Black faces on fall shows

Networks: Andre Braugher and Damon Wayans will be featured in new series on ABC.

May 16, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Some of the ethnic diversity so lacking in last year's new network television series is expected to be seen today when ABC and the WB unveil their fall lineups to advertisers in New York.

ABC has Emmy-winning Andre Braugher, of "Homicide: Life on the Street," starring as the head doctor of a large hospital in a new drama called "Gideon's Crossing," and Damon Wayans in a sitcom titled "Wife & Kids."

In addition, The WB will announce that it is picking up Eddie Murphy's animated series, "The PJs," from Fox, where it has languished since its 1999 debut.

Overall, ABC will be making the fewest changes of any network thanks to the phenomenal success of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," which has not only clobbered all competition head to head, but has also had a halo effect on the entire lineup. Thanks to "Millionaire," ABC will easily win this year's ratings war, making for one of the quickest third-to-first-place turnarounds in TV history.

The ABC schedule was not set yesterday, but it appeared that "Gideon's Crossing" -- which was created by Paul Attanasio, who also created "Homicide" -- might be the only new drama to win a fall time slot. The other top drama candidate is "The Beast," which takes a behind-the-scenes look at a network news operation. If "The Beast" does not make the fall schedule, it will still be picked up by the network and given a premiere later in the year.

ABC's interest in "The Beast" means the network probably has decided to pull the plug on Aaron Sorkin's "Sports Night." Though officials would not confirm the cancellation, fans of the series would be well advised not to miss tonight's finale in which the mythical cable channel on which the "Sports Night" show-within-a-show appears is sold.

Back in the real television world of buying and selling, there is a good chance that HBO will pick up "Sports Night" if it is canceled by ABC today.

Outside of Wayans' "Wife & Kids," the only other sitcoms expected to be picked up by ABC either for fall or midseason launches are: an untitled series starring Geena Davis as a thirtysomething single woman who marries a widower with two kids; an untitled series starring Dennis Leary as a sardonic plain-clothes cop; "People Who Fear People," which features Jon Cryer in an ensemble comedy about a support group; and "Madigan's Men," with Gabriel Byrne in a show about three generations of men and their dating habits in New York City.

At the WB, most of action was taking place backstage as network executives battled with the Touchstone production company, which is owned by Disney-ABC, over terms of renewal agreements on such series as "Felicity" and "Popular." Both series are expected to be renewed, but such negotiations can result in surprise, last-minute cancellations.

Two of the most promising new series sure to win a spot on the fall schedule for the WB are "The Gilmore Girls" and "The Hype."

"The Gilmore Girls," a drama about a young mother and her 16-year-old daughter, is the first product of the Family Friendly Programming Initiative launched last year by major advertisers in tandem with the WB. Looking for more shows like the WB's "7th Heaven" that families could watch together, such advertisers as Procter & Gamble and IBM gave the network $1 million in development money. "The Gilmore Girls" was developed with money from that fund and will be closely watched by the industry to see how it does.

"The Hype" is a sketch comedy show from the writing and performing team at "Mad TV" that did a celebrated spoof of "Felicity" titled "Intensity." Susanne Daniels, the president of entertainment at the WB, described the series as "a comedy version of `In Style' magazine, taking on everything in pop culture."

Another sitcom certain to make the WB fall lineup stars Nikki Cox, of "Unhappily Ever After," as a show girl living in Las Vegas with a professional wrestler. Bruce Helford, who co-created "The Drew Carey Show," is executive producer of the unnamed series.

And what would a new WB schedule be without a new twentysomething ensemble series? This year's best hope to make the fall schedule is "Grosse Pointe" from Darren Star, producer of "Sex and the City."

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