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Television: Reality is dead; cops, docs, and lawyers live on 

With 32 new shows set to kick off in the next couple of months, City thought you might require some sort of guide to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

            Otherwise, how would you be able to tell the difference between Do Over (WB, 8:30 p.m. Thursday) and That Was Then (ABC, 9 p.m. Friday)? They're both shows about disenchanted adult males who take a blow to the head and wake up only to find themselves back in high school (each also offers rousing student government election speeches).

            You might not be able to distinguish repeats from remakes, such as Family Affair, (WB, 8:30 p.m. Thursday), and The Twilight Zone, (UPN, 9 p.m. Wednesday); spin-offs from originals (CSI: Miami, 10 p.m. Monday); or even notice that a few new sitcoms are thinly veiled rehashes of popular films. In-Laws, (NBC, 8 p.m. Tuesday) is Meet the Parents, while The Haunted (UPN, 9 p.m. Tuesday) is basically The Sixth Sense, with Matthew Fox playing an adult version of Haley Joel Osment.

            How's this for a statement about the quality of this year's new shows? I've seen about two-thirds of them and only felt the need to turn two of them off --- Still Standing (CBS, 9:30 p.m. Monday) and The Grubbs (Fox, 9:30 p.m. Sunday).

            But they're both four-camera comedies about unfunny families with irritating fathers (Mark Addy and Randy Quaid, respectively) married to moms who ought to be able to do much better in the partner department (Jamie Gertz and Carol Kane, respectively). And what was the last show like that worth watching?

            Here's a bulletin I don't remember seeing on the evening news: Apparently reality television --- unless it's already an established hit --- is dead, at least on network television. Sure, things like Survivor and The Amazing Race are back this fall, but there aren't any new reality shows on the slate (comparatively, there were around a half-dozen last year).

            The closest thing we have this year is Push, Nevada (ABC, 9 p.m. Thursday), a Ben Affleck-produced series that plays like a normal mystery (here, an IRS agent tries to track down a pile of missing money), but there's a pretty novel twist --- if attentive viewers can solve the show's many riddles and puzzles, they can actually track down --- and win --- the money themselves.

            While the reality craze may be waning, the whole cop/doctor/lawyer thing just won't die. Last year was bad enough, when eight new shows featuring at least one of the aforementioned professions were incorporated into the fall lineup, but there are 11 debuting this year --- and that's not counting the unconventional crime fighters (like Birds of Prey and John Doe, but more on them later).

            Remember back in '94, when two Chicago-based hospital shows (ER and Chicago Hope) went head-to-head on Thursday nights? Well, it's happening again this year on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. with Presidio Med (CBS) and MDs (ABC). Both are set in San Francisco, and while the former is more female-oriented, with a cast including Dana Delany, Blythe Danner, Julianne Nicholson and Sasha Alexander, the latter highlights two renegade, HMO-hating male docs (William Fichtner and John Hannah) and promises they'll be just like Hawkeye and Trapper John.

            While there aren't too many new shows about lawyers (David E. Kelley's girlsclub is all there is .. .and, frankly, all we need), there are enough cop shows debuting to make a donut shop owner plan his retirement.

            Three are set in Los Angeles --- Fastlane (Fox, 9 p.m. Wednesday), Boomtown (NBC, 8 p.m. Sunday), and Robbery Homicide Division (CBS, 10 p.m. Friday). Fastlane, which stars Peter Facinelli and Bill Bellamy, has one of the better pilots of the year. It was directed by Charlie's Angels' McG, so I fear the quality will drop off starting with Episode 2, and he isn't behind the camera.

            Boomtown has an interesting premise --- the same story shown through the eyes of about a dozen different characters --- which worked rather well in the first episode. RHD wasn't available to view, but it was created by Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider) and stars Tom Sizemore.

            Coming in a distant fourth to the cop/doctor/lawyer thing are television shows about television shows (adding to this summer's terrific Breaking News on Bravo). Life With Bonnie (ABC, 9 p.m. Tuesday) is Bonnie Hunt's second attempt to turn her crackerjack improvisational skills into a sitcom hit (following 1995's The Bonnie Hunt Show). She plays the host of a Regis & Kelly-type show, and the interviews she conducts are completely unscripted.

            Immediately following Bonnie is Less Than Perfect (ABC, 9:30 p.m. Tuesday), which is about a temp secretary (Sara Rue) who becomes the assistant to a news anchor (Eric Roberts). And Good Morning Miami (NBC, 9:30 p.m. Thursday) is set on yet another morning show and comes to you from the creators of the shockingly overrated Will & Grace.

            It's pretty easy to spot some of this coming season's hits, whether based on pedigree (CSI: Miami) or placement on the schedule (Good Morning Miami is sandwiched between Will & Grace and ER), but what other sleepers may be lurking out there?

            Without a Trace (CBS, 10 p.m. Thursday) has both the lineage (it's executive-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) and the potentially cherry time slot (following Bruckheimer's CSI), as well as a great cast that features two Aussies (Anthony LaPaglia and Poppy Montgomery) and a Brit (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) playing Americans. It's about agents in the Missing Persons Department of the FBI, making Trace seem like it was ripped right out of yesterday's newspaper headlines.

            Hardly anybody stays home to watch television on Friday nights, so it's tough to say whether Hack (CBS, 9 p.m. Friday) and Robbery Homicide Division can pull in viewers. Hack, which was created by Panic Room/Spider-Man screenwriter David Koepp, stars the usually reliable David Morse as a disgraced-police-officer-turned-cab-driver who pulls double shifts, takes amphetamines and fights crime like some kind of badly dressed superhero.

            But don't confuse Hack with John Doe (Fox, 9 p.m. Friday), which is about a regular citizen (Dominic Purcell) who catches bad guys despite contending with a Bourne Identity-sized case of amnesia. Instead of being able to beat copious amounts of ass like Jason Bourne, Mr. Doe knows the answer to every question in the world ... except who he is.

            And speaking of superheroes, all you fans of the DC Universe better hold on to your hats (and, god help us, your capes). Birds of Prey (WB, 9 p.m. Wednesday) is a deliciously dark look at the lives of Barbara Gordon (read: Batgirl), Helena Kyle (read: the daughter of Batman and Catwoman) and Harleen Quinzel (read: Harley Quinn, the Joker's girlfriend). The bad news is that WB is probably going to lighten it up a bit. Well, that and the last-minute change from Sherilyn Fenn to Mia Sara in the Quinzel role.

            On Sunday nights, you can kick it all the way back to the '60s, starting with Oliver Beene (Fox, 7:30 p.m. Sunday), a funny Wonder Years knockoff complete with pre-pubescent protagonist (Grant Rossenmeyer), suburban '60s setting, weird older brother and Winnie Cooper-esque girl. When that's over, switch over to American Dreams (NBC, 9 p.m. Sunday), a look at how the turbulent early '60s affects a large Irish-American family in Philadelphia. Despite casting Joey Lawrence as a recurring character, it's the kind of warm family show Sunday night hasn't seen since Life Goes On ceased to go on any longer.

In This Guide...

  • Homecoming season for a Bills fan

    The last four falls, I've been a Bills fan in exile on the peninsula of Portland, Maine. That's deep in Patriots country, enemy territory.

  • Music, theater, and art: a season of celebration

    It seems entirely appropriate that the publication date of City's Fall Guide this year is September 11. In this annual issue, our writers preview the season in music, theater, art, performances, exhibitions, and literature.

  • An upstate autumn: eating what you kill

    Credit: Kurt Brownell Text: At a recent lunch, the subject of venison came up, with one friend saying how awful he always finds it.

  • Headline: Movies: Great expectations, after summer's best

    p> Credit:

  • Movies: A harvest of remakes, sequels, and series

    As all students of the contemporary cinema know, and most reviewers tediously reiterate, the change of seasons from summer to fall should also signal a transformation in the variety of entertainment flickering in the multiple tense darknesses of the megaplexes.             Accepted wisdom preaches that with the kids back in school and the weather turning cooler, and perhaps freed somewhat from the desperate need to release some new spectacular every week, Hollywood will serve up heartier fare than the usual kiddie cartoons, raunchy comedies, exploding blockbusters, horror films, science fiction, cop thrillers and of course, assorted teenpix.

  • Festivals

    Agricultural Society Fair, Genesee Country Nature Center, 1410 Flint Hill Rd, Mumford (538-6822, A country fair, 19th-century style, with food, livestock and crafts. Oct. 5-6.

  • Art

    Local 1570 Gallery, Valley Manor, 1570 East Avenue (442-8470): "Art for the Soul," with work by Eve Bothelho, Coral Dalton, M. Wendy Gwirtzman, Raphaella McCormack; opening reception, 6-8 p.m.

  • Literature and lectures

    30th Annual Rochester Book Fair, benefits the University of Rochester Libraries: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 21, the Student Life Center, St. John Fisher College, 3690 East Avenue.

  • Theater

    Blackfriars Theatre, 28 Lawn St (454-1260; Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, Oct. 5-26. Dirty Blonde, Dec. 7-29, with performances Dec. 31.

  • Classical music

    Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Text: Philharmonic Series(454-2100): All concerts at 8 p.m. in Eastman Theatre; pre-concert chats at 7 p.m.

  • Families and museums

    Text: Center at High Falls, 60 Browns Race (325-2030): Historic district, touring and learning center with orientation to Rochester for groups. Attractions: Original Mill Raceway, Archaeology Site & Giant Waterwheel,"Laser, Light & Fireworks Spectacular!" offered weekends through mid-October, holidays.

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