Jeff Jensen
September 29, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In the season opener, Harm (David James Elliott) and Mac (Catherine Bell) head off to Russia. ”I’m hoping there’ll be some off-base stuff — away from the military,” says the curvaceous Bell. Scoffs creator Don Bellisario, ”She wants to wear bikinis and show off her great body.” What’s wrong with that? ”Nothing — we like to see her body too,” he says. ”We just like to keep it in perspective for a Marine Corps colonel.” What a DRAG. (Oct. 3)

Upping its me decade cred, the sitcom has reached a joint agreement with vintage stoner Tommy Chong to have burnout Leo drop in on a weekly basis. The Partridge Family‘s Shirley Jones also pops up when mom Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) imagines the ideal life. In another fantasy sequence, Red (Kurtwood Smith) warns freshly paroled pothead Hyde (Danny Masterson, pictured) about the dangers of wacky weed. Explains exec producer Terry Turner, ”It’s an homage to Reefer Madness … shot in black-and-white, ’30s style.” Okay, people — pick a decade and stick with it. (Oct. 3)

It’s the dawn of a new era as Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) adopts pesky 14-year-old Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) into the Scooby Gang. ”I want to see Buffy relive that adolescent journey through a different person,” says creator Joss Whedon. Battles with demigods worming their way back into hell lead up to another horrific finale. ”May is a bad time to be in Sunnydale,” says Whedon. As for Buffy’s beau, Riley (Marc Blucas), ”they keep joking that they’re going to ‘mess my stuff up,”’ he reports. ”I don’t know what that means.” Be very afraid, Marc. (Sept. 26)

”I promise that the people who hate us will continue to,” swears star Christopher Titus. ”And the people who love us will track those people down and force them to watch, because they’re wrong.” In the dysfunctional farce’s second season, Dad (Stacy Keach) gets busted for drunk driving, and Mom gets out of the mental hospital. ”We’re going to delve into why people stay with people who abuse the crap out of them,” says the comic. But don’t expect to see a Very Special Titus. ”If we get any insight, the show’s over, mister!” (Oct. 3)

The aliens travel to a parallel universe — New York City — where they discover Dick (John Lithgow) is a lawyer, Don (Wayne Knight) is the mayor, and Sally (Kristen Johnston) writes a Sex and the City-type column. French Stewart’s Harry ”can’t figure out what he does,” says cocreator Terry Turner. ”He says, ‘All I do is watch TV,’ and it turns out he’s president of NBC.” So that explains why Rock‘s still on the air. (Oct. 24)

Dharma (Jenna Elfman) will deal with her mom’s pregnancy. ”Her parents are going to raise this kid differently,” says exec producer Bill Prady. ”They’re not young bohemians anymore.” She also freaks when Greg (Thomas Gibson) joins the Army reserves. Will there be more musical guests like Bob Dylan? ”I hope so!” enthuses cocreator Chuck Lorre. ”Mr. Springsteen, we’re sending a car!” (Oct. 10)

Badass vampire hunter Charles Gunn (J. August Richards) becomes a regular, and David Boreanaz’s undead dude will meet up again with slutty slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku), who’s blown Buffy‘s sleepy burg for L.A. ”She’s too big for Sunnydale — that town can’t hold her,” says consulting producer Marti Noxon. Will we see more Buffy-Angel crossovers? ”Occasionally, that happens,” concedes cocreator Joss Whedon. ”And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.” (Sept. 26)

Andrea Thompson (Det. Jill Kirkendall) is gone, and James McDaniel (Lieut. Arthur Fancy) will soon follow, leaving Dennis Franz as the sole original cast member. But season 8’s biggest loss may be head writer David Milch, who lent the show its distinctively rococo syntax. ”For us to try to imitate David, that’s actually an abuse,” says cocreator Steven Bochco. ”My singular instruction to our writers is, ‘If you try to copy David, I’ll have you shot.”’ Jeez, we thought Sipowicz was tough. (January)

In its sophomore session, Amy Brenneman’s family/courtroom drama will feature more ripped-from-real-life cases, like an 11-year-old who’s accused of stalking. Mother Maxine (Tyne Daly) works with abused kids, and new divorcée Amy dives back into the dating pool. Says exec producer Barbara Hall, “We’re going to give Amy a period of time when she’s kissing frogs.” Hey, isn’t that against the law? (Oct. 10)

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