,” says Larroquette, ”and they finally get it on.”