September 11, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

HOME IMPROVEMENT
As the sitcom gears up for what will likely be its final season, Tim (Tim Allen) starts an outreach program, tooling around in a van and helping neighbors with fix-it projects, while sidekick Al (Richard Karn) woos an actress (A League of Their Own‘s Megan Cavanagh) who owns a pet rat. Two ex-rugrats are deserting the series: We’ll see a lot less of Zachery Ty Bryan’s Brad, who pursues a pro-soccer career in Europe, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ Randy, who’ll travel to Costa Rica to try to save the rain forests. Which is probably easier than saving this sinking show.

MOESHA
Randy’s L.A. teen is now a high school senior, which means homecoming, prom, and thinking-about-college episodes. Plus, in the season premiere, Moesha meets her famous look-alike, pop star Brandy. Explains executive producer Vida Spears: ”Kim [Countess Vaughn] was supposed to get tickets to a Brandy concert, but she oversleeps, so she tells Moesha, ‘Well, you look like her.’ A security guard mistakes her for Brandy and lets them in.” What’s Brandy’s reaction to her doppelganger? Says exec producer Sara Finney, ”At first she’s afraid, but they wind up realizing they have a lot in common.” Like genes.

MAD ABOUT YOU
Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser have begun shooting what will probably be the sitcom’s last season on location in Manhattan, where Hunt has been starring in Broadway’s Twelfth Night. While they were in town, fellow zillionaire Jerry Seinfeld shot a cameo as himself; he mistakes Paul for a crazed fan.

JAG
Expect loads of action on this military drama, and maybe even some real action for David James Elliott’s Lieut. Comdr. Harmon Rabb Jr.. His ideal leading lady? ”My wife [actress Nancy Chambers] is fabulous with me — that’s the God’s honest truth. There’s great sexual tension between us.” One would hope.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
With Angel (David Boreanaz) banished to hell, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy tentatively reenters the dating arena. ”Hopefully, at least one of the people she dates won’t be a monster,” jokes creator Joss Whedon. Angel will rise again later in the season (he’ll materialize in Buffy’s dreams in the meantime) and gets his own spin-off in fall ’99. There are plenty of other romances: Oz (Seth Green, now a regular) flunks 12th grade and returns to squire Willow (Alyson Hannigan), who’s dabbling in witchcraft. Xander (Nicholas Brendon) continues his love-hate relationship with Charisma Carpenter’s Cordelia. Even straight-laced librarian Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) may, in Whedon’s words, ”get some.” ”I was about to, and she got killed,” says Head, referring to Giles’ courtship of doomed Miss Calendar. ”It was the best contraceptive I’ve ever seen.” What with Brimstone, death as birth control is getting a real workout this season.

CLUELESS
Somehow we missed this, but in last season’s cliff-hanger, Clueless‘ rich kids lost all their money and ended up in unfashionable Bakersfield, Calif. ”We do two episodes where we try to get them back to Beverly Hills,” says executive producer Tim O’Donnell. ”Should I tell you what happens? Okay, yeah, we get back to Beverly Hills.” Aw, you ruined it!

SPIN CITY
Mike (Michael J. Fox) and Nikki (Connie Britton) engage in a surreptitious office romance, Stuart (Alan Ruck) and Carter (Michael Boatman) extend their odd-couple roommate arrangement, and Mayor Winston (Barry Bostwick) seeks reelection. But the contest everybody really cares about is: Can Spin City attract more voters — er, viewers — than NBC’s Just Shoot Me? ”I’m biased, but I think we’re a better show,” says Ruck. ”They’re just benefitting from superb marketing. It’s going to be a slugfest, but I think we’re going to win out eventually.” Now, that’s spin.

JUST SHOOT ME
Guest stars and the regulars who sleep with them — on the next season of Just Shoot Me! Molly Shannon has a torrid affair with ex-SNL colleague David Spade’s Dennis Finch. Mr. Show‘s David Cross (as the brother of Enrico Colantoni’s Elliott) develops the hots for Laura San Giacomo’s Maya. And Brian Dennehy (returning as Finch’s dad) does the nasty with Wendie Malick’s Nina. But not every installment will be about S-E-X. ”In the Christmas episode, we’re taking on three or four Christmas classics,” says executive producer Steven Levitan. ”It’s called, ‘How the Finch Stole Christmas.’ ” You’re a mean one, Mr. Finch.

WORKING
Dana Gould, Sarah Knowlton, and Kate Hodge exit the cast, and Fred Savage’s Matt will have a new nemesis (and possible love interest) in Debi Mazar’s Liz, a corporate climber. He’ll also write a Jerry Maguire-like mission statement about what’s wrong with the company and later learn he unwittingly paraphrased the Communist Manifesto. Says executive producer Michael Davidoff, ”We’re just trying to make the show quicker-paced and funnier.” Wait, doesn’t that imply that Working was funny before?

NYPD BLUE
”You may have heard that Jimmy Smits is leaving,” deadpans Steven Bochco. As is his custom, the cop-show creator is keeping the details of his drama’s plotlines close to the bulletproof vest, but he does promise that ”no car bombs” will be involved in the departure of Det. Bobby Simone and that Smits’ onscreen wife, Kim Delaney, ”isn’t going anywhere.” As for Rick Schroder, who’ll join the cast early on as a hotshot ex-narcotics cop who butts heads with Dennis Franz’s crabby Andy Sipowicz, Bochco swears, ”Schroder will surprise everyone.” This means you, Silver Spoons fans.

KING OF THE HILL
King of the Hill exec producer Greg Daniels doesn’t mince words when asked about his show’s move from its comfy post-Simpsons berth on Sundays to more treacherous Tuesday terrain. ”How do we feel about taking a bullet for the Fox network?” he jokes. ”We’re just thrilled.”

We’ll tell you whut: Even if Fox’s plan is to get King fully ensconced on Tuesdays so it can rule once Mad About You and Home Improvement finally retire, Daniels knows there’s no way Hank and family are getting out of this slot-switch unscathed. ”Fox is expecting us to do a lot worse [this year],” he says. ”[Cocreator] Mike Judge and I are in the position of tank commanders in a war, and our general has said, ‘Take that hill.’ You’ve just got to trust that he knows what he’s doing and that we’re not walking into a trap.” Judge, meanwhile, isn’t sweating it: ”I always tape the show anyway, so it doesn’t really affect my life.”

Fans, of course, are sweating: Specifically, over who died in that propane explosion at Mega Lo Mart in last May’s finale. Daniels is mum (our money’s on guest star Chuck Mangione), but he does reveal that this season will find Peggy competing in a Mrs. America beauty pageant, Luanne taking up with a seedy concert promoter (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), Hank participating in a lawn-mower focus group (including guest stars Billy Bob Thornton and Dwight Yoakam) and reliving the heartbreak of his narrow urethra as he and Peggy try for another baby.

As for the heartbreak of having to choose between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and King of the Hill (now opposite each other), Daniels isn’t going to make it any easier on fans of both: In the season’s second episode, Sarah Michelle Gellar will voice an older woman (she’s 15) who aggressively pursues Bobby. ”I feel sad that we have to make people choose,” laments Daniels. Contemplative pause. ”It’s probably not in our best interest to keep promoting Buffy.”

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