September 10, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Martial LAW
CBS 9-10 PM Starts Sept. 25

Apparently, the operative credo at Martial Law headquarters last year was ”If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.” CBS’ chopsocky actioner starring Hong Kong heavyweight Sammo Hung held the ironic distinction of being one of the season’s most impressive newcomers (winning its 9 p.m. Saturday time slot for the year) while receiving the most tinkering. Tammy Lauren got the heave-ho when martial-arts babe Kelly Hu became a regular, and Arsenio Hall came aboard soon after as obnoxious, streetwise sidekick Terrell Parker.

”Anyone who watched last year could see that the show was in search of itself,” says new coexecutive producer Lee Goldberg, who will take over with partner Bill Rabkin. ”It was basically T.J. Hooker with spin kicks.”

The pair’s vision for this year? A reemphasis on Hung’s stranger-in-a-strange-land plight, a greater focus on the Hung-Hu-Hall trio (aided by the off-season exit of costars Louis Mandylor and Tom Wright), and a general lightening of mood. ”We’re not going to make Sammo Hung an Asian Sipowicz,” says Goldberg. ”We want it to be a throwback to shows [like] It Takes a Thief, The Saint, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — shows that took you away from your problems.”

The biggest makeover goes to Hall’s character, who began as an LAPD publicist and rather unconvincingly metamorphosed into a full-fledged detective. ”We’re pretending that last year didn’t exist,” says Goldberg. ”[Now] he’s been a cop, and he’s a damn good cop. Sammo’s not his teacher, he’s his partner.”

As for Hu, the producers will finally have her black-belted knockout, Grace Chen, breaking hearts as well as limbs. Rabkin says, ”She’s one of the most beautiful women in the world, but [last season] she looked like she was selling insurance.” So expect Hu to spend more time undercover — in a succession of fetching disguises, natch. ”We want her to be the Emma Peel of the new millennium,” Rabkin adds.

Despite the sexier approach, Hall, for one, isn’t holding his breath for any workplace romance. Though he briefly ponders an interracial tryst between Terrell and Law‘s new twentysomething squad leader Amy Dylan (Gretchen Egolf), he laughingly dismisses it as a little too jolting for the Tiffany network: ”All of a sudden, ‘Welcome Home’ would become ‘Nobody’s Home.”’ — MIKE FLAHERTY

CBS, 8-9 p.m.

Gary (Kyle Chandler) will keep getting tomorrow’s newspaper today — but he’ll do it in a new wardrobe. ”My wife and other women who watch the show would like to see him out of plaids and a little more upscale,” says executive producer Jeff Melvoin. ”We’re having trouble getting him out of his blue jeans, but at least he’s wearing different shirts.” Stop the presses! (Sept. 25)

NBC, 9-10 p.m.

Michael T. Weiss’ Jarod goes on ”helping the little guy — stopping abuses of power and whatnot,” says executive producer Craig Van Sickle. He’ll pose as a Beverly Hills sex therapist, an extreme jock, a hostage negotiator, an Army special investigator, and a David Blaine-like magician. So, will Jarod be buried alive? ”No,” says the episode’s writer, Tommy Thompson. ”But I will be if it doesn’t work.” (Sept. 25)

NBC, 10-11 p.m.

After the first two episodes, Sam Waters (Ally Walker) exits, and Rachel Burke (Melrose Place‘s Jamie Luner) — who’s called in to help rescue Sam from the clutches of serial killer Jack — takes over. “She’s definitely ballsy,” says Luner of her new character, “and she’s got a dry sense of humor.” Was Luner a Profiler devotee before signing on? “No, I’m not a huge TV watcher,” she says. “But my mom was a really big fan.” Bet she’s an even bigger one now. (Sept. 25)

CBS, 10-11 p.m.

Ex-Party Machine queen Nia Peeples and Judson Mills (As the World Turns) join up as full-time Rangers, and guests run the gamut from sports stars (Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders, rodeo champ Ty Murray) to showbiz has-beens (Erik Estrada, Frank Stallone). One thing won’t change: Chuck Norris will keep kickin’ ass. But that doesn’t make him one-dimensional. “People hear Walker and think violence,” gripes exec producer Aaron Norris (Chuck’s bro). “Yet we won the Epiphany award last year [for Christian programming]. We beat out 7th Heaven and Mother Teresa.” Of course, a truly Christian show would have let Mother Teresa win. (Sept. 25)

You May Like