No matter how many cable channels you have, there will b times this fall when there's absolutely nothing to watch. But probably a lot fewer times than before cable began plowing money into original programming.
Here's a sample of what's on tap on the more popular channels this season:
A&E: Like the broadcast networks and PBS, A&E has gone to a premiere week, Sept. 22-28. Debuting then will be four series: "Lovejoy," with Ian McShane as a sharp antiques dealer on the lookout for fakes and trouble; "First Flights," tracing aviation breakthroughs with Neil Armstrong as host; "Time Machine with Jack Perkins," a showcase for documentary co-productions about key events in history; and "Investigative Reports with Bill Kurtis," which looks at the "story behind the story" with the former CBS morning man as host, including a five-part look by Nigel Turner at the Kennedy assassination.
COMEDY CENTRAL: The cable channel born of the merger of "HA!" and "The Comedy Channel" brings back a number of series with new episodes, including "London Underground," "Access America" hosted by Fred Willard, "Comics Only" hosted by Paul Provenza and "Whose Line is it Anyway" from Britain.
Among the specials on the drawing board are "Harvard Lampoon Looks at 10 Years of MTV" and "The Higgins Boys and Gruber" withthe comedy team of the same name.
THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL: The channel that readers of Consumer Reports like better than any other debuts a six-parter beginning Sept. 22 called "The Second Russian Revolution." It includes new film segments recounting the dramatic changes of the past few weeks in the Soviet Union.
Several series begin in the next month, including "Moments of Courage," updates of "20-20" stories hosted by ABC correspondent Tom Jarriel; "Earth Guide," a cross between "This Old House" and "50 Ways to Save the Planet"; "Hollywood Stuntmakers," hosted by James Coburn; "Choppers," about the history of helicopters; and "America Coast to Coast," about scenic vacation spots. "Invention," a series co-produced with the Smithsonian, also returns.
THE FAMILY CHANNEL: "The Legend of Prince Valiant," with Robby Benson as the voice of the prince, marks the first time the comic strip has been transferred to a broadcast medium. "You Asked for It," a hit show in the '50s, will be repackaged to "emphasize the ridiculous" in "You Asked for It Again."
"Hometown Hero," "That's My Dog" and "Witness to Survival" are three other new series. "Hero" looks at ordinary people with extraordinary stories. "Dog" pits two canines each week in "comical and challenging" contests. "Survival" features people who have survived tragedy in unlikely circumstances.
HBO: Among the original movies planned are "Cast a Deadly Spell," with Fred Ward as 1940s private eye H. Phillip Lovecraft; "Prisoner of Honor," with Richard Dreyfuss as Lt. Col. Picquart, the bigoted aristocrat who helped free Alfred Dreyfus in the famous turn-of-the-century French miscarriage of justice; "Getting There," with Jack Lemmon as a bored millionaire who goes bankrupt so he can make it all again; and "Stalin," with Robert Duvall in a miniseries about the Soviet despot.
Billy Crystal created "Sessions," a six-part comedy series about one man's life as seen through his meetings with a psychiatrist. The series stars Michael McKean, Elliott Gould, Linda Kelsey and Crystal's daughter, Jennifer.
LIFETIME: Several new movies are in the works, including "The Last Prostitute," with Sonia Braga as a woman who gives up the profession and teaches two boys about life; "Silent Motive," with Patricia Wettig, Mike Farrell and Ed Asner, a thriller about a killer stalking a screenwriter; and "Wildflower," from the Sara Flanigan novel about an epileptic girl and two boys who befriend her, starring Beau Bridges, Roseanna Arquette and Susan Blakely.
THE NASHVILLE NETWORK: The Statler Brothers host their own variety series, called, imaginatively, "The Statler Bros. Show," while comedy duo Bruce Williams and Terry Ree step out of the "Country Kitchen" to try their own pilot called "Williams & Ree Comedy Central." Specials include "Emmylou Harris at the Ryman" and "Loretta Lynn: The Seasons of My Life."
SHOWTIME: One of the most intriguing programs is the feature-length documentary, "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse," which details the making of Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." It's due to premiere Oct. 12, with additional showings later that month and in November.
Among the original movies on tap are "Deadly Surveillance," with Michael Ironside as a big-city cop trying to reteam with his old partner; "Chains of Gold" with John Travolta and Marilu Henner in a picture about a social worker rescuing a child from the Miami drug trade; "Catchfire," with Jodie Foster, Dennis Hopper and Joe Pesci in a tale about an artist on the run from the mob after she witnesses a murder; and "Intimate Strangers," with Deborah Harry as a struggling rock and roller who gets by giving phone sex.