Show Information

A L S O_.T O D A Y

Blue Glow
Costello and Bacharach on "Letterman"; unknown bands get break on MTV's new "The Cut"

Date night, ABC
By Joyce Millman
Two new shows, "Cupid" and the updated "Fantasy Island," remind us of why saturday night is the loneliest night

R E C E N T_.

Strangeness in the night
By Joyce Millman
What's a nice boy like Conan O'Brien doing in a place like late night TV?

Women are from Venus, men are from Vegas
By Joyce Millman
ABC's girl-talk show "The View" and HBO's "Rat Pack" movie have more in common than you think

By Joyce Millman
Gay-positive messages and campy humor find a TV home in "South Park" and other animated upstarts

American Squirm
By Sarah Vowell
Fishers of men: Two offbeat TV talk shows reinvent the celebrity interview

By Joyce Millman
Love bites: Buffy learns about life



Sunday, Sept. 20 Prime time's longest running sitcom, The Simpsons, opens its 10th season. Homer has a midlife crisis. He becomes obsessed with Thomas Edison and sets out to invent a lot of stuff. His makeup-shooting gun is a disaster, coating Marge's face with a thick palette of garish blues, greens and reds. Marge: "You must have it set on 'Whore.'" However, his combination reclining lounger and toilet (so you don't have to leave the TV to go to the bathroom) is a big winner with Bart.

Monday, Sept. 21 Premiere of Kenneth Starr's Presidential Bloopers, Outtakes and Grand Jury Videos. You thought Fox's "Wildest Police Videos" was bad? "Presidential Bloopers" represents a new low for the networks' "reality programming" craze. Four hours of fuzzy, badly miked footage of a guy talking about his sex life -- Aaron Spelling this Starr ain't. But, what do you expect, with the networks slashing production budgets like crazy so they can afford the bank-breaking deals they made for "ER" and pro football? I suppose we should be prepared for more and more of this type of cheesy, zero-budget junk in the future.

Tonight marks the official start of the fall prime-time season. CBS's sitcom The King of Queens was hyped as a "companion" to "Everybody Loves Raymond." Translation: clone. Sports-loving husband and sassy wife find their house invaded by her eccentric widowed father and annoying sister. The one reason I didn't change the channel: Jerry Stiller as the father. He's basically playing Frank Costanza from "Seinfeld," but I'll take it. There are few things on TV more pleasurably surreal than watching this demented, barrel-chested troll boasting about his sexual prowess. Hootchie-mama!

NBC's new sitcom Will & Grace hops aboard Hollywood's straight woman-gay man gravy train. The premise is tired, but the show has glimmers of class. The jokes are relatively sophisticated and the actors have a movie-star sheen. Runaway bride Grace is played by statuesque Debra Messing ("Ned & Stacey," "Prey"), who sort of looks like Maureen O'Hara. Eric McCormack exudes boyish decency as her best friend, gay lawyer Will; in an alternate universe, he'd be played by Jimmy Stewart. And when Sean Hayes ("Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss") makes his divine entrances as the flamey Jack, his nimble scene-stealing bon mots are the equivalent of a Donald O'Connor dance number. He's the real king of queens.

Tuesday, Sept. 22 NBC's Encore! Encore! If Nathan Lane chewed any harder on the scenery, he'd need dentures. His over-emoting is barely tolerable in small doses; he's in almost every scene of this self-consciously erudite sitcom from the producers of "Frasier." Lane plays an egotistical opera singer whose career is ended by a vocal-cord injury. He goes home to Napa Valley to run the family winery with his Italian British mama (Joan Plowright) and resentful sister (Glenne Headly). About 12 writers and producers got credit for this much-revamped pilot that contains zero funny lines. Let's see, that averages out to -- no laughs per writer. Arrivederci, arrivederci.

ABC's comedy Sports Night also yielded no laughs in its premiere episode, but writer Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men," "The American President") has been quoted in many interviews as saying we're not supposed to laugh, so I guess, then, the show could be considered a rousing success. Set at a fictional version of ESPN, "Sports Night" aims for "Larry Sanders"-style realism, except without any of the precise, funny satire that made "Sanders" great. Instead, "Sports Night" consists of a bunch of people rushing around trying to put together a live sports newscast. The first episode ended with the earth-shattering message that even though sports may be filled with thugs, cheaters and miscreants, it still occasionally provides moments that can uplift the soul, bring together a nation and mend fences between fathers and sons. My favorite part of the show, though, was when the happy-go-lucky wisecracking anchor guy gave the morose, brooding, unhappily divorced anchor guy a warm and fuzzy pep talk. Let me put this into a context that fans of ESPN's "SportsCenter" will understand: Imagine Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne hugging each other and sniffling, "I love you, man!" "Sports Night" is deep, but I don't think it's playable.

Wednesday, Sept. 23 Sportscaster Marv Albert, who was recently hired for his first job since being publicly disgraced in a sex scandal, appears on Late Show with David Letterman. Letterman: "It must have been a huge relief to have Clinton take some of this heat off you."
SALON | Sept. 28, 1998

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S H O W _.I N F O R M A T I O N

That '70s Show (8:30 p.m. Sundays, Fox)
The Roseanne Show (weekdays, syndicated)
Costello (8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox)
The King of Queens (8:30 p.m. Mondays, CBS)
Will & Grace (9:30 p.m. Mondays, NBC)
Encore! Encore! (8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, NBC)
Sports Night (9:30 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC)


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