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Fall TV preview: Tuesday's new shows

‘Once and Again,’ ‘Ally,’ and other shows debuting on Tuesday nights

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Once and AGAIN
ABC 10-11 PM Debuts Sept. 21

Those frighteningly articulate bad boys of the societal zeitgeist, producer-writer-directors Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick — the guys who gave us thirtysomething and My So-Called Life — now take on late-’90s fractured families in Once and Again. Already being hailed in many circles as the season’s one true classy, innovative show, it stars Sisters‘ Sela Ward and Billy Campbell, best known as the chiseled-profile hero of the cult movie The Rocketeer. They play middle-aged singles with children who first spy each other in a classic contemporary suburban way (idling their respective SUVs in a school car-pool line), have a tentative first date, and immediately fall for each other.

”I love the fact that my character is not so on top of her game,” says Ward. ”She’s separated, she’s scattered, she’s terrified of dating. She can evolve a lot.” Campbell’s reason for doing the show is simple: ”I knew Ed and Marshall from seeing [their shows] and having met people who’ve worked for them, and the moment I read the first script [I knew] that these were people I’d slit my mom’s throat to work with.”

And although you may feel like stabbing yourself when you see how many new fall series — Once included — have their characters talking directly to the camera, Zwick ardently defends the contrivance. ”Look at the theater,” he says. ”Eugene O’Neill was doing it in the ’20s.”

Besides, Once‘s use of the technique is more than just a jokey, self-referential gimmick. In the pilot, Ward and Campbell have moments, shot in black and white, when they explain the emotions that were roiling their characters in the previous scene. Says Herskovitz, ”People are not reliable witnesses for themselves.” Adds Zwick, ”We’re interested in that tension.”

More tension may come from the show’s scheduling: Once and Again will occupy its first eight weeks in NYPD Blue‘s time slot, but where it goes after Blue makes its season debut is up in the air. Ward professes confidence: ”They’re smart people at ABC — they know this show needs nurturing and protecting; they’ll take care of us.” And Zwick notes, ”It’s important to remember that that’s exactly what they did for The Practice, and they stayed committed to that show.”

In any case, it’s good to have a show in which grown-ups speak like complicated adults, discipline their children as a matter of course, and still act goofy in love. Campbell also liked the idea of being in a show where ”I don’t have to say things like, ‘Freeze, scumbag!”’ You never know, Billy: Your character might just catch one of his kids making a midnight raid on the fridge.
— KEN TUCKER

Ally
Fox, 8-8:30 p.m. Debuts Sept. 28

CONCEPT Half-hour McBeals — reedited old stories, bolstered by unused footage of everyone’s favorite miniskirted lawyer (Calista Flockhart, above).
THE SCOOP ”There’s new music, a new main title, a snappier pace … People will see that [although] it’s not 100 percent new material, it doesn’t feel recycled,” says coexec producer Jonathan Pontell.
BOTTOM LINE If you’re a fan, you’ll probably be intrigued by this stylistic whim of creator David E. Kelley’s; if not, it’ll just seem like an easy way to make some extra bucks.

SHASTA McNasty
UPN, 8:30-9 p.m. Debuts Sept. 30 at 9:30 p.m.

CONCEPT Three rock-rap musicians livin’ la vida hip-hop.
THE SCOOP “I think UPN is looking at [Shasta] as the one that may save them,” says creator Jeff Eastin. “Sort of their Married … With Children.” The show costars Jake Busey (pictured), whose dad, Gary, may drop in. Plus, confides Eastin, “we’ve got a scene where there’s a really fat busboy bent over, and Scott [costar Carmine Giovinazzo] shows home movies on the guy’s butt.” Yeah, that sounds like a network saver.
BOTTOM LINE At our most optimistic, we’re hoping it’s The Monkees Get Phat.

Angel
The WB, 9-10 p.m. Debuts Oct. 5

CONCEPT The handsomest vampire in history (David Boreanaz, above) moves to L.A., along with another Sunnydale deserter, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter); there they hook up with Angel’s pal Doyle (Glenn Quinn).
THE SCOOP Veteran Buffy producer David Greenwalt says that, hurting from his split with the bodacious vampire slayer, “Angel decides to come to the big city and drown his sorrows by playing Batman. [He and Doyle] start a little helping-people business. The whole metaphor is everyone has their demons, and of course, Angel really has his inner demons.”
BOTTOM LINE Don’t get us wrong, we love a moody, broody vampire drama as much as the next magazine, but we hope this doesn’t turn into Bloody EZ Streets.

The STRIP
UPN, 9-10 p.m. Debuts Oct. 12

CONCEPT Two ex-cops (Guy Torry and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles‘ Sean Patrick Flanery, above) become security officers at a casino in this actioner from Joel Silver.
THE SCOOP “I wanted to do a kind of cool, Vegas-based TV show,” says Silver. “We want to build interesting characters with foibles and explore the flora and fauna of Vegas.”
BOTTOM LINE Since this late entry in the fall lineup (it replaced UPN’s still-gestating Secret Agent Man) has yet to churn out a pilot, all we can say for sure is that Flanery is looking surprisingly like the young David Cassidy — which is a good thing … we think.

The Mike O’MALLEY Show
NBC, 9:30-10 p.m. Debuts Sept. 21

CONCEPT Unknown — at least to us — stand-up Mike O’Malley stars as a hockey-lovin’ regular guy who, at 30, realizes he’s got to change his frat-party ways.
THE SCOOP Much will be made of Mike’s attempts to win over his ex-girlfriend (Missy Yager) and address an adulthood spent thus far living with a pal named Weasel (Mark Rosenthal). Notes O’Malley: “In one of the first episodes, Weasel throws an anniversary party for himself and Mike. They’ve been living together for five years, and Mike thinks, ‘Good God, I’m a 30-year-old man and the longest relationship I’ve had is with a guy named Weasel.'”
BOTTOM LINE Too much coy talking into the camera, and far too much Weasel.

Judging AMY
CBS, 10-11 p.m. Debuts Sept. 13 at 8 p.m.

CONCEPT Amy Brenneman (NYPD Blue) is a newly appointed judge who’s trying to find herself, and Tyne Daly is her judgmental ex-social worker mom.
THE SCOOP Brenneman, who’s also exec producer, cooked up the idea: “My mom’s a juvenile court judge and I grew up listening to her talk about what she did and thought, ‘There’s a lot of gallows humor, people dealing with loss. If we get the right tone, we’ll be able to tell some of these stories.'”
BOTTOM LINE Hard to believe a successful woman like Amy could be the jellyfish we saw in a rough cut, but maybe that’s just a signal that her character will grow. Fast, we hope.

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