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'District' ought to be ashamed

As entertainment, "The District," a new cop drama from CBS, would be an easy series to dismiss in a sentence or two.

But, because of what it says about race and crime in cities like Washington and Baltimore, this series has dangerous sociological baggage.

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"The District" stars Craig T. Nelson ("Coach") as Jack Mannion, a New Jersey police chief who is brought to Washington, D.C., by the deputy mayor to tackle an out-of-control crime rate and a corrupt police department. Mannion, who favors black-and-white swing dancing shoes and will break into a show tune at the drop of a hat, is said to have a phenomenal record of cutting crime in every city he's worked.

Tonight's pilot is mainly about the team that Mannion puts together. It's described in CBS press materials as "a modern day Untouchables," a reference to agents led by Eliot Ness in the 1920s.

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They should be so lucky.

But here's the real problem: The three leaders of the so-called modern-day Untouchables are white: Mannion, deputy mayor Mary Ann Mitchell (Jayne Brook), a hard-working, progressive-thinking reformer; and the public relations whiz Mannion brings with him to the new job, Nick Pierce (Justin Theroux).

The two primary forces of corruption and resistance to reform - Mayor Ethan Baker (John Amos) and Chief of Patrol Joe Noland (Roger Aaron Brown) - are black.

Mannion's team does have two black foot soldiers: a statistics clerk (Lynne Thigpen) and his driver (Sean Patrick Thomas). But the central dynamic of the series is a black-vs.-white one, with Mannion as the great white hope coming to straighten out the corruption and incompetence of the black leaders in this majority black city.

I'm just glad it's set in D.C. rather than Baltimore, so that I don't have to deal with all the terrible things said about the city and much of its police force. But there's bad news for Baltimore with the series, too.

In the words of the CBS press release, Mannion is "inspired by the real-life experiences of former New York Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Maple." In fact, Maple co-created the series.

Maple - who wears the same black and white shoes as Mannion, - is Mayor O'Malley's consultant on police matters. Maple was a key player in getting Edward T. Norris, whom he described to me as a protege, appointed Baltimore's police commissioner.

If Mannion and this series accurately reflect the world view of its creator, then heaven help us in Baltimore. Maple believes he created a hero in the character of Mannion. I see a self-aggrandizing, self-important hotdog in black and white shoes who I wouldn't put in charge of a swing dancing class let alone the police department.

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But don't take my word for it. Check out "The District." And pay close attention to the big scene in which Mannion takes on the forces of corruption within the department at his first COMSTAT meeting. Ask yourself why the camera keeps going to two black faces - those of Noland and a black precinct captain - while Mannion talks about how he's going to "gut" bad cops.

Yes, this is the same COMSTAT meeting that has been touted by the public relations forces of O'Malley and Norris as the solution to our problems here in Baltimore.

Let us pray to the television gods for the quick cancellation this series deserves. When: 10 tonight.

Where: WJZ (Channel 13).

In brief: Cop drama with highly irresponsible messages about crime and race.

'Nikki'

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WB goes working class in this sitcom about young love between a Las Vegas showgirl (Nikki Cox) and her husband, an apprentice pro wrestler (Nick von Esmarch). They came to the land of neon straight from his high school graduation to chase their dreams.

If you're over 20, you're probably not going to get real excited about this show. But, in terms of its target audience, creator Bruce Helford ("The Drew Carey Show") has given WB a sitcom that might actually stick around for more than a few weeks.

Each episode opens with Cox, who really can dance, performing as part of the fictional Golden Calf Revue at a low rent Vegas hotel. The pilot features her in plastic dragon scales and tail as part of a chorus line tribute to "Godzilla." More imagination was put into the choreography than into some entire pilots.

Neither Cox nor von Esmarch are especially talented actors, but there's an easy chemistry between the pair that makes it a pleasant show to watch.

There's lots of wrestling and showgirl flesh; "Nikki" doesn't overestimate its audience. When: 9 p.m. tomorrow Where: WNUV (Channel 54). In brief: Slight but likable sitcom about young love in Las Vegas.

'Hype'

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"Hype" is wildly uneven and likely to offend some folks, but that's not all bad when it comes to sketch comedy, is it?

The new series from WB features an ensemble cast with players who do nasty impersonations of such celebrities as Bryant Gumbel, President Clinton, William Shatner and Britney Spears.

The best moments in the pilot involve satire of corporations and popular culture. One filmed segment about Firestone trying to solve its massive PR problems with a new corporate character, Friendly Freddie, is especially tart.

It's not as smart about race as "In Living Color," and it lacks the political edge of "Saturday Night Live" at its best. But "Hype" might have the stuff to make it in prime time on WB.

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow. Where: WNUV (Channel 54). In brief: It doesn't run deep, but it's got some bite.



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