The new television season is inspiring no great excitement anywhere. But "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" may be a mild exception, judging from the response to this column's recent request for predictions of hit or miss new series.
Seen at 10 p.m. Mondays on CBS (Channel 11), the show is the new vehicle for actress Sharon Gless ("Cagney & Lacey"). She plays a frequently depressed, divorced public defender who comes from money and parks her Mercedes blocks from the office in hopes of being better accepted.
"Rosie O'Neill" drew the most positive comments in our informal poll, whose relatively light response is apparently another measure of the ho-hum new season.
But readers' views do tend to bear out the national trend, for "Rosie O'Neill" ranks as the second best rated new series to date (in 34th place through Oct. 7, according to Nielsen listings in the latest issue of the trade magazine Electronic Media). Only ABC's "America's Funniest People" is rated higher, in 13th place.
"My favorite show, no competition," wrote Sharlene Cooper of Baltimore of the Gless showcase. She was so enthusiastic, in fact, she requested an address to write in praise. ('Nuf said. Viewers can send such comments to: CBS Inc., 524 West 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.)
"I'm 100 percent behind this show already. I hope it will be around for awhile. I'm thrilled that Gless is back," agreed Rose Kelly of Baltimore. And Mr. and Mrs. Francis Kelly of Baltimore pleaded, "Please keep it aired. She is fabulous and we love her."
Other shows for which we received predictions of success, in roughly the frequency of mention, included "Gabriel's Fire" (with James Earl Jones, ABC Thursdays), "Evening Shade" (with Burt Reynolds, CBS Fridays), "American Dreamer" (with Robert Urich, NBC Saturdays) and "Parenthood" (with Ed Begley Jr., also NBC HTC Saturdays).
Karen Davis of Maryland City even linked two of these, noting "Gabriel's Fire" will succeed "if they can write well enough for James Earl Jones." She added "American Dreamer" as an alternate, "if they can't."
Most correspondents did not seem particularly passionate on the other side of our question: Which shows deserve early cancellation? But among the candidates were "E.A.R.T.H. Force" (Gil Gerard, and already canceled by CBS), "WIOU" (Mariette Hartley, and not yet premiered on CBS, Wednesdays), "Cop Rock" (from Steven Bochco, ABC Wednesdays), "Ferris Bueller" (NBC Mondays), "Haywire" (Fox Saturdays), "Hull High" (NBC Sundays) and "The Fanelli Boys" (NBC Wednesdays).
The last was criticized particularly by reader Joseph Larkin of Towson as having "too many bad, old, worn out stereotypes about Italians."
While new shows usually have difficulty cracking the higher ratings early, the Nielsen numbers reveal that only nine new shows rank to date in the top 50 programs. In addition to "America's Funniest People" and "Rosie O'Neill," they include "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (NBC, 36th), "The Flash" (CBS, 37th), "Uncle Buck" (CBS, 41st), "Top Cops" (CBS, 43d), "Going Places" (ABC, 49th) and "Evening Shade" and "Law and Order" (CBS and NBC, respectively, tied for 50th).
THE CABLE CONNECTION -- A couple cable premieres seem worth a look this weekend.
* Whoopi Goldberg has to be one of the busiest performers around. Among other things, she does the series "Bagdad Cafe" on CBS, is the voice of Mother Earth on the Saturday cartoon series "Captain Planet and the Planeteers," and now is a guardian angel on the Nickelodeon channel for kids.
Goldberg's own production firm, Whoop Inc., is launching "Tales From the Whoop: Hot Rod Brown, Class Clown," at 6:30 p.m. today, with repeats at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. tomorrow. It's a half-hour drama with a moral, the first of a series to come in future months.
Goldberg plays an unconventional guardian angel to a kid named "Hot Rod" Brown (Tobey Maguire), who is in danger of repeating the ninth grade because a major attitude problem. The action is pretty predictable, but Goldberg, whose stage humor has always been cynically topical, manages to take sharp swipes at our public education system.
In particular, she lectures Brown's teacher (Gloria Gifford) for writing the student off as a hopeless underachiever whose antics deprive others of an education. "These are the students we're supposed to reach," says Goldberg.
* Eric Bogosian says he amuses himself by playing with puzzles, particularly "the way that people behave toward each other." The actor whose "Talk Radio" was a movie hit a couple years ago is featured in the latest edition of "VH-1 to One" at 4 p.m. tomorrow on the VH-1 cable network.
In a series of interview clips interspersed with cuts from his off-Broadway collection of character monologues, "Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll," Bogosian comes across as a sharply cynical commentator worth hearing.
"Provocation in the guise of entertainment" is what he calls his one-man play, in which he adopts several characters to illustrate each word of the title. And lest you think he wildly espouses the topics, he says he now equates sex with AIDS, drugs with the tragedy of crack and rock and roll with hypocrisy.