Old, but spiced 

Just when you get sick and tired of a hot summer’s worth of reruns, the temperature drops and the networks tote out their new, overhauled and surviving TV series. But will this fall’s lot of nighttime network fare make it worth missing the autumn colors? That depends.

The coming TV season promises a bit of risky business and updated fashions to spice up mostly old, safe formats, mostly geared toward the 30-and-over set. Many series mirror successful predecessors but with a contemporary treatment, which leaves room for some controversy but little spontaneity.

The small screen will be loaded with enough lawyers to pack a high-rise elevator. Young people hacking it out in New York City, divorced CEO vixens, sexy female action heroes and classic odd couples round out the pool of familiar personalities.

ABC, for instance, will introduce the private eye cleavage exhibit, "Snoops," a cross between Pamela Anderson’s "VIP" and "Charlie’s Angels" with better outfits. The idea of three extremely shaggable sex symbols toting around cases full of high-tech toys that would make Q drool might be good for a 20-minute fantasy and not much more. Then again, "Baywatch" managed to stay afloat, so maybe there is some hope for this show.

For romantic mismatches, look for ABC’s "Then Came You," about a 30-something spurned professional who plays Mrs. Robinson to a young busboy she meets at a hotel.

"Love & Money" on CBS is another adventure in strange couples. A young, lovely and affluent woman, Allison Conklin (Paget Brewster), falls for a jock with a bum knee, Eaton McBride (Brian VanHolt). Despite the fact that he is working as a janitor and living in his parents’ basement, Eaton still lights her fire. Swoosie Kurtz plays Allison’s socialite mom.

Sela Ward stars as Lily Manning — a divorced mother of a teenage daughter — in the pared-down and updated version of the blended family, "Once and Again" on ABC. Two parents old enough to know better and their two resentful teens from previous marriages make this show an abbreviated, ready-for-therapy "Brady Bunch," only with better hairstyles.

Three guys, three girls; all six are college grads trying to find themselves in New York City. Sound familiar? ABC’s "Wasteland" — from the creators of "Dawson’s Creek" — might sound enough like "Friends" to make it seem redundant and boring. And that means it will probably be, um, redundant and boring.

But at least they’ll have a cute neighbor; Jennifer Love Hewitt will star in "Time of Your Life" on Fox. Hewitt plays Sarah Merrin, a young woman in search of her father in New York.

If only one version of the man-outnumbered-by-a-bunch-of-women plot works this season, either "Odd Man Out" on ABC or "Ladies’ Man" on CBS will sink by spring. Both feature men who go it alone sharing quarters with families of women.

If those women should get fed up with those men, they can call on Lynn Holt (played by Apollo 13 Oscar nominee, Kathleen Quinlan) of "Family Law" on CBS. Holt, an attorney with a lot of problems and quirks, sounds like a better-aged combination of "Ally McBeal" and the emotionally armored woman in lace played by Kirstie Alley in "Veronica’s Closet." But instead of a doting assistant, Holt has a hard-nosed divorce attorney, Randi King (Dixie Carter).

The formulas are predictable, but that’s not to say that some of the new prime-time network shows don’t have some interesting twists. "Now and Again" will premiere on CBS, but sounds like it belongs on the Sci-Fi Channel. In a bizarre experiment reminiscent of Steve Martin in the soul-swapping comedy All of Me, the series is based on the story of an executive at an insurance company who gets the brain power of a dead man (John Goodman).

"Get Real" on Fox will be another "Seventh Heaven," only make that hell. A family falling apart at the seams might be too much for our TV sensibilities, which have been softened and touched by angels more than married with children over the past few years.

Fox finally takes a break from the formula, hoping to get lucky with "Action," which features an abrasive movie producer, Peter Dragon (Jay Mohr), and a hooker, Wendy Ward (Illeana Douglas). It’s a risk almost matched by ABC with "Oh Grow Up," which has an openly gay character who lives happily with a womanizer and a teen orphan.

In most cases, watching for returning shows might be a viewer’s best bet — opting for a more grown-up "Felicity" rather than "Time of Your Life" or enjoying a new slew of "Friends" episodes instead of getting to know new characters in "Wasteland." After all, the latter will probably be hanging out at coffeehouses and small apartments having all the same conversations and crises that Rachel, Ross and Co. did a few years ago. As if we need to live through that again.


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