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1997's Fall TV Preview

Critics got a taste of the upcoming season at the annual Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour

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You don’t smile much, do you?” Danny Aiello asked one sullen-faced reporter at a press conference for his upcoming CBS cop show, Dellaventura. Well, you might not either if you were sentenced to a three-week stay at a maximum-security hotel where star after star tells you his or her new TV show is ”a dream come true.”

But such is the annual ritual known as the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. The purpose of the tour — conducted July 9-28 in Pasadena — is to allow the networks to trumpet their upcoming fall shows to a skeptical press. And the press really can’t complain too much. The obliging networks offer graft (a Politically Incorrect coaster!), field trips (an ABC-sponsored jaunt to Disneyland!), and face-to-face celebrity encounters (Jonathan Lipnicki eating a soft pretzel!). Herewith, the 1997 tour highlights.

EVERYBODY LOVES AN EXPLODING HEAD NYPD Blue producer Steven Bochco is drawn to controversy like a cop to a doughnut. The latest brouhaha is the ultraviolence in his CBS police drama Brooklyn South, the pilot of which features chunks of scalp being blown off, Zapruder-film style. ”There’ll be 400 [ratings] letters in front of that show,” says CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves. ”And if anybody does not know that Brooklyn South is very violent, then they’re not living here.” Jumping on the bandwagon, Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Ray Romano promised exploding heads in his sitcom, too. ”Just from frustration,” he said. ”Just from kids.”

BEST SOAP OPERA Just-demoted ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses — the subject of several scathing articles in recent weeks — challenged Bochco for the scandal crown. The press pool’s favorite guessing game: Who’ll play her in the movie (No. 1 answer: Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Also caught up in the ugliness was Over the Top, an ABC sitcom starring Annie Potts and Tim Curry. The show is produced by ex-Letterman producer Robert Morton, whose romance with Tarses appears to have been canceled. Will his series suffer a similar fate? ”The work will speak for itself,” says Potts.

BEST AND WORST BUZZ New series with momentum include NBC’s Kirstie Alley sitcom, Veronica’s Closet, and ABC’s romantic comedy Dharma & Greg, starring Jenna Elfman. But an unproud Peacock network refused to expose the stars of Union Square to hostile critics, explaining that the pilot is being reshot.

MUSIC BOX Don’t be surprised if there’s a Cop Rock reunion special. On the heels of The Drew Carey Show‘s song-and-dance extravaganzas, musical TV’s making a comeback. Chicago Hope will get funky this fall with several numbers choreographed by Kenny Ortega. ”We’re trying to open the show’s format,” says Hope exec producer John Tinker. ”Next is the nude episode. Let’s see ER try to top that!” Look for possible high stepping on NBC’s The Tony Danza Show and CBS’ Gregory Hines Show. Says Hines, ”Every now and then [on the show], I dream that I can tap-dance.”