The networks' new fall schedules offer a whole lot of been there, done that

By Bruce Fretts
June 05, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

I have seen the future of television, and it is bland. The networks have announced their fall lineups, and judging from the clips of new series shown to advertisers and critics, there’s little to get excited about. As niche cable outlets nibble away at their viewers, the broadcast nets are aiming squarely at the mainstream with run-of-the-mill fare.

Not surprisingly, NBC seems to be playing it safest — as the No. 1 network, it has the most to lose. So the Peacock is offering more of the same: single-guys-and-gals-in-the-city sitcoms like Conrad Bloom (Mondays, 8:30-9 p.m.), with Fired Up‘s Mark Feuerstein as a New York City ad exec; and Will & Grace (Mondays, 9:30-10 p.m.), about mismatched Manhattan roommates (he’s gay, she’s straight!). Nathan Lane’s Encore! Encore! (Tuesdays, 8:30-9 p.m.) may owe too large a debt to Frasier. It’s from the same creators and has a familiar premise: A snobby opera singer returns home to live with his wacky family. At least All My Life (Thursdays, 8:30-9 p.m.) has a surprisingly appealing star in Married…With Children‘s Christina Applegate and an offbeat locale (Buffalo).

Pumped by the reacquisition of pro football, second-place CBS hopes to tackle young urban males with The King of Queens (Mondays, 8:30-9 p.m.), a promising sitcom featuring Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Kevin James and Seinfeld‘s Jerry Stiller; L.A. Docs (Mondays, 10-11 p.m.), with Ken Olin and Twin Peaks stiff Sheryl Lee as, well, L.A. docs; and Martial Law (Saturdays, 9-10 p.m.), a showcase for rotund Chinese action star Sammo Hung, who’ll no doubt have a high-kicking November-sweeps crossover with Walker, Texas Ranger‘s Chuck Norris — if Law lasts that long.

Longing for the glory days of Coach, ABC aims to get back into the ratings game with such athletics-themed sitcoms as Sports Night (Tuesdays, 9:30-10 p.m.), a parody of ESPN’s SportsCenter; The Secret Lives of Men (Wednesdays, 9:30-10 p.m.), following three divorced guys’ weekly golf game; and Brother’s Keeper (Fridays, 9:30-10 p.m.), about an NFL star who moves in with his professor sibling. But the Alphabet could satisfy romance-starved viewers on Saturday nights with a stylish-looking remake of Fantasy Island (9-10 p.m.), offering Malcolm McDowell (!) as Mr. Roarke, and Cupid (10-11 p.m.), with Ellen‘s Jeremy Piven as a psychiatric patient who claims to be the Roman god of love.

Fox shamelessly tries to clone The X-Files‘ supernatural success with Brimstone (Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m.), starring thirtysomething ghost Peter Horton as an undead cop tracking down refugees from hell; and Hollyweird (Thursdays, 9-10 p.m.), a bizarro private-eye show from cocreators Wes Craven and Shaun Cassidy. Among Fox’s new comedies, only the ’70s-set adolescent opus Feelin’ All Right (Sundays, 8:30-9 p.m.) seems to be generating any good buzz.

The WB plans to capitalize on its young sensations Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek by pairing them with Felicity (Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m.), a justifiably hyped new drama starring Keri Russell as a college freshman in New York City; and Charmed (Wednesdays, 9-10 p.m.), which offers Shannen Doherty as a witch — unfortunately, it’s not played for laughs.

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