Sitcoms may suck, says Bruce Fretts, but one-hour dramas are better than ever

By Bruce Fretts
January 20, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

A look at TV’s latest positive trend

A few weeks ago in this column, I declared this the worst season of sitcoms ever. Now, the good news: The TV drama has never been healthier. Nearly every night of the week there’s at least one (and frequently more) intelligent entries in the hour-long genre. Consider:

Sundays Two words: ”The Sopranos.” The best show on TV is back, and it’s even better than before, thanks to the addition of Aida Turturro as Tony’s scheming sis. Oh yeah, there’s also ”The X-Files” and ”The Practice.” And don’t forget ”Felicity,” even though most of America has been recently.

Mondays In addition to ”Freaks and Geeks” (which I praised last week in this space), NBC has moved the worthy rookie ”Third Watch” to the more appropriate 10 p.m. slot (it previously aired on Sundays at 8 p.m.). The lifesaving drama will now face two freshman series with strong appeal to women — ABC’s ”Once and Again” and CBS’ ”Family Law.” Neither of which are my cup of TV, but hey, at least they’re not newsmags or game shows!

Tuesdays The WB offers up the potent one-two punch of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and ”Angel,” while older audiences may opt for CBS’ solid military-courtroom drama ”JAG.” At 10 p.m., CBS’ sleeper smash ”Judging Amy” pits star Amy Brenneman against her old colleagues on ABC’s ”NYPD Blue,” which returned with surprisingly muscular ratings last week.

Wednesdays Steven Bochco’s urban hospital drama ”City of Angels” is off to a shaky start, but given time, it could develop into something divine — although probably not in its too-early 8 p.m. slot. Later in the evening, NBC offers the terrific double feature of ”The West Wing” (which grows more intriguing every week — can you believe the Prez has MS?) and the perennial powerhouse ”Law & Order” (dontcha just love Jesse L. Martin?).

Thursdays While neither CBS’ ”Chicago Hope” nor NBC’s ”ER” are in peak condition, both are undergoing creative rehabilitations due to the welcome returns of Mandy Patinkin to ”Hope” and Ming-Na to ”ER.” The imminent exit of Kellie Martin and arrival of Maura Tierney should benefit ”ER” as well.

Fridays Not since the mid-’90s heyday of ”Homicide” and ”The X-Files” has this night offered such an appealing cross-network tag team: CBS’ ”Now and Again” (the season’s best new show) and NBC’s ”Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” which moved to its new night with a pair of strong episodes. And isn’t it great to see Richard Belzer’s old ”Homicide” cop, Det. John Munch, back on Fridays at 10 p.m. where he belongs?

Saturdays Okay, here’s the black hole of TV drama, filled with such subpar series as NBC’s ”Pretender” and ”Profiler” and CBS’ ”Martial Law” and ”Walker, Texas Ranger.” But hey, you don’t want to watch TV seven nights a week, do you? I mean, when would you go to the movies?