In sit-coms, dramas, CBS tries to reel in younger viewers

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Is prime-time America ready for Montel Williams as a hard-boiled high school science teacher who hangs pupils out the classroom window when they misbehave?

CBS thinks so and announced yesterday that Williams, a Baltimore native, will star in "Matt Waters," an hour-long drama on its new fall schedule. The show is one of five new dramas and six new sitcoms CBS will add in September in an attempt to slow one of the worst ratings collapses in recent network history.

CBS Entertainment President Peter Tortorici yesterday labeled his new schedule "young, bold and far-reaching."

There's a reason for that. Most analysts agree that CBS went from first to last in only a year, in part because it is old (overloaded with nostalgia), timid (lacks innovative programs to attract younger viewers) and narrow in its appeal (has a disproportionately high percentage of viewers over age 55).

"Yes, we want and need younger viewers to come to CBS. And our new programs go right at that," Tortorici said.

"We also believe that older viewers who have been so loyal to us are [of] enormous value and should be welcome as well."

The first bit of business taken care of was to erase the last vestige of Connie Chung from the new CBS schedule.

To no one's surprise, "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung" was canceled. In fact, viewers of tonight's installment will note the title of the newsmagazine has already been changed -- from "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung" to "Eye to Eye" -- and that correspondents will introduce their own reports.

Also canceled were: "Under One Roof," "Northern Exposure," "Under Suspicion," "Due South," "Rescue 911," "Women of the House," "The George Wendt Show," "Hearts Afire," "Double Rush," "Love & War," "Diagnosis Murder," "Burke's Law" and "The Wright Verdicts."

There are a lot of big names associated with that bunch, like Delta Burke and Janine Turner. But the cancellation of "Under One Roof," the first African-American family drama on network television in 15 years, is the biggest disappointment. While its ratings were not strong, they were in the same range as those of "Touched by an Angel," a drama that CBS did renew yesterday.

The biggest scheduling change will involve moving "Cybill" from Mondays to Sundays, where it will go head-to-head at 8 p.m. with NBC's "Mad About You."

The confrontation seems a strange bit of kamikaze programming from CBS, which can't afford to see one of its few relatively strong shows go up in flames.

To make room for "Cybill," the network shifts "Murder She Wrote" from Sundays (where it's been for 11 years) to Thursdays at 8 -- another questionable move.

"Dave's World" also gets a new night, going from Monday to Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.

The five new CBS dramas are:

* "Matt Waters": Here's how CBS describes the Williams' vehicle: "Matt Waters is a hard-boiled, 20-year Navy veteran who now teaches science at Central Tech. Matt's methods are sometimes more akin to shock tactics than instruction: He's been known to hang a student outside a window to make a point . . . in this inner-city war zone." It airs at 8 Tuesday nights.

* "Central Park West": This is a prime-time soap opera from Darren Star, creator of "Melrose Place." The ensemble cast is led by Mariel Hemingway. It airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

* "Courthouse": Featuring Patricia Wettig and Robin Givens, it's about life inside a decaying, big-city courthouse. It airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

* "John Grisham's The Client": JoBeth Williams stars as an Atlanta-based attorney practicing family law in this spin-off of the Grisham novel and feature film. It airs Thursdays at 9 p.m.

* "American Gothic": Gary Cole stars as an amoral small-town Southern sheriff in this drama, which will go up against NBC's "Homicide" and ABC's "20/20" at 10 p.m. Friday.

The new sitcoms are:

* "Almost Perfect": Nancy Travis and Kevin Kilner star as young, urban, professional overachievers in love. Sundays at 8:30 p.m.

* "Can't Hurry Love": Nancy McKeon in a twentysomething show about friendship. It gets the good time period between "The Nanny" and "Murphy Brown" at 8:30 p.m. Mondays.

* "If Not for You": Another young lovers in love sitcom. This one stars Elizabeth McGovern and Hank Azaria. It will air at 9:30 Monday night.

* "Bless This House": Andrew Clay (AKA Andrew Dice Clay) and Cathy Moriarity in a blue-collar sitcom in the mold of "The Honeymooners." It airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m.

* "Dweebs": Farrah Forke and Peter Scolari in a sitcom about computer nerds uncomfortable with the world beyond their computers. It airs Fridays at 8 p.m.

* "Bonnie": Another series from David Letterman's production company starring Bonnie Hunt. In this one, she plays a TV journalist. It airs at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

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