September 10, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

ABC 8:30-9 PM Starts Sept. 22

Say what you will about Norm Macdonald, but he’s nothing if not civic-minded. In fact, the love-him-or-hate-him comedian is so concerned about his racy sitcom’s move to the family zone of 8:30 p.m., he’s going to begin each episode with a candid explanation of that week’s naughty content. Explains Macdonald: ”We thought it would be better to go on at the beginning of the show and tell people not to watch it.”

Thoughtful, eh? As for those brave enough to disregard the warnings, here are some other wacky format tweaks you’ll notice in Norm‘s second season: For one thing, there’ll be way more celeb wattage. Each week Norm’s hockey player-turned-social worker will begin the show by paying a visit to a particularly high-profile guest client. Though exec producer Bruce Helford won’t spill the beans about exactly which stars have lined up, he does mention Macdonald friends Dana Carvey, Eddie Murphy, and Martin Short as for-instances. ”I don’t like to do stunt casting … It gets to be really stretched,” says Helford. ”But these are really cool people, and these [segments] will be separate from the show’s story, so we don’t have to get into that nonsense.”

Macdonald’s ensemble gets a good shake-up as well, with costar Laurie Metcalf being joined by Mad TV‘s Artie Lange (as Norm’s corpulent scam-artist half-brother); Faith Ford (Murphy Brown) in a six-episode stint as Norm’s parole officer-turned-girlfriend; and Nikki Cox (Unhappily Ever After), who reprises her role as a former massage-parlor employee trying to go legit with a gig as the office receptionist.

”She’s got this great bulls— detector,” says Helford of Cox’s character. ”She knows things that these people don’t know because she’s from the street.” Adds Macdonald, ”It’s a great device, ’cause she’s a real nice girl now, but she still has a past that we can call upon — about her being a dirty, dirty whore.” That’s right, fans: Macdonald’s signature, often ad-libbed epithet will figure into as many episodes as possible. Notes Helford: ”If one episode slipped by [without it], it must have been because he was tired that week.”

Okay, so maybe that ”civic-minded” thing was a bit of a stretch, but will we see anything likable about this guy? ”Right at the core of him, he’s truly a very nice person, and I think you’re just starting to see that come through,” insists Helford. ”I don’t think we’re sending out any wonderful messages to America with this character, but when he does something really wrong, it bites him in the ass.” — MIKE FLAHERTY

ABC, 8-8:30 p.m.

First things first: what the hell happened to the Pizza Place? ”We’re losing it as a set and out of the title,” says executive producer Kevin Abbott. ”We had creative differences with the pizza place —it was asking for too much money.” In its new slot, the third-season sitcom will take on a more mature tone, as Berg (Ryan Reynolds) struggles through medical school. ”It didn’t make a lot of sense he’d work part-time in a pizza place,” says Abbott. ”You can’t practice scalpel techniques on the pepperoni.” So where will the titular trio hang out now? Jokes exec producer Kim Rozenfeld, ”We’re auditioning sets.” (Sept. 22)

CBS, 8-8:30 p.m.

In the July 31st issue of your magazine, there was a picture of Bill Cosby and Robert Culp from I Spy, and it said ‘You won’t be seeing pairs like this on TV this fall,'” recites exec producer Tom Straw. “Well, our first episode is Bill Cosby and Robert Culp reunited.” Oops! Cosby’s Hilton falls asleep while watching I Spy and dreams he’s secret agent Alexander Scott teamed with Culp’s Kelly Robinson. We stand corrected. (Sept. 29)

Fox, 8-9 p.m.

Gina (Vanessa Marcil) chooses between Dylan (Luke Perry) and David (Brian Austin Green); and Kelly (Jennie Garth) deals with the legal and emotional fallout from having shot her rapist. “She was using an unlicensed gun,” says exec producer John Eisendrath. So will this be the last year? “Everyone always asks that, and it never is,” says Eisendrath. Excuuuuse us. (Sept. 8)

The WB, 8-9 p.m.

Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and Joey (Katie Holmes) meet again after a summer apart, and there will also be two new students, a free-spirited wild child and a painfully shy football player. “We want to make sure the issues our characters face are relatable to our audience,” says exec producer Paul Stupin. “They’re juniors, so we will be seeing PSAT hell.” One thing’s for sure: These kids will ace the vocab section. (Sept. 29)

UPN, 9-10 p.m.

A lot of Star Trek fans were only willing to devote an hour to Trek, and while Deep Space Nine was on, it was always competing with Next Generation or Voyager,” says executive producer Rick Berman. With DS9 deep-sixed, “we have a situation where — for at least a year — Voyager will be alone.” How will Kate Mulgrew & Co. capitalize on this opportunity? Says Berman, “We’re not planning any major changes.” How do you expect to live long and prosper with an attitude like that? (Sept. 22)

ABC, 9-9:30 p.m.

There will be stunts aplenty in the sitcom’s fifth season: a live special incorporating elements of improv (à la Carey’s Whose Line Is It Anyway?), an episode shot on location at the Cleveland Browns’ first home game, another rock & roll dance number, and Bo Derek guest-starring as herself (Ryan Stiles’ Lewis takes her to his high school reunion). To top it off, Drew (pictured) flips when his nemesis, Mimi (Kathy Kinney), marries his brother (John Carroll Lynch). “She’ll be Drew’s sister-in-law,” says executive producer Bruce Helford. “If she has a kid — which is very possible — he’ll be inextricably tied to her.” Now, there’s an unappetizing image. (Sept. 22)

NBC, 10-11 p.m.

It wouldn’t be fall without another new L&O cast member: Jesse L. Martin partners up with Jerry Orbach’s Det. Lennie Briscoe. “They’ll get along eventually, but not initially,” says executive producer Dick Wolf. Martin’s Edward Green will be a loose cannon with a gambling problem and a history of excessive-force complaints. “I just can’t wait to see what people’s reactions will be to me,” chortles Martin. “This cast has been together forever, and here I am, the first new guy ever to join, right?” (Sept. 22)

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