Familiar faces pop up on NBC's fall lineup

TV: The money demands of the `Friends' stars has the Peacock all a-twitter about moving `Frasier' from Thursday night.

May 13, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

NBC, which appears headed for a third-place finish this season, is nevertheless sticking with its long-time formula -- a lineup dominated by familiar faces in sophisticated sitcoms.

When the Peacock announces its fall schedule on Monday, it will feature four new comedies starring Michael Richards ("Seinfeld"), Katey Sagal ("Married ... With Children"), Steven Weber ("Wings"), Delta Burke ("Designing Women") and David Alan Grier. By the end of next week, all six networks will have announced their fall schedules, and started selling advertising time for the 2000-2001 season.

Richards plays an inexperienced private detective in his yet-to-be-titled series; Sagal plays an aunt who takes in her 15-year-old cousin in "Tucker"; Weber is a single guy with a track record of incredible bad luck on the dating front in a show tentatively titled "Cursed"; and Grier is a bumbling Secret Service agent guarding a first lady (Burke) in "DAG."

Tried-and-true is also next fall's formula in drama, with two of NBC's three new ones coming from Aaron Spelling and Dick Wolf, currently the producers of the two-longest-running dramas on network television in "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Law & Order," respectively.

Wolf's new drama, "Deadline," features Oliver Platt as a crusading New York newspaper columnist. Spelling's "Titans," is a prime-time soap opera set -- where else? -- in Beverly Hills. The third drama to make the fall lineup, "Ed," comes from David Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company. It tells the story of a recently divorced man who returns home to Ohio.

The best news about the schedule is NBC will finally put several dreadful sitcoms and dramas out of their misery: "Veronica's Closet," "Jesse," "Stark Raving Mad," "The Profiler" and "The Pretender." Also officially getting the ax: "Freaks and Geeks," "Battery Park," "God, the Devil and Bob," and the network's feeble attempt at game-show gold, "Twenty-One."

The one midseason sitcom winning a spot on the fall schedule is "Daddio," starring Michael Chiklis as a stay-at-home dad.

The one bit of suspense in the schedule involves whether NBC will move "Frasier" from its Thursday night time slot to Tuesdays. NBC wants to makes the move, while Kelsey Grammer is said to be lobbying against it.

A final call is not expected until shortly before the actual announcement of the schedule Monday in New York as several other factors are involved. One of those involves NBC's getting all six stars of "Friends" to agree to a seventh season. The hangup? Each wants between $800,000 and $1 million per episode.

Things got ugly late yesterday as NBC gave the actors a deadline of noon tomorrow to be signed or face cancellation of the show.

NBC said it is prepared to roll out a schedule that does not include "Friends." The network can't pull the trigger on moving "Frasier" until it has "Friends" locked into place for another season as the Thursday anchor.

If "Frasier" does go to Tuesdays, "Will & Grace" will get its old spot. The thinking is ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" will not hurt "W&G" as much as it has "Frasier" this year on Thursdays, because the audience for "W&G" is younger and hipper and less interested in the hit game show.

Among those pilots not making the fall lineup, the most noteworthy involves another "Seinfeld" alum, Wayne Knight ("Newman" the mailman), who came to NBC with a guarantee that the network would buy 13 episodes of his series. The network decided the pilot was not worth airing, and it is back to the drawing board for Knight.

In terms of hourlong drama, Tom Fontana failed with his Miami cop show, "Good Guys, Bad Guys." It still might get picked up as a midseason replacement series, but word is he will have to ditch star Dana Delaney if he wants that to happen.

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