Faith Ford returns to television in ''Maggie Winters'' and Peter Gallagher stars in ''The Secret Lives of Men''

By Shawna Malcom
Updated September 11, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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The caption under Faith Ford’s high school photo could have read, ”Most Likely to Succeed Without a Break.” After all, it’s been just four months since she finished a 10-year gig as Murphy Brown‘s one-graf-short-of-a-full-story reporter Corky Sherwood, and already she’s back. This time around, she’s Maggie Winters, a former Most Likely who returns to her small town to live with Mom (Shirley Knight) 15 years after graduation (and shortly after finding her dentist hubby in bed with his hygienist). Why the rush back into the sitcom fray? ”You’d think I was an eager beaver,” says Ford. ”But I’m actually a creature of habit. I found a medium I love, and I didn’t want to leave it behind.”

CBS, on the other hand, really wants to leave its traditional demographic behind and attract a whole lot more young men than it has in the past few seasons. To that end, the Eye’s new shows are heavy on the testosterone (Buddy Faro, Martial Law, The King of Queens), replacing estrogen-fests like Murphy, Cybill, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. In fact, Maggie has the distinction of being the net’s sole new sitcom geared toward — and driven by — women. Created by exec producer Kari Lizer, it also features a predominantly female cast, including Clea Lewis (Ellen) as trapped-in-the-’80s Rachel, who still begrudges former classmate Maggie for ”stealing” a boy she really ”like-liked” in high school. ”I’m certainly proud of having written good roles for women,” says Lizer. ”By the same token, I hope we’re not just perceived as a chick show. I mean, we’re not doing stories about dressmaking. We’re doing stories about relationships.”

Well, that pretty much defines a chick show, Kari. Still, Maggie is atypical in its refreshing lack of shrill repartee a la CBS’ old-school survivor The Nanny. ”Maggie may be a raw, exposed nerve when you meet her,” says Ford, ”but she’s not negative about it. She’s made a decision to move forward rather than look back and blame anybody.”
BOTTOM LINE Maggie is somebody we could really learn to like-like. A brainier Ford is a very appealing Ford, and the sweetly tart pilot left us craving seconds.

CONCEPT Hero Jonathan LaPaglia can travel seven days back in time to change a disastrous current event. Call it Quantum Week.
THE SCOOP Says creator Christopher Crowe, ”One of the rules of the show is that the technology cannot be used promiscuously, because it’s limited.” Guess that rules out LaPaglia going back for seven swingin’ days with Marilyn Monroe. ”In the pilot,” notes Crowe, ”we go back because the President, the Vice President, and the Speaker of the House are killed in a terrorist attack. You always have this sort of built-in tension because you only have seven days.” What Bill Clinton would give for this technology — oh, but Crowe said it can’t be used promiscuously. Never mind.
BOTTOM LINE We should probably have said Quantum Weak. Those seven days seem like a year over the course of an hour.

CONCEPT The so-called charmed ones are three sisters who discover they have powers to become witches — good witches, though not Sabrina, the Teenage Witch good. You know: sexy, cool, trying-to- compete-with-Party of Five good.
THE SCOOP One of the witches is Beverly Hills 90210 grad Shannen Doherty (dear reader, you supply punchline here; we don’t want to rile her up). Another is Alyssa Milano, who recently replaced the pilot’s Lori Rom. Charmed creator Constance Burge (Savannah) says the show will have some hocus-pocus special effects: ”I’m interested in [things] like, how would it be to function at the office if every time you were upset you froze time or moved things [telekinetically]?” But she wants the show’s focus to be on the sisters’ relationship. ”Blood is thicker than water, so they’re bound together by their secret.”
BOTTOM LINE Sendin’ a Ouija board shout-out to loosen up quick, ladies! The cramped, strained pilot struggles to introduce each sister’s personality. Get the magic stuff established and set up some plotlines.

CONCEPT Romantic comedy-drama about Boston police detective Sean McGrail (Jason Beghe) and public defender Annie Cornell (Moira Kelly) — married, ambitious, but never too busy for a smooch or a beer at their neighborhood Irish bar.
THE SCOOP ”We get married in the pilot,” says Kelly, ”so it’s all that a normal everyday married couple go through. They’re both career people, so they have to deal with that on top of the fact that they’re sharing a house for the first time, starting a family, viewing other married couples around them.” Creator and coexecutive producer Joanne Waters says: ”They have to take each other into consideration, which is a pain. They can’t just do what they want to anymore.” All this, plus arrests and trials to boot!
BOTTOM LINE Excruciatingly cute and, stretched out to an hour, probably unendurably cute, too.

CONCEPT Picture this — a buncha recently divorced white guys just standing around putting. (Okay, not quite, but there was lotsa golf in the pilot.)
THE SCOOP Created by Susan Harris — the woman who brought us the sitcoms Soap and The Golden Girls — this buddy comedy features Peter Gallagher as one of the leads and story lines that include secrets like, One guy is impotent, another guy dates a married woman, and a call girl will pop up at some point. Plus, says Harris, ”I want to do an episode where one of them can’t get rid of a song that’s in his head.” Hey, as long as it’s not ”Tubthumping.”
BOTTOM LINE Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak — form a book group already. For a sitcom heavy on banter, the badinage here has too low a wit quotient.


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