The new TV season from top to bottom FALL PREVIEW


The best series: "The John Larroquette Show" on NBC. It's darker than "Night Court" or "M*A*S*H." But it's also as funny and smart.

Larroquette, who won four Emmys for his work on "Night Court," plays a recovering alcoholic who takes a job as night manager in the bus station from hell.

It plays on two levels.

Level 1: It's a sitcom about a group of interesting characters in a bus station.

Level 2: It's a metaphor for our multicultural future, where the white manager (Larroquette) must learn to negotiate new relationships with minority groups for the society to survive.

6* Level 1 is funny. Level 2 is profound.

The most politically incorrect: "Daddy Dearest" on Fox. There's nothing perky about Richard ("I'm Doomed") Lewis or Don ("Outta my way, hockey puck") Rickles.

It's a '90s version of Archie Bunker and Meathead, with Rickles playing an obnoxious father who moves in with his recently divorced son.

In the pilot, Rickles insults gays, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, overweight people and women -- and he looks to be only warming up.

The perkiest: There's nothing dark about "Cafe Americain" on NBC. See Valerie Bertinelli toss her hat in the air just like Mary Tyler Moore in the opening credits to this sitcom about an innocent abroad. Is Valerie perky? Oui, oui. How perky? How do the French say, "Makes me want to just gag"?

The most exploitative: "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" on NBC. Three of the "Saved by the Bell" boys go to college, where they share a dorm suite with three freshmen girls.

Every scene features either a boy bare-chested and wearing only undershorts or a girl wearing only a towel. It has more young, tan skin than "Baywatch."

The most talked about: "NYPD Blue" on ABC. Steven Bochco's new cop drama repeats the "Hill Street Blues" formula but updates it with more nudity, violence and some very coarse language. Is it a quality show? You bet. Is it going to offend some viewers? You bet. It's the test case for what's acceptable in violence and language on network television this year.

The worst: There are too many awful shows this year to pick just one. But CBS' "The Trouble With Larry" is a special kind of stupid. Bronson Pinchot plays Larry, a man abducted by apes on his honeymoon and presumed dead. He shows up about 10 years later to find his wife married to another man.

Yeah, it reminded me of "The Odyssey," too. Right.

:. Maybe the worst sitcom since "Uncle Buck."

Biggest trend: Baby-boomer parenting. Families will be everywhere, especially families with three kids. There is a dozen of them.

The runner-up trend: The reappearance of the frontier in westerns and several series set in the modern day.

Likely hits: ABC's "Grace Under Fire" with Brett Butler, CBS' "Dave's World" with Harry Anderson, NBC's "Frasier" with Kelsey Grammer, and Fox's "Living Single" with Queen Latifah.

Possible hits: Fox's "The Sinbad Show" with Sinbad, ABC's "Boy Meets World" and "NYPD Blue."

The biggest wannabe: "Moon Over Miami" on ABC. It tries so hard to be "Moonlighting" that it makes you want to scream.

Bill Campbell is the Bruce Willis-like private detective who falls in love-hate-love with a headstrong heiress played by Ally Walker. It did remind me of "Moonlighting." It reminded me how much I miss it.

And the ratings winner is: In overall ratings, CBS will finish first, with ABC second, NBC third and Fox fourth.

In demographics, ABC will win with the key 18- to 49-year-olds, and Fox will own twentysomethings. CBS' audience is "aging baby boomers," to use the industry term. NBC will take anyone and anything it can get.

The bigger picture: Last year, the Big Three lost three more points of total audience share, for an all-time low of 60 percent. Advertising agency experts predict further erosion this year, with network share down to 58 percent by the end of the season. The biggest loss will be young viewers because of the emphasis on baby-boomer shows. Advance advertising sales for the new season is down 10 percent from last year.

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