September 11, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

New Shows

CONCEPT Single dad (Jon Patrick Walker) has to find somebody to hold the baby while he works. Enter: pretty young nanny (Jennifer Westfeldt).
THE SCOOP Baby is based on a Brit show that, according to exec producer Howard J. Morris, was ”funny but with a very different sense of humor.” Having seen this pilot, we can only conclude he means the English version had jokes. Morris says the show will be ”driven by the baby…. There’s a whole episode where he loses the baby’s Mr. Hoppity, and they go through hoops to get it back.”
BOTTOM LINE We’d go through hoops to put this stinker back in Fox’s development pipeline.

CONCEPT A Sgt. Bilko for the ’90s (i.e., dumber, without the seasoned professionalism of Phil Silvers), starring Ellen‘s David Anthony Higgins.
THE SCOOP In a rare display of good aesthetic taste, the U.S. Army declined to assist the makers of this show. Says creator J.J. Wall, ”They asked to see a script, and then at that point, they suddenly stopped returning our phone calls.” Could it have anything to do with the recruits hanging out in a bar called House of Jugs?
BOTTOM LINE Typical line: ”These boots are really uncomfortable. Doesn’t the Army make sandals?” Viewers, we trust, will go AWOL to avoid this one.

Returning Shows

It’s not going to be Ozzie and Harriet,” says coexec producer Jon Andersen. ”We’re not avoiding issues that are delicate and troublesome.” A few topics on the agenda: mental illness (in an episode guest-starring Margot Kidder and Chad Lowe), autism, spousal abuse, and AIDS. Star Roma Downey has a pet cause she’d like to address: ”I’m trying to convince them that if we can take on civil rights in China [in last season’s finale], we could deal with political unrest in Northern Ireland.” Would that mean a free trip to her native land? ”I fear CBS execs will say, ‘If they re-created Beijing in Salt Lake City, they can re-create Ireland.’ So I have a feeling I’ll be buying me own ticket home.”

Guest voices include Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Ron Howard, George Carlin, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Mark Hamill, and Cyndi Lauper. Yet the biggest coup will come in the Super Bowl episode: a cartoon cameo from Fox overlord Rupert Murdoch. ”He auditioned along with several other billionaires,” quips executive producer Mike Scully. ”It came down to him, Bill Gates, and the Olsen twins.” The annual Halloween episode will feature Homer getting a hair transplant from a serial killer, Bart and Lisa being sucked into their TV, and the revelation that Homer isn’t Maggie’s father. Perhaps scariest of all: ”We’ll be airing an episode called ‘Simpsons Bible Stories,’ because I felt we weren’t getting quite enough mail,” says Scully, who, nevertheless, quickly adds that ”Homer won’t be playing Jesus.”

The season-six premiere picks up plot threads from this summer’s movie — including the near kiss between Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson). ”No one is pretending it didn’t happen,” says exec producer Frank Spotnitz. ”There’s a new awareness of how they feel about each other.” No one is pretending the show’s not shooting in a new location, either (the production moved from Vancouver to L.A. so Duchovny could be near wife Téa Leoni). ”We’re trying to take advantage of stories you can tell in a warmer-weather climate,” says Spotnitz. ”Our first comedy two-parter is set in Area 51 in Nevada, which is something we never could have done in Vancouver.” Mimi Rogers reprises her role from last season’s finale as a mysterious FBI agent, and James Pickens Jr. joins the recurring cast as new assistant director Kersh. Don’t panic, rabid Mitch Pileggi fans: You have not seen the last of Skinner.

Validation, anyone? David E. Kelley’s once-beleaguered law series received it in spades this summer: First, ABC rewarded The Practice with a plum Sunday-at-10 time slot, making it the sole drama option in a TV-movie wasteland. Next, Emmy blew four big kisses (one nomination for Outstanding Drama Series) the cast’s way. ”It feels like we’re finally poised to break through,” says Jeffrey Kramer, president of David E. Kelley Productions. The time slot ”is long overdue and fabulous for the show. Fox’s X-Files is a great lead-in.”

Nevertheless, there will be no resting on laurels for this ensemble. ”All that other stuff is real fine and dandy, but when they put us on Saturday, we just went to work,” says Steve Harris, who plays the firm’s passionate Eugene Young. ”Now that we’re on Sundays, we have to keep the same thing in mind — go to work.”

To that end, here’s what you can expect this season: Charles Durning joins the group on a recurring basis as Bobby’s dad; Rebecca (Lisa Gay Hamilton) graduates to full-fledged lawyer status and a new secretary (Marla Sokoloff) takes her place; Eugene has to defend an old friend who now has a bit of a cross-dressing problem; and Bobby’s former bedmates, Helen Gamble (Lara Flynn Boyle) and Lindsay Doyle (Kelli Williams), become roommates.

”It will give us a chance not to just be opposites in court,” says Williams. ”We can be casual and see how we are at home and how different it is when we’re in our suits.” Pardon us, but isn’t this the exact same setup — two female lawyers, one an assistant district attorney, buddying up in one apartment — as on Kelley’s other legal hit, Ally McBeal? ”Well, on shows that’s [a typical] way of having women be together,” says Williams. ”But it is completely the same.” In that case, all overlaps are forgiven, Mr. Kelley; just please keep chanteuse Vonda Shepard confined to the McBeal set.

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