Bruce Fretts
September 11, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

EARLY EDITION
If you’ve never seen Early Edition, you aren’t the only one. ”It’s not a top 10 show,” concedes charismatic star Kyle Chandler. ”But it’s not in the bottom of the well, either. It’s in the upper two fourths, I believe.” (Edition ranked 48th last season, putting it in the upper one half, as it’s more commonly known.)

Why hasn’t the show broken out? ”Part of the problem is the title — people think it’s a newsmag,” says exec producer Jeff Melvoin. ”I introduced myself to a friend’s mom who’s in her 70s. I said, ‘I work on Early Edition.’ She said, ‘I’ve never seen it.’ Then she overheard me describe it, and said, ‘Oh, I watch that!”’

Which is another problem: A lot of its viewers are in their 70s. To counteract that — and to adapt to its new family-hour slot — the show is getting a face-lift. The premise remains the same: Chicago bar owner Gary Hobson (Chandler) mysteriously receives tomorrow’s paper today and rushes to prevent bad news. But instead of Chuck Fishman (Fisher Stevens, who’ll be in only a few episodes), Gary’ll be aided by an eager-beaver bartender (Billie Worley), a single mom (Kristy Swanson, a.k.a. the original Buffy), and her feisty 9-year-old (Myles Jeffrey), who’ll provide, respectively, comic relief, sexual tension, and kid appeal.

While producers also promise more action, don’t expect Edition to up its mayhem quotient to match its CBS counterparts, Martial Law and Walker, Texas Ranger. ”Our hero is like Jimmy Stewart,” says Melvoin. ”He’d almost always rather talk his way out of a situation or even run than resort to fisticuffs.” Unless, of course, he gets beaten up in the ratings.

THE PRETENDER
Picking up from last season’s explosive finale, Jarod (Michael T. Weiss) survives the bombing of the Centre, but knowing his dad may have been a murderer causes psychological damage, and he’s institutionalized. The show isn’t just ripping off — pardon us, paying homage to — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. ”We have a film noirish episode, and a Silence of the Lambs-type episode,” says exec producer Steven Long Mitchell. And, offers fellow exec producer Craig Van Sickle, ”we have one where Jarod penetrates this sinister law firm that’s controlling people’s lives.” John Grisham, call your attorneys.

PROFILER
Get ready for a kinder, gentler Profiler. Jack, the serial killer who stalked Ally Walker’s Sam for the first two seasons, will be caught in the opener. ”That will lift the blanket of victimization off of Sam,” says new exec producer Stephen Kronish. ”We hope to play a few more moments of humor.” The show’s visual style and Walker’s wardrobe will be lightened up as well. ”She won’t always wear clothes that make her look like she’s going to a funeral,” says Kronish. Female FBI agents can wear pastels — ask Gillian Anderson.

WALKER, TEXAS RANGER
Music seems to be this season’s theme: In a two-hour episode inspired by ”Eyes of a Ranger” (the opening tune, croaked by star Chuck Norris), country crooner Collin Raye plays himself, and LeAnn Rimes wannabe Lila McCann makes her acting debut as an aspiring singer. A musical diva of a different stripe, RuPaul, appears in another episode. ”He plays a character named Bob,” says executive producer Aaron Norris (Chuck’s brother). ”As a cross-dresser, she runs an establishment where bad guys go to get jobs.” You better work, Chuck!

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