NBC falls back on sure winners and big names


NBC made it official yesterday, announcing "Homicide: Life on the Street" as the centerpiece of a fall schedule stacked with such stars as Bill Cosby, Martin Short, Gene Wilder, Dabney Coleman and Cicely Tyson.

In all, the network will add four new comedies, five dramas and a second weekly installment of the newsmagazine "Dateline NBC" called "Dateline NBC II." The only major cancellations were "The Mommies" and "Nurses."

NBC also announced that it is getting into the production business in a big way. It will co-produce three of its highest-visibility series: "Homicide," "The Martin Short Show" and "The Cosby Mysteries."

Such a co-production deal is good news for "Homicide" because it assures the series will be given every chance for a long run by the network.

NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield singled out "Homicide" in yesterday's announcement, saying, "When we got into business with Barry Levinson, naturally, we had great expectations. But he and Tom Fontana have exceeded those expectations. We are tremendously excited about bringing the series back next season."

Another drama coming back -- in this case, after a one-shot tryout in the spring -- is "The Cosby Mysteries," starring Bill Cosby as a retired investigator who keeps getting called out of retirement to investigate murders.

"The Cosby Mysteries" will lead off Wednesday nights for NBC at 8.

Cicely Tyson will co-star with Melissa Gilbert in a new drama titled "Sweet Justice" at 9 on Saturday nights.

Gilbert and Tyson play attorneys who "champion the underdog," in the words of NBC.

Michael Crichton, of "Jurassic Park" fame, will produce a medical drama titled "E.R.," for the 10 p.m. Thursday time slot, which had been shared this year by "Homicide" and the departing "L.A. Law."

The final new drama comes from Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. Titled "Earth 2," it's an outer-space saga that will lead off Sunday nights at 8 and lead into "seaQuest DSV," another Amblin production.

On the comedy front, Dabney Coleman will return to series TV as "Madman" Bruckner in "Madman of the People," about a newspaper columnist who finds himself working for his daughter.

"Madman" gets the sweet spot in the NBC lineup at 9:30 Thursday nights, right after "Seinfeld."

"The Martin Short Show" will be a key part of the network's reconfigured Tuesday night lineup.

This show-within-a-show will feature Short as a comedian who stars in a sitcom. It will air at 8:30 Tuesday nights between "Wings" and "Frasier," both of which find themselves in new time periods on a new night.

Just as Short's show sounds like it's borrowing a bit from "Seinfeld," so does "Friends." NBC describes it as "six young adults trying to make it in Manhattan." The biggest name in the sitcom's ensemble cast is that of Courteney Cox.

It's produced by the makers of HBO's "Dream On."

NBC's last new sitcom, "Young at Heart," will star Gene Wilder as someone starting parenthood at a time when most of his friend's children are heading off to college. Wilder's show will lead Saturday nights at 8.

And just in case anyone thought there were not enough prime-time newsmagazines, "Dateline II," anchored by Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips, will join NBC's lineup at 9 on Friday nights.

It will be the lead-in to "Homicide," which will air at 10 p.m.

In addition to shows mentioned above, other series that were renewed by the network include: "The John Larroquette Show," "Blossom," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Mad About You," "Now With Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric," "Sisters" and "Empty Nest," "Law & Order" and "Unsolved Mysteries."

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