Inside looks at "Covington Cross," "Cops," and more


(ABC, 8-9 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: Bonanza meets Robin Hood.
*COMMENTARY: The season’s goofiest attractive-group-of-young-people show is this howler about an English knight’s family life in the Middle Ages. Sir Thomas Gray (Nigel Terry) is raising four kids in a fully moated castle; they’re all bodacious young adults in chain mail—the most familiar face belonging to Ione Skye (Say Anything, Gas Food Lodging). Cross is supposed to be an action drama with comic moments, but the sight of these shaggy pinups wielding swords and bows whenever they’re not asking for the keys to the horse—well, the whole thing’s pretty ludicrous.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: News of cast changes comes from Glenn Quinn, who will be seen on both Roseanne (where he is Becky’s soon-to-be-husband) and Cross (where he plays Cedric, the gentlest of the sons): ”I think they’re canning one of my brothers. One of them is going off to the Crusades, sadly enough. (Test) audiences couldn’t distinguish between them-they were like ‘Richard, William—who the f— is who?’ I had the same problem.” Cross‘ suits of armor probably didn’t help. ”Actually,” says Quinn, ”it’s fiberglass. They painted it to look like armor.”

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Unless it attracts a very unlikely cult following, nil.

(CBS, 8-8:30 p.m.; premieres Sunday, Sept. 13, 8-8:30 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: I Love Lucy meets Shirley Valentine.
*COMMENTARY: Frannie is a housewife and mother; the ”turn” in the title refers to her decision to work as a seamstress. A sitcom about the blossoming of a middle-aged working woman, the show is also about cultural differences; Frannie’s husband (Tomas Milian) is a Cuban-American whose machismo conflicts with Frannie’s feminism. And though you’d never know it from Frannie’s broad all-Amurrican accent, she’s played deftly by an English actress, Miriam Margolyes. All of which makes Frannie’s Turn interesting; now let’s hope it gets funny.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: Many find Frannie’s Turn a strange choice to anchor an entire night for CBS; even some network insiders concede that the pilot is unexceptional, and in fact, Imogene Coca, originally cast as Frannie’s mother-in-law, has already left the show. For the record, CBS remains cheerful. ”For six years, the heart of NBC’s Saturday-at-eight success was with Golden Girls,” says CBS vice president Peter Tortorici. ”We’re going after that type of audience, and I think Frannie will click—she’s a woman in her 50s coming of age and saying, ‘What about me?”’
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: We knew the Golden Girls. The Golden Girls were friends of ours. Frannie, you’re no Golden Girl.

(NBC, 8-8:30 p.m.; premieres Sept. 19)
*CONCEPT: Theo Huxtable meets some Little Boyz N the Hood.
*COMMENTARY: The Cosby Show‘s Malcolm-Jamal Warner plays A.J., an earnest psychology student closing in on a graduate degree while doing volunteer work in a Manhattan youth center. A.J. advises his impoverished young charges on ways to escape the ghetto. Right off the bat, the primary problem with this show is that heavy inner-city problems must, on a sitcom, be played for laughs-the first episode’s story, about A.J. confronting a youth gang, seems all too tidily resolved.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: ”It’s a community with serious problems,” says executive producer Richard Vaczy of Here and Now‘s locale. ”Guns, knives, fathers checking out. We showed it to some kids in L.A., and they said they found it very real.” But viewers may not be looking for message-driven reality in a Saturday-night sitcom; in fact, some of the pilot’s dialogue would be more at home in a motivational speech than a comedy. ”The network was scared of the pilot,” says Vaczy. ”They thought it was too real.” But, he assures, ”we’re writing it only one way. Funny.”

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Not bad, but only because the competition is weak.

(NBC, 8:30-9 p.m.; premieres Sept. 19)
*CONCEPT: Patti LaBelle meets a pair of Fresh Princes.
*COMMENTARY: Singer Patti LaBelle plays a Los Angeles nightclub owner who hires two ambitious young men to run the joint. As embodied by Boyz N the Hood‘s Morris Chestnut and White Men Can’t Jump‘s Duane Martin, they’re a couple of smooth-talking chuckleheads who chase skirts whenever they’re not cracking jokes. The series barely contains its two warring comedy styles: the guys’ Eddie Murphy-type jiving and LaBelle’s grande dame goofiness. Neither is that funny in the pilot.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: It’s no accident that NBC has paired Out All Night with Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s Here and Now; the network is fighting to recapture the black audience it once had with the Saturday sitcoms Amen and 227. To make the show more attractive, NBC plans guest appearances by Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Hammer, and Bobby Brown. That may be a stronger selling point than the comedy, which is being overseen by Andy and Susan Borowitz, who left NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when their sensibilities and Will Smith’s didn’t mesh.

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: A close call; Out can probably hang on for a season, even with unspectacular numbers.

(ABC, 9-10 p.m.; premieres Monday, Sept. 14, 8-9 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: Father Knows Best meets Route 66.
*COMMENTARY: Robert Urich plays the widowed father of a teenage son (Dalton James); they travel around the country on motorcycles on a voyage of self-discovery, a premise that recalls the idea behind US, the 1991 TV-movie pilot that was Michael Landon’s last project. Traveling from town to town, meeting oddball characters, dad and son help folks in need and undoubtedly break a few female hearts along the way. So hokey it might be taken by large numbers of viewers as heartwarming, Crossroads coasts primarily on Urich’s big-boned charm.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: Get ready for the latest chapter in the Robert Urich Saturday Night Curse—despite four previous attempts (American Dreamer, S.W.A.T., Tabitha, and the cult fave Spenser: For Hire), the veteran has never managed to plant a hit on the Saturday schedule. This time, at least, Urich has some creative muscle on his side-film director Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Thunderheart) directed the pilot of Crossroads (originally titled C.C. Riders) and will oversee the series.

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Make it 0 for 5.

(CBS, 9-10 p.m.; returns Sept. 26)
*CONCEPT: Kung Fu meets The Six Million Dollar Middle-Aged Man.
*COMMENTARY: One of the summer’s surprise success stories, Raven is CBS’ attempt to keep action fans from renting Steven Seagal tapes on Saturday nights, and while the martial-arts moves of star Jeffrey Meek aren’t nearly as graphic as Seagal’s, the series is quirky and original enough to attract its own fans. Meek is a pleasingly self-parodic hero, a lone avenger breaking bad-guy windpipes all over Hawaii. A bulked-out Lee Majors provides genuine laughs as Raven’s grumpy sidekick.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: Raven was supposed to disappear after its summer run—for starters, there was no room on CBS’ fall schedule. But the show caught on, even opposite those twin towers of hype, Melrose Place and the Olympics. So instead of saying “Nevermore,” CBS booted the softer, slower Jane Seymour vehicle Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (which few TV insiders thought would last a month on Saturdays), and Raven kicked its way into the lineup. One strength is its remarkable popularity with older women: Females over 50 are more than a quarter of Raven‘s viewers.

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Good; it has already proved itself against competitors stronger than Empty Nest.

(Fox, 9:30-10 p.m.; premieres Sept. 19)
*CONCEPT: In Living Color meets Laugh-In.
*COMMENTARY: A satirical revue that, as led by Julie Brown (MTV’s Just Say Julie), has a gratifying female edge. Brown and company spoof everything from Designing Women to Mariah Carey videos (Julie as Mariah hits high notes that cause her fans’ ears to bleed). When Brown appears as Barb, a nice, June Cleaver-type housewife who takes a job as a phone-sex operator, a lascivious man asks, “Are you wearing panties?” “Well, heavens, yes!” shrieks Barb, appalled. Very promising.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: No scene in any new series has caused as much discussion and consternation as The Edge‘s parody of Designing Women, in which a Godzilla-size Delta Burke (played by Brown) rips the roof off the Sugarbaker home, eats (yes, eats) Jan Hooks’ head, then goes on a citywide rampage until she is felled by Wayne Knight as William (Jake and the Fatman) Conrad. Though even the executive producer, David Mirkin admits the sketch is in dubious taste, he makes no apologies. “The trick is to make it so funny that people are laughing before they even realize they’re offended,” he says. “If we took one misstep, we’d be dead.”

*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: None at all on Saturdays, where it has the worst time slot on television. Memo to Fox: Move The Edge to Sundays and watch it soar.

(CBS, 10-11 p.m.; premieres Tuesday, Sept. 15, 9-11 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: Cagney & Lacey with the race, class, and gender wars turned up a notch.
*COMMENTARY: Robin Givens leaves a growing film career to costar in this cop show with Pamela Gidley (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me). They’re recently teamed big-city homicide detectives, and in the pilot much time is spent race-baiting: Gidley’s Dorothy Paretsky (a nod to mystery writer Sara P.?) is a Polish-American who thinks that African-Americans get too many breaks and, in this case, that Givens’ Anita King (Anita Hill meets Rodney King?) has been promoted from beat cop to homicide because of the color of her skin. All of which gives Angel Street a nasty subtext even before the women start solving murders; what a fun way to spend a Saturday night.

*BEHIND THE SCENES: Whew! Some series run for five years without generating as much controversy as this has already. First came the accusation—from Rain Man director Barry Levinson—that parts of the pilot were plagiarized from David Simon’s nonfiction book Homicide (which, not coincidentally, Levinson is now making an NBC series). Without admitting guilt, Angel Street‘s producers agreed to redo several scenes. Then came whispers that the show’s on-screen racial tensions exploded into off-camera hostility between Givens and Gidley in the first days of shooting. True enough, admit both actresses, who say they’ve since become friends. Is that what CBS Entertainment president Jeff Sagansky meant when he told Entertainment Weekly in May that Angel Street “will be the new show on our schedule that takes everybody by surprise”? *CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: 50-50. Saturday at 10 has been up for grabs for years now, and Givens could be a potent draw. But we’d be more confident if CBS had ordered more than eight episodes.


EMPTY NEST (NBC, 9-9:30 p.m.)
The nest will be a little fuller this season; Carol (Dinah Manoff) gets a boyfriend (Paul Provenza). “We don’t know how permanent,” says executive producer Paul Junger Witt. “Depends on how the audience takes to him.”

NURSES (NBC, 9:30-10 p.m.)
The second season, beginning Sept. 19, will bring a slight change in personnel. Jeff Altman is gone, and David Rasche (Sledge Hammer!) is joining the cast. “He’s an ’80s-type investment banker and hostile takeover artist who is convicted for various offenses and sentenced to community service,” says Witt, “hopefully for at least six more seasons.”

SISTERS (NBC, 10-11 p.m.)
The producers will turn up the heat on Teddy (Sela Ward) by giving her a boyfriend (British actor Mark Frankel). That’s all we know; even Ward can’t offer more details. “I would tell you everything,” she says. “That’s why they tell me nothing.”