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Fall TV preview: Monday returning shows

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The KING of Queens
CBS 8-8:30 PM Starts Sept. 20

Ask Kevin James how he feels about his sophomore CBS sitcom, The King of Queens, moving into the all-important 8 o’clock slot, and you’ll get an answer that’s not exactly flush with royal confidence: ”I look at it as an I-don’t-know-if-the-bread’s-ready-to-come-out-of-the-oven type of thing.” Agrees his TV wife, Leah Remini: ”We’re not putting up permanent pictures in our dressing rooms yet.”

Sounds like a classic case of separation anxiety from Everybody Loves Raymond. After all, James started as a recurring player on stand-up pal Ray Romano’s show, and King served as the warm-up act for Raymond last season. (”I hope they can stand on their own without our tremendous lead-in,” jokes James.) At least there’s another crossover to look forward to: James is cowriting an episode in which his Doug Heffernan and Romano’s Ray Barone go on a double date with their spouses. How will he pay Ray back for this surefire ratings boost? ”I can’t say that to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. If this were the Playboy interview, I’d let you know.”

Okay then. King finished a solid 35th last season, and its competition is actually less cutthroat this fall, with ABC moving Monday Night Football back to 9 p.m. Plus, ”the Jennifer Love Hewitt thing shouldn’t cost us any viewers,” says King cocreator David Litt about Fox’s Time of Your Life, which will be angling for the zit-cream crowd along with The WB’s 7th Heaven and UPN’s Moesha. And as for NBC’s retooled Suddenly Susan, King cocreator Michael J. Weithorn declares, ”We can take ’em.”

Watch for James’ parcel-service driver Doug to get a motorcycle and Remini’s Carrie to find a new best friend — who catches the eye of her basement-dwelling widower dad (Jerry Stiller). ”A lot of younger women like older men, because they know their way around,” says Stiller. ”These hot kids today just eat and run, so to speak, but older guys know what romancing is.” The show will also shoot an episode at Shea Stadium, where Doug falls onto the field reaching for a foul ball. Says James, ”I see a cop coming and bolt.”

Even if The King of Queens doesn’t race to the top of the ratings, the cast says that’s fine with them. ”We want to do a slow build,” says Remini. ”We don’t want people to go, ‘Oh, I’m so sick of seeing those two idiots.”’ Adds James, ”I feel like we’re still a puppy — this goofy Great Dane. We’re klutzy, but the potential’s there to be a huge beast.”

Moesha
UPN, 8-8:30 p.m.

Brandy’s real-life brother, Ray J, joins the cast as her school-cutting, curfew-busting cousin, Dorian, who moves in with the family and butts heads with Dad (William Allen Young). After her brief stint working at Vibe magazine, Mo (above) enters college and finds romance. ”It’s going to come from an unexpected place,” says executive producer Vida Spears. Just pray it’s not a crossover with Grown Ups‘ Jaleel White. (Aug. 23)

Suddenly SUSAN
NBC, 8-8:30 p.m.

We’re looking at this like a pilot,” says new exec producer Mark Driscoll, who along with fellow Ellen vet Maria Semple will reinvent the sitcom. To that end, Judd Nelson is out as editor of the San Francisco mag Brooke Shields writes for, replaced by ex-Monty Pythonite Eric Idle, who turns it into a Maxim-esque men’s rag. Melrose Place‘s Rob Estes also moves in as a photographer who rivals Nestor Carbonell’s Luis for Susan’s affection. Is Shields excited about all this? “Have you seen the triangle I get to be in?” she pants. “Yes! I’m not an idiot!” (Sept. 20)

7th HEAVEN
The WB, 8-9 p.m.

The first Camden kid flies the coop as Eric (Barry Watson) shares a bachelor pad with another pastor’s son (Chaz Lamar Sheperd). Basketballer Mary (Jessica Biel, above) gets into an academic jam, and younger sibs Lucy (Beverley Mitchell) and Simon (David Gallagher) receive makeovers. “Lucy is a lot sexier, and you can look for a new haircut on Simon,” offers exec producer Brenda Hampton. “Can you promote that? ‘Less hair, more love.'” Consider it done. (Sept. 20)

Veronica’s CLOSET
NBC, 8:30-9 p.m.

It turns out Ron Silver’s character died in between seasons in a terrible volcano accident,” says executive producer Marta Kauffman. He will also have gotten married, and his widow, June (Lorri Bagley), will join Kirstie Alley (above) at her lingerie firm. Says Kauffman, “She’ll be more Ronnie’s nemesis than her partner.” Because that idea worked so well with Silver, right? (Sept. 20)

Ally McBEAL
Fox, 9-10 p.m.

David E. Kelley reunites with Picket Fences Emmy winner Ray Walston, who plays a minister in the season premiere. Tracey Ullman (Ally’s shrink) and Dyan Cannon (the judge known as Whipper) will reprise their recurring parts, and expect an encore from the Buddha of Love, Barry White. Now that Jesse L. Martin is on Law & Order, whom will lovelorn lawyer Ally (Calista Flockhart, above) date? Tight-lipped producer Jeffrey Kramer plays coy: “We’ll miss Jesse, but oh, there are people to be met.” (Oct. 25)

Everybody LOVES Raymond
CBS, 9-9:30 p.m.

The family sitcom’s fourth season premiere finds Debra (Patricia Heaton) debating a boob job. “We’ve got our pinkie toe over the edge with this one,” says creator Philip Rosenthal of the atypically bawdy plot. “We’re Everybody Loves Frickin’ Raymond.” Star Ray Romano offers another spicy plotline: “Ray realizes Debra only has sex with him on days when she goes to an aerobics class with a hot stud instructor.” Not that every episode will be erotic: We’ll meet Debra’s ex-hippie sis — who’s becoming a nun (Kate Capshaw is being courted for the role) — as well as the ex-wife of Ray’s cop brother, Robert (Brad Garrett). Also, “one of the kids gets ripped off in a bad Pokémon card trade, and Ray has to get involved,” reports Rosenthal. “Oh, and Robert might be gay.” Kidding! (Sept. 20)

Becker
CBS, 9:30-10 p.m.

Here’s something you will see on the sophomore comedy: In a three-episode stunt planned for November sweeps, Ted Danson’s loudmouthed doctor gets shot and sees the medical profession from the patient’s perspective. Something you won’t see: Becker and diner owner Reggie (Terry Farrell) turning up the heat on their simmering attraction. “No one’s ever gonna do Sam and Diane better than Sam and Diane,” says creator Dave Hackel. “The comparison would be too direct.” Cheers to that. (Sept. 20)

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