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'Friends' and the 2002 TV Forecast

This year, the small screen will play host to another season of “Survivor”, Dr. Phil, and a…talking bunny?

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WATCHING ELLIE
Julia Louis-Dreyfus hopes real time is on her new sitcom’s side

Few watched Michael Richards and Jason Alexander in their own post-Seinfeld sitcoms, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t think that will keep fans from Watching Ellie. Louis-Dreyfus’ laugh-track-free NBC comedy will chronicle 22 minutes in the life of Ellie Riggs, an unmarried lounge singer in L.A. A clock even ticks away in the corner of the screen à la Fox’s 24, though the action isn’t always quite as exciting. Says Louis-Dreyfus, ”I like the idea of seeing her when you wouldn’t normally see her—like in the elevator as it goes down and nothing happens.” As for facing the so-called ”Seinfeld curse,” Louis-Dreyfus says Get out! ”There are a lot of elements that go into making a TV show. When it works, it’s unusual. But it doesn’t happen a lot. It has nothing to do with the ‘Seinfeld curse.’ That’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” (Feb. 26)

THE ROSA PARKS STORY
Oscar nominee Angela Bassett marches onto the small screen—and into history—as the civil rights pioneer

”I could hardly walk away,” says Angela Bassett of the opportunity to play the title role in CBS’ The Rosa Parks Story. ”I thought, ‘If I see someone else do it, and I had this gift in my lap, how will I feel about that? Oh, it would hurt.”’ Bassett, who’s also a coexec producer of the movie, met the woman who started the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott at an Atlanta awards ceremony in the mid-’90s. ”I sat between her and James Brown—the Godfather of Soul and the mother of the civil rights movement,” she recalls. ”I was in some kind of heaven.” Bassett was equally excited to work with her acting role model Cicely Tyson, who plays Parks’ mother: ”It was amazing to be in an emotional, put-your-foot-in-it scene with her. I was very blessed in that moment.” (Feb. 24)

ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE
The ex-sidekick unleashes his fantasies on prime time

”The puppy coat was very heavy,” Andy Richter recalls of the furry garment he sports in his Fox sitcom, Andy Richter Controls the Universe. ”In a later episode, I wear a dog suit—which, God willing, America will see, because I sweated my ass off in that thing for three days.” Such wild gags pack the ex-Late Night sidekick’s comedy, which casts him as a Chicago technical writer with an active fantasy life. The bizarro tone might remind viewers of other surreal series, but Richter’s not concerned: ”Scrubs didn’t invent goofy cutaways, and neither did Ally McBeal. We’re all ripping off The Monkees.” Any chance Universe will reunite Richter with Conan O’Brien? ”We haven’t really talked about it. When I talk to him, we mostly speak in silly voices and make fart noises at each other.” (March)

FEAR FACTOR
NBC’s down-and-dirty fright-fest puts the boob in boob tube with an all-Playboy Playmate Super Sunday edition

They’ve covered their contestants with rats, had them snack on buffalo testicles, and made them walk in public naked. So what’s the next logical step for NBC’s Fear Factor? Playboy Playmates, of course! The Sunday-night special (20 minutes will air opposite Fox’s Super Bowl halftime show, with the remainder broadcast postgame) features Playmates facing their phobias for a $50,000 prize. ”The only thing I wouldn’t do is eat insects,” says Miss January, Nicole Narain. Still, exec producer Matt Kunitz promises, ”We didn’t go easy on them.” One stunt found the Playmates (like Stacy Sanches, pictured with host Joe Rogan) swimming underneath a sheet of glass. Says Kunitz: ”It’s one of our more difficult stunts and, as luck would have it, a bathing-suit stunt.” Dangerous? You bet. Scarier than dating Hef? Doubtful. (Feb. 3)