September 10, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

The WB 8-9 PM Starts Sept. 26

When it comes to answering the question on every die-hard Felicity fan’s lips — Ben or Noel? — executive producer J.J. Abrams takes the old riddle-within-a-riddle approach: ”The answer to that is the beginning of an even bigger question.” Come again? ”I don’t mean to be a jerk,” he says. ”But I’m not budging. You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Well, fine. Until then, here’s what we know: In a scrumptious season-ending cliff-hanger, college freshman Felicity (Keri Russell) took a cab to meet either dreamy hometown honey Ben (Scott Speedman) for a cross-country road trip or earnest resident advisor (and on-again, off-again squeeze) Noel (Scott Foley) for two weeks in Berlin. While the producers toyed with both choices, they didn’t make the final call until two weeks before shooting began on the new season. ”It was killing me,” says Russell. ”I would call [the producers] every day and beg them to please tell me. It was pathetic.” Ardent devotees even took to bombarding Abrams with e-mails: ”They’d say, ‘I know she tells [the cabbie] to go to LaGuardia Airport, I could read her lips,”’ he says. ”But the truth is, when we shot it, we hadn’t decided for sure yet. What she’s saying there is my address in New York.”

Felicity’s romantic revelation aside, the WB hit has had little luck keeping things under wraps. Since its heavily hyped debut last fall, everything from the whoops-I’m-32-not-19 Riley Weston fiasco to Russell’s semi-strike in July over contract negotiations to her recent disappearing tresses has made headlines. ”In my most out-there dream,” says Russell, who nabbed a surprise Golden Globe in January for best actress in a drama series, ”I couldn’t have imagined what would happen to us last year. We were like this nice little show and then suddenly we were a spoof on MAD TV.”

Having survived the freshman follies, here’s how Abrams and Co. plan to avoid a sophomore slump: While still working at Dean & Deluca, our favorite overachiever becomes an RA, as does her acid-tongued roomie Meghan (Amanda Foreman); Noel moves into a pad above Epstein Bar (and while he won’t be there alone, Abrams won’t divulge who’ll share the rent); Ben’s roommate Sean (Greg Grunberg) invents what Abrams terms ”a new condiment,” while Julie (Amy Jo Johnson) comes back ”determined not to be the wet noodle anymore.” In addition, Felicity’s coffee-bar boss, Javier (Ian Gomez), returns, as do her premed-pushing parents, after Felicity decides to switch majors. As for making the leap from Tuesday to Sunday — where the show should face little competition for its target audience — Russell is sanguine: ”What can I say? We’ve got some cool secrets, and a little sex isn’t out of the question.” Let’s see Touched by an Angel top that. — SHAWNA MALCOM

The Wonderful World of DISNEY
ABC, 7-9 p.m.

The good folks who brought you Brandy’s Cinderella go back to the musical well with a remake of Annie starring Alicia Morton and Geppetto, a tuneful take on Pinocchio with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and noted song-and-dance man Drew Carey (as the titular toy maker). There’s also Sabrina Down Under, in which Melissa Joan Hart’s teenage sorceress travels to Australia, and the sports comedies H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks (Damn Yankees on ice with Boy Meets World‘s Will Friedle and Matthew Lawrence) and Switching Goals (a soccer romp with the Olsen twins). ”We’re also excited about Life Size,” says Walt Disney TV president Charles Hirschhorn. ”Tyra Banks plays a doll that comes to life.” Oooh, we had a dream like that once. (Sept. 26)

King of the HILL
Fox, 7:30-8 p.m.

From the too-much-information department: “Connie’s parents leave her with the Hills,” spills exec producer Greg Daniels. “And she has her first period.” Speaking of first period, Hank volunteers to be a shop teacher at Bobby’s school and ends up competing with Peggy for the Substitute Teacher of the Year award. It seems even subs get more respect than Fox has given King lately, as the network shuffles it into its third slot in as many years. “It’s very naive of networks to treat their customers that way,” fumes Daniels. “If Coke had a green can, then a purple can, then went back to a red can, people would get annoyed and say, ‘Oh, just give me RC Cola.'” (Sept. 26)

Touched by an ANGEL
CBS, 8-9 p.m.

We’re doing an episode about slavery in the Sudan,” says executive producer Martha Williamson, who’ll re-create the African land in Salt Lake City. “God doesn’t like slavery.” The show’s hometown also doubles for the battlefields of France in a Saving Private Ryanesque World War II period piece. And divine messengers Roma Downey, John Dye, and Della Reese will deal with migrant workers, millennium mania, the First Amendment, and Internet pornography. What is this, Touched by an Angel or The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer? (Sept. 26)

Fox, 8-8:30 p.m.

Apu’s wife gives birth to octuplets, Mel Gibson gets animated as himself, John Goodman guests as Santa (a role he’ll also voice on Futurama), and Bart starts taking a Ritalin-like drug. “The whole series will take a completely new turn — it’s Bart the obedient,” says creator Matt Groening. “I’m finally giving in to all the complaints after a decade, and Bart’s going to be nice and wonderful.” Yeah, right: If that really happens, we’ll eat our own shorts. (Sept. 26)

Fox, 8:30-9 p.m.

The second-season ‘toon sends up Titanic (Bender falls for a robot countess) and Ally McBeal (aliens invade Earth after an intergalactic telecast of an Ally-ish show is interrupted). So how did the show’s creators convince Fox to move it back to Sunday? “We would just periodically remind people that our show was approximately half Simpsons and half X-Files,” says executive producer David Cohen. “And did any time slot suggest itself?” (Sept. 26)

Fox, 9-10 p.m.

I am totally involved this season,” says creator Chris Carter. “I’m slated to write 10 episodes, including the season finale, which we’re looking at as the end of the series.” Will they go out with a bang? “Depending on your definition of that phrase, yes, definitely,” says Carter, who adds that, in the send-off, “Mulder [David Duchovny] and Scully [Gillian Anderson, above] will do something they’ve never done before.” You mean smile? (Nov. 7)

ABC, 10-11 p.m.

When last we left, Bobby (Dylan McDermott) had popped the question to Lindsay (Kelli Williams), who was recovering from a stab wound apparently inflicted by a nun’s habit-wearing client. What’s next? “Wait till you see — it’s fun,” says exec producer Jeffrey Kramer. Come on, throw us a bone. “Henry Winkler will be a dentist in the first episode.” Can we assume he’s on trial? “You can assume he’s integral to the story.” Objection! The witness is being uncooperative. (Sept. 26)

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