THE HAT SQUAD
(CBS, 8-9 p.m.; premieres Sept. 16, 8-9:30 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: S.W.A.T. meets My Three Sons.
*COMMENTARY: Producer Stephen J. Cannell’s latest variation on hard-boiled ridiculousness is this action drama about three handsome young cops who, in 1992, actually think it’s cool to wear snap-brim fedoras out in public. They’re also overgrown orphans who live with their foster dad (bullet-headed James Tolkan, a talented stage actor who deserves TV dough). Nestor Serrano (Hangin’ With the Homeboys), Billy Warlock (Baywatch), and Don Michael Paul keep those hats crammed over their foreheads as they chase killers. It’ll be a tight race to see who gets a migraine first, the boys or you.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: With action-adventure shows nearing extinction in prime time, Cannell is hoping to woo younger viewers with The Hat Squad’s MTV-style cutting and aggressively trendy costumes. As one of the first actors hired, Warlock was the costume department’s guinea pig. ”I got called in six different times for six different looks,” he says. ”I was this mannequin. First they tried dusters-I thought ‘I hope I don’t have to wear those.”’ He won’t; in fact, even those fedoras may be less visible after the pilot.
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Slimmer than a hatband. CBS hasn’t had a hit in this time slot in 15 years.
(Fox, 9-10 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: The Young and the Feckless. *COMMENTARY: You know the phenomenon: Eight great-bodied nobodies in their 20s find friendship in a Los Angeles apartment complex. Melrose is the place to hear primo beef-jerky Jake Hanson (Grant Show) wax at once improbably eloquent and terribly tough-guy: ”I was so busy living in the moment, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the future,” he said in a recent episode, as his fellow renters nodded, bedazzled both by his wise, world-weary words and by the fact that he had once again managed to spend half the episode with his shirt off.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: Complaints that Melrose Place’s story lines are insubstantial and too tidily resolved are growing louder, as are gripes that Matt (Doug Savant), the show’s gay character, is virtually invisible. That’s changing, says Fox Entertainment president Peter Chernin. ”Every conversation that we’ve had with the producers has been to say dig deeper, go tougher, be more real. If we have any concern with Melrose Place, it’s that the show is a little bit soft.” Changes may become apparent in November, when the show drops actress Amy Locane (Sandy) and introduces a new love interest for Jake.
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Virtually assured, but for now, it’s no 90210.
LAURIE HILL (ABC, 9:30-10 p.m.; premieres Wednesday, Sept. 23, 9:30-10 p.m.)
*CONCEPT: She’s a mother; she’s a doctor. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry.
*COMMENTARY: Laurie Hill (Delane Matthews) is a heroically devoted physician, a combination of weary bones and scattered thoughts. At home, Laurie is a tired but plucky mom and an ardent helpmate and lover. In some ways, Laurie Hill aspires to be a standard sitcom, the sort of show in which you know her husband (Robert Clohessy) is a writer because he sits at home at his typewriter surrounded by wads of crumpled paper. But creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black are striving for the emotional weight of their Wonder Years; in the pilot, one of Hill’s young patients is diagnosed as being HIV-positive, a subplot that not only obliterates laughs but seems cruelly manipulative.
*BEHIND THE SCENES: In a show trying to achieve thirtysomething sensitivity, an even tone means everything, and Laurie Hill’s is shaky. ”The pilot was more dramatic than the average episode will be,” insists ABC Entertainment chief Robert Iger. ”Expect more laughs in the series.” And star Matthews says she doesn’t fear the dramedy format, which has yielded a graveyard full of TV flops: ”It’s accepted in other mediums. Comedy and drama can go together. It only stands out because it’s a half-hour show.”
*CHANCE OF SURVIVAL: Not great. If Hill can’t sustain Home Improvement’s massive audience, ABC will pull the plug faster than you can say code blue.