'Third Watch' too crowded ; Review: The pace is frenetic, and this new drama has too many characters for a viewer to keep track of.; Fall television


Think of "Third Watch" as "ER" times three.

Apparently not satisfied with the medical mayhem chronicled weekly on his "ER" juggernaut, executive producer John Wells triples the freneticism in this new dramatic series (which moves to its regular time slot this Sunday at 8) by focusing on the entire emergency services crew on duty during the 3 p.m.-11 p.m. shift in a New York precinct.

That means you've got paramedics, firefighters and police officers practically tripping over each other, trying to keep the population safe. Worse, it means you've got a cast of 10 featured players competing with each other for screen time and viewer loyalty.

That's simply too many characters to try to flesh out in an hour and too many faces for viewers to keep up with. Even worse, we've seen all their types before. And the confusion, at least in tonight's pilot, is not alleviated by a storyline that moves from incident to incident to incident, frequently without any follow-up.

What, for instance, happens with the woman who's just killed six people in a hit-and-run accident? She's found sitting at the neighborhood bar, getting drunk on the advice of her lawyer husband (to affect the accuracy of a blood-alcohol test, we're told), then she disappears.

From the opening moments tonight, we're warned that the men and women of New York's 55th precinct are a varied group. There's maniac cop Maurice Boscorelli (Jason Wiles); his highest priority is bashing in the head of a street tough he's just caught spraying graffiti on the side of a police car (the graffiti reads "Bosco is a" word we can't print in this newspaper, a little jab at "NYPD Blue" head honcho Philip Bosco).

Boscorelli's long-suffering partner, Faith Yokas (Molly Price), is clearly meant to serve as the precinct's mother figure. We later discover she's got two kids at home, in case we missed the point.

There's grizzled vet cop John Sullivan (Skipp Sudduth), who's ticked because his new rookie partner, Ty Davis (Coby Bell), is A) as green as green can be, and B) the son of his former partner, who was killed in the line of duty.

There's firefighter Jimmy Doherty (Eddie Cibrian), an in-his-mind Romeo who's destined to play out one failed romance after another, and his ex-wife, paramedic Kim Zambrano (Kim Raver), who knows what's really underneath that feckless exterior.

And there's veteran firefighter Monte "Doc" Parker (Michael Beach), who's still conscientious enough to love his job but is seasoned enough to be the perfect mentor for skittish new guy Carlos Nieto (Anthony Ruivivar).

Got all those characters straight? Didn't think so, and you probably won't by the time tonight's premiere is over, either.

Wells, who wrote tonight's teleplay, displays a nice feel for the rhythms of the city, particularly the coarsened indifference New Yorkers often display about the mayhem going on around them. And there's a harrowing fire rescue that should leave hearts pounding, although we could do without Bosco's reckless heroics -- his hero must be the Mel Gibson character from "Lethal Weapon."

But in the end, "Third Watch" is simply too filled with stock characters, and too many stock characters, to keep audiences coming back.

'Stark Raving Mad'

Almost every year, there seems to be at least one new show that starts off with promise, yet quickly fades. Four seasons ago, it was "Pearl" on CBS; the pilot was hilarious, the remainder of the series' aborted run only fitfully funny.

Here's betting NBC's "Stark Raving Mad" will be this season's entry in the category of "Good starts, lousy finishes."

Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D.") is a prissy New York book editor assigned to cure horror scribe Ian Stark (Tony Shalhoub of "Wings") of a horrendous case of writer's block. Of course, the two are so mismatched -- Stark is as over-the-top manic as his editor is reserved -- that they're quickly going for each other's throats.

Harris, who displays a nice comic touch and excellent timing, is wonderful, and the script from creator Steven Levitan includes plenty of the sort of well-placed zingers that has made his "Just Shoot Me" so popular.

But Shalhoub never seems comfortable with his character, and the premise doesn't seem destined to survive the long haul. Although it'll be a ratings hit -- the lucky sitcom sandwiched between "Frasier" and "ER" always is -- don't expect much in the way of staying power from "Stark Raving Mad."

Tonight's TV

What: "Third Watch"

When: 10-11

Where: NBC (WBAL, Channel 11)

In a nutshell: Too many chiefs, too many Indians

What: "Stark Raving Mad"

When: 9:30-10

Where: NBC (WBAL, Channel 11)

In a nutshell: Lacks staying power

Pub Date: 9/23/99

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