Keeping a watch on TV

Mulder meets Munch, Urkel does a Murder, Cosby loves Raymond — it must be sweeps!

It’s November again, and you know what that means: Guest stars galore (see real-life vet Montel Williams battle terrorists as a Navy SEAL on JAG!). Yet in the increasingly competitive world of network television, it’s no longer good enough for a series to feature a cameo by any random celebrity. You gotta get a gimmick. Hence, the following sweeps stunts, designed to suck you into watching shows you might otherwise surf right past:

THE CROSSOVER CAMEO: NBC’s Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street shot up in the ratings when the casts combined for a two-parter in 1996, so the dramas are doing it again Nov. 12 and 14, when L&O‘s Jerry Orbach and Benjamin Bratt team up with Homicide‘s Richard Belzer and Jon Seda. (Belzer also does double duty as Homicide‘s Munch on Fox’s The X-Files Nov. 16). And on Nov. 17, Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Ray Romano and Peter Boyle drop in on CBS neighbor Cosby. The connection: Bill Cosby’s Hilton Lucas and Boyle’s Frank Barone played on the same basketball team back in high school, and sportswriter Raymond gets embroiled in a controversy over who scored the championship-winning hoop. Cosby exec producer Norman Steinberg says the crossover was CBS’ idea but adds, ”Bill wouldn’t do it if he didn’t like Ray. He thinks Ray is funny as hell.” Guess everybody really does love Raymond.

THE CROSSOVER-CAMEO THEME NIGHT: Sabrina, the Teenage Witch is ABC’s highest-rated Friday-night sitcom, so the network is hoping to spread some of her magic to its other ”TGIF” shows. On Nov. 7, Sabrina’s cat, Salem, swallows a ”time ball” that causes the feline to pop up on Boy Meets World, Teen Angel, and You Wish. Did the puss get paid extra? ”I hope so,” says Sabrina herself, Melissa Joan Hart, who also materializes on Angel and Wish wearing some nifty retro duds. ”He worked his butt off — poor little fuzzy thing.” We assume she’s referring to the cat, not his butt.

THE CROSSOVER-CAMEO INSIDE-TV JOKE: CBS stars Jaleel ”Urkel” White (Family Matters), Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), and Doug E. Doug (Cosby) are among the unusual suspects in the Nov. 6 installment of Dick Van Dyke’s Diagnosis Murder, which concerns the slaying of an eerily familiar-sounding network honcho played by ex-L.A. Lawyer Michele Greene. Laughs exec producer Lee Goldberg of the fictional victim, ”Just because she’s young, looks great in Armani, and is running a network doesn’t necessarily mean she’s [ABC Entertainment prez] Jamie Tarses.” Of course not.

THE NOSTALGIC-CAMEO TV-REUNION JOKE: Jameson Parker rejoins his Simon & Simon sibling Gerald McRaney on CBS’ Promised Land Nov. 6. Ex-Carol Burnett Show cohorts Tim Conway and Harvey Korman reteam for Brooke Shields’ NBC she-com Suddenly Susan Nov. 24. And three castaways from Gilligan’s Island — Bob ”Gilligan” Denver, Russell ”The Professor” Johnson, and Dawn ”And Mary Ann” Wells — wash up on Bronson Pinchot’s CBS alien-com Meego Nov. 21. But CBS’ George & Leo tops them all on Nov. 3 by bringing back 20 — count ’em, 20! — costars from Bob Newhart’s and Judd Hirsch’s old series The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart, Dear John, and Taxi. NBC’s Tony Danza Show had its own Taxi reunion planned for November sweeps but only rounded up one alum — Carol Kane, reprising her role as Simka Gravas. Maybe that’s why Tony got exiled to hiatusville.

(Reporting by Shawna Malcom)