So can Dabney Coleman do what three fat women couldn't: keep the Bart and Homer fans around? That's what Fox intends to find out come September.
The highlight of the fourth network's fall schedule, announced yesterday, was Coleman's return to prime time, once again playing the type of nasty character that endeared him to the American viewing public in "Buffalo Bill" and "Slap Maxwell."
This time, Coleman will be Otis Drexell, a con man who was convicted of tax evasion and avoided jail by agreeing to teach fourth grade. The working title is "Shut Up, Kids." You get the picture. If he's not battling the kids, they've got some fellow faculty and a woman principal to give him a hard time.
That will follow "The Simpsons" on Thursdays at 8:30 and should provide a better lead-in for the returning "Beverly Hills, 90210" than "Babes" ever did.
As usual, Fox's schedule is a mishmash of interesting projects and on-the-cheap productions. And Fox keeps trying to do things differently. It even announced its mid-season schedule, the big news being that in January 1992, it plans on abandoning Friday, moving that night's schedule to Monday and then moving its weekly TV movie to a new night for Fox, Wednesday.
In the mid-season schedule there's even a tentative cancellation. That would be of one of those cheapo specials, "The Ultimate Challenge" in which professionals and celebrities will do things like go bungee jumping and fight sumo wrestlers.
"The Ultimate Challenge," hosted by Mike Adamle and Jennifer Montana -- from the creators of "American Gladiators" -- will go Fridays at 9 o'clock in the fall, after "America's Most Wanted."
In the tentative January lineup, it's listed as probably being replaced by two half-hours, including the return of "Get a Life," which is not on the fall schedule.
On Saturdays, Fox returns "Totally Hidden Video" and then has a half-hour series version of the movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." The two teen-agers, played by Evan Richards and Chris Kennedy, will take off on time-travel adventures every week. The hour-long "Cops" stays at 9.
On Sundays, "True Colors," "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" and "In Living Color" return intact, then "Roc" goes into the "Get a Life" time period.
Described as a black working-class comedy, "Roc" stars Broadway's Charles Dutton as Roc Emerson, a garbage collector who has a solid marriage but has to put up with a flaky younger brother and a racist father. Stan Daniels, who was present at the creation of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," is behind this, and some "Cheers" writers are also involved, so this could be fairly classy.
That leads into "Married . . . with Children" at 9 o'clock. In a rare burst of good taste, Fox gave "Top of the Heap" the heave-ho at 9:30. Instead, Fox will go with "It's All in Your Head," another working title, to try to hang onto the "Married . . . with Children" audience.
This half hour's about a hard-working corporate type named Herman and the various characters of good, evil, intelligence,
doubt and such that occupy the inside of his head. Sounds interesting but tough to pull off. It's from the Witt-Thomas-Harris production house but doesn't have any big behind-the-scene names directly involved with the show. "The Sunday Comics," the hour of stand-up comedians, will still close out the Sunday schedule.
Fox included a bunch of stuff about going to a 52-week development schedule and information about all sorts of mid-season replacement shows in its announcement. This must be to make clear that the network is not in the same position it was a year ago when it put everything it had on the screen in order to expand into Thursday nights.
Caught short with no replacement programming, Fox had to stick with losers a lot longer than it wanted to last season. First among the backups is "Charlie Hoover," another chance for Tim Matheson to make it.
This time Matheson, as Hoover, is a good guy whose life is coming apart at the seams. To put things back together, he acquires a foot-tall alter ego, played by loudmouth comedian Sam Kineson. "Charlie Hoover" is scheduled to team with "Get a Life" to take over from "The Ultimate Challenge" on Mondays.
Fox also has a couple of shows featuring comic teams trying to turn their stage talents into sitcom stardom. One is "Culture Clash," featuring the Latino comic trio by that name with Cheech Marin as a producer. The other is "Hotel Dicks" with Morris Day and Jerome Benton, who were in the Prince movies "Purple Rain" and "Grafitti Bridge."
Other backups include "Down the Shore," the inevitable teen ensemble gathered in a house at the Jersey shore, and "True Stories," which features top fiction screenwriters turning out half-hour versions of actual events. Beth Polson produces that one.